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Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Back From Computer Hell - And To Celebrate  

More questions, this one posed on one of the few messageboards I visit... The question, what was the greatest and the worst invention of the 20th Century... so...

Greatest invention - well, I was going to go for electricity in every house, though technically the first electric lights were installed in Swan House in Newcastle (my home town, and ironically Swan House is now a Waterstones Bookstore) in 1880, so that is 20 years too early to fit though it wasn't common until the 20th Century... then I thought of hygene, specifically in terms of medicine, thanks to Florence Nightingale, but that was kicked off during the 1850s, so 50 years too early...

Then I started thinking, you could all forget your rock n roll, which I don't think is actually an invention persay, if not for Marconi's 1901 invention, the wireless... pretty pointless to have rock and roll without a means of listening to it... so Marconi... maybe...

Or... Asprin, I mean, pretty major stuff... forget paracetamol... or DNA... simple old Asprin is pretty aweinspiring stuff...

Frued's theories of the mind, dreams and the unconscious... hmm... or Einstein's theory of relativity and the birth of Quantum Physics... or Hubble's telescope and the man's theories of an ever expanding universe or... motion pictures... or... emancipation (does that count as an invention, well hell if rock 'n roll does)... or or or...

Single one?


I'm going with the Swedish one... mapping the Human Genome and all that THAT means scientifcally for health care and he future society...


Worst - I don't believe there are bad inventions... but some poorly thought out ones... the decision to pick 2 digit date counters when setting up computer clocks that led to the Y2K bruhaha.... Videophones - come on do you REALLY want to be seen when lying to your boss or girl/boyfriend/husband/wife about why you are late? ,) , Muzak piped into freaking elevators and department stores, Psychic hotlines, Smell-O-Vision, SPAM email, spray on cheese, hell fast food in general...


Steven
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Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Country Music - The Music of Pain 

Earlier today a friend asked me to list my top 10 favourite non-genre books, non-genre meaning non-sf/f/h...

This is what I came up with, in no particular order:

You Shall Know Our Velocity - David Eggars
Chicago Loop - Paul Thereaux
100 Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Postcards from the Edge - Carrie Fisher
Wonder Boys/Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay - Michael Chabon
The New York Trilogy - Paul Auster
Microserfs/Generation X - Douglas Coupland
Shadows over the Hudson - Isaac Bashavis Singer
The Satanic Verses - Salman Rushdie
and
Last of the Savages - Jay McKinnery


You'll spot I cheated. I do that a lot. Each and every one of these books means something special to me. Often because I read them at a bad time in my life and they offered an escape. Many, like Last of the Savages or Mircoserfs, are tied in to my emigration to Sweden and the promise that a new life offered - still offers. The Rushdie was the core for my BA thesis, and got me on television. Kavalier and Clay was the last book to make me cry. These are all great books. My top 10. It might change tomorrow, but today, if you ask me to select a great list, this is what I'll offer.

And what has this to do with the title?

Nothing... I was watching Buffy, it was something Xander said...

I'll shut up now,

Steven
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Monday, March 29, 2004

SPAM? Oh no Mr. Minear 

Within a few hours of saying that I believe the future lies in (potentially) the arena of genre tv, I stumbled across this open letter from the Executive Producer of Wonder Falls, Tim Minear... and all I can say is that if you read this and like Wonder Falls and want to see it reach its potential, do something, write to FOX, tune in, get your friends to tune in, phone, pester, simply bug the Hell out of people who MIGHT like the show. This is one of the best examples of genre tv I have seen in years... so, spread the word...


Excerpts From An open letter to the Grass Roots from Tim Minear, Executive Producer of “Wonderfalls”:

For the last year or so I’ve been working with a bunch of really talented people to make a new show for Fox called “Wonderfalls.” We’ve made 13 episodes so far, and I really want you to see them.

Some of the folks at the network are telling me that “Wonderfalls” is the best reviewed new series they’ve had in ages -- maybe ever. I’m currently sitting on a stack of raves from all over the country, from major magazines, newspapers, small dailies, internet sites, etc. They seem to be doing me no good. Also, uncomfortable because of the sitting.

The big brains at the network, while happy with the reviews, tell me that good reviews don’t bring in an audience. Guess they were right. We premiered on Friday, March 12th to less than great numbers.

