Brian Ruckley's News & Views

Monday, April 28, 2008

Alt.Fiction 2008: Getting There, Being There, Getting Back

If you're looking for a detailed report of the goings on at the Alt.Fiction event in Derby this last weekend, this is probably not going to be quite what you're after. But I did go to Alt.Fiction, and this is what it was like to go there, be there and come back. For me, at least.

Arriving at Edinburgh train station just as the largest hen party I've seen in years was decanting itself from a train and trying to find its way to the street. A crowd of glammed-up ladies milling about in a raucous miasma of obscenities, spangly toy cowboy hats and snatched camera phone photos.

Crossing the Tyne, in the heart of Newcastle (always my favourite bit of the ride south), beneath low cloud, in drizzle, and watching a sparrowhawk flying lazily close alongside the train, amidst all the metalwork and noise, above the grey water.

Walking into the Alt.Fiction venue, and instantly feeling both entirely at home, and vaguely like a fraud about to be exposed ...

Feeling bad, with authors flitting to and fro on all sides, about not having read nearly enough of their books. I should have read all of them. I should read every book that comes out, in every distant by-way of every speculative genre, as soon as it comes out. But I can't.

Buying copies of Interzone and The Third Alternative from the TTA Press stall, and thinking, for neither the first nor the last time: Damn, I'll be sad if this kind of magazine really does go the way of the dinsoaurs, squelched by the incoming meteor of the online revolution. They're just such pleasing objects to me, both physically, and in what they signify. (And hearing Charles Stross, at the last panