Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Banana Banana Banana Memememememe

By way of David Schwartz...

What kind of disease are you?

Al Duncan:

Al Duncan is caused by monkeys.

Al Duncan makes subjects desire sex. With lepers.
Drinking a mixture of raw eggs mixed with powdered paint is a good cure for Al Duncan.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Am I Famo-- YES, You ARE Famous Now. Sheesh.

So my 2-page feature is out in the new issue of SFX. That would be 2-pages like what Nicole Kidman gets on the pages just before mine. Or like what Maggie Grace from Lost gets in the pages just after. That would be 2-pages in a magazine that--

Nicole Kidman!!!

Sorry. Got a little distracted there by getting the same column inches as, like, the goddamn motherfucking A-list celebrity STAR of Moulin Fuckin Rouge!!! As I was saying that's a 2-page spread in a magazine that--

Nicole Kidman!!!

OK. Deep breath. Caaaaaaaalm. It's not about shallow dreams of fame and fortune, of make-believe imaginings and let's pretend we're rock stars and people will recognise us on the streets and ask for autographs and everything and it'll be just fabulous, it will, it will, it will! It's not about me; it's about the book. It's all about--

Fuck that shit! I got the same fucking column inches as fucking Nicole fucking Kidman! How cool is that? Huh? Huh? How cool is that?

Am I insufferable yet? Yes I am.

OK, more seriously and calmly, this is just stonkingly great news. It's great exposure in a magazine which Borders in the UK stocks at eye height, stepped on three racks of its magazine stands, so what you see is:

Empire SFX Total DVD
Empire SFX Total DVD
Empire SFX Total DVD

I don't know if SFX gets sold in the States (Does SFX get sold in the States? Anyone?) but in terms of the UK market this is a point-blank bullet into the heart of SF/F fandom. And it's a great little article that benchmarks the territory by namechecking Jeff VanderMeer, China Mieville and Steph Swainston. Not to mention the namechecks it gives to fellow GSFWC member, Gary Gibson and my editor, Peter Lavery -- both people who deserve a bit of limelight; for, on the one hand, rip-roaring Space Opera adventures with gritty, chewy thematic cores which address everything from existentialism to Guantanomo Bay; or, on the other hand, for being one of the ballsiest editors out there, IMHO, pushing the boundaries of TOR UK's "science fiction and fantasy" stable with VanderMeer and Mieville -- or for that matter Jeff Ford, whose The Portrait Of Mrs Charbuque is wonderfully borderline in its treatment of fantastic elements that could well be read as having utterly natural explanations. Anyhoo, the point is, it's an article that sets out where I'm coming from on the basis of a solid knowledge of the terrain, rather than just picking a bestseller and saying The New (Strange & Norrell / Harry Potter / Da Vinci Code / All Of The Above). The quote they use on the photograph of me (CND badge prominently visible!), "Grief is something you can't escape, it's something you shouldn't escape from", shows they've actually picked up on what I think is the heart of my writing, my approach to fantasy. So I'm really chuffed.

And, to top it all off, they give Vellum a five star review as this month's Must-Read. Is it bad of me to be chuffed about the fact that it gets a better rating than Accelerando? Yes, that is bad; I know it is. But Dog forgive me, that's gotta boost my Tigger Excitability Rating through the roof. Apologies to Charlie Stross, but hey, he gots da Hugo, so I can't help but be a sad bastard looking to see who gets the better write-up. I'd bet Marlowe was constantly on the lookout for how he fared against The Big Will Shakespeare. Ah, the competitive / comparative obsessions of writers; I'm sure it's an occupational hazard.

Anyhoo, there's that, and then there's a couple of articles in the local papers. My dad, bless him, has clearly been touting my tale around the newspapers down where I was brought up. (I may have to revise my bitter-and-twisted opinion of Hellwinning, now that they're being nice to me... dammit!) First off, there's the Irvine Herald article , which has a few inaccuracies / exaggerations in the way it portrays the book as "storming up the charts". It's a nice thought, but we ain't there yet; it's still just the bound proofs / collector's market craze that's giving the biggest indicator of "success", while actual sales figures are really just a matter of Amazonomancy, watching those sales rankings bounce up and down and trying to judge, from how long the book stays high, just how well it's doing. O, Great Amazon, tell us the future of my book! Reveal your Secret Wisdom to this unworthy supplicant.

Then there's a feature that's currently being put together for the Irvine Times. This one I'm really looking forward to seeing, since the reporter, Charlie Rowney, and meself had a good long telephone interview today that really got going when she mentioned the fact that she'd read The Time Traveller's Wife 3 or 4 times and, in contrast, didn't think much of The Da Vinci Code. Oh, and she'd just finished rereading Catch-22, which I've raved about both here and elsewhere. Anyhoo... thus ensued a ten minute blatherfest on names like VanderMeer, Whittemore, Danielewski, Lethem, Chabon and all the really cool stuff that's happening right now on the borders between genre and general fiction. It's great to chat with a reporter who blows away yer preconceptions of what a "Showbiz Section" feature might tend to focus on.

