The last ever Ten Minute Guide from Death Ray, and this one never published. I liked writing these articles, but although quite a few people read them don’t expect me to create any more specifically for this website – they take ages to research, so this really is the very last.

Leafy Concerns

We all feel stupid for laughing at the hippies now we’re all about fry on fires stoked by our own greed. And guess what? SF was there fairly early on, warning us all to cut it out…

Science Fiction with an ecological slant is a very broad topic, because many, many writers like to put their characters in extreme situations. What can be more taxing than an extreme environment, of an alien world, or one created by mannish foolery or nature’s wrath right here on good old Earth? Said environments, through the mechanisms of evolution, also force change upon our fleshy shells, another favourite of SF authors through the ages. We’re talking science fiction encompassing everything from tree-hugging flicks like Silent Running to The Time Machine, whose brutal social-Darwinian message of mankind’s fragility in the uncaring face of time still gives us the willies, frankly. Read the rest of this entry »


Another piece written for the very final, unpublished issue of Death Ray, which was halfway through production when it was cancelled. A little like the ultimate fate of SG:U, come to think of it.

I never liked Stargate. Not my cup of tea, really, although I acknowledge its immense popularity. I thought this last installment had promise, but I was far from convinced.

THREE AND A HALF STARS

Director: Andy Mikita

Writers: Robert C. Cooper, Brad Wright

Starring: Robert Carlyle, Justin Louis, David Blue, Biran J. Smith, Jamil Walker Smith, Alaina Huffman, Elyse Levesque, Ming-Na, Lou Diamond Phillips

 The venerable franchise returns with a third (or fourth, if you count the cartoon) show. All brushed up and looking flash, but can it bring SG into SF’s major brains league?

Stargate has been around for a long, long time. We have to admit we have asked, sometimes, why. It’s never really had the brains of the best Trek, the chutzpah of Lost, the grit of Battlestar, or the charm of Doctor Who, in fact, it’s hard to think of anything it really excels in as a franchise other than persistence. It’s been there for a decade and a half, quietly but always on, the cosmic background radiation of televisual science fiction. It’s SF of a very particular sort, you can’t help but think that when mainstream types talk about SF in a less than positive light, it is the likes of the SG franchise they are talking about. It’s the soap-opera end of SF, the epic fantasy of the airwaves. Our problem with it? It matches the competency of the modern Trek franchises, with whom it overlaps in time, and with which it shares many similarities (the close-knit crew, the cosy soap opera character development, the same studio bound alien worlds and limited locations, the same rubbery-faced aliens) but it rarely reached the heights of those series, there is no SG equivalent of, say, ‘Darmok’. Read the rest of this entry »


IMG_2870 I’ve been reading about Space Marines for the last fortnight as I attempt to catch up on the Horus Heresy. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this has induced an urge to paint power-armoured post-humans, so I added another warrior to my Crusader Squad. As this unit can take an additional specialist melee weapon, I’ve given him a power fist. Smush! Bzzt! Crush!

On this model I experimented with the Blood for the Blood God  technical paint, to make him look like a killer (they are, after all, fanatical zealots). Next time, I must remember to put it on after I’ve applied my usual coat of Winsor and Newton Matt varnish, otherwise you lose that fresh gory look. Obviously.

Not a bad job, but the models always look better in real life. Photographs mercilessly expose every dodgy highlight, speck of dust and missed millimetre of detail. Seeing my perfectly painted mini become a botched maze of overly thick paint and shakily applied line effects only intensifies my respect for the ‘Eavy Metal painters.

I’ve now painted twelve Black Templars over the last year – pretty much one a month. At this rate, I’ll be out conquering the galaxy by the actual 41st Millennium. Fear me.

