Archives » 2009 » May

Recording Session

Following the success of its recent gig at tePooka, Writers’ Bloc is returning to the same venue on Wednesday 10th June for a special performance in front of an audience composed of members of Bloc’s mailing list. The twist is that all the items – favourites from previous readings – will be recorded, hopefully with appropriate audience reactions.

I am due to read an extract from my (as yet unpublished) novel “Who Changes Not.”

The recordings may be appearing in due course on Writers’ Bloc’s My Space page.

Or is it Facebook?

(I know we’re on one of them.)

Challenge Cup Draw


At least it’s at home.

We’ve not had much luck in the draws for the cups recently – except for Annan at home in the CIS last season.

Still, we did relatively well against 1st Division opposition last season (one of whom, admittedly, we will be meeting on an equal footing this.)

I’ve just looked at the BBC SFL page to check Morton’s final position and noticed – I didn’t pay that much attention to the competition after we got knocked out – that Airdrie actually won it last time out. We really ought to have beaten them in the first round.

European Elections 1

The EU elections party bumf has arrived through the post box.

The BNP one has a Spitfire blazoned it…

The Spitfire was used in a war against your philosophy, you cretins.

And I see the UKIP one has a picture of Winston Churchill, cigar, “V”-sign, trade mark bowler hat and all. This is presumably in order to encourage us to remove ourselves from the EU.

I take it these numpties don’t realise Churchill offered France a union with Britain in 1940.

Tell you what. UKIP if you want to. I’d rather not.

First Past The Post

No, it bloody isn’t. Not in a UK parliamentary election, anyway.

Most of the time it’s nearest the post or, more often, quite-a-long-way-from-the-post-actually.

I happened to catch last week’s Question Time on the TV and some punter in the audience was banging on about how it gave us strong government.

Oh, yeah? Like the Major administration, or our present incumbents?

And strong government isn’t necessarily a good thing. A dictatorship is strong government after all. Don’t forget strong government gave us the depredations of Thatcherism.

I wish all politicians, punters, pundits, psephologists and the like would stop using this lazy, misleading description.

Or, better still, the former should give us some form of PR.

Any form of PR would likely be better than the present farrago where MPs and Governments regularly get elected on less than a quarter of the vote, never mind of the total electorate.

Holiday? What Holiday?

I was at work today.
And so was the rest of Scotland.
(Those of us with jobs still left, that is, in these credit-crunched/recessed/depressed, pick your description of choice, times.)

The first disruption came when my usual signal to get up (Terry Wogan) failed to appear on tbe radio.

After a full day I’d forgotten of course. When I got home and was about to sit down to eat I switched on the TV at the usual time expecting to catch the news. It wasn’t on. Instead there was some stupid film. And the so-called British media keep on referring to “the holiday.”

Well it wasn’t. Not for the whole of the UK, anyway.

Only one of the many annoyances perpetrated by the majority in ignorance of the quaint customs of the northern part of these islands.

The worst ramification of this nonsense came when, quite a few years ago now, Scottish banks decided to take English – and Welsh, I suppose – Bank Holidays. This meant that Scottish bank customers and businesses which were open as usual on Good Friday, Easter Monday and the last Mondays in May and August, couldn’t access their normal banking services and on Jan 2nd the banks were (uselessly) open even though the rest of Scotland was shut.

I suppose most shops etc. down South now open on these days, though, so not much difference in that regard.

Colonisation 3: Aftershocks by Harry Turtledove

NEL, 2001

After Living Next Door To The God Of Love I thought I’d better try something a bit lighter. But Colonisation 3 still took me a while to read (mainly because I’m knackered at this time of year.)

It was business as usual. Two dimensional characters doing things purely for plot purposes and this time it became even more obvious there are far too many arbitrary connections between them for plausibility. Plus my suspicions as to where the plot was going were confirmed. Yet it all does slide down so easily. However, the book didn’t so much end as stop suddenly. Plenty of loose ends left flapping around. Another Lizards series to come? (Yes, I know there’s Homeward Bound, which for the sake of completeness I will read sometime.)

Still, for those who know Turtledove’s background he did slip in a rather surprising joke about the utter uselessness of the study of the history of Byzantium. It was almost worth the time investment in reading the book. Almost.

BSFA Short Story Competition 6

Rescue Stories by Andrew West

A space ship crewed by descendants of humans whose make up is of various blends of mixed gender and hence use non-specific personal pronouns, who call themselves numwyn and communicate by “melding” (actual spoken words are very much infra dig) has suffered damage and landed on a planet unknown and too far from numwyn civilisation for rescue to be possible. Neither are they able to carry out the necessary repairs themselves.