It'll be especially interesting to compare & contrast that with an article that should, I hope, be running in tomorrow's Sunday Mail. This is Scotland's main tabloid paper, so again it's a real scoop to get asked, no matter how small the feature turns out to be (and assuming it doesn't get spiked for something else, of course -- fingers crossed). But here there was that tabloid effect, to some extent. When the reporter, Billy Paterson, asked what my ambitions were for the book and I explained I was hoping to reach that wider, non-genre market, sadly, the only comparison I could think of that would be recognisable was, of course, the dreaded Dan Brown. And when the follow-up question comes along, "Well, that's being made into a movie... How would you see Vellum as a film?", we rather quickly establish that "Um, well, if it was directed by Nicolas Roeg" is not perhaps the best reference for the Sunday Mail readership. Ach well, I got to blather about my dream casting for the book (Colin "Potty-Mouth" Farrell for Seamus Finnan, of course; Christian Bale for Jack Flash), so it was fun, anyway.

All of this, of course, is why I'm yet to post my blog entry on Whirled Con 3. It's coming up; I promise it is. Meeting Jed Hartman and David Moles! Talking Mexico with Scott Westerfeld (It's Peeps week, you know, btw; go ye and follow the link). My three hour conversation with Ben Rosenbaum! TV interviews and kaffeeklatsches, panel items and more! Coming soon, I promise. I just don't have the fucking time what with finishing Ink; or finally getting round to reading Christopher Barzak's The Language Of Moths, which HEAR YE ME, ALL MUST READ; or blasting my way through Jim Steel's Babel, for the GSFWC crit session on Tuesday coming (I was up till 4 in the morning last night, unable to stop because the narrative is so driven; somebody get this man an agent, fer fuck's sake). I have no time now. I officially have no time.

And it's fucking great, mes amigos.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Chiaroscurist Online

The cheapskates and web junkies among you might be pleased to know that you can now read my novellette "The Chiaroscurist" online, at, without having to pay a penny. Of course, once you've read it, I'm sure you'll want to BUY THE MAGAZINE from Mr Klima (yes, just click on the link over to the left, yes, over there) to get a copy all for your lonesome. The paper version does have much prettier fonts and section breaks, after all. Trust me. You know you want it.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Whirled Con 2: Inna The Blue!!!!

First things first: ICHIBAN!

Yes, I now actually remember what I was up to on Thursday evening before ending up at the Hilton! It was not a Korean restaurant we went to. No, in fact it was an entirely different restaurant, a Japanese place called Ichiban. Hell, it was an entirely different we. So who all was there? Fucked if I know. I'm pretty sure Mark Roberts and John Berlyne were there along with TV mates of John's -- Nicola and Russell and... argh... the other one whose name I cannot for the life of me recall. Claire Weaver and Tom Hunter of Matrix were there, Neil Williamson and Eric Schaller. Gary Gibson. Ah, fuck it. There was a mob of us. The rest is just a haze of bento boxes and red wine.


Friday kicked off nice and gentle with a wee coffee in the Concourse cafe at the SECC. Yes, I did, on occasion, actually drink something that was not beer or red wine during the Con. Or, for that matter, a Bloody Mary. Walked in to find Jeff Ford sitting there (hurrah!) with a wee copy of The Girl In The Glass (double hurrah!) which he'd brought over for me because I couldn't wait for it to come out here. I do have to say at this point that Jeff Ford is officially a Top Bloke.

So what are your plans, Jeff?

Sitting in the bar.

My kinda guy. It may also have been at that point that I bumped into Rick Kleffel, who was rushing off somewhere; it may, alternatively, have been at another point entirely, when I was rushing off somewhere. Either way, I didn't have the chance, annoyingly, to actually sit and talk to him. Which is a recurring theme of this con, in many ways. Oh, hey! You're X! Great to meet you! Shit, I gotta go!


So after coffee I wander round the dealer's room for a bit and bump into a French guy, editor/publisher (who I guess I shouldn't name seeing as he was interested in the French rights and it strikes me as "not the done thing" to go blathering about X or Y being interested when it's all still up in the air). As an indication of how generally dazed I was, even when not under the influence, at one point he tells me he's looking for his translator and I spend the next five minutes wondering why he needs a translator? I mean his English is perfectly fine, and sure, I have a broad Scots accent, and I'm still groggy and probably slurring from the night before, but I'm not that incomprehensible surely so... OH! That kind of translator! Like the person what translates yer books from English into French.

La la la.

Finally it's time to head off to my signing session at 12:00, knowing full well that there are no copies of Vellum in the dealer's room, knowing full well that I'm going to be sitting there for an hour like a numpty, chatting to Mike Cobley on my left and explaining to the odd enquirer that, no, there aren't actually any copies in the Dealer's Room, no, but there'll be oodles of them at Borders, tonight 6:30, and, yes, well, it's not really a launch at Borders, tonight 6:30, no, see, it's the Tor UK party, and well yes, it is by invite, but, oh, I don't know! Just come along -- yes, at Borders, tonight 6:30 -- and try and scam some free booze and BUY MY BOOK. It was quite amusing actually; to tell the truth, it was a buzz just sitting at the table playing at being Mr Professional Writer. Signed a few Nova Scotias, at least. And, hell, in a way it was lucky they didn't have any Vellum, since I bloody well forgot my bloody crayons. I had my plan, see, to have them all set out in a row in front. And would you like a purple signature or a yellow signature, sir? Perhaps a small flower? Or a stick man waving? A boat? Picture me with my tongue sticking out one corner of my mouth, intent on colouring in a pretty yellow sun.

