A typically English exchange

Posted: September 12, 2014 in Random wifflings
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Today I was riding back from Benny’s school. A small white dog stepped onto the canal towpath, five or so feet from my bike. I braked gently. “Sorry,” I said to a woman with another dog coming toward me. “Sorry,” she replied.

It was the dog that surprised me. I came nowhere near it, and it was not the woman’s in any case.

Review: Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror

Posted: September 12, 2014 in Uncategorized

Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror
Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror by Chris Priestley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Brilliantly creepy ghost tales in the tradition of MR James, but for kids. Very fine writing on display here. Top stuff.

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Review: Twisted Metal

Posted: September 12, 2014 in Uncategorized

Twisted Metal
Twisted Metal by Tony Ballantyne
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Originality is a rare thing in fiction, but Tony Ballantyne manages to pull a new and metallic rabbit out of his (admittedly familiar) hat with his story of warring robots living in a world of metal whose divergent city states are falling rapidly to Artemis, a kind of alloy version of revolutionary China, where individuality is subsumed entirely to the state. The lives of numerous robots are swept up in this epic conflict as Turing City, the last independent realm, is crushed under the iron heel of Artemis – Karel, an immigration official whose mother did something odd when making his mind, Susan, his wife; Maoco O, a wardroid who learns the value of individuality; and Kavan, who leads the Artemisian armies and who is ruthlessly devoted to the city’s creed.

There’s a certain element of sleight of hand here, because this is not really SF, but a full-blooded fantasy story running on train tracks and clad in sheets of robotic steel. There’s much of what you find in fantasy in Twisted Metal: existential debate of a simplistic kind, braided storylines, a lost holy book and, of course, war. Fantasy’s playground is sweeping, continent rocking war, and Twisted Metal has that in spades. I’s SF credentials beyond its cast and technology are, by contrast, dubious, but as fantasy it runs just fine, with the winning characters the best of what that genre does so well, and a world that sticks to its own well-defined rules (how the robots breed is the most inventive aspect of the book, if the least convincing in SF terms).

It’s a great adventure, and at a certain level a good parable for the wars that shook our own world in the 20th century, but you can’t help but feel that a somewhat more sophisticated story could have been played out on the same stage.

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October 027

Benny and Magnus in the garden of 15 Hillside View, October 2009.

I’ve been meaning to write about leaving Somerset for the last couple of months, but what with one thing and another I’ve been terribly lax. First the packing got in the way, then moving, then writing… Unforgivable. But here goes.

Emma and I first moved to Bath in 1997, when I started work on SFX magazine. I was the tender age of 23. We lived in the area for six and a half years, before leaving for Nottingham for three where I worked on White Dwarf. We returned in 2007 when I got the job on Death Ray. All in all, we spent fifteen years in Somerset. The majority of my adult life. The first stint there we lived in several places, but for the entirety of our second time we lived in a village called Peasedown St. John six miles outside of Bath, in a place called Hillside View.

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Graham Joyce

Posted: September 10, 2014 in Writers
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I was just on my way to bed last night when I stumbled on this article on io9, reporting the death of Graham Joyce.

I was lucky enough to meet Graham several times, and was hoping to catch up with him again at some point. He was one of the warmest, most charismatic writers I’ve known, and regarded him as a friend. But then, he was the kind of man who made everyone feel like they were his friend. I never saw him without a smile on his face, and his ever so slightly roguish charm never failed to lift the mood of a room.

He leaves behind him a fine body of work. Often called ‘Dark Fantasy’, his novels transcend genre boundaries. They are the finest modern fairy tales (and I mean that in the old-fashioned sense, not the bleach-whitened Disney way) I’ve read. Although they are stories about the weird fringes of existence, it is not the borderlands of the real and unreal they are concerned with, but rather the boundary between our rational and emotional lives. He was a thoughtful and big-hearted man, after all.

A quest for some measure of immortality is one of the reasons some writers write. Graham is the first writer I’ve known relatively well who has passed away, and I see now that this afterlife is a faded one. Books give little more than an oneiric impression of their creator. The man has gone, and that is a tragedy.

Graham’s beautiful final post gives you a far better flavour of who he was than I ever could. I suggest you read it, and his books.

A bit more hobby

Posted: September 10, 2014 in Gaming
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This here’s a Mighty Empires map that I’ve put together for a campaign I’m playing with my dad. Once we’d put the coasts in, we generated it randomly. I think it looks pretty good. Only took an hour and a half to paint. I’ve still got to do the towns, but I reckon I’ll do those as game pieces, in bright colours to denote faction.

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