They come up with a plan to accelerate, by means of propagating myths among the indigenous inhabitants, the advancement of these locals from their copper smelting stage of development to a point where they will be able to help the stranded numwyn.

While Rescue Stories is well enough written, there are unfortunate instances of characters telling each other things they must already know and a huge info dump sequence describing the advancement of the indigenes and – somewhat unnecessarily I thought, as the nunwyn surely wouldn’t care – comparing it to Earth’s. (This last seems to be present to allow West to get something off his chest.)

Again, the ending more or less writes itself and is not really any sort of surprise.

The theme is of course similar to Theodore Sturgeon’s Microcosmic God, which I mentioned in my review of the BSFA Award nominee Crystal Night by Greg Egan, except this one is played out through the medium of memetics.

Rescue Stories is not a bad effort, though.*

*Note:- In case you thought it was, this is not meant to be patronising. “Not bad” is the best accolade someone who comes from the West of Scotland bestows on anything they rather like.


Was I asking too much of these stories? Presumably they were submitted in the hope of publication or at the least of attracting attention to the author for the future. However, taken as a whole they failed to meet what I think of as professional standard. In the previous issue of Focus its editor, Martin McGrath, contends that only around 10% of the 120 stories submitted to him “were obviously incompetent in the basic mechanics of writing.” Yet I found at least three of the six on the short list lacking in this regard. Hence I shudder to think what the stories that made up that 10% were like. Perhaps my expectations for this sort of competition are too high.

Of the six stories I much preferred Nina Allan’s Time’s Chariot. On turning to the authors’ published histories it was not surprising to find she has the most widespread portfolio of previous appearances in print. It seems she may not be one to watch but rather has already arrived.

Another Empty Saturday

What it says on the tin.

But… imagine my surprise on turning the car radio to Radio Scotland at quarter past four and finding the Cowden – Stenny play off final as the commentary game.

The bits I listened to they made it sound a decent enough game.

So, at the moment, seven attendable away venues for me next season. That’ll be eight if Ayr win tomorrow. (Peterhead is a step too far.) A home game will be the furthest I’d have to travel.

I’ll be skint if I go to them all.

BSFA Short Story Competition 5

Maria Via Lily by Gary Spencer

Maria’s daughter Lily has died. Before death she was scanned and rendered into a Realm where she lives a digital afterlife. Unfortunately her Realm was stolen, copied widely and has become a world–wide hit. Maria grieves for her own Lily – her unique Lily. The story concerns her attempts to persuade Evermore – the company that makes the Realms and whose employee stole Lily – to grant her wish.

The scenario and story idea are fine, then. However, there was a large degree of very crude info-dumping and Spencer’s handling of English is frankly awful. He apparently has no clue about the correct use of the apostrophe. Mostly it is neglected – we are given the plural forms of words instead of possessives – but elsewhere it is inserted where it doesn’t belong. Spencer also has top draw for top drawer, replaces effect for affect and pixilation (intoxication) for pixellation (blurriness.)

These are huge distractions which undermine any trust in the narrative and, crucially, in the author. Had I not been reading this out of interest in the standard of the BSFA competition’s entries I would have discarded it.

As it stands Maria Via Lily is, in my opinion, not of publishable quality. With suitable editorial amendments it might be, but not in its present form.

It looks like BSFA members were getting these stories warts and all.

BSFA Short Story Competition 4

The Mark by Nigel Envarli Crowe

This one is set in a town – in Russia or Ukraine judging by the characters’ names – mostly after a Chernobyl type accident at a nuclear reactor. (It can’t have been a nuclear explosion as, like at Chernobyl, there are survivors in the plant and town. It might even be meant to be Chernobyl itself.)

There are three viewpoint characters representing different generations of survivors and highlighting the deterioration of language and civilisation through time.

The Mark of the title is a growth on the throat, an outward sign of a mutation/adaptation which apparently confers protection from the residual radiation (quite how this works isn’t spelt out) but also brings with it a loss of intelligence.

The story is well enough written but I wasn’t convinced by it. The scenario is perhaps a bit too off the shelf – anywhere else apart from the former Soviet Union would have been more convincing. The explanation for language degradation came to late to salve my annoyance at its early appearance. There are also too many characters for a story with such a low word count. None of them has enough space to convince.

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