The best laid plans o' mice and men, as they say.

Still, I got to admire the size of Trudi Cannavan's queue, and to scowl at the press people setting up their shot of aforesaid queue, which included the reporter himself donning rubber alien mask and standing with copy of book in hand. Ah, so if there aren't any weird fans in silly costumes we'll just have to make one up! Hurrah for the standards of British journalists. I mean, OK, publicity is publicity. I can't honestly say what I would have done if they'd wanted to set up that shot with me. Perhaps I would have agreed... if they were willing to make it an action shot of me leaping across the table, going for the throat of the man in the rubber alien mask, or malkying him with an Irn Bru bottle.

After the "signing" session I repair to the Concourse cafe for a lovely lunch with my French editor/publisher person and a whole host of translators -- all damn fine people. I finally get to meet the translator he wants to work on my book, and Florence and I sit down for a pint while FE/PP goes out on a crusty bread hunt. Hour long chat about the joys of language and the rewards of translation, and just how do you translate an Irishman whose every other word is "fookin " into French? Make him Breton? Heh. That's one of the things I'm eager to see with the translations of Vellum. Will the Russian Seamus Finnan be Ukrainian? Will the German Seamus be Bavarian? What the hell will they do for the Polish version? And Christ knows what they'll do with the Joycean wordplay in Ink. Anyway, the great thing about having lunch with French people is, rather than buy overpriced crap from the cafe they'd actually brought real food for a gourmet picnic. Pate de foie gras and wild duck, no less! Now that's what I call class!

Anyway having arranged to meet up with Jeff and some of the Glasgow mob in the afternoon, and having spotted a copy of Le Portraite De Madame Charbuque in my newfound French friend's hands, I drag him off to the Moat House bar to meet the author himself. When I say Moat House bar, I do of course mean the proper non-convention hotel bar where, of course, all the cool kids hang out at cons.

And that was pretty much it for Friday afternoon. Drank some beer. Sat chatting to Jeff's eldest kid, Jack, about smoking. Drank some more beer. I vaguely remember my editor, Peter Lavery, coming up and warning me, now don't get too drunk before the party. Don't worry, says me.

Drank some more beer.

I'm not very good at this concept of "too drunk", to be honest. What's that then? Too drunk? Too drunk? Too? Drunk? Sorry, no, I'm just not getting it. Can you run that by me again. Too drunk, you say? What an inventive concept!

And so we come to Friday night. Jesus... Friday night. I remember a bunch of us staggering out of the Moat House bar and grabbing taxis to the Pan Mac party in Borders where copies of my book just kept coming to me for signing (in between the red wine). I remember being pulled away to talk drunkenly to China Mieville and Iain Banks. There is, in fact, photographic evidence of me standing beside China, both of us posed for the shot, China looking terribly cool and me looking like a rabid orangutan on laughing gas. I remember being gobsmacked when someone came up with a copy of the anthology containing the first story I ever wrote, looking to get that signed as well ("Holy fuck! That's fucking ten years old! That's fucking ancient!" (I swear even more when I'm drunk)). I remember the harrowing hollow feeling when someone you've known five, ten or fifteen years hands you a book to sign and you can't think of anything to put in the dedication. Fuck writer's block. That's when you really panic. I remember posing proudly for photos with my Mum and Dan and my Aunt Wilma and Uncle Bert. I remember whirling here, there and everywhere in a maelstrom of joy.

I do not remember doing a sort of stagger/dance down the stairs into the party like a whacked-out Fred Astaire, somehow miraculously keeping his footing as he hits only every other step. If it did happen like that, it's got to be the Tao of Drunkenness, I think. Sorta like that Martial Art form from the chop socky movie Drunken Master. You know, the fighting-with-a-wine-gourd thing that they should have had in Matrix 2 instead of all that CGI garbage and stoner philosophy? Whatever the fuck it's called, I appear to have become a master at it, by the accounts of others. I'm not entirely sure I trust their word though. I wasn't that smashed.

Nor do I remember bellowing at the top of my voice "WE WANT THE FINEST WINES KNOWN TO HUMANITY!" across the basement of Borders, a la Richard E Grant in Withnail And I. It's a damn lie. Never happened. Even if it did, I wasn't there. Even if I was, it wasn't me. Honest, guv. A big boy did it and ran away. It was probably Iain Banks. He drinks Body Shop lotions, so I hear.

Look. If it had been at the top of my voice they would have kicked us out.


