Sunday, 30 May 2010

State of Change Part Five: The Silver Machine

I've posted part five of my short novel State of Change over on its own blog. This episode sees some plot hints being dropped at Zac's part, and then Dylan decamps for home only to discover a party going on at his house.

The description of the party at Dylan's house is pretty much like the sorts of parties I used to go to at about this time, a couple of hundred people squeezed into an Edwardian weatherboard house up in the hills of Brooklyn, Newton, Rosenheath or Thorndon (in fact, while the scene takes place in Brooklyn, the header photo is of Thorndon... it's hard work finding CC licensed photos that fit!) The line about being the oldest person there is an actual conversation I had one night with my friend Peter Campbell at a party in a warehouse space around the top of Willis Street one long ago Saturday.

This marks the halfway point, more or less, of the story. I've established Dyaln's situation and the problem he finds himself in - he's a fading TV star, basically, trying and experimental new technology which may be more than it seems in the hopes of reviving his career. In a longer work, I'd say we would have been just entering the central part of the novel where the characters and questions would be developed and the shape of the key concerns would begin to emerge.

Well, it doesn't quite end up that way and I'd say the work's biggest problem - aside from the prose, which is a little rougher than I'm happy with, generally speaking - is the structure. There's good stuff yet to come (and I think the prose improves too!) but I can see the struggles I am having with plot and structure.

But keep reading, lots of funny sex and violence yet to come!

Friday, 28 May 2010

Funny article about Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson

The Rock thus joins that infamous roster of villains that includes Maréchal Pétain, Benedict Arnold, Judas Iscariot, Darth Vader and Rod Stewart, all talented individuals who voluntarily went over to the dark side. His name will forever be linked with such unprincipled sellouts as Brutus, Macbeth, Eric Clapton and Ben Elton. This is not merely a case of deserting one's fans. It is a case of spitting in their faces
 Good old Joe Queenan!

Yes, been a bit quiet, then two posts on the trot. Well, it's Friday, what can I say?

The Russian Hobbit

You may recall this post about Tove Jansson's illustrations for the Finnish version of The Hobbit. Well, continuing on a theme here are the illustrations from the first Russian edition (via BoingBoing).

Here's the Russian Gollum:

They're not quite as charming as Jansson's, but they still have a beautiful folkloric allure that totally alludes modern interpreters who are too deeply emeshed in the aesthetic of modern genre fantasy and insufficiently connected to folklore. I quite like the drunken Yeltsin Bilbo.

I've got an edition that came out at the same time as the Rankin bass animated TV movie, which is okay but a little literal for my tastes, really. The kids are nearly old enough for it - I'm sure Lou would like it but Isbo is maybe a little young and would likely spend the time sighing in bed as she currently does during the nightly chapter of Charlie & the Great Glass Elevator.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Short Fiction Wednesday

The whacky title of Insect Girl Climbs to Paradise (by Phil Harris and published at Flurb) hides what is quite a measured and understated, even quite traditional, SF story. It's a vividly evoked slice of dystopian life – the bleak, rain-swept landscape provides a fitting contrast to Mary, a young girl who decides to escape from her situation as best she can. Mary's plan of escape is ingenious, and we invest a lot in the character as she assembles the mechanism necessary to execute it. The subsequent climb over the wall is fraught with danger and excitement given a real kick by having gone through the process of getting it all together with her. We really want her to make it, and there's real tension here.

The whole story is wonderfully done. We're not given any extraneous detail here -  Mary's the character, and we stay fixed in her point of view right up until the very end. It's shame we had to break out of her point of view at the end there, as I think it does put a perhaps unnecessary crack in the otherwise laser-like intensity of the piece, but I see why Harris did it. It's a decision, really, the sort of thing we're always presented with as authors – how best to push the visions of the story without resorting to telling the audience. Sometimes, breaking the point of view is the only way.

This week's other story is the 2010 Nebula Award winner, Spar by Kij Johnson (published at Clarkesworld). This story gazes with unflinching intensity at the experience of being marooned in space on a life boat with a weird alien. Once again, it admits only the most limited and necessary detail from outside it's single, intense spotlight. I can easily see how this story won a prize like the Nebula – there's not a single word out of place, not one line that speaks to things outside the story's central concerns. It's a short and real winner, and there's really no excuse not to go read this one!

