Archive for December, 2011


It’s that time of year when I begin to scrabble round in a mad panic trying to secure myself work for the coming twelve months. Right now, I should be finished off my fourth book pitch. Once that’s done, I can send them all out on Tuesday to post-festive publishers and pray that I’ll be able to pay my mortgage for the rest of 2012. But I’m too tired. I’ve done a full day of childcare with a three-year-old I swear is more closely related to the Monkey King than me, and had to bathe an unwilling 50 kilogram Malamute; an activity that resulted in a soaking for me, my child, and the bathroom. I need a rest, this is it.

One of the four pitches I’ve worked up is a fantasy series. I’ve wanted to write a fantasy for a while, but have struggled to find an idea that I have not dismissed as risible. This desire got a little stronger in the wake of the success of Game of Thrones on TV, if I’m truthful. Then I thought about how big Raymond E Feist’s house is. Or how rich Terry Brooks is. Get the picture? I am sick of being poor… I thought harder. My mice of ideation are dead and crippled in their little wooden mind-wheels (you know, the ones in MY HEAD), but they perished in to good end. I have a pitch. I can always catch more mind-mice. Maybe I’ll steal yours, eh? EH? Hehehehehe. (Look, I had a really stressful Christmas).

Over the last year or so I’ve spent a degree of my precious thinking time thinking (well, duh) on what makes the most successful fantasy stories – successful in terms of merit, as well as monies — really, there is art as well as Mammon in here somewhere. In tandem to this, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what annoys me about that second rank of fantasy that is not brilliant, yet still hugely successful. ACtually, I’ve probably spent more time on this. I’m talking about the kind of fantasy pedaled by authors who look all pleased with themselves for creating second-rate dreck because it comes with a big pay cheque. And frankly, that’s a state of mind I could live with. I could detail my musings at tedious length, but here’s the crucial bits (they are blindingly obvious, in the main):

Category 1: Narrative factors in bestselling fantasy

  1. Multiple, definite, compelling viewpoint characters.
  2. Multi-linear plot structure driven by the characters.
  3. Richly structured, “whole-cloth” world.
  4. Graspable rules that define the unique characteristics of said world.
  5.  Strong influences from historical and/or mythical precedent.
  6. Genuinely unexpected reversals.

Secondary are the following tropes:

Category 2: Tropes in most fantasy

  1.  Secondary dramatic situation that shapes the characters’ initial actions.
  2. A hidden primary threat that appears distant or unreal at first, only gradually becoming unveiled, and which impels the characters’ second round reactions and drives the main plot.
  3. A sense of cyclical diminishment of the majesty of the world, and/or thinning of magic, and/or lessening of moral purity.

That’s the bare bones, methinks.

Category 3: What I don’t like about a lot of fantasy

There is a shitload of stuff that I don’t like about modern fantasy. Here’s some of it. Most of my ire is sparked upon the yielding stone of American “High” heroic fantasy trilogies:

  1. Strong female characters whose very strength is anachronistic and inexplicable in the surroundings laid out by the author.
  2. Characters who are possessed of or become possessed of ever-increasingly superheroical attributes.
  3. Worlds which seem to function only as an adjunct to story – they do not exist in the readers’ or authors’ mind as separate to the narrative.
  4.  Special relationships with special horses. Or cats. It’s always cats and fucking horses, isn’t it?
  5. Women who just don’t know how beautiful they are, and think they are oh so ugly, but really they’re like totally beautiful.
  6. Endless sequels that outgrow the inventive powers of the author.
  7. Worlds that fail to obey their own rules.
  8. Bad prose of all kinds, but especially that embossed with cascades of amethystine magnificence; lo! laden with a majesty of adjectives that are supposed in their countless, multitudinous companies to evoke the richness of strange lands and exotic kingdoms, but are instead evocative of saying the same thing three times in a glittering triptych of different ways. And of the lack of self-editing.
  9. Recycled cliché.
  10. Poorly employed dramatic irony.
  11. Multiple species all living together in one tiny space for no good reason. Elves and Orcs and Dwarfs and trolls yadda yadda.
  12.  Ecosystems that consist entirely of dangerous predators.
  13. Morally unambiguous characters.
  14. Off-the-peg, “Medieval Fayre” worlds.
  15. Lack of social realism (all our peasants are clean, heck, there are no peasants).
  16. First person perspectives.
  17. World maps that owe about as much to real geological processes as they do to toilet brushes (Good world maps: Yay!. Odd world maps with unusually generated magical/ technological/biological geography: Double yay! Maps that owe their features to authors saying: “Let’s have a forest here”. SHITE)
  18. Not-so-bad dickhead rogues with a merry quip always upon their half-smiling lips.
  19. The entirely egregious injection of contemporary mores into poorly invented societies.
  20. Fantasy that owes more to Mills and Boon than it does to Conan the Barbarian. That’s a lot of it.

Crikey, I could do this all day. I’m going to stop. You might poke me hard in the ribs with your best walking cane and say “I say old boy! This is fantasy, it’s not supposed to be realistic!” To which I’d say: “Fuck off you Edwardian wannabe! Good fantasy has to have realism as a base in order to create a compelling fiction whose fantasy elements appear to be real, and not merely a regurgitated crowd-pleasing ticklist of genre staples. And I’m talking about fantasy, not steampunk, so kindly remove yourself, your cane and cod archaic manner of speech.”

So, I want to write a fantasy that follows the tropes we all expect (Category 2) utilising the toolkitand themes the very best use (Category 1) and avoiding the bollocks that even some very popular writers employ (Category 3). That’s popular folks, not necessarily good. I concede, that kind of writer might write an entertaining story, but it won’t have the power of A Game of Thrones or The Lord of the Rings —it won’t break out of the fantasy ghetto.

Crucially, I think the most important attribute of all commercially successful fantasy, meritorious and meretricious, is that it is true to itself as a creation. That’s not the same thing as being true to the mind of the author. Fantasy, more so than science fiction, has to exist in its own space. Being apart from real life is one of the main points for it to be. I love fantasy, in many ways it was my first literary love. I dearly want to love it more, but so much modern fantasy leaves me cold, while a significant minority makes me murderous. Can I do better? Can I even get one published? Maybe, maybe not, but I’d be a twat to pour scorn on it and not try myself, wouldn’t I?

Laters, oh! and a Happy New Year, eh?