So eventually some of us head off to the Gollancz party at Tiger Tiger. I have no idea who "some of us" actually consisted of by that point, other than me and my newly designated "driver", a good friend who bravely and foolishly took it upon herself to steer me gracefully out doors avoiding collisions and catasrophes, and to hold me back whenever yours truly was about to blithely walk out into oncoming traffic (because all it takes, you know, is a Ratso-from-Midnight-Cowboy style "Hey! I'm walking here!" and the double-decker bus will stop. You know that, don't you?). Anyway proudly and drunkenly, I declaim to all and sundry "Follllow me! Ah know whrrr wrrr GOIN!" and then proceed to lead anyone crazy enough to listen to me along the road, round the corner onto the street where Tiger Tiger sits, round the corner just before Tiger Tiger, and off in entirely the wrong direction, turning right, next right, and right again, to do a full circuit of the block before actually reaching our destination.

"Hi. Excuse me." says my designated driver to the barman "We're looking for the Gollancz party?"

"RvvvrrrruzzaGollaanzz parrrry!" I clarify.

"Up the stairs." he says.

And so I stagger up the stairs and straight to the bar, say hi to Richard Morgan, but have at least enough sense not to try and engage in conversation right now; instead I -- naturally -- get meself a drink, and collapse into a stool at a table in the corner. My designated driver, bless her, brings me ickle pizza nibble things at some point to line my empty stomach, and a Coke to sober me up a little. I take a couple of sips of the Coke and abandon it, I must confess, wandering off, beer in hand, to dance with an equally wasted woman. Unfortunately, (or shamefully rather) I'm the male equivalent of a prick-tease when drunk; I'll dance raunchily with a girl at the drop of the hat, flirt with her outrageously, and then wander off with complete disinterest when something shiny catches my eye. In this instance, the "something shiny" was a big comfy sofa where a number of Waterstones staff were sitting discussing something terribly serious... morality or somesuch. I may have contributed to this conversation. I may have just sat there grinning like the Cheshire Cat only more inane. Or is it more insane? Probably both.

I do believe an agent gave me her business card at some point. I know this, in fact, having found it in my pocket the next day. Buggered if I can remember when though. Thankfully, my wise and wonderful editor, Peter Lavery, is smart enough to know when it's time to put food into yer stomach to sop up the alcohol, and so eventully 6 or 7 of us stagger out into the night to get some grub. I do have to get someone to call my mobile phone before leaving, I should add, having lost it completely, searched high and low, and not been able to find it. The phone rings. It is, of course, in my pocket.


Songs I remember singing in Pizza Express?

Born Free
American Pie
Moon River

But fuck yeah. Friday was a fucking good night. And I even had two friends decide to, um, put on a -- shall we say -- "verbal fireworks display", as we staggered round the centre of Glasgow looking for a taxi back to the Hilton. It turned out all right in the end, I'd say... but I think I'll discreetly leave it at that.


Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Electric Velocipede # 9

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I've noticed these buggers have started going for silly money on eBay too. So... for those of you actually looking for some neat fiction to read rather than crazily collecting my signature (I'm thinking of changing my name to "Internet Bubble", or maybe "Tulip Craze", the way the collector market is going crazy, you know)... you do realise you can get the plain, unscrawled-upon copy for a decent rate direct from Mr Klima himself? Cool.

And there's lots of tasty fiction in it over and above my not-so-little story "The Chiaroscurist". There's Neil Williamson and Anna Tambour and Jason Lundberg and Mark Rich and Jay Caselberg and and and and and...

So potential UK buyers just follow the linkee to the leftee.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Authorial Unintention