Kij is another writer who I've met over the course of my aimless and wandering life, by the way. She was a tutor at the University of Kansas workshop for writers of science fiction when I attended in 1995, and I had a great time with her and Chris McKitterick and the other attendees over the fortnight I was there. Just by the by.

Anyway, it's vintage week at Short Fiction Wednesday, as these are both terrific stories I think both these stories work so well because they embody the idea of fiction as exploration, rather than  education. Neither of these stories wants to tell us anything, as such, just to show us events in as true and focused way as they can. From this we can draw our own conclusions, although what they may be the authors leave us to decide for ourselves.

That's the magic of fiction: it lets us explore and experiment, to imagine things without having to say what they are or why they interest us, to intimate and hint rather than have to express explicitly what we feel or think. It lets us try thoughts on, see how they fit and put them aside. The best fiction is not a puzzle to be unlocked, but a mirror that shows a part of ourselves.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

State of Change Part Four: The New Direction

I've just posted part four of my short novel, State of Change. We're coming up to halfway, and the story's shifting into high gear. We see the new inplant in action, and attend one of Zac's Hefner-cult parties.

This episode shows its age a little when we learn that the device is just a kind of augmented reality. I suppose it has a kind of Timeless Cronenberg mind-fuck appeal to it, but it's the sort of thing the young people do with a pair of specs these days (often alongside rather opaque "haptic systems"). Additionally, our hero receives an urgent message via fax. Viva the mid-90s!

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Comics Covers Covered

What a great site!


Acres of fantastic stuff after the link.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel

There was a girl in my class at high school called Alison Hart. She was clever and articulate and on the debating team with me and I guess we were friendly without ever being friends. For all her better qualities, there was a bit of cloud about Alison. She was rather heavy and like many of us at the time, going through a bit of an awkward stage. In addition, she had an appetite for confrontation and a rather vinegary view of the world that could find the worst in anything – in fact, that's what made her such a great debater.

She was never actively bullied, but if nobody ever did her any favours it has to be said that neither did she do any for herself. There wasn't anything wrong with her, really, she wasn't an “odd” kid, if you know what I mean, but she was a little isolated, I think, and often left out either out of thoughtlessness or occasionally animus.

In the sixth form, we discovered that she was “going round” with Bryan Quigley, who was my friend and a fellow I liked well enough but also a bit of a square peg and often the butt of good natured jokes from me and my friends. The combination of the two of them was just too hilarious to contemplate and they both came in for a bit of flack about it.

Well, Alison left Tawa Collage in the sixth form (so did Bryan as a matter of fact) and I didn't see her again for several years. A couple of years after I'd left university, though, when I was living on Aro Street and working at Butterworths, I was home one Friday night (broke) when she called round. Somehow she'd found out where I was living, probably through mutual friends, and decided she'd drop round.

She'd grown out of her awkwardness and had a little more dignity about her, and was still full of disdain for anyone she disapproved of. She told me she was working in PR in Christchurch having done a journalism certificate Canterbury. She might even have been married, I don't quite recall. I told her what I'd been up and we discussed this and that over a glass of wine, then after an hour or so, she bade farewell and left again, and I have not seen her since.

It was a bit of an odd experience, really, and while it was nice to see her and catch up, I wasn't quite sure what she was after. Obviously, I've speculated that she was romantically interested, but I don't remember getting that impression. It was just a random visit. This encounter, alongside Alison's marginal status at high school, still raises confused emotions, and long after I've forgotten many of the girls I fancied, she stays with me.

By coincidence, the lead character in Beyond Black is called Alison Hart. Because of the name, I couldn't help thinking of my Alison from Tawa College while I read this; like one of the spirits she brings to her clients, Hilary Mantel's Alison brought her back to me.

Ghost stories are all about memory. A spectre represents something that will not be forgotten, usually the breaking of some atavistic taboo – murder, incest, madness, torture and rape. The gravity of transgression twists time and space and the dead reach into the present day to create an eerie presence that stalks the protagonist relentlessly.