Enormous rocks

Posted: April 11, 2015 in Uncategorized

The moors and woods around here are full of massive bloody rocks. Not quite Monument Valley size, but still larger than many other famous rocks in the UK. Layered strata of shale and very hard sandstone called Millstone Grit (it’s gritty, they used to make millstones out of it) exposed to lots of rain and gale-force winds, oftentimes together, give some very fine formations. But strangely, they’re not that well known. Here are a few I’ve taken pictures of over the last few months. There are literally hundreds more.

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A pinnacle of rock in front of the Hell Hole rocks quarry. Local legend (or at least the schoolyard version I heard as a child) has it that the quarry owner sold his soul for riches, hence the name. My dog Magnus is in the foreground. I saw a peregrine falcon up there a couple of weeks ago.

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The Bottleneck Bride at the Bridestones (it’s about 20 feet tall). This collection of rocks is a mile away from my parent’s house. This one of my favourite places in the Calder valley. It’s the tallest summit actually bordering the valley itself, and can be seen for miles – the really tall hills can only be seen from the very tops of the moor. There’s hardly ever anyone there despite the magnificence of the stones and the views.

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These are part of the Bridestones also, one of about two dozen equally impressive formations at the site. Six-year-old boy included for scale purposes. The name “Bride” probably comes from the Celtic goddess “Brigid”. West Yorkshire was once the kingdom of Elmet, a holdout of the Celtic peoples in the face of Saxon colonisation. There a number of names with “wal” in them signifying “welsh” villages (foreign – at least from a Saxon point of view), so they probably lasted a long time as a distinct culture. In fact, according to a recent study, their genetic marker is still dominant in our population.

If you’re interested in roaming the moors round here like I do, I can recommend The West Yorkshire Moors by Christopher Goddard. A great book packed full of hand-drawn illustrations, great walking routes, and historical, geological, and natural historical facts (although I have spotted one mistake).

If you want to visit the Bridestones, go to Blackshaw Head in West Yorkshire. Drive along the Long Causeway towards Burnley. You’ll ascend a hill above the village, where there is an old radar station. At the top of this hill – Pole Hill – there is a sharp left turn just before the hamlet of Kebcotes. Drive about a quarter of a mile down this to where there is a rough lay-by on the left. On the righthand side of the road is a stile. You can see the beginning of the rocks from there. Follow the path to them.

Happy springtime

Posted: April 10, 2015 in Random wifflings

It’s spring! Blossom on the trees, lambs in the fields, the chatter of birds in the woods and heather, the sun showing his happy smiley face. Predictably, I’ve been miserable. My misery won’t last long, indeed it passes already. Tis only a black cloud that momentarily obscures the shining brilliance of my cheerful personality (note: this is irony). The end of winter always kills me. I love the cold weather, but four months of DARK gets too much, and by the end I am an embittered, scowly-faced hobgoblin that wants to stay in its hole, nurse its beer and spit curses at the world. Some people who know me well might say that’s me anyway. True, but only half the time. Generally, I’m that most peculiar of creatures, a misanthropic extrovert. It’s like being a bloody werewolf, honestly. This time of the year I am the goblin most of the time. So I’ve been sulkily away from the internets, plotting the downfall of the surface folk from the cold comforts of my damp, earthern cave. I don’t think my work patterns help much, all that sitting alone. And it may be that after producing fourteen novels worth of material in five years I have burned myself out a bit. But in truth, this post-winter misery used to be lots worse back in my genuine crazy-ass days (I’ll get round to writing about that). Still, as the sun burns off my entirely self-indulgent woe, I return to you now. And I bring you this by Chuck Wendig, about why so many writers’ blogs are bobbins, including, I fear, this one. I should follow his advice. I intermittently do, when I can’t be bothered. Today is not one of those days.


IMG_1616I painted this chap before Christmas. I didn’t put an image of him up then, but as pictures of toy soldiers seem to be popular, I thought I would share. He’s the warlord for my Anglo-Danish Saga warband. I’ve also painted a Viking leader. Both are on 50mm bases with a couple of attendants. This makes them stand out on the tabletop and justifies, in my mind at least, the huge number of attack dice they get.