So there's a whole kerfuffle that's sprung up over the last few days about whether reviewers should or should not use the term "self-indulgent" to describe a book, here and here and here and here.
Personally, I'm not convinced that writing is an intrinsically self-indulgent act. Part of it is... there can be a real buzz from it when you're in the Zone, as I'd put it. But it's also, for me, a deeply paranoid affair that involves crises of faith, absolute blank spots and blind fury at your own inability to make the story do what it's supposed to. When you're in that hard graft period, slicing and dicing, cutting and splicing, it's not even remotely self-indulgent. You're not in love with your writing; you're at fucking war with it. I know other writers who talk in similar terms, who talk about having to fall out of love with a story in order to rewrite it to what it should be, or who simply shake their heads and give despairing moans when you ask them how the novel's doing. It's not all peaches and cream. When you're not in the Zone, you're in the Crucible.
Sometimes you have to give the story its head. Sometimes you have to rein it in. To me that's just a banal platitude, a given. And I think there is a use of the term "self-indulgence" which basically boils down to "this story needed to be reined in and it wasn't". To me, saying something was "self-indulgent" translates as "it needed more ruthless rewriting, better editing to expunge redundancies of plot, character, setting and / or style, to tighten it up". It's saying that the writer spent too much time in the Zone, too much time giving the story its head, and riding it wildly, letting it take them wherever it would and just enjoying the ride; and not enough time and energy on turning on that story, hacking and slashing at it, pruning it into shape, giving it a good tight plot, coherent character dynamics, optimum description of setting, thematic integrity and ergonomic prose. If you can appreciate a novel for being tight, you can criticise it for not being tight. I think that's fair comment.
However, there are different standards at play in SF/F just now, and what is tight in literary terms may not be seen as tight in genre terms -- and hell, it may not even be about literary versus genre. These days in SF/F a plot that's sprawling and inchoate when compared to a more roaring and driven pulp narrative may be held together by the sort of character-based substructure or realistic relationships more common to literary novels. Alternatively, it might be held together by Gothic/Romantic hyperdescription, pulpy worldbuilding to the max. I know, with VELLUM, I deliberately fuck with plot, character and setting in ways that makes for something hellishly inchoate in many respects. What holds it together, I think, I hope, is theme and style. It's a cubist novel. It's not meant to hold together in the same way.
Anywaym the point is, this is different strokes for different folks. I don't believe there's a Golden Ratio of plot, character, setting, theme and style. I don't believe that you can objectively criticise a writer for preferencing one element over another on the basis that they a) should have found the Golden Ratio, b) know they should have found the Golden Ratio, and c) wantonly and indiscriminately failed to find the Golden Ratio because they were to busy looking elsewhere. To me, this is one of the suspect implications of the term "self-indulgence", that underlying the failure of the book for the critic is an excess of one aspect of the book (emphasised in the process of giving the story its head) linked to a deficiency in another aspect of the book (neglected in the process of reining it in, rewriting, editing).
One problem with the critique is that it's unspecific. It doesn't distinguish whether the writer has let one character run away with the story, or let flowery prose mask shallow characterisation, or spent so much wordage on describing the world that the pace of the book slows down to utter turgidity. I want to know as a writer, if this book doesn't work, exactly why it doesn't work. As a writer those specifics act as feedback into further writing, or they give me something solid to disagree with. As an old hand of the Glasgow Writer's Circle, I'm used to taking criticism, but it's worthless if it's unspecific. I'd never think of telling someone submitting a story simply that it was "self-indulgent"; I might tell them that it read like unreconstructed wish-fullfilment, or that it was a really inventive background they obviously had a lot of fun playing with but they needed to go back and give it a plot, or that his character is great but since it's really just this character doing sod all, well, the story doesn't work for me. Or so on. Self-indulgent tells a writer nothing, though. What... so I should, uh, flagellate myself in penitence? Take every third word out of the story to make it more "restrained"?
A second problem related to the first is that this criticism is, I think, taste-dependant. I enjoyed Meiville's The Scar because I think the descriptive power holds together an otherwise sprawling and inchoate novel; it reminded me of Peake (and I had a very similar experience, hating the first 50 pages and then suddenly clicking into the pace and loving it). Others I know have absolutely hated it. So specifics are important for a reader. They need to know why and how the critic thinks this book is excessive in one respect to the detriment of another because, hey, that might be just what they're looking for. At the very least, it gives the reader a clear indication of why they might or might not like this book so they can make an informed judgement on whether it would be to their taste. Weirdly, contrarily, I think there's a value for my own book in getting reviews which warn readers up front about its... um... unconventional approach to plot and character, about how it may not fulfill certain expectations. Some of the readers who would be disappointed will not buy it, so less money for me; but that means they won't buy it, hate it, and proceed to tell the world how much they hate it. Other readers will see that same review and, knowing that their preferences don't match those of the critic, decide that, actually, they might well like a book that aforesaid critic utterly reviles and hence go out and buy it. Which would be nice.
But the biggest problem for me -- and again this relates to the above -- is that an accusation of "self-indulgence" is an application of, to coin a term, authorial unintention. To me, it implies that the aspect of the book perceived as overdone is a product of the Zone rather than the Crucible, that the author couldn't possibly have intended that aspect to have been overwhelming, ramped-up to the max, as a thematic necessity of the story they're trying to tell, as a conscious decision. They couldn't possibly have spent the majority of time ploughing through the book, building up that aspect and wishing they'd never started the bloody thing in the first plac. Instead, it's assumed, the author must have been so carried away in the pleasure of writing that particular aspect, so entranced by the sheer joy of being a clever clogs, so caught up in their love for what they were doing that they became a slovenly wastrel, squandering their potential tale in redundancies of [plot/character/setting/theme/style].
At best this is condescending. At worst it's an outright insult. To me, without specifics, a cry of "self-indulgence" could easily just indicate a shallow reading, where the critic has neglected to consider the possibility that there might well be a valid reason that aspect X, Y or Z is so predominant in the novel. Without specifics, I can't know that the critic has considered this possibility, searched for a purpose, a meaning, and failed to find it. Without specifics, I can't know that the critic isn't simply arrogantly assuming that with their Huge Gigantic Brains, well, obviously, if they can't see the point in the excess of [plot/character/setting/theme/style] on a cursory reading then it simply isn't there, and further assuming that it isn't there because the author is a shallow wank-merchant, diddling themselves and going ooh yeah when a firmer hand (*ahem*) would have kept them on the straight and narrow.
And it's that last reason that makes "self-indulgence" a problematic term for me, even if it can be explicated out into a valid critique -- that X aspect needed to be reined in because it overshadows Y, making the book read as if the author has been too busy having fun here to pay attention here. The real problem is that such shorthand usage is indistinguishable from the sort of commonplace philistine critique of "show-offery" applied to anything which dares to be difficult, to risk incomprehension and resentment on the part of the reader for the sake of ambition. The critic may well be right. The book may be deeply flawed, it's aesthetic balance way off, because the writer's just plain failed to pull off what they were trying to do. But the word "self-indulgent" doesn't communicate that any more than calling the writer a poncy git does. And as an accusation of a lack of self-awareness on the author's part, of selfishness and unfounded pride even, it's about as personal as that sort of name-calling.
Noting Cheryl Morgan's and NineBelow's comments on this post, I should probably add the clarification that I don't neccessarily take "self-indulgence" as an insult (and incidentally, hereby promise I shall never throw a hissy fit even if such an accusation is leveled at me; nossir, I reserve hissy fits for right-wing homophobes that'll be truly freaked out by them) . No, it's more that I think it can be read not as a judgement of skill (which is how I'd classify talk about a writer's characterisation as "amateurish") but as a judgement of integrity. And without a qualitative pointer to what is textually being indulged (like, maybe we should say plot-indulgent, prose-indulgent, character-indulgent?) the statement can be read one way or the other.
Naturally, I'm being utterly selfish here and looking for what I can get out of a review, but I also think the reader has a choice to read "failure of this book" or "failure of this author" into the word. If that makes sense.

