The world’s so big and complicated these days I imagine there’s always some kind of golden age going on in some corner of it, geographical, cultural, commercial, whatever.

It occurred to me that there’re arguably three golden ages going on in bits of the cultural/media world that I pay attention to. I have caveats and pessimisms for this post,too, but let’s do the happy stuff first.

TV drama. I seriously doubt there’s ever been more scripted TV of decent or better quality available for our viewing pleasure. We have relatively modest TV pipes running into the Ruckley residence – Netflix and (only the Brits’ll know what this means) Freeview – but they still churn out more stuff than it’s possible to stay on top of, given the fairly limited time that gets spent on watching the box. But the choice is there.

TV drama reflects, like so many other bits of the cultural landscape, the invasion of the ‘mainstream’ by geek-accented product and I couldn’t be happier about that. And of course with Netflix, the multiplication of broadcast channels and the advent of the DVR there’s an ocean of both old and new material to merrily drown yourself in. I was about to namedrop specific TV shows here, but to be honest there’s no point. The list could go on almost indefinitely. That’s a total transformation of what the TV world was like just a few years ago. And the reponse to that blossoming of availability has been the production of more good stuff than ever before.

Comics. Comics actually have a specifically defined Golden Age, so this isn’t The Golden Age, but it’s surely a golden age. There’s a greater variety of comics and graphic novels more widely available – digitally or on paper – than there has been in a long time. Probably ever. Online bookshops make them accessible in collected form to almost anyone. The graphic novel section is, by all accounts, one of the bits of bricks-and-mortar bookshops that’s actually thriving. They’re a big deal in libraries.

Unless you’ve been reading comics for a while, there’s something you might not be aware of, though. For all that certain types of comics (superheroes, notably) used to sell way more twenty or thirty or forty years ago, I can absolutely assure you of one thing: waaaay more objectively well-crafted and smart and technically accomplished comics are being produced now than was the case back then. The average quality of art and writing has improved a lot. The sheer volume and diversity of comics and titles and graphic novels being published has been accompanied by an uptick not only in the obvious measure – choice – but also in quality of craft and in ambition.

Podcasts. I talk about podcasts often enough here, so I won’t belabour this one. But come on: this has to be a golden age of podcasting, doesn’t it? There are uncounted thousands of the things, in every imaginable genre, covering every imaginable topic, taking every imaginable form. I spend far more time consuming podcasts than I do any other medium and I can’t do more than scrape the surface of the possibilities.

On one level podcasts are nothing more than radio on demand, but my ears are constantly filled with stuff that would never get on radio in a million years, for commercial reasons or because of silly geographic restrictions or whatever. Whoever you are, there are quality podcasts about almost exactly your interests, and accessing them is childishly simple. That’s pretty amazing.

Which is the peak of my merriment and optimism.

A couple of golden ages I’m pretty sure we’re not in. Movies and novels. It’s a commonplace to moan about the current state of Hollywood movies, so I won’t go overboard. I enjoy a spectacular blockbuster as much as the next person, but … well, I can’t summon up any enthusiasm for trying to claim the golden age of the franchise blockbuster as a particularly worthwhile kind of golden age.

Talking about novels, I’m on much shakier ground. I don’t read many these days, so I’m barely qualified to comment I suppose, but it doesn’t feel like a golden age. In many ways it feels just like business as usual, with at best an average distribution of quality product. I don’t detect a glut of innovation, boundary-expansion, inarguable genius. That’s OK. It’s just not what you’d call a golden age.

All the media – every single one – I’ve mentioned above are in the grip of ongoing technological and distributional revolutions. Those revolutions have, I think, caused or at the very least facilitated golden ages in TV and podcasting (comics to a lesser extent, but they’re part of the mix there too). But those same revolutions have emphatically not triggered golden ages in music, movies or prose fiction. If anything, I’d say they’ve had the opposite effect. Funny how things turn out.

Which brings me to my final point: how things might turn out. I reckon two of my three golden ages are heading for a fall. TV and comics. It might take years, but because of the revolutions in distribution and technology, and because of the ‘buzz’ surrounding these media, there’s an inevitable consequence: oversupply.

Once you reach a certain mass of available content, you can add as much new high quality content as you like and people just won’t have the time or inclination to consume it. So producers overextend. Retrenchment sets in. The golden ages wither and fade. I’m far from the first to suggest a tight, maybe imminent, time limit on TV’s golden age. In the case of comics, there might even be a crash – it’s a much smaller and more fragile market and it’s done that before. Probably not, though. Probably just a decline, a re-setting of the baseline. Fingers crossed.

Podcasts, though. Their golden age has legs, I reckon. Obviously, I’m biased, being an addict, but think about it. They’re new, and their audience still has lots of room to grow. They’re the only one of these media that can be easily consumed while you’re doing something else. Digital audio players in cars are only just really becoming 100% standard. And they have one other huge advantage over most other media: they’re free. We have a winner!


As noted many times here, I’m a hopeless podcast addict. The rest of the world seems to be slowly catching up with my good taste, but frankly there are still too many of you out there who need to get on the bandwagon asap. Therefore I stubbornly keep proselytizing.