There are several things stacking the odds against us. Our time slot, charmingly known as “The Fox Friday Death Slot” is quickly living up to its name. There has been much confusion and differing opinion over just how to promote this odd little series. Maybe the unique charm, heart and volcanic snark aren’t coming through. I dunno. Fact is, I have no power over network promotion, I can’t force Fox to air “Wonderfalls” on Monday nights, I don’t have a Nielsen box or know anyone who does.

But I do have this keyboard, my cable-modem and a relationship with genre fans all over the world because of the internet. All of the shows I’ve worked on in the last several years have had loyal internet followings. From “Lois and Clark” to “The X-Files,” from “Angel” to the short-lived but much-loved “Firefly.” Ever since I’ve been associated with genre television I’ve had the extreme honor and pleasure (and sometimes hair-pulling madness) of interacting with fans of these shows via the internet. You are the most dedicated, passionate and, frankly, smartest fans around.

And I’m turning to you now because I believe you’re a huge untapped resource.

I know that every one of you is connected to many others that I can’t reach. If you can give a hand here, you might be keeping us afloat long enough for us to catch the tide. Worth a shot, anyway.


Read The Whole Letter Here

So, what more can I say? It's too late to recatch the pilot, but Hell, the series is GREAT, leap in anyway...

Steven
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Sunday, March 28, 2004

State of The Nation Undressed or What I Watched on TV... 

The question "Where is the future of the genre?" seems to come up regularly in writerly circles, at conventions over beers, on messageboards and mailing lists. People obsess over it. Ever since Clive Barker was proclaimed the Future of Horror by Stephen King every pundit on the block has been looking for the magic successor to Barker's throne, after all, Barker isn't writing 'horror' anymore, he's a fabulist, driven to explore le fantastique. I'll admit it, I wonder who the next big thing will be. Despite the fact that I regularly haunt cons and browse messageboards I have a sneaking suspicion it will be someone I have never heard of. That's the way it goes with phenomena, right? I'd never heard of Barker before the Books of Blood. King blew me away with Carrie. Herbert's The Rats came out of nowhere. So why the preoccupation with finding the future?

Is it a fear that in fact there is no future?

I don't for one minute think that another Clive Barker will simply arise from the swamp - though I will admit to a conversation circa Weaveworld's UK release, with one of Britain's best horror writers Stephen Laws, where I foolishly proclaimed that by the time I was forty I would be as a big as Barker. Stephen gave me some great advice, which I have done my best to honour: don't try to be the next anybody, be the first Steve Savile. That was actually quite liberating advice, it freed me up to explore what interested me without the pressure of every word having to be gold - and ironically perhaps, over the last few years my writing has drawn comparison to Clive Barker when I thought I had long since moved away from any kind of similarity. In the latest issue of The Third Alternative the reviewer offers this interesting (to me at least) sentiment: "Echoes of Clive Barker... vivid and disturbing imagery." The review itself is not exactly glowing but it is fair and that is all you can ask as a writer. Any story works for some and not for others. I just found it interesting, all things considered that the Barkeresque reference reared its head again. I must admit it is flattering. Who wouldn't be flattered, right? I mean, Clive Barker... The man pretty much single-handedly resurrected horror...

My ego has metamorphosed into a much more manageable beast since that conversation with Stephen Laws. I don't consider one reviewer's opinion a sign that I am the second coming. In fact, I think that this kind of easy comparison is well, easy... I mean to say it is far easier to say something is similar to something else than it is to identify what makes it original. It is not as though Barker has a patent on vivid and disturbing imagery. Anyway, this isn't about a review, it is about a feeling. One reason I hate to see lines like: the future of horror coupled with a comparison to another author is that the future will be - and should be - new and unique.

But where is it? That future?

Ahh, the second part of the title - television, the blood sucking leech of creativity and originality.

Scarily, I think for once we are blessed with good, creative, explorative, television - genre television. Shows like Wonder Falls, Tru Calling, Angel, Touching Evil, there is a lot of good solid work going on in television, writers who I have never heard of doing something interesting and creative - and dare I even suggest it - different?

The future of horror/sf/fantasy?

God, just imagine if the answer to that question is ON THE TELEVISION!

Is that negativity or realism?