Alison the medium is haunted by a horrific childhood she struggles desperately to suppress. She fends off the spirits of her past through an exhausting routine of submission and avoidance, while trying to make up for the unknown horror of her past through “good actions”. In the end, though, the evil won't be forgotten and she has to confront the past so she can lay it to rest.

The memories of Alison Hart that this book brought back to me are nowhere near as dramatic as the life of the Alison Hart in Beyond Black, and neither had Alison come back to me as a spectre, but the mechanisms of haunting Mantel portrays so vividly are the same. Memory is a ghost only we can see, like the medium, and no one else can know the pleasures or anguish, or the secret knowledge that they bring us.

As soon as I finished this I wanted to go back and read it again. The fantastic controlled prose gave me butterflies – the effortless omniscient point of view, the stream of elegantly shaped sentences, clauses clumped and strung together to magnificent effect. There's a wonderful sickening dread about the build up that is then delivered with wonderful skill. It's a book that's going to stay with me for a while.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

No short fiction Wednesday this week

Sorry, readers, I've been a bit busy this week and haven't had the time to think about stories. It'll be back next Wednesday, though, so come back then!

Sunday, 16 May 2010

State of Change part three: A Little Bit Like a Lobotomy

Part three of my short novel in ten parts, State of Change, is now live on its own blog. 

Things are beginning to happen now. Dylan's agreed to try out a mysterious new medium that will either revolutionise popular entertainment or turn his brain to mush. We get a vivid surgery scene, and Dylan nips home to meet his flatmates. These people were based on various flatmates I've had over the years, and reading it again after so long is a slightly odd experience. You forget all about these people, who were a vital (even intimate) part of your life for short periods of time, until you turn over an old diary entry or letter that brings it all flooding back...

Maybe when I'm done, I'll write an afterword about how real life and fantasy mixed in this story, for my own interest, at least.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Stevie at sixty

Stevie Wonder is sixty years old today, and The Guardian has this nice round up of some of his finest moments. They miss out, however, this absolutely scorching version of Superstition from Sesame Street in 1973.

Happy birthday to you, Stevie!

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Ray Bradbury

Here's a good article about Ray Bradbury on Slate that was linked on Arts & Letters Daily. When I was a kid, I read everything by Bradbury I could get my hands on. I first read The Illustrated Man when I was about twelve or so, and probably read it two or three times more over the course of my teens.I can remember very clearly both the copy of The Illustrated Man I used to own - it had an oddly textured cover, part of a series in fact that included Golden Apples of the Sun and The Dragon Riders of Pern.

I read it again last year
(not that copy, of course) in the course of my degree, and it stood up to my childhood recollections admirably. There's not a single dud, and even if his subject matter and approach seemed rather old fashioned today there are a handful of timeless gems like "The Rocket", "Kaliedoscope", "The Veldt" and the "The Long Rain". The last two were part of the movie version with Rod Steiger, which used to turn up on TV from time to time, late at night during school holidays. I remember thinking it was a bit stodgy at the time, but maybe it would be more appealing to me now I'm older.

I bought my copy of The Martian Chronicles as part of a three-for-a-fiver deal at Whitcoulls one August holiday along with Timesnake and Super Clown by Vincent King (great title , but I never read it, I don't think) and Fratricide Is A Gas by Lindsay Gutteridge (I eventually read all three of this trilogy about a guy who gets shrunk down to the size of an ant has to fight his way across the garden to safety, all of them purchased as remainders, if I'm not mistaken).

Mum and Anna and I took the bus to Auckland, where we spent the night in a hotel and visited the tourist hotspots. I read The Martian Chronicles in one go on the way up and then again on the way back. The girl a couple of seats back from me was sick and I remember the smell of puke and the pungent floral perfume of disinfectant to this day.

I like how the article describes his stories: "Bradbury is an optimist at heart, but his head knows that hope may not be enough. ... You read Bradbury with a growing sense of wonder and joy. It's only on reflection, after the stories take up residence in your head and crawl deep into the dark cracks and corners, that the wonder mutates into something closer to dread."

Yeah, that's what he feels like, and some of his stories stick with me still.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Twenty-four carat AWESOME!

Via Mostly Forbidden Zone.