I’m not much of a binge watcher (or reader for that matter). I’ve got neither the time nor the inclination to gorge myself on exciting new TV shows. One episode a day is more than enough, and more than I can usually manage, no matter how awesome the show is. For the record, the closest I’ve got to binge-watching anything in years was Netflix’s Daredevil, and that took me about three weeks I think – which is not very close to bingeing at all, really. (Liked it a lot, for the record).

Podcasts are a bit different, though. When I happen across one that’s been around for a while, if I like it I tend to power through the back catalgoue pretty fast. That’s the joy of a medium you can consume while doing other things, I guess. So, here are some well-established podcasts that I discovered long after they launched and therefore was able to binge on. Perhaps there’s something here to tempt you?

I Was There Too. Conversations with supporting or bit-part actors from famous movies. Enormous fun, especially when you know the movie in question well. Lots of behind-the-scenes anecdotes, interesting snippets about acting, nostalgia for the movies of your (my) youth.

You Must Remember This. Still on a movie theme, but now with a hint of a historical flavour. As the podcast itself puts it, it’s about ‘the secret and/or forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century’. Mostly, it’s about the lives of the stars and the culture of their times, with bits of specific film history thrown in. It’s often fascinating stuff. The most recent season was entirely devoted to the Manson Family – their crimes and numerous connections to the film and music scenes of Hollywood. Extremely creepy – even disturbing – in parts, but enormously detailed and interesting.

The British History Podcast. Gliding on over to full on history now, and it doesn’t get much more full on than this. This might be the most bonkers (in a good way) podcast history project I’ve come across. The aim is to recount the entire history of Britain, and as of today we’re at episode episode 173 (173!) and haven’t even reached the 9th Century Viking invasions. Everything you ever wanted to know, and a huge amount of stuff you didn’t even know you wanted to know, about the early history of Britain is right here waiting for your ears to be applied.

The History of English Podcast. And continuing our smooth thematic links, here we’ve got history but now with added linguistics. The effort, research and knowledge that goes into this podcast boggles the mind. It’s the history of the English language, from its very earliest roots in prehistoric Indo-European to the modern day. It’s a mixture of historical narrative with heavy – and sometimes I really do mean heavy – doses of linguistics, phonetics, etymologies. For a writer, it’s utterly fascinating. Just as interesting for a reader, really. It does require your attention, though. The information is conveyed very clearly and carefully, but there’s a lot of it and it’s undeniably sometimes complicated and a bit arcane. But if you like words and language, listening to this is endlessly surprising and revelatory in a ‘So that’s why …’ sort of way.

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Breaking myself into renewed blogging gently with an easy Moving Pictures on a Friday post. Easy, because there’s sooo much to be said about this trailer and yet at the same time it completely and utterly speaks for itself, so I’ll just let it do that:


Well, The Free was a Kindle Daily Deal in the US last month, which meant folks could get the e-book version at a bargain price for one day only. That was nice, and might mean a few new visitiors wandering around these pages.The Free Cover gif

Just in case, a couple of quick pointers for any new browsers. You can see info about my other books, unsurprisingly, on the Books page here. I’ve written some short stories too and you can read one of them online for free over at Lightspeed Magazine: Beyond the Reach of his Gods.

And if you liked The Free, want to stay in touch with what I’m up to, get an occasional shot at winning a signed copy of one of my books, all that kind of thing, the perfect place for you is over at the Facebook page where people who like my stuff hang out: Winterbirth on Facebook. You can also follow me on Twitter, if you’re so inclined.

You can also, of course, subscribe to the feed for this blog, so you don’t miss future content. Been on a bit of an extended blog holiday these last few months, but posting’s going to be picking up again now.

And finally a last little bit of news – more like a hint of news, really: the world and the characters of The Free have more story left in them, and it’s on its way. More details on that in due course …

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Moving Pictures On A Friday. Offered without comment, this one, except to say – for those curious about the inner life of writers – that it touches (in, for once, a relatively positive and encouraging way) upon what, after family, friends and all that, I think engages and interests and impassions me the most. I tend to see the world in shades of grey, which makes my opinions on a great many things kind of complicated, not always that strongly held. Not so wildlife and the natural world. If you want to see me go all black and white and angry about something, what our one species has done and is still doing to the millions of others we “share” the planet with would be the place to start …

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I’m over on Reddit today, inviting people to Ask Me Anything. So if you’re a Reddit user, please swing by and drop off a question for me to answer later on. You can even watch me answering stuff live there from about 6pm CST.

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So there’s a just a possibility a few folks in the US will have other things on their mind tomorrow, but nevertheless I’m doing an Ask Me Anything over on Reddit on 4th November.

I confess I don’t know it well, but there’s a thriving community of fantasy fans on Reddit and they have their very own home at the Reddit fantasy board. Starting from around midday US (central) time, so early evening UK time, there’ll be a post up there inviting anyone who’s around to fire me some questions – literally about anything, though I guess the assumption is they’ll mostly be writing-related. I’ll swing by that evening (again, US central time) and start answering any and all questions that have been submitted.