Why, hello there! (Imagine me sitting in a wingback chair by a roaring fire in a private gentleman’s library – No, not that kind of library! Sheesh – and, upon noticing your presence, closing a huge hardback book. I have a cravat on, and a red smoking jacket. Yes, even one of those tassley hats. Not a fez, the other kind). Tonight I wish to present to you a story. A few years ago, I and a group of  others, primarily Gav Thorpe and Matt Keefe, who often comment on this blog, were in a short story writing group with each other. This was a marvellous band, with other members, but we were the core. The Quota, it was called, and we were to write a short story every month.

Naturally, this never happened. But we managed several over the year and a half the group ran. At Christmastime of 2008, we decided to hold a competition. We each submitted a pair of story titles, then drew them from a hat. Naturally, we were to write a story inspired by this title.

Mine was “Rough Beasts”, and I decided to write a Christmas tale. It is  Christmas again, so what the hey, here it is. Why don’t you read it? I’ve since decided it takes place in Richards & Klein’s world, and one day it will be incorporated into a greater story. It betrays rougher skills than those I possess now, but it stands well on its own. Or perhaps you better be the judge of that.

Good evening, and Merry Christmas.

Rough Beasts

“Mutt! Is I Rattus! You must come, come now. Carry me! They have come, they are here, is Chrissymus!”

Freezing fog cloaked the land of the jenimals and Mutt want nothing more than to stay in his hutch. He’d made it from one of the broken pods that lay outside the centre, dragging it as far as the sea. The jagged edges of it he’d buried in sand, and dug a burrow up and under to come within. He’d dragged blankets and foam from inside the derelict centre and knotted them with clumsy fingers into a mattress that was almost comfortable. On the floor was the remains of wooden goods pallet, studded with bent nails he’d hammered in with a rock when he’d fashioned it into a bed. His body thus held from the freezing floor, Mutt was warm and drowsy. He had a covered pit for his toilet in the farthest corner from his bed, and stacks of food packets close to hand. There was nothing to do and nowhere to go while winter chilled the jenimals’ mean domain, but Mutt did not care. He slept. He woke to eat, he woke to expel his waste. He resented the soft light of the day that strained through the plastic walls, but he knew it would be gone almost as soon as it came. So he waited patiently for the warm times when there would be live food and flowers, as he had waited for them every one of the past five winters. But now, now this racket.

Rattus’ feeble claws scrabbled on the plastic, his voice was shrill, his blurred shadow huge on the opaque walls. Mutt tried to ignore him, but Rattus’ pleas became ever desperate. “Please Mutt, please! Is Chrissymuss” Annoyed, Mutt dragged himself from the warmth of the bed, and went down his burrow. He felt the cold of the frozen ground as he wriggled round the U shape of the tunnel, even that was poor preparation for outside.

He popped out of the entrance, hidden cunning-wise among heaps of garbage, and felt the hairs freeze in his nose. He had a covering of thick fur as he was born, now horribly matted. He held a ragged blanket with a hole chewed in it to make a poncho. This he slipped into quickly, before the shivers set it.

“Rattus, Rattus, what do you want? Why do you come to scrape and bang on my walls like this? Is it the warm time? No, it is not.”

“No! No!” squeaked the tiny Rattus. He hopped from one misformed foot to another with irrepressible excitement, and held a crumpled sheet of paper in his hand. “No, is not warm time. Is better time, is Chrissymus!”

“And what,” asked Mutt wearily, “is Chrissymuss?”

“Is this!” said Rattus, and unrolled the tattered paper. “Is light and warmth and nicenesses and joy! Look! Look!”

“What is that?” asked Mutt.

“Why, is Chrissymuss! See!” Rattus jabbed a crippled finger at the picture on the page. “This – tree! These things, these – children! They are happy and warm. Chrissymuss is happy and warm. Bedgore tell me all about it, ‘fore he die. He say, in old days the peoples in the centre they have Chrissymuss every cold time. He tell me ’bout it. I no believe him, like you. Rattus think it stupid story. But here, see! Picture! Look, special tree and shiny boxes with treasures inside, just like Bedgore say!” Rattus was talking faster and faster. It was all Mutt could do to follow his squeaking.

“It’s just a picture, Rattus,” said Mutt gently. His friend was forever getting excited about all kinds of things. Mutt sat down on the ground, his tail carefully curled between his bottom and the cold. “It’s just a picture.” The ‘children’, strange smooth, nearly hairless things in brightly coloured cloaks looked pink and warm. He was briefly jealous.

“Yes, yes! But is more, is more!” Rattus scrambled onto Mutt’s knee. A few months ago he would have jumped, quick as you like. Not now, his litheness was gone. “I not stupid! I know what Mutt think! But there is more. Bedgore tell me, that at Chrissymuss angels come, come like lights in sky, then soon after them nice-man Jeevus, and he love everybody, and he bring treasures!” Rattus clapped.

“That’s nice Rattus, that’s really nice. But there have been no nice-men here for a very long time.”

“No, no, no!” said Rattus angrily. “This not stupid story! Jeevus even better than nice-men, is special! Bedgore tell me, ‘fore Bedgore die. You stop listen stories, you think you so smart. You see, you see…!” Rattus was momentarily too excited to speak.

“What Rattus, what?” Mutt ran his hand up and down his tiny friend’s back, and this seemed to calm him. He suppressed a deep shiver from the cold, lest Rattus think he recoiled from the hard tumours beneath his fur.

“The lights! Lights in the night and in the sky and everything! Angels come, angels come here. I have seen the lights. Lights! So soon there will be Jeevus too, don’t you see? Now is Mutt stupid, not Rattus! Is Chrissymus!”

“That’s nice Rattus,” said Mutt. It was something he found himself saying often. “But I think I might go back to bed now. It is cold and I am tired and it is a long ways until the warm times come again.”

“Nooooooo!” squeaked Rattus. And “Pleeeeease.” The tiny creature grabbed at Mutt’s poncho with both hands. “Rattus want to see the lights, to see the angels, to meet the Jeevus. But it too far. You Rattus’ friend. Please, you come see the lights. You carry Rattus. Mutt, please!”

Mutt sighed. His broken pod, dragged from outside the centre with so much effort and made nice and warm with more, beckoned to him. He wanted to sleep, to wait out the cold time. But Rattus looked at him pleadingly. The little creature shivered, its oversized head bobbing on its neck pathetically. “Oh, alright then,” he said. He put Rattus down, and stood.