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Sunday, August 14, 2005

Whirled Con

Where to start? Shit, where to start?

OK, let's start as Scottish people do, when it comes to drinking -- early. The con kicked off for me, I guess, on the Tuesday, when I wandered down to the SECC and picked up me badge and book. I thought, hey, let' skip the crowds and sign up sharpish, scope out the place. I mean, I know the general layout of the SECC from gigs and stuff, but I have the memory of a goldfish so I reckoned it might be an idea to have a nosey; needless to say there wasn't anything to actually nosey about other than the Registration Room but... well... ye see... OK, OK, so it was the WorldCon in me home town with me debut novel coming out and I was just plain EXCITED. Kid in a candy store. And suddenly I was in a new position. I had to register as a -- ooh ooh -- Programme Participant. Is that sad of me? Fuck it. I had to go down and see if there was something cool and exciting I needed to do. I had to go down with that knowledge that this time I was gonna be there in exactly the way, ten years ago, I'd dreamed of being. There wasn't actually anything extra for me to do, but it was still kinda cool just knowing that in the very near future I was going to be doing stuff there as a proper author... wandering around... buzzing like fuck.

Anyway, to get into the SF/F spirit of things I went off in the evening to see Charlie & The Chocolate Factory. I was thinking of getting blind drunk beforehand and lying down across four seats while watching the movie in a dazed haze, as an attempt to recapture my early con-going experiences of Liverpool Eastercon (1992? 93?), that experience of crashing out in the Video Room because you're fucked out of your face, you don't have a hotel room, you've lost the person you were going to crash with and Tetsuo 2: Bodyhammer is not that loud and jarring that you can't sleep through it; but I did the sensible thing and, with a wee movie and a few drinks after with me mates Mags and Claire, I started the con thing gently.

But not that gently.

The next night, Wednesday night, ye see, was the launch of Nova Scotia, brainchild of Neil Williamson and Andrew Wilson, two hardcore members of the Glasgow and Edinburgh mobs repectively. An anthology of Scottish Speculative Fiction, you say? For release at the Worldcon, you say? Why, that sounds like an idea! And lo, they made it so. I mean, forget the fact that they got Edwin Morgan and Charles Stross, Ken Macleod and Jane Yolen to contribute, forget the fact that the book is a peachy keen taster of folks to watch out for, like Hannu Raijianemi and Gavin Ingles, Phil Raines and... Christ, pick a name from the line-up. This was a stonking opportunity for a piss-up! And a damn fine piss-up we had. I, of course, managed to arrive late and miss all the bloody readings, joking that, well, I have a story in it and they never asked me to read, so pshaw! Still, I walked into the downstairs area of Borders and the first thing that happens is someone hands me a book to sign. Which is kinda fiucking cool. And the next thing that happened is we went to the pub.

So we had a good few hours in which I managed to catch up with past members of the GSFWC long disappeared into the mists of time, like f'rinstance Bill King, the man who sliced my first ever Circle submission into little pieces (I remember the phrase "Doctor Who fanfiction" particularly well; being a long-term hater of All That Is Who that was like ripping my heart out, crushing it and then pissing in the open chest wound. He was, of course, quite right -- the story was unmitigated shite). I vaguely remember staggering out of a taxi headed homewards, to grab a Scooby Snack (burger, bacon, egg, black pudding, tatty scone, etc.) on the way home. I distinctly remember aforesaid scooby snack being yummy.