I’ll probably put another post here tomorrow linking to the specific question thread, but consider this an initial heads-up: Please do drop by – any time tomorrow – to ask me anything, and if you’re around there in the evening, you’ll even get to see me answering them live … which could get messy, since it’ll be the middle of the night my time.

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Long, long ago I had a job that occasionally involved looking at old trees. There’s not much in Nature that speaks with a richer, stronger voice to us, I think.

Was up on the banks of the River Tay (one of Scotland’s two or three nicest rivers, imho) last week, and found two wonderful examples of timbery ancientness. First up, the Birnam Oak, of indeterminate age but a half millennium plus old. Supposedly the last survivor of the forest Shakespeare referred to in Macbeth:

” … Macbeth shall never vanquished be, until Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill shall come against him.”


Leaning on its crutches like a Yoda of the forest, or a declining ent. And though you can’t see it in these photos, hollow as a drum, with enough space for a modest hobbit house inside its trunk.


And right next door to it, what’s supposed to be Britain’s biggest sycamore. A mere 300 years old this one, but if anything bigger and more spectacular than the oak alongside:


It’s the oak that’s got the richer voice of the two of them, though. All texture and age and wrinkles and character. Ancient trees are cool.

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I’d probably have a whole other list if I did this next month, but I thought it’d be fun to rattle through my five favourite podcasts right now, off the top of my head. I spend a lot of time listening to podcasts, so there’s an absolute heap of deserving stuff I’m not mentioning, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. And one other thing: these aren’t exactly recommendations. I’m entirely ignoring the question of whether these particular podcasts might appeal to anyone other than me. They appeal to me enormously, for sometimes personal or idiosyncratic reasons, and that’s all it takes to get them on this list … you have been warned …

In no particular order:

Revolutions – a great history podcast that’s working it’s way through a load of the world’s most significant revolutions, one per season. The British Civil War and American Revolution have been covered, now we’re deep into the big daddy of revolutions: the French. Each episode is reasonably short, the tone is accessible and very appealing. Full of fascinating details and wry humour. Great.

Let’s Talk Comics – there’s no particular shortage of interview podcasts relating to comics out there, and I listen to several, at least now and again. This one is frequent, well-produced and delivers pretty meaty interviews with a pretty wide range of people involved in the mainstream comics industry: artists, writers, publishers etc etc. Tends to take a life-story approach, and it’s always interesting to hear how people first got started in the medium, as both reader and professional creators.

Hello Internet – some folks will just not like this one, I suspect. It’s a fine example of the ‘two guys talking’ podcasting school. No specific theme, though many recurring topics, so its appeal depends entirely on how interesting or engaging you find the two guys and the subjects they choose to talk about. Me, I’m interested and engaged. These guys make their livings from their YouTube channels (in fact, they’re both quite famous YouTubers), and I find stuff relating to that fascinating when it comes up. One of them also has a highly distinctive and structured view of the world and of life that you may or may not always agree with (or even find palatable) but it makes for entertaining, thought-provoking and often amusing listening at times.

Wait, What? – my favourite comics-related podcast. I like it so much I pay for it, via Patreon! Another entry in the ‘two guys talking’ category, this time talking very specifically about comics. All sorts of comics. It’s sometimes meandering, sometimes tangential, sometimes doing a deep-dive into stuff I know very little about, but for whatever reason I always enjoy it.

TetZoo – and here we are at the quirkily unique end of the podcasting spectrum. What’s podcasting for if it can’t produce the kind of audio you just would never, ever hear anywhere else? This is a scientific podcast with a focus on tetrapod (i.e. anything with four limbs) zoology. I’ve got a lot of zoology in my educational background, so I can follow most of what’s going on, but fair warning: quite a bit of jargon is involved. However, because this is podcasting rather than radio, there’s also a lot of silly humour, cryptozoology, sf movie talk, running jokes, vaguely disorganised unprofessionalism. I really like it. Once again, it’s ‘two guys talking’, and it’s very like eavesdropping on them just having a rambling chat in the pub.

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This is the week – I think technically this is the very day, in fact – when The Free becomes an actually published book you can buy and read. It’s out there, online or bookshops, ready and waiting for you, right now! It’s in print, e-book and – an enjoyable first for me – audiobook format. I’d love to hear from anyone who listens to it, incidentally: fascinating to know how it works in audio for the new reader/listener.

Some folks have said nice things about it, if you need encouragement:

‘ … mesmerizing, magical and human.’Publisher’s Weekly starred review

‘ … complicated characters and vivid descriptions elevate this far above run-of-the-mill epic fantasy.’ Library Journal starred review

‘ … a gripping read … a lot of fun …’Graeme’s SFF

‘ … a blast to read, merging the standard medieval fantasy with Seven Samurai, complete with phenomenal set pieces of warfare and magic.’Staffer’s Book Review

You can even go read the whole first chapter, entirely for free (appropriately enough), over at the Orbit Books website. That’s got to be worth a try, right?

If you really want to make happy, though, the solution is simple: buy the book!

The Free Cover gif

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