Steven


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Friday, March 26, 2004

The Slacker Society - or Wrestling the Demon Sloth 

I admit it, I am a bad role model. I am one of the put off today what you can equally well put off again tomorrow people. You see I have a demon that lives with me. Inside me really. He's a small miserable little demon that really doesn't like getting out of bed all that much and is a big fan of vegging out in front of the telelvision watching episodes of Angel, Tru Calling, Sliders, Gilmore Girls (okay, my dirty secret, but I LIKE them... what can I say?) and right now Wonder Falls, in other words watching what other people create, enjoying the spoils of their hard work. You see, I consider myself a flag waver for the Slacker Society. I hate the routine, the daily grind, the slog that seems to be the norm that goes along with a writer's life, but I love it it. I am like the alcoholic that just has to come back for one last drink or the gambler who can't walk away from the table, even when he is up.

A love affair is a good way of describing it. One day the Muse treats me bad, tries to break my spirit, and next she adores me, flatters me, inspires me. Of course she is constantly at war with the Great Demon Sloth who wants nothing more than to sleep 12 hours a day. So, how to defeat sloth? Someone suggested I actually create a central character who wrestles with laziness, and then the Sloth's ego will demand that it makes this character perfect, hence actually allowing me to work and the Muse to cavort. Pretty crafty, that man.

I made a pledge today, to my fellow members of Codex, a new organisation for the new generation of professional SF writers (by the way I use SF to mean Speculative Fiction not Science Fiction, remember all that Einstein and Newton stuff is mumbo jumbo to me). 18 days, 31,000 words, to finish The Ghosts of the Conquered, my first fantasy novel, and The Restless Dead, a ghost novelette. 2,000 words a day and both of these projects will be ready to ship to my agent by the 12th April. The reason for the deadline? The new term begins April 13th. I'll be posting regular updates here - in order of importance, novel first, novelette second. So, for 18 straight days, me vs. the Sloth.

Wish me luck

Steven
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Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Plain English? Not 'arf! 

The Plain English Campaign, heard of it? The idea is to save our language from the monstrosity that is NuSpeak. I regularly get sms (text) messages on my mobile with things like: tlk 2 u l8r m8. I takes me ages to muddle through other peoples' laziness with the language but I do it. Heck, I even laugh at it some times. Emphasis on the some.

Complete sentences are slipping into the every day, and I'll admit, I use them too:

"I'm not being funny but..." the line is usually delivered right before the insult. Of course you aren't being funny, you are being insulting.

"To be honest ... " So everything else that comes out of the persons mouth therefore must be a lie? Makes sense to me.

"I hear what you're saying." Which means I might as well have my hands over my ears and be going la la la la because I'm going to ignore everything you have to say.

"'Don't do anything I wouldn't do" has to be one of the most annoying phrases known to mankind. What wouldn't they do? Run off to Abu Dhabi to take place in a camel race? Ok, won't do that, then...

"It's not rocket science..." evidently, I mean, I am hardly qualified to build a rocket, though I could possibly be mistaken for a Space Cadet on occassion.

"We sent in a bunch of crack troups." I am assuming these fellows are good for getting in to those difficult places the hoover cannot reach? Or do they run around giving the enemy wedgies? We won't even follow the free basing images...

"We're really pushing the envelope with this one..." why? has it broken down? need a tow? Or perhaps it spat its dummy out...

"Try thinking outside of the box..." try thinking inside of it... no air, all dark, and you suffer from claustrophobia. Not a good place to be.

"I wanted to touch base with you..." great, lets go play baseball. I need the exercise, sitting here every day is bad for the posture you know...

"I think about her 24/7." I'm not even going to go there... okay okay, that was one of those lines...

The thing is they are cropping up in fiction to, computerspeak, NuSpeak, or just plain bad English. I was reading a certain ex-SAS hero's latest novel and it was filled with lines like: I pinged the target across the shopping mall." Pinged, why not saw or spotted? Oh, right, because pinged is NuSpeak, Ping is a tool used in IT where one computer or application can test the availability on the other. And simple words like yes have been replaced by definitely, abosolutely, positively. Whatever happened to language being about mass-communication?

George Orwell's advice from 1946 is still worth following: 'Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print'.

Want to learn more about the Plain English Campaign?
go here.
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Sweet Little Miss Terry 

Taking a break from the writing to come in here and... erm... write...