Short Fiction Wednesday

Comedy is something dear to my heart, and this week we have two funny stories.

From Futurismic comes Westminster Executive Solutions by Chris Nakashima-Brown and Bruce Sterling. I'm a huge Sterling fan, and I remember Nakashima-Brown from his previous appearance in Futurismic, so I had some idea what to expect here.

This irreverent Dystopian satire squeezes a lot of content into it's short space. The events unfold in a collage of chat room conversation, blog rants and police walkie-talkie chatter that strips away the artifice of story. It's like a modern day epistolary story, using incredibly close points of view that admit only what a character says, and you have to piece the story together from these different perspectives on events. The story's a lot of fun and the constitutional crisis it describes seemed deliciously timely.

Tom Holt's Brownian Emotion is a gentler sort of comedy, a sweet rom-com via Dr Who, maybe. Holt's name rang a bell, and a quick web search revealed he's the writer of a large number of comic novels with a fantastical tinge, so I was interested to see what he did here.

This is a fluffy bit of quantum nonsense that sees a hapless history lecturer in Oxford on his way ask his girlfriend to marry him, when he meets a woman who claims she broke his heart ten years ago. I won't give the twists and turns away, but I think you can see where this tale of lost love and rifts in the TimSpacFlux (“that's what we call it now”) is going. In contrast to the minimal characterisation in Westminster Executive Solutions, this one's full of character, depending on the likeable leads to engage us in the story and the mix of soap and romance.

I'm a big comedy fan, and SF is a genre that really lends itself to the funny. I grew up on a diet of cheap paper backs full of the stories of the great American SF humourists of the fifties and sixties, writers like Vonnegut, Dick, Harry Harrison, Robert Sheckley and Jack Vance. Combined with early exposure to Monty Python, this put my brain in perfect shape to receive 2000AD when it arrived, and it seemed to be instantly talking my language.

I prefer grim humour to the lighter types, I have to admit. My favourite writers all have a dark sense of humour, writers like Sterling, Steve Aylett, J G Ballard, Jack Vance, Greg Egan, Jon Courtney Grimwood and Alan Moore. Some of the signature works of SF have strong satirical elements Clockwork Orange, Brave New World, The Handmaid's Tale and even 1984 have an undercurrent of satire and even farce about them.

It seems to me that the lighter fair focuses on problems of reason and common sense, but I think the absurdity of life is impervious to reason. Life is nasty brutish and short, but you might as well stop and smell the schadenfreude. That's the sort of thing I like!

Monday, 10 May 2010

Far North

Why don't we all just kill ourselves?

Seriously: why do we carry on, day after day in full knowledge of our own personal insignificance and the life's general pointlessness? Everyday we avoid oblivion is just one step closer to the yawning embrace of the grave, the eventual extinction of the human race and even the heat death of the universe itself.

People give themselves reasons to carry on. For some it's belief in an afterlife, for others ambition to do good, or maybe you can fetishize it in the shape of children and an imagined line of descendants who will never think of you, never know your name. How do we get up every morning and get dressed, face the thousand tiny indignities and humiliations that life and age and time heap on us, more and more with each passing year?

When it boils down to it, we are pathologically invested in our continued life. There are those that say they don't want to live forever, and yet day-by-day, they too cling to life and when, exactly, will they be able to say "enough, I'm done"?

I myself am very much in favour of immortality, but I don't have much faith in it. I'm rapidly approaching what will, in all likelihood, be the mid-point of my life. It's all down hill from here, physically, and I don't think there's much of consequence in the world that I haven't felt or seen or done, so why carry on?

I think that's the question that Marcel Theroux raises in Far North. Makepeace inhabits a world of very few comforts. The post-apocalypse landscape offers no rest or comfort, she's seen too much to hold on to the faith of her long-dead parents, and in the opening movement of the novel she's even denied the companionship of a family. Yet when she comes to end it all, she can't do it: a plane flies over head, and fills her with hope of a reborn world.

She clings to that hope to keep her going through the subsequent years of hardship and brutality of the following, and when she finds the longed-for plane, what does it reveal? Not civilization reborn, but savage remnants clinging to the remains of the dead civilization with merciless tenacity.