So when the con actually started on Thursday at midday I already felt like it was Saturday at an Eastercon, sitting there with me bottle of Irn Bru in Gary Gibson's reading in the Fyne room (which seemed awfully appropriate to the soldiers-in-evil-experimental-lab section Gary read, what with its Guantanomo-effect breezeblock walls and cell-like atmosphere). Had some Electric Velocipedes to drop off at Borderlands Books in the Dealers Room so after some persuasion that, no I'm not a scurrilous roge trying get access to all the neat books before everyone else I get myself escorted to and from the stall. Not exactly sure what they were expecting me to do on my tod but hey ho.

Oh, and of course, I then get to go to the programme participant registration place (and stand wistfully under the Hugo Nominees Registration playing make believe) and get a pretty ribbon for my badge -- yes, a pretty ribbon that makes me feel Important (sad, but true). Anyhoo, by now I'm hanging with Jim Campbell and Richard Mosses, bouncing up and down like a small puppy and asking "Am I insufferable yet? Am I? Am I?" and so the three of us head off in search of the bar. We do find the Real Ale bar, which is Good, but it's no smoking, which is of course Bad. Nevertheless, we have a wee pint before I realise it's 2:00 -- time for the Del Rey promo thing.

OK, I admit it. I'm partly curious to see what else is coming from Del Rey in the next year or so but (of course) I'm most curious to see if they'll talk about ME. And besides, I reckon it's a good idea to introduce myself to Shelly Shapiro and Steve Saffel before the Del Rey brunch on Saturday morning, ("brunch with Del Rey" I say to Jim and Rich, with a mock casual yawn and a wave of the hand. Then grin "Am I insufferable yet?"). I mean, I should at least try and make a good impression rather than have them see me for the first time as a shambling wreck the morning after the Tor UK party. Anyway, you know, not only do they talk about this exciting new book called VELLUM but towards the end they're talking about the re-issue of Silverberg's Book of Skulls (which Gary Gibson forced on me a couple of years back, rightly insisting that YOU MUST READ THIS). Anyhoo, I'm sitting in the audience nodding vigorously and Steve Saffel says "So, you've read it, Hal?" I mutter something incomprehensibly Scottish about it being "fucking brilliant, but" and have my jaw hit the floor when the reply is "We should get you to give a cover quote for it".

I mean, come on to fuck. Me give a cover quote for Robert Silverberg. How insane is that? OK, so it wasn't perhaps the most serious comment. I'm quite sure there's a damn sight more important authors than me who'll give a blurb for that goddamn classic. But how can you not be tickled pink as a puppy's peter by that. Me give a cover quote for Robert Silverberg. I don't know whether to laugh or explode with chuffedness. Needless to say I will, later in the day, recount this incident with great joy to all and sundry, following up with the point where I'm wandering round the Dealers Room (now officially open) and Steve calls me over to actually meet Silverberg himself. I splutter and mumble, shake hands and generally corpse. Total crisis of identity. What am I? Fanboy? Writer? Fanboy? Writer? Oh God. It's Robert Silverberg! Shake hands and RUN AWAY!!!

"They asked me if I'd give a cover quote for Robert Silverberg." I say to Gary, evilly, deliciously gloating and preening.

"Am I insufferable yet?"

"You've always been insufferable." says Jim.

"But am I really really insufferable yet?"

Eased from quiet drinking into solid drinking over the course of the day, met up with Peter, Stef and Rebecca from Pan Macmillan. Apparently they'd already met with Gary, who was a bit miffed with his books not being available in the dealers room. I hadn't been sure meself if any of my books would be there yet, given the launch not being till Friday, and many of the dealers being from the States and all, and... well, Murphy's Law told me that I should expect to be disappointed. There were indeed no copies of VELLUM in the dealers room the whole convention. I did hear that at least one of the dealers had tried to get hold of it but was through a mutual friend and maybe it was a wee white lie. Hey ho. Whatever. My Amazon rankings and gobsmackingly good reviews make up for it, I reckon.

A few beers later it's time for food, and meself, Eric Schaller, Nick Mahoney, Ian Sales and Craig Marnoch (or was it Danny Livingstone? eek?) head out for Korean. I'm a little disappointed that they don't have any live squid for me to eat a la Old Boy, but you can't have everything. For some reason, I'm sure, we'd all arranged to meet back at the Moat House, but I have no idea why or what for. Part of me even begins to wonder if we were heading back for the Nova Scotia reading, which would mean we went for Korean on the Saturday. If so, then fuck knows what happened on the Thursday. Did I eat at all? Hmmm. If anyone knows what I did on Thursday evening prior to ending up at the Hilton bar, please do tell me. I know that by the end of the night I was drinking with the lovely Alistair McCullough and the even lovelier Marwan Bukhari, and I believe Mark Roberts of Thackery Lambshead fame, John Berlyne of SFRevu and I may have been reprising our Eastercon anthem of Born Free, but other than that... oh dear. It's not an alcohol-induced blank spot, honest it's not. I'll remember any time now. Any time now...

Anyhoo, so that's us up to Day One of Whirled Con. I reckon I'll post this and carry on with a new entry for Friday -- Day Zero, the Launch of VELLUM.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

SFRevu Review

Hal Duncan's extraordinary debut tells of a war between Heaven and Hell and stands as one of the most important releases of the year.