Something just occurred to me when I wrote, and then deleted a marvellously cliched line: "Life can't always be like the movies, so sometimes it is best to leave a little mystery just to keep you interested." Needless to say, whilst the line has disappeared from the screen the sentiment is still resonnating in my thoughts.

Is it, truly, better to leave a little mystery?

Or does that just force us to try and solve it?

Lets face it, I hate riddles. I don't want to think about what runs fast yet has no legs or what is always coming and never arrives. My mind sets to self-destruct when it sees lines like that. I like an empirical universe. I like to be able to say without fear of contradiction A happened because/despite B. I like to know. This might strike some people as weird, I mean, my background is very firmly rooted in the Social and not the Physical Sciences. Still, if you tell me something is a mystery I will obsess about it. I will drive myself crazy about it. I will worry it and chase it and do my damnedest to nail it to the floor. Why? Because I need to know. I am from a generation blessed with knowledge. Books, along with newspapers and television have always told me everything I needed to know. I started thinking, with that line still on the screen: isn't mystery an excuse ignorance? Or worse, an excuse for cowardice? I don't want to take the risk, if I do I might fail. She might be the woman of my dreams, but maybe I don't sleep at night because I dream of homicidal Genies... If I settle with the mysterious in my life, like how did Stonehenge get there, what are laylines, who built the pyramids, why are zombies more popular than Jesus (or at least Mel Gibson's version of him) when given a choice between a remake of Dawn of the Dead or The Passion - after all both stories are pretty much about people rising up out of their graves, aren't they?

Imagine the conversation:

- How did that happen? I mean he got up and walked. Surely he was dead?
- I don't know, it's a mystery.

Translates to:

- How did that happen? I mean he got up and walked. I thought dying kind of prohibited moving around.
-Pick an answer: a. it doesn't concern me b. I am too damned lazy to bother trying to find out or c. knowing the truth might just scare the bejusus out of me so let me get my head back in that sand pit thank you very much and good night.

A secret: I always wanted to be a police man. I nearly joined the force when I left school but I was too young, my birthday fell in October, so I would have had to wait an extra twelve months for the next intake, and so the dream died. Why did I want to be a police man? Scarily it might just have been because of television, Bodie and Doyle, Starsky and Hutch, Cagney and Lacey, day in day out these people solved mysteries, they came back with answers...

And yet, right at the top of the page I have the statement "A writers' job isn't to know the answers, it is to know the questions" Okay, I am paraphrasing but I still think it is true. My need to know drives me to find the questions I need to ask. The right questions. So, with that line in mind, is it better to leave a little mystery?

Well, it gives me something to think about, to obsess over, until the next little mystery comes along, so yes, I think the sentiment holds true, even if the line deserves its place in the trash can.

Steven
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The Black Hole of Luck 

Are you lucky? I am. At least I think I am. Well, I am no more lucky than I am unlucky, I suppose. I am not the unluckiest man in the world. Good things happen to me seemingly at random. I am not the luckiest man in the world. Bad things happen to me, again, seemingly at random. Things have a way of coming around and going around that is far too balanced, and dare I suggest Karmic, to be haphazard.

You make your own luck, or so I am told.

So it can't really be luck then, can it? If you make it, it must, therefore, be a result of work (hard or soft). How many of us want that kind of luck? The luck we have to work for? And how does hard work relate to rolling a hard eight?

If I am lucky someone else must surely be unlucky. I find money in the street when I have none, I'd have to say that would feel like a slice of good fortune, but for the money to be there some unlucky soul has to lose it. Bad Luck, it would appear to me, is a nothing more than a Black Hole, sucking the good things out of someones life, whereas Good Luck would be through the other side of the tunnel, a White Hole, propelling all the good things into someones life. The theory of Black Holes is quite simply that they swallow everything, including light, which comes close to the Event Horizon. Nothing can escape. Hence, they would appear to be black. White Holes are more fun, as by their very nature they would be continuosly regurgitating stuff. They would emit so much light, that they would be very bright white objects. In theory, anything could come out of a white hole, from dust particles to a stream of toasters. All of those socks and biros lost over the years? There is a causal relationship between the Black and the White, it is the nature of our universe, cause and effect. Does that nature spill over into luck? Well, to get lucky and find money in the street someone has to be unlucky first, but on the roll of a dice? A hard eight in a casino? You could argue the laws of probability, other people have had to throw the dice enough times for the desired hard eight to finally turn up, or you could just accept luck.