“Hooray!” shouted Rattus, and danced a frenetic little jig. “Hooray! Now you come too and see the lights and the angels and be loved by Jeevus just like Rattus!” Rattus’ one good eye shone like a diamond from behind the bandages on his face. The bandages were cracked and stiff. Mutt resolved to change them as soon as he could. Rattus had never been very good at looking after himself, and had become somewhat less skilled in recent months.

“Very well! Be calm, Rattus, be calm.” Mutt tied a piece of string about his waist, to stop his poncho dragging while they travelled, then he dropped to all fours and placed Rattus on his back.

“You good friend, Mutt,” said Rattus, and patted Mutt lightly between the shoulders. “You very good friend!”

“Where to?”

“The lights, the lights they are over the centre,” and Rattus’ voice went a little quiet, and his excitement burned a little lower. Most of the jenimals did not like to go near the centre, did not like to go near it at all. Most of them, but not Mutt. He was not frightened of it. Well, maybe a little.

“Sure,” said Mutt.

Rattus coughed then. His tiny body shook and heaved with the effort so hard that Mutt feared he would fall. Mutt lifted his head and looked backwards over his shoulder.

“Are you alright Rattus?” asked Mutt. “Why do you not come into my house where it is nice and warm. We can go tomorrow, when the light time comes again.”

Rattus’ breathing was ragged, he swallowed hard. “No, no, Rattus is fine. He shuddered. “We go now, today.”

“Then lie down on my back under my poncho, and keep warm, little friend, and sleep.”

“Yes,” said Rattus weakly and sniffled. “Yes.”

When Rattus was settled, Mutt set off at a gentle trot toward the centre, taking care not to jostle his friend.

Mutt thought the land of the jenimals to be an island, but not in the sense of land surrounded by sea. What he knew of such things were that islands were long ways away from everywhere else, and hard to leave. To the south was the sea, a crust of ice along its shore and floating white fangs beyond. The west was the big blue lake, which never froze no matter how cold it became, and from which all the jenimals knew not to drink. North were hills, low but hard to climb. Mutt had climbed them once in the warm, and seen a carpet of brown, low plants and crescents of white nestling in the shade even at the height of the endless sun. In the plants nested strange birds with heavy feet and accusing eyes. A long way off, he had seen the shine of more sea. East was a scrubby forest of dwarf pines. They looked like the special tree in the picture, but not so perfect. Any jenimal that went that way never came back. Mutt had a dim realisation that there was probably more to the world than the small, bare place at the centre of these things, but for him that was all he knew; life on an island.

Mutt’s house was near the sea to the south, about as far as a jenimal could go from the centre. Mutt said it was because he liked to watch the ice teeth in the cold and chase the birds in the warm. What he did not say that it was far away from the other jenimals, and that he liked to be alone. Rattus lived close by, the only one that did, and only because Mutt was his friend. The centre was too far for his hobbled feet, and would have been were it only over the next dune.

Mutt’s fingers and pads were nearly numb when they reached the centre, for he had no gloves for his hands as he had shoes for his feet. He was glad to take them off the ground and go upright once more. Rattus climbed up to Mutt’s shoulder as his bigger friend stood, and together they took in the centre and its new addition.

Bedgore was the only one any of the jenimals had ever known that had seen the centre when it was alive. While he was above the ground, he had regaled them all with stories of how once the centre had been filled with light and the nice-men who had cared for the jenimals in the warm inside, so warm, even in the long cold. The young pups had sat entranced by Bedgore’s tales. But Mutt was wise enough to know that they weren’t all true. A giant fly that held nice-men in its gut and filled the air with a roar as it flew in the sky? Growling beasts that sat silently when the nice-men did not ride them, but when they did shot shouting across the snow on one long foot? Nonsense! Bedgore had become annoyed by Mutt’s refutations and shown Mutt some of the things he said had borne the nice-men. Mutt was the only jenimal pup brave enough to go with him into the shadows of the walls. But all Mutt saw was rust and wrack and broken garbage as that which cluttered the rest of the jenimals’ island.

One day, according to Begore, when he himself was a pup the nice-men had upped and gone and the jenimals saw them no more, and now no-one went in the centre. Only Begore’s stories reminded the jenimals of those who had been so good to them, and then only Bedgore’s stories told those who came after what had been. And then Bedgore was gone. When he had died, the jenimals became fearful of the centre. They reminded each other that the nice-men had gone, and pointed to the dark streaks above the windows where Bedgore had once said the nice-men had set fires. Why had they set fires? asked the jenimals, and shook, saying the centre could eat fire, and would eat them too. It was a badplace, just like the blue lake.

Fearless Mutt had not cared what the others whispered, and when he was full-grown he had gone within. He wandered here and there, through never-ending halls with no windows that nevertheless glowed bright, and he had become puzzled. Why had the nice-men gone? It made no sense, all was good. There were many shining things of great beauty and mysterious purpose, there were the lights, and things that were warm besides but not fire, just like Bedgor had told. Best of all were the stocks of food, lots of food that Mutt fetched from inside in its shiny packets to give to the jenimals to eat. He had even slept there, next to the warm things.

Then one day, two warm times ago, he had gone deep within and down, far deeper than usual, so that the scents changed from air and wind and tundra to the oily powder of carved rock. He found a place with strange tables and many cages that stank of ancient terrors; of pens that smelt of things that were like jenimals but not; of cases and boxes and shiny metal tanks. On all was a strange symbol: a yellow triangle full of thorns. It loomed huge on doors that would not close, glowered from rusting barrels, hid inside sealed glass boxes. It was so quiet, so cold and dark there, that Mutt could hear nothing but the thudding of his heart. There were shadows and things in jars and he had panicked. He had found himself running out, faster and faster, careening from tables on wheels and trays and chairs. He had not told the others about this, how he had finally found fear. He had not ventured so far inside again, nor did he ever slept there. He had known then for sure that some of Bedgor’s tales about the marvellous nice-men who fed and cared were true, and some were most certainly not.

From the outside now, in the gathering long night of the cold time, Mutt found the centre sad rather than frightening. It was old and cracked, walls breaking slowly in the face of frost and gale, windows the same. Every year it looked a little greyer and a little less white, every year more of its long, long fence turned deep red, every year more of the smaller hutches about the main part fell in. The lights in the windows and on the fence became fewer every month, until now only a handful twinkled. But there was something shiny and new there tonight. By the complex was a tall hutch on long stilts like legs. It sat high up against the luminous evening sky, black and clever with big bright lights that stopped you looking at it for too long.