Makepeace sees the futulity of hanging on, but finally, life - desperate, stubborn life - blossoms in her. There's a religious quality about the final passges. As Makepeace finally finds solace in those things that keep us all going - the comfort of work, someone who needs them and, ultimately, a numinous sense of the landscape around her. Maybe it's all a delusional pass-time that distracts us from crushing purposeless of life in between the times we're following our programming and passing on our genes, but it's still better than the alternative.

Iron Man 2

I saw this in the weekend with a couple of six year olds, and it's everything you expect: loud, exciting, brash and so on and so forth. If you like that kind of movie (as I do) you will like this (as I did). After a fidgetty half an hour of plot fixing, things got moving and the eyes of my compnaions were glued to the screen. Clearly, it hit home with the target demographic.

However, it is relentlessly pro-captitalists and capitalism. It's a capitalist narrative striaght out of Victorian puritanism, via pulp mad science and Ayn Randian self congratulation. When Tony walked out of the senate hearings declaring "World peace has been privatised," a cold shiver went down my spine.

I'm trying to decide whether or not it's all a giant piss-take. The moral core of the movie is about facing challenges and rising up to meet them. Tony faces his Daddy issues (again with the Daddy issues! every Holloywood blockbuster seems to be about Daddy issues!) by developing science ideas his Dad left him, cos that's how blokes bond, innit? by tinkering around building trainsets and Airfix models or by synthesising new magical elements (or by going to boysy super hero flicks...)

But there's a political commentary that's hard to ignore, a bit like Robocop with sides reversed - the corporation is the good guy, while the state is the villain. Is this intentional?

One of the tings that makes it so hard to tell is the brilliance of the central performances. Downey, Rourke and Rockwell were all superb, and Paltrow and Johansson did good work with fairly limited roles. Gwynny in particular gave the role of perpetual sub-servient helpmeet enough bite to make it baerable.

It's possible that there's a wink under those fine performances that it'll take a few years to make clear. In the meantime, it's great movie but a potentially catastrophic thesis on international relations and defense.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

State of Change

I've posted part two of my short novel State of Change over on my State of Change blog. Those of you who missed part one can read it right here!

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

David Marston Writes - the Election Build Up

My friend David Marston has been working on a terrific series of articles on his blog, building loosely to the big vote tomorrow. They're wonderful, passionate and informed pieces that take in history, his recent travels around the country and his own life and insights to build up a convincing picture of where we are and how we got here.

In order, they are:
The Lion in Winter.
Wat & Jack.
Bloody Mary.
Ollie (this one's especially good).

I kept thinking I should link to these earlier, and keep linking to them, as they really demand to be read. It's a terrific achievement, and I can't wait to see what he does next.

Short Fiction Wednesday

These two stories quite coincidentally share a theme of physical plasticity. The Boneless Corpse by E Bundy opens with the narrator having a psychic vision of - unsurprisingly - a boneless corpse, while The Boy Who Could Bend and Fall by Ken Scholes is the story of a boy who discovers he can flow down stairs like a slinky.

These stories don't have much in common besides bonelessness. Bundy's story is a fantasy noire detective tale with Norse twist. It's set in contemporary America, but one in which humans co-exist with fantasy dwarfs and fairies of the scary Celtic variety. A murder plot revolves around the standard noire themes of greed and betrayal and Bundy delivers a suitably deadpan first person narrator.

The mystery plot turns on somewhat chance occurrences, and our heroine's psychic powers, but this is always part of the form of the mystery novel. Dorothy L Sayer's short fictions usually have to truncate the meticulous accumulation of detail of her novels, in favour of quick solutions that derive from chance slips of the “I knew the milk man could not be left-handed!” variety in the closing paragraphs. Chandler himself frequently resorted random phone calls from people on other business who just happen to drop Marlow a clue.

As such the emphasis is on character and atmosphere, and Bundy does well with the small space. Her characters express themselves with characterful economy, and the world has the distinct tang of of schnapps and embers at night about it.

The Boy Who Could Bend and Fall is miles away from the generic purity of THe Boneless Corpse. This is a short and flavourful story with a poetic, magical edge. It's a truly surreal story that uses dreamy imagery to explore the psyche of the main character.