Shit happens. That link might not be working, but in the meantime here's one from Waterstones, the big UK chain:

... it's not often that someone arrives on the scene with such a massive and assured novel.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Day One




That's me in freefall, that is.

The Con Has Started

T-2 days and counting.

Could be! Who knows?
There's something due any day;
I will know right away,
Soon as it shows.

It may come cannonballing down through the sky,
Gleam in its eye,
Bright as a rose!
Who knows?

It's only just out of reach,
Down the block, on a beach,
Under a tree.

OK, so I am now very very drunk, and am not really capable of formulating sense, but Nova Scotia is now launched (and a good time was had by all!) and I am very very drunk. Did I say that already? Yes. OK. But the important thing is... I am very very drunk.

Worldycon has officially started, no matter what anyone else says.


I got a feeling there's a miracle due,
Gonna come true,
Coming to me!

T-2 days and counting.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Could It Be, Yes It Could, Something's Coming, Something Good!

T-3 days and counting.

Just back from a wee wander down to the SECC to register early and avoid all the queues and shite of the Thursday. Yes, I am an eager beaver. Yes, I was keeping an eye out for anyone I recognised, just on the off-chance I could persuade them to go for a pint and sit there in the bar with a programme book in front of me (unopened, of course), pretending that I was already at the con. Ah well I'm off to see Charlie And The Chocolate Factory with the creamyummy Johnny Depp (well... not off to see it with him obviously; one could only wish) so maybe what I can do is drink ten pints beforehand, lie down across four seats and pretend I'm trying to sleep in the video room at 4 in the morning because I haven't booked a room in the hotel and have lost the person whose room I was hoping to crash in. Ah, the sweet memories. That's really the only way to see Tetsuo 2: Body Hammer, to my way of thinking. How I remember that warm, hazy glow of quasi-consciousness, the mind drifting lazily between slumber and sentience, and the blissful confusion of spiky chaos and industrial mayhem. Those were the days.

In between, registering I've also been trying in vain to phone the Royal Mail and get them to redeliver a parcel of the HB sent up by my friendly neighbourhood collector (who was the one what gave me a heads-up -- thanks, Richard -- on the 575 quid Vellum) for signing. Bloody postal service. If it's not engaged it just rings out. Bet they're all just sitting in the sodding sorting office playing cards or summat. I'm going to have to noise up Jim Steel (the GSFWC's very own Charles Bukowski (minus the extreme alcoholism)) about it tomorrow night at the Nova Scotia launch. Oi, postie; what's the special line for arranging inter-office postie piss-ups then? You know, as opposed to the "ignore that, it's only a bloody customer" line?

Mind you; I shouldn't complain. They did deliver a brand spanking shiny (well partly matte in places) new copy of Nova Scotia, just in time for me to read the intro and try and come up with some ideas on Scottish Imaginative Fiction for the Worldcon panel on the Monday. Cause I'm damn sure not going to have any time to read it during the con.

T-3 days and counting.

Anyone Wanna Buy A Book?

T-4 days and counting.

Anyone out there really, really desperate for one of those bound proofs? But who doesn't want all that bidding malarky of eBay? Well, lookee lookee! Here's one for sale at a flat price, straight up.

Uum, one small detail...

It's *ahem* 575 quid.

Lemme just pick my jaw up off the floor here.

Happy happy joy joy!
Happy happy joy joy!
Happy happy happy happy!
Joy joy joy joy!

That's over half a grand, that is. OK, I think the seller's being somewhat optimistic... but still.

Happy happy joy joy!
Happy happy joy joy!
Happy happy happy happy!
Joy joy joy joy!

T-4 days and counting.

And, yes, I know there was no T-5; my Dad's computer decided that I didn't really want to check my mail or update my blog while I was staying down at their's for the weekend. No, what I really wanted to do was stare at a BLUE SCREEN OF DEATH, panicking because I KILLED MY DAD'S PC, OH GOD, I KILLED MY DAD'S PC! Fucking cheap-ass Tiny piece of shit. Cannot load hive (file) blah blah System32 blah blah. File may be corrupt, missing or a big bag of shite. No woder the fuckers went bust. Even their backup disk for resetting it to the basic system didn't fucking work. (Tried that today. Now it doesn't even recognise the hard-drive as NTFS or FAT or whatever. C-drive, mate? What's that then?) Yes. Looks like my having the unabashed audacity to, uh, close AOL (gasp!) means my Dad's probably going to have to reformat the fucker.

Oh, wait a minute... What am I thinking? It's Tiny; he's probably as well selling it for scrap, as it's just as likely to be a dodgy hard drive as anything else.

Oh, wait a minute... What am I thinking? It's Tiny; he should just take a goddamn baseball bat to it, cause it's probably worth more as stress relief than scrap.

And man, crashing a computer... it's not even as cool as, like, going on a midnight drag race, causing the death of a rival gang member, and totalling the family car in the process. Then at least I'd have street cred! Then at least I'd get to run around a museum with Sal Mineo making puppy eyes at me, and shout I GOT THE BULLETS!

Ah sod it. I'm off to look at the website selling my book for half a grand.