Nearby, there was a fire, and around the fire sat five jenimals. Three were bigger than Rattus, one of these even bigger than Mutt and he was accounted one of the largest of all jenimals. Two of them were the same as Rattus, and both of these bore signs of the disease that ravaged Mutt’s poor friend.

“Ho, Squeaker! Ho Gnawer! Ho Littleman, Spot and Ladylad!” greeted Rattus. The other jenimals returned his salutation.

“Whassup Rattus?” said Squeaker, one like him. “Are you here to see the angels too? Do you want to meet the Jeevus? He has treasures, like Bedgore said! Like in the centre!”

“See Mutt, see! They know it is Chrissymuss too! Do you believe me now? Do you? Say yes Mutt, says yes!” said Rattus, once more full of his old energy.

“Maybe,” said Mutt. He sat by the fire  on a flat rock, awkwardly arranging a form only just suited to bipedalism. The pleasure he gained from the fire’s warmth was almost unbearable, and he allowed himself a luxurious shiver. “What do you know of what is in the centre, Squeaker? You are all too scared to go in. Only I know. Only I am brave enough to go inside.”

“Mutt say,” said Squeaker sullenly. “Mutt tell of treasures.”

“And how do you know they are treasures?” asked Mutt.

“Is true, Mutt,” said Ladylad, the biggest of the jenimals. “Is true there are angels, Squeaker is sorry for his excitement, he listen to too many of Bedgore’s stories when he a pup, he think too much. I am sorry, for Squeaker’s sake. But angels, I will say no Mutt, no! Listen! We have seen them with our own eyes; two legs, two arms, no tails. They have flat silver faces, and bodies made of metal that is not red, but shines!” Ladylad’s eyes shone too, bright as the angels he described.

“Really?” said Mutt. “Have you seen this too, have you Gnawer, Littleman,and Spot?” The other jenimals nodded enthusiastically.

“They came last night,” said Gnawer.

“They came and they took four jenimals into their hutch!” said Spot. “They touched them and they fell asleep and then they went into hutch into the air with them with the lights.”

“To m-m-m-meet Jeevus in the stable, just like Bedgor said!” said Gnawer.

“You too have heard of Chrissymus too then?” asked Mutt. “I had not myself before my friend Rattus told me.”

“Bedgore not tell you,” said Squeaker angrily. “Because you stopped listen by then.”

“I did,” said Mutt.

“Do not be a-a-a-a-angry!” said Gnawer. “Wait w-w-w-w-with us. We wait where the o-o-o-others waited. Spot saw.”

Spot nodded. “It was here the angels came and took the others, to the stable up there,” he pointed to the hutch. “To see the Jeevus.”

Mutt looked hard at the hutch in the sky. It looked like a hutch, looked like the same shape as his broken pod, only bigger and whole. “No,” he said eventually. “No, we will not wait here. We will go and wait somewhere else. But we will watch.”

Ladylad shrugged and poked at the fire. He looked at Spot and nudged him. “Stay here,” said Spot, “stay with us Rattus. Mutt will see. He can come and meet the Jeevus later. He will see.”

“No,” said Rattus. He pulled a sad face and looked at the floor. “I will go with Mutt, because he is my friend. He always look after Rattus.”

Rattus and Mutt walked away from the camp, Rattus casting longing glances backwards. The other jenimals shouted after them, asked them to stay. Squeaker cried. Spot growled. But Mutt had made up his mind, and they found a camp elsewhere. Mutt, being clever did not light a fire, but dug a hole in a snow bank, snug as you like. He wrapped Rattus in his poncho and they fell asleep.

****

Night fell, the stars shone out bright and hard. Above the ribbons of light that the jenimals thought were their fathers and mothers gone under the ground rippled across the sky, back and forth, back and forth, like waves stroking the beach. Mutt was outside. Mutt was cold, but Mutt had to see. Rattus he left in the snow burrow, his breathing rattled and his chest rose and fell unevenly. Mutt did not want to wake him. He would go out and check and see the Jeevus and then he would get Rattus if it was indeed Chrissymuss.

He did not.

There had been no nice-men at the centre nor anywhere else on the jenimals’ island since before Mutt was born. He had little idea what they had looked like. He only knew that they were tall, and that they had arms and legs and no tails like some of the jenimals. He knew this from the tall doors and the strange clothes he had found on his trips to the centre, three times too big for him. There were fragments of pictures in the piles of burnt things that could be found everywhere in the rooms of many-chairs-and-tables, but none showed a complete nice-man, nor one’s face.

He was sure what he looked at now was a nice-man’s face.

The nice-men-angels walked the night, and they were not nice. They held in their hands stabbing spears of flame. Slowly they turned to face a something, then ‘whoosh!’ out spat a tongue of fire from their hands, and all before them was ashes. The sky was orange, the centre burned.

He had watched them as they had thrown something, a stone that smoked, into the circle of fire. He had heard the jenimals, Spot, Ladylad, Squeaker and the others shout with happiness, and call out. Then they coughed, and they fell, and the not-angels came out of the night and picked up the jenimals’ small bodies in their huge hands and put them in barrels. From his hiding place in the big rocks, Mutt could see, the barrels had the symbol on them, the one from the centre, a yellow triangle with a tangle of thorns within.

Not long later, there were two nice-men come to near his place, and they sat three of their tall, tall body lengths away from him. They had fiddled with something at their necks, and then silver flat faces had come away. Their faces were like those of the children in Rattu’s picture, but heavier, and sterner, and Mutt realised that they too, must be nice men, perhaps of a different breed, like jenimals, as different as he and Rattus, but the same nonetheless. The nice-men watched the centre in its bower of flame as Mutt watched too, unseen, behind them. He was terrified that they would smell him, but they did not. They spoke together. Mutt did not understand much. They talked fast without pauses, and used many words that Mutt did not know, though he was the cleverest of the jenimals. They seemed sad and angry.

‘Howcouldtheydosuchathingisapeveeshunisgainstnature,’ one said. ‘IdunnoIdunno,’ said another. ‘Idunnohowtheygotawaywiththis,’ said the other. ‘Anyriskofcontameenashun?’ said the first. ‘Nono.Firellbrunitallout.’ ‘Iamsorryforthecreechurs,’ said the second. ‘Poorthingsisagainstnature.’ And they gabbled quicker and shook their heads and looked unhappy. Then they put on their silver angel faces, and took their fires and burned the night.

From across the world, Mutt heard jenimal screams.