So what if a person is intrinsically lucky? The luckiest man in town. Is he perhaps the Black Hole, sucking up what should be everyone else's due? Then logically there must be an equally unlucky man, the unluckiest person in town, the one whose misfortune decreases the odds of bad things happening to you. If they met, what then?

Incase you are mildly curious, this is how my mind works. I was lying in bed earlier, on the brink of sleep, when the thought occurred to me that it might be fun to write a story in which the luckiest and unluckiest didn't just coexist but came into conflict, perhaps reversed roles, crossing the brige that theoretically lies between the Black and the White. What I intend to do, for people who are interested in writing, or in just seeing how I write, is write this story live in the blog, giving you the opportunity to feedback as it develops and see the stages I go through when I work. It will be a good experience for me, and I hope an interesting one for you.

Steven
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Editing Life One Word At A Time 

I've been thinking a lot about the power of words recently. Words on screens, words in letters, words spoken in haste and repented at leisure, words of love, words of hate, words that make the world go round. It is fitting, don't you think, that a man who makes his living teaching and writing ought to be fascinated by words, but the thing is I don't actually think about them so much. I have become complacent around them. I know what they mean and how to use them, so that's enough, right?


Wrong, oh so wrong.


Think of it this way, no war would start without words, bargaining, the breakdown of communicatation, no divorce, no great love, no angry fights with friends, no tender make-ups. It isn't just that words feature in books, they are the key to our history. We pass down stories generation to generation in the form of myths and legends, once spoken, now written and performed on the Silver Screen. None of it would be possible without words. Would it be possible to live in a world without words or would we find some other manner in which to communicate our loneliness? That's what we do after all, isn't it? Through fear of loneliness we surround ourselves with things to talk to, plants, cats, friends, lovers.


We would, of course, invent a new form of communication, it is the nature of our existance to keep 'talking'.


Those self same words bring me here, have me talking to you. Of course, I write for a very good reason - and it isn't just to keep me sane or quiet the voices in my head. I write because in writing I have an edit button on life. Where in real life someone might slight me, cut me down, zing me, bash me, diss me, or any other form of making me look like an idiot that always - yes pretty much always - has me gaping like a goldfish and wondering what exactly I am supposed to say to that little gem of wisdom they have chosen to share, be it about my hairline, waistline, or some other personal or phsyical flaw, when writing I have the time to say the right thing, to be witty, cool, charming, sophisticated, the modern man, the rennaisance man, anything but the fool...


I like the edit feature on life. It makes me much more interesting.


Steven

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Not Quite Descartes 

I write therefore I am. No. I think therefore I am compelled to write. No. I am therefore I have something of intrinsic value to say..?


That is the nature of a blog after all, isn't it? To have something of value to say to someone? Or is it to have nothing of value to say to anyone? Or believe that your words should be worth something to someone? To be egocentric enough as to believe that what you or I have to say is worth the passing Janet and John giving up a slice of their lives to sit and read through the random musings of a potential idiot?


Those of you who know me, hello again, hello. Those of you that don't, well hello for the first time.


Who am I? I would love to say that "Names are not important," just like in one of those great old noir movies where the espionage is up there front and centre and the stranger in the trenchcoat is just that, a stranger... but names are fundamentally important... Shakespeare was wrong, a rose by any other name does not smell as sweet. A Marathon becoming a Snickers (giving my age and nationality away in one fell swoop here) is no longer a Marathon, it is something else. I write stories. I work within a genre - not by choice, the constraints of genre are not something I consider when I actually sit down and write, they are added by others who feel the need to catagorise, box, label and shelve things - I am a speculative fiction writer.


Sf, though not science fiction, honest to god real science fiction, with lasers and space ships and Einstein-Rosen bridges, Faster-Than-Light travel and nanobots. Not fantasy, no warnings of here be dragons my friend. Not horror, no shambling zombies, bandage wrapped mummies or howling werewolves. Fiction where the core, the key, the fundamental is simply the question: "What if?"


That's me. With that in mind I declare this blog officially open.

Steven Savile
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