Focus Jones uses his ability to bend and fall at first to avoid harm from falling down stairs, and then in later life to avoid the pain of life's other difficulties, up to and including Armageddon. Scholes's intense prose surprised and charmed me and I have spent quite a bit of time pondering the story's ambiguous and neurotic themes of fear and denial.

This is a second time appearance for Abyss & Apex, and another trusty trad style story which appealed my love of detective stories. It's a first time appearance by Electric Velocipede, but I liked the look of some of the other stories they have up at the mo, so we might be returning quite soon!

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Should Iggy cover up?

The Guardian asks us if Iggy Pop should cover up now he's old and wrinkled,a dn the obvious answer is "Hell no!" The more grotesque he gets, the more mana he accumulates and he's pretty close to apotheosis now.

THat body and that history are part of his stage presence. When he goes on stage that "Fuck you, I'm still alive" attitude is part of the performance. He's so wierd looking that it's not embarassing - he's not flaccid and flabby, he's tight as a drum, but neither is there any sense of the body beautiful about him. He's the strangest insurance salesman in history, but he's got the tunes to back it up.

I like this clip of him in a gold suit. Just like Elvis!

Sunday, 2 May 2010

We3 and Civil War

I ordered these two from amazon to cover a brief in-between books embarrassment. I'd been meaning to read them both for a while, and I thought that a couple of comics collections would just last the few days between finishing Moxyland and the arrival of Far North.

Also, they were cheap. Both books cost about twelve quid, including postage, which I think is pretty good value. This pleased me, because among my many frailties and quirks, I am rather parsimonious. I hope I'm not so around friends, or where generosity to others is expected, but in respect of my own indulgences I am rather careful with my money.

For this reason, I've always felt a bit odd about the price of comics collections. I realise it makes no sense at all, because even if they seem expensive, they're still cheaper than collecting pamphlets. Six pamphlets will put you back about eighteen quid, depending what they are, while an album of collected issues is typically about ten or eleven pounds for the same pages of story. All you miss out on are anti-drug and army recruitment ads.

It's partly the illusion that three quid is a small purchase, where ten is a big one, but there's something about the slow drip of story from the monthly schedule that builds anticipation. I read each pamphlet a couple of times, and frequently do “catch up” sessions where I read a collections-worth in a sitting. It's the length of time between purchase and satisfaction that makes the difference, I think. What makes the collection seem expensive is when you've finished it by the time you've got home. The pamphlet keeps on giving over many months, although there's something perverse, about paying extra for the masochistic pleasure of waiting.

As it happened, these two were hand-delivered to us by our local post man just as the four of us were on our way out. When we were a few streets from the house, about to cross over the railway line into Brockley, the Postman came up and asked if we were the family from Number 90? He was just heading round to deliver a package, but if we were on our way out, he said he'd give it to us now, rather than write out a missed delivery card. He stopped his regular round and we all walked back with him to his little trolley, where he dug out our package.

If we hadn't encountered him, or if he'd just ignored us or not remembered who we were, I'd have to have had to have waited a week for my wife to them up from the sorting office, but as it was I was able to enjoy them right then and there. After we'd looked at the house we were viewing, we took the kids to the play ground where I ripped the amazon packaging off and got started, book in one hand and pushing a spinning tire swing with the other.

By the time we'd progressed to the climbing frame, I'd nearly finished We3. This isn't a testament to my speed reading, but to the brevity of We3. As I'm sure you know already (as I'm the last comics fan on the planet to read it, I think) it's the story of three experimental weaponised animals. They escape from their lab and go on the run in a quest for freedom that's been compared to Watership Down and An Incredible Journey. Animals don't talk much, and so the story is told mostly in, pictures, making this a pretty quick read.

Morrison and Quitely let the illustrations do the work, exploiting the visual aspect of the medium to the limit. There's a lot of borrowing from the cinematic vocab of establishing shots, wide-screen action scenes and drama expressed more through facial expressions than those easily mocked *chokes*, *gasps* and *sobs* that characterised the old fashioned approach.