Mutt was careful. He stayed away from the nice men and out of the bright eyes of the big hutch on long legs. He watched as it came down like a giant kneeling and saw as the nice-men went two at a time inside, each pair carrying a barrel with its tangle of thorns mark between them. There were strange noises from the hutch, and a worrisome smell, and smoke came from the new hutch. None of the jenimals that went into the barrels came out of the hutch again.

Mutt ran south. The nice-men ranged over the jenimal’s territory. He watched them poke their hands into holes and crevices and saw flames lap from hutch and burrow. He saw them go to his half-pod, so laboriously dragged from the centre to be by the sea where he had wanted it. The flames went in, and it lit up like one of the lights in the centre before it sagged and died like ice in the warm time.

Mutt stayed as close to the edge of the jenimal lands as he could. He was very cold, and wanted to sleep, but did not, because he feared the cold death, and because he wanted to see. At one point two nice-men walked towards him, searching, and he thought they could smell him, but they could not. They put things to their faces, and looked across the land as if they watched the ice teeth like Mutt did in the warm time. Mutt stayed behind lumps of rock and ice, and they walked away.

He went back to his snow hole. He was relieved that Rattus was still there. Inside it was dark and he could not see the flames. He was confused, and angry, so he pretended nothing was amiss, and went to sleep.

His dreams were terrible, and for only the second time in his short life did Mutt know fear.

*****

The following day, the nice-men had left and so had their hutch.

“See Rattus,” said Mutt, as he pointed to the wreck of the centre. “All the jenimals have gone.”

Rattus cried, he could smell the burnt fur on the air, the smell of cold meat. “So, so, there is no Chrissymus, there is no nice-man Jeevus? Why would the nice-men come back and hurt, why?”

Mutt put his arm around his friend, and took the picture that Rattus still grasped in his paws, tight as an amulet. “I don’t know, Rattus,” he said, “perhaps there is Chrissymus like in the picture,” he showed the tree and the small nice-men and the treasures to Rattus. “But it is not here.”

Rattus huddled close and hugged Mutt, his tears freezing in Mutt’s fur.

“Do not cry. I promise you. If there is a Chrissymus, come the warm time we will go and find it together.”

“But, but, how where?”

“Through the forest Rattus, east through the trees. We can do it, others that have gone and they have not come back. Maybe they have found it? That will be nice, Rattus, eh?”

Rattus dried his eyes and nodded.

*****

The cold time was long and hard. When the warm time came, Mutt was all alone. He had nearly died, but he had not. He was weak, but he fattened himself up on the birds with the heavy feet and the accusing eyes of the low moor, and ignored their cries of murder.

When he was well and sleek and fat again, and his fur was free of the cold time tangles, he took the bundle that Rattus’ small, dry body rested in, and he went east, into the forest as he had promised his friend.

He never came back to the land of the jenimals. The burnt stones of the centre sat silent through the cold and the rain and the sun and the dark and slowly crumbled away, until there was no sign there had ever been anything there at all.


Greetings! Today I say: It is about time I wrote upon the thorny matter of reviews.

I’ve been reviewing “tri-genre” (I’m trying for a new buzzword. D’you reckon it’ll catch on?) titles now for 14 years. My very first review ever was for Mount Dragon, a techno-thriller, which I wrote while doing work experience for SFX.

In the time since Mount Dragon  I have written critiques of hundreds of books, films, videos (yes! it’s been that long) DVD’s, games, RPGs, comics, conventions… I’m going to be mainly talking books here, but most of what I mention below applies to all.

Now, some of these reviews have been bad. Not badly written (at least I bloody well hope not, although there’s bound to have been a few), but negative, critical drubbings with low scores attached to them.

Ah! The power! Lodged in my ivory tower of critical impunity, I have lobbed shit-bombs unashamedly at the creative works of others, and sometimes, dare I say, with palpable glee. Because there are those books that make you froth madly at the mouth just at the mere actuality of their publication.

All well and good, until your own stuff gets the spike of disapproval… This is going to be a long post. I’ll get back to that.

First off, I’m going to talk about writing reviews for large magazines, because there’s a lot of nonsense surrounding the marks and so forth given out by publication. The below applies to SFX, for whom I’ve done the majority of my reviews, and Death Ray.  Some others aren’t so honest…

We’re doing bullet points, people! Let’s go.

  • All reviews are subjective There is no such thing as objective criticism, not truly.
  • There is no “official magazine position” All reviews are written by individuals, and different people like different things. Often what opinions people have on a particular product differ wildly within a magazine. Someone like Ian Berriman on SFX will do his hardest to place the right book with the right person, but still,  reviews are entirely subjective.
  • My five stars is not your five stars People ascribe marks for different reasons. Grades mean different things to different people. Five stars to me might mean four stars to you. Editors will try to equalise this, but you only have to look at games mags, which supposedly  mark out of a hundred but rarely stray below sixty per cent, to see how this can get out of hand. Reviews are subjective. Do you see a pattern here?
  • Advertising has little affect on review marks It would be naive and disingenuous to say that monies from advertising deals have no affect whatsoever on reviews, but on the magazines I have worked on, it’s had surprisingly little. Only on one occasion have I felt compelled to adjust marks to suit an agenda (not on SFX I hasten to add), and  that was very much against my principles. Companies cannot “buy” good reviews. If that happens, journalistic integrity and the whole reason you buy your magazine go down the toilet. On the other hand, having furious advertisers ring up and berate staff for bad reviews is extremely common.
  • Sometimes other things do have affects If the book is bad, but the author shows promise, I might be more generous.  If I have a shitty hangover and argued with my wife, I might be more of a harsh penman than if I’ve spent all night dancing with angel-faced women with nice bottoms in tight, shiny dresses. Sometimes I’m nice, mostly I’m only human.
  • “You obviously haven’t read the book!” Yes I have, and I hated it, so fuck off.
  • Self-published? Don’t bother Only very, very rarely will a self-published book get past a reviews editor. I have reviewed only one I can recall, and that was because it had sold loads of copies. Most self-published work is awful. Even the one I reviewed sucked hard. We magazine people don’t have time to find the few pearls within the heaps of shit that make up this particular ego-mountain. That’s your job. Be the gatekeepers of this modern age! Things are changing.  By all means, tell everyone when you find a corker. They are there.
  • Space is at a premium Another reason why self-published books don’t get much airtime, or books that come from small presses, or limited print runs, or arrived on the wrong Tuesday. There just isn’t enough room for everything. If selection can seem arbitrary beyond these factors, that’s because it sometimes is.
  • Know your market If I didn’t like a book, but I know that lots of people do like this author’s books and this particular one seems to be a good example, I may be kinder than my true opinion dictates. Like, I really loathe urban fantasy. I mean, I can’t tell you how much, with its endless sex, stupid were-panthers, too-many-boyfriends and what-to-wear dilemmas and sparkly vampires knobs. But I can tell a good one from a bad one. I think.
  • Sometimes I use a pseudonym Is there something that could possibly be construed as a conflict of interest by picky cyber-trolls? Then I write under a different name. There never is a conflict of interest, by the way, I’m always as subjectively objective as I can possibly be (or do I mean objectively subjective?), sometimes to the point of personal detriment.

So, that’s out of the way. Where was I? Ah, yes, bad reviews. As I worked harder and harder at becoming an author, and it dawned on me what a monumentally soul-crushing experience trying to get published is, it definitely made me less hard on the work of others. Not necessarily in the score ascribed, but perhaps in the way I explained myself. I’m less likely to go for a cheap joke now. I reread some of my reviews, especially those from my “Bitter Period” (where I’d gone to work for The Big Hobby Company, wondered what the hell I’d done to my career, and was disenchanted with my attempts to publish) and they are really spiky. Funny, but too cruel. I think I was trying to be AA Gill. Why?

The overwhelming majority of reviews for Reality 36 have been very positive. I have, however, had three bad ones. One was from a guy who was incensed by the cliff-hanger nature of the end, which is fair enough. I was warned about it by my publishers, but the story was just too big to fit in one book. If I’m honest, I thought a cliff-hanger might pull people back for the second, so didn’t worry about it too much. A misjudgment? Maybe, maybe not.

The others seem less fair. One, on Amazon, give the book a generous one-star rating and is titled “Unending Tedium“. Nice. But, er, technically incorrect, because it does end, eh? Says the close-to-tears, slighted student twat in me. You know, one in a wanker’s scarf that has just been punched by a townie for being a pretentious little prick.

The other came after SFSignal gave me a new author spotlight. Hurrah! A bad review immediately followed. No!

This spirited fellow gave the final line:

I say to the author, do not give up, but stop and give ideas a good think and draw them out to their logical conclusion. You can ask me for free!

To which one’s immediate reaction is “You can go stuff your cock up your own bumhole! For free!”

But then, I can’t say that, can I? So I didn’t say that. Oh, did I? Whoops.  Their opinions (reviews are subjective, remember?) are as valid as anyone else’s. You have to take the rough with the smooth. The temptation to answer a bad review is almost overwhelming, to say with trembling bottom lip: “But Otto isn’t weary of fighting, it clearly says in the book several times he loves it!” or “Just because an emotional sense isn’t conveyed by machine telepathy doesn’t mean you can’t use emotive language” or “Richards isn’t supposed to be a gumshoe, it’s a character beat. It’s supposed to be unconvincing, like all of us he’s trying to find a shape to his life.” Or any other rebuttal to the points they make. Bad. Idea. It just makes you look like a child who can’t take his beatings.

A setback. I mean a setback. No child beating here. No sir.

The bottom line is they don’t like it, just like I don’t like every book I’ve ever read, some of which have been loved by lots of other people. It’s impossible to please everyone. In direct support of this is that one reviewer thought I over-detailed the technology, the other that one aspect of it was under-detailed. Go figure! (Excuse me a moment while I cry into my keyboard like a fat girl whose ailing pony has just been shot in the head by the vet and turned into dog meat. Bye bye Blossom >sob<).

Every reader brings half the story to the collaborative book party. “Unending Tedium” bloke seemed to have been expecting something else – he mentions the Big Sleep, and first person perspectives, for example. I can say the book’s not supposed to be a futuristic Chandler, but so what? Fact is, what I wrote didn’t chime with what was in their heads. There is a mismatch there. A good author/ reader synergy is like a relationship. A book cover is a smooch, it asks you to undress it by cracking the cover. Sadly, sometimes we’re disappointed. You don’t marry every girl you ever smooch. I’d have two wives if that were the case! (Hohohohoho. I jape. I’d, er, still have one).

But hang on, Mr Helpful wrote a skit parodying a section of the story. How dare he! I would never do such a thing! I… Oh, hang on. I have done it. Lots and lots and lots. I must be a real bell end.

To get back to my mildly sexual analogies, not every blind date works out. Should we vilify everyone that does not like us? Of course not. I reckon if more people had raised the points Helpful and Tedium had, I might take them on board and modify my writing. I mean, I don’t think I’ll be doing a cliffhanger again. That gripe has come up a lot. What these guys say hasn’t, but I’ll keep a weather eye out. You never know, techno-shoes may too become a big no-no in future books.

Where’s this leave my own crit? Answer: I doubt I will get any more gentle than I already have. Sorry, authors, I’m going to continue lobbing bricks around my glass house. It’s the only way I can cope with my own pain.

No, but what’s really worrying is all the comforting things I tell myself above there, you know what? They apply to all the positive reviews as well.

Appreciation of entirely subjective reviews is entirely subjective, after all.


No, that’s not some sexual euphemism. This is a wargaming post about painting goblins The Army Painter way, so if you don’t give a hoot about tiny toy soldiers, especially silly little goblins, the exit’s over there.

Actually, I have not been painting my goblins The Army Painter way. Let me explain.

I’ve been meaning to get hold of some of The Army Painter’s funky dip for some time. Dip? Army Painter? Okay, if you’re not in the know, here’s a quick Army Painter 101.

Wargaming’s pretty big in Scandinavia, with an emphasis on the gaming side. There are a load of tournaments and events and so forth up there – long winters, y’see – and that means lots of models need painting. It just won’t do to play at an event with unpainted figures, oh no. Now, some of the very best miniatures painters in the world come from Scandinavia, but they also like to get their models done quick. Painting models is a lot of fun for the likes of me, I experience the kind of floaty zen buzz you can only get from total concentration on a task. Unlike playing a computer game or some other geeky pass time (of which, my friends, I have several) producing a finished model gives you something to look at, something you’ve done. It’s a real sense of achievement, I tells ya.

Contrarily, painting an ENTIRE ARMY is a massive pain in the balls. What do you do? You could paint every model the best you can. This is my favoured approach, with some compromise. Big drawback – you never get enough painted models on the table. Alternatively, you can slap a load of paint on them to get them up to “Wargaming Standard”.