There's as a little as possible of the author sneaking through – the dialogue is what it is, the world is as it is so richly depicted by Frank Quitely. Instead of relying on a caption to tell us, Stan Lee-style, what to feel, each beat is carefully measured – from the panicked chequer board of the animals escape from the lab to the moment of the full double-page spread as the three animals flee into the countryside. It's an effect that rewards re-reading. The brevity of the script allows you to connect with story on a visceral level that sends you careering through it without a rest.

Standing in the park, there, I began to get a bit worried I was going finish this in the grass, and sunshine and drifting chip wrappers of a Deptford playground. So, while holding a tiny hand to steady the child jumping stump to stump on the climbing frame, I took a peek at Civil War.

I found myself powering through this one, too, even though it's fairly heavy on text. It's dialogue rather than captions, presenting a pretty straight-forward story that doesn't require much thought to follow. In between big super-hero bash-ups, characters occasionally stop to deliver info dumps to keep you up to date with the plot, but finesse is not the point here. It's a story about stuff happening, not about emotional engagement of any but the most cursory sort. On the surface there's a a debate about the ethics of super-herodom, but really it's all about continuity.

Civil War – and the Marvel Universe events since – are the current acme of a way of telling stories invented by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee in the sixties. Cross-overs started as a way of promoting new characters in the companies established titles, and a gimmick to attract "true believers" into the fold. Stan had a knack for running gags and knowing winks at his audience, which fostered a kind of intimacy with the reader. "We know it's crazy, but we all love it too," Stan seemed to saying. Whenever you got the reference in an "... as seen in issue #87 of Invincible Iron Man", it felt like being part of a club.

The continuity approach was codified by Roy Thomas in the seventies, and in the 80s the first co-ordinated cross-continuity events appeared. In the nineties, the rise of the trade paperback collection provided a venue for short-runs of books with a limited story arc, first within series themselves, and ultimately leading to a proliferation of short series written with the collection in mind.

In short bursts, minor characters can get a brief moment in the sun in a limited story line without either the publisher having to make a an open-ended commitment. If they do well there's a chance of a relaunch off the back of it, and if not, the loss is limited, and think this has led to more risk being taken with the characters over the last few years. On the other hand, they can be useful to reset characters, returning them to their roots after a period of change and, quite often, actual death (as has happened with DC's Blackest Night has will happen as the end of Marvel's Siege storyline).

I really like these big events. It's like the biggest team book in the world, with a cast in the hundreds and all kinds of intricate webs of intrigue and plot. Instead of forming a loyalty to a book or a character or a team of characters, I'm just following a storyline. I'm reading the Avengers at the moment, and if you do that you have to buy into the whole Dark Reign/Seige storyline. If I didn't buy into that story, I wouldn't buy the comics. It's the soap opera continuity and the delicious agony of waiting that keeps pamphlets appealing for me. These collections are useful for reading things I've missed, but I don't think they'll ever replace pamphlets in my heart!

Well, anyway. we returned home from the park and I might have dozed off for a while in the afternoon. I finished We3 that evening, and Civil War ran out on Tuesday. Still, I'm glad I got them when i did, and then my friend the post man brought me a Fortean Times and finally, last Friday, my copy of Far North.

State of Change

Today, I launch my little foray into online self-publishing in the shape of my short novel, State of Change.

This was never my intent in blogging. I started off just looking for an outlet that was somewhere between a journal and a fanzine, somewhere I could blather about whatever took my fancy without having to worry too much about whether anyone else was interested. It's a place for me to blow off some steam, but with enough discipline to make it creatively useful rather than just an indulgent blow hole.

Well, I dunno how well I've succeeded at that, but i get a bit of traffic, and I think that maybe I can capture some of this to promote my mission in lilfe, my fiction writing.

I'm blog a bit more about my fiction in the coming months, but I'm going to statr of with State of Change. For this purpose, I have established a second blog where it'll be published in ten parts between now and the autumn. After that, I'll put it all together in a pdf and then... well, I don't know. It'll disappear into obscurity, I guess.

Well, with out further ado, here's a link to the introduction and to part one. I'll be publishing every Sunday between now and ten weeks from now, so tell your friends (but maybe not your Mum as it gets a bit saucy in places).