I look at the models, the beautiful, beautiful models, and then I look at most people’s “wargaming standard”. What we’re really talking is three-colour, mass-produced Chinese toy standard. It makes me sad for all the little goblins to see that, it really does, with no eyes painted on and quick daubs to show up their lovely sculpting. Poor little goblins.

The Army Painter offers a third way. The idea is that you paint on the basecoat of a model (non-wargamers, a basecoat is a flat block of colour, not highlighted or shaded or anything), then dip it in this magic dip. The dip’s a varnish with a brown pigment in it that simultaneously shades (by dint of the pigment running into the cracks) and protects (by dint of being a varnish).

The idea came from America, where serious hobbyists were using floor polish to do the same thing. A couple of Danish guys I used to work with at GW – Bo Penstoft and Jonas Faering – decided to make something tailored to the task. They also make coloured primer sprays. Most people prime with white or black spray before painting. You have to prime, normal acrylic paint will rub off the model without a primer. Having a primer in the model’s majority colour instead saves more time. This is actually a seriously old-school wargaming technique used by historical gamers, like my dad.

Anyway. I have an all-goblin army. None of those orcs, no sir. The thing is with all-goblin armies is that they are HUGE, really HUGE. Hundreds of models. A horde army, in the hobbyist lingo. I’ve long used a lot of inkwashes, especially brown, to speed up my painting. Inks are pooh-poohed by top-range painters, but to me they’re a good short cut to an army with a reasonable standard. Indeed, I wrote a couple of articles on this for the UK edition of White Dwarf when there was such a thing, and I was its editor.

What I like about it
Smell

I love the smell of it, takes me right back to my earliest hobby days when I used to use yacht varnish to protect my models. I pinched this off my father, who used it to thin down oil paints to paint his own models. Army Painter dip smells exactly like it. Ah! Nostalgia (anyone who reads this blog regularly knows how much I hate nostalgia. But no, this is good nostalgia).

Protection

I like the fact that it covers the model in a tough protective coat. Sure, you need to take the shine of it, because it is super gloss. Army Painter do a proprietory spray, but I use paint-on, Windsor and Newton artist’s matte varnish. A lot of my models are metal, some are even the old lead alloy. I’ll be painting them until I die. Varnish this tough should stop that annoying chipping, especially on all those pointy goblin hats! It also binds the basing material to the base really strongly.

Shading

The shading does actually work. Kind of. I’ll explain what I mean later.

Equalising

It’ll blend rough highlighting or drybrushing nicely, meaning you can be quicker and less neat.

What I don’t like so much
Price

£20 a tin. I was expecting something the size of an emulsion pot, but it is a lot smaller. I can just about live with that though.

Drying time

Like varnish, it takes forever to dry – 24 hours. Pick up a metal model before then and you’re in danger of the paint coming off with the tacky dip. Also, beware of windblown fluff and unexpected falls into modelling detritus.

Dipping

I don’t dip. The guys recommend dipping with pliers and  flicking the excess off for best results, but this makes a shit load of mess and is wasteful. Their other method, painting it on and sucking up pools with a clean brush, is the one I employed. I’m finding it hard to gauge how much to use, but that’s my fault, not the product’s.

Dimming

Strong tone takes the warmth of a colour down, and reduces the brightness of the hue. Like, my goblins’ skin looks more like orc skin. But easily solved, I’ll use brighter paint in future at the initial stage.

Shine

It is super shiny! Get the shine off takes a while, no matter what you use.

How I use it

Amry Painter make three shades – Light Tone (light brown), Strong Tone (Dark Brown) and Dark Tone (Black).I’ve been using the very Danishly-named Strong Tone (we Brits would probably have gone for something less macho, like mid tone, or tea).

I find myself employing the dip as a kind of shortcut, but not a panacea to the ills of painting a million models. For me, the end result of applying it directly over a basecoat isn’t quite good enough. It works really well on flesh, browns, reds  or bone. Check out their website for some seriously cool Skaven, Skeletons and historical models. What it doesn’t look so hot on is goblinoid flesh tones. Not because the dip doesn’t work with green, it does, but because the best goblin-y paint jobs have quite a high contrast between highlights, and the dip doesn’t deliver on this score. Then there are things like metal, which it looks fine on, but which a little extra work will make look more splendid.

What I’ve been doing then is painting my models as normal but as with inks, omitting several stages. Army Painter dip is better than ink too, as it mostly collects in the crevices of the model. Like GW’s newish washes. But a lot cheaper.

I’ve been painting Night Goblin Squig Hoppers, both old Kev Adams jobs and newer-school Brian Nelson ones. The older models took longer, as there is more detail on them. Here’s a breakdown – all the paints I use are Citadel Colour. I glue sand on the base and undercoat first.

Robes: Drybrush grey over black primer

Squig: Mechrite Red with Blood Red/ Bronzed Flesh drybrush

Teeth/ rope belts/ horns: Deneb Stone

Metal: Boltgun Metal

Squig eyes: Iyanden Darksun

Goblin eyes: Blood Red

Goblin skin (a bit more involved, as this is the focal point of the model): Knarloc Green basecoat, 1st highlight Gretchin Green 2nd Highlight Gretchin Green/ Rotting Flesh.

Pouches: Brown (from the scenery painting kit – I love my big bottle of “Brown”)

Sand base: Brown

Wood: Brown/Chaos Black/ Bronzed Flesh mix (to get a kind of grey/green)

I then paint on Strong Tone.

Painting time is not as quick as the Danes intended, but I’m not using it like they say. Result is, it still looks nice, and it’s quicker than it would have been as I’ve saved myself three or four stages all told. So I’m happy.

For less prominent models, like the thirty or so archers I have to paint, I’m going to cut even more out.

///UPDATE///Since I wrote this post a couple of days ago, I have finished more Night Goblin Squig Hoppers with flat Gretchin Green for the skin and a couple of other stages taken out. They look great, and were very fast to paint. ///UPDATE///

If I can sort out my shitty photography, I’ll put up pictures. For now, you’ll just have to take the word of a 30-year wargamer/ ex-White Dwarf Editor that Army Painter dip is damn cool stuff.

Rising fun

Posted: December 6, 2011 in Random wifflings
Tags:

After yesterday’s rant, here’s something a bit cheerier. This was tweeted in my general direction last week by writer Jon Courtenay Grimwood, because I follow him, see? It’s brilliant.

Click to hear The House of The Rising Sun played by robotic old tech bits.


A couple of weeks ago I filled out my tax return. My lord, what a horrible shock awaited me at the end. Although the amount of money I owed was cause for night sweats – it is not a huge amount of money, but it’s all proportional – it was the complexity of the tax system that got me thinking about, oh, loads of stuff, but largely the decline and fall of the west, in a super-optimistic kind of way, or Why Our Tax System Is One Of The Many Reasons To Learn Mandarin Now. Not a snappy title for a manifesto, accurate to my feelings nevertheless.

I will try not to lapse into rage-fuelled profanity, but I may slip up.

For a start, the tax system is mind-bendingly overly complicated, and complication can only lead to abuse. Kudos is due to HMRC for their online tax form , because it actually makes the complex relatively simple. On the other hand, you can see how large companies with wily accountants can avoid paying all but the most nominal amounts of tax.

My shock at my tax bill actually came about because I’d misinterpreted one of the few loopholes available to we lesser people, you know, people who aren’t banks staffed by braying rich bastards. To whit, if you’re a creative like me, then you can spread your tax over two years. Great! I thought. Then: Ooh no, shitbollockswhat? as it turns out you can’t be doing that unless you’ve been self-employed since before April 2009. Fucking awesome. Bang went me low tax bill. Added to that one of my main contractors was compelled to put me on their payroll during 2012 in a manner that does not take into account my citizen’s right to £7000 tax-free earnings, thus sapping two-thirds of the money I intended to save for my 2010-2011 tax. So, higher bill, no money put aside.

We were looking at a very deep hole indeed my friend. Still, I soldiered on, and I discovered many weird exemptions along the way. My favourite example: Did you know divers and diving instructors are exempt certain bits of tax? What high-powered lobby group did they employ to get that?! Did Neptune, King of the Sea write to his MP and promise wrath and tidal waves and so forth if they didn’t get a flipper allowance?

I exploded into rage when I discovered that not only did our government want me to cough up all of 2010-2011′s money owed, but also half of 2011-2012′s tax bill, all by the end of January. NO FUCKING WAY. I couldn’t pay my tax bill because I’d been heavily taxed at source during 2012 and now it looked like they wanted that tax AGAIN. I’d get it back, but as they wanted this “payment on account” before I’d fill in my 2011-2012 return and explain that I’d already paid up, I’d have to claim it back. Not that I’d be able to claim it back, because I wouldn’t be able to pay it in the first place. Mostly because they already had the money.

My fury at large companies that can have cosy little chats with high-up civil servants and talk their way out of funding our massive, uneducated underclass so I can do it instead became bloodthirsty and priapic (not me, my fury. What it was going to do with that hard-on of anger I shudder to think).

Luckily, it doesn’t work like that, I’d effectively already paid this part of next year’s tax, and so didn’t have to cough up the payment on account, so that was okay. But it wasn’t immediately apparent. Of course, I could have paid a tax consultant to make it immediately apparent, but I can’t afford to.

Later, in a bit of a break, a friend told me that my contractor was as obliged to pay me holiday pay as they were obliged to tax me (and pay national insurance to employ me etc, all because I do a minimal amount of work in their offices). Maybe they feel hard done by, because they don’t actually tell you this, you have to find it out for yourself. I felt some sympathy for them. Although I have the legal right to holiday pay do I really deserve it? But then I thought about all the massively long hours I was expected to work when I was employed full-time at this same company, with no renumeration, and that their freelance rates haven’t gone up for 14 years, and I thought, sod ‘em.

And that’s what had me in a funk. We’ve so many rights, our companies have so many obligations, and there are so many special interest groups trying to weasel their way out of either, or both. We wage serfs try to eat and afford one shit holiday a year, our employees try to stay competitive enough to pay their board members ludicrous wages, and the government has to carry on paying Sharon from Lakeside to have a thousand badly behaved children because if they don’t they’ll be more riots. Oh, and they need the money to wage a few post-imperial wars. It’s got to come from somewhere, and it’s certainly not coming from our tax-havened megarich.

What happened to the simple equation of: I work eight hours, you give me £40, I give the government £5, I go home in time and get to have a life? Instead we have: We pay you to work eight hours, but we actually pretty much demand you work eleven, because IT has meant the forty people that used to be needed to do your job in eight hours has been reduced to three, and we thought we’d make it one. Anyway, we have to give you stuff we aren’t going to tell you about unless we have to, and our CEO wants three Porsches. Then you can give the government £4.57, unless you have a tractor, the King of The Fish has your back, or it’s a Tuesday.

And why is it like this? Because we’re all egocentric twats. Me included. Society is a glorious wooden temple riddled with the worms of self-interest. I have enormous sympathy for the recent strikers, and the same time I think they are being monumentally selfish. We’re all in the shit, what makes you so special? Oh, sorry, it’s you.

What further boggles the mind is that nobody had the foresight to see that in a world where wages are the highest cost part of a process, the jobs will always go where its cheaper to do whatever those people doing those jobs are doing. That the more rights a workforce accrues, the more expensive they become, and the more likely those jobs are to leave. And why does this happen? Partly because our corporate mindset has become detached from the societal body it sits in, but mostly because we as ‘consumers’ (Jesus, I hate that term) would rather pay £50 for a pair of trainers made in some sweatshop by a worker on $1 a day than £70 for a pair made by a worker in Bury with full rights. That’s as big a reason as the company that makes them demanding a 70% mark-up.

We are all. Selfish. Twats. It really isn’t just the bankers. And that applies equally to The News of The World phone hacking scandal (who bought the papers and created the demand? The morally outraged Great British Public) as it does to the rising cost of what was horribly under-priced milk, rubbish on the beaches, the plague of  hoody youth crims and so on. Everyone must have prizes, so nobody actually does. Except bankers.

The effects of the industrial and informational revolutions continue to ripple around the Earth. In an ideal world, the upheaval stops when everyone is equally prosperous. What will probably happen is that prosperity will slosh dangerously across the globe like water in a rocked bowl, leaving environmental degradation, overpopulation and social collapse in its wake. The cycle will then start anew from a lower basepoint. Repeat until Earth is dead. In a century’s time the Chinese will be employing starveling Mancunians to make novelty plastic apes for peanuts. In two centuries’ time we’ll be smashing each other’s faces in with rocks to steal peanuts.

When will we learn? We’re all monkeys. The sooner we stop insisting we can just groom ourselves, the sooner we’ll stop falling out of the fucking tree.

Go on, think beyond your own interests. At the very least it’ll make my tax return easier to fill out.

I address some of this stuff in my books Reality 36 and Omega Point. I’m not Charles Stross or Cory Doctorow, but it’s there dudes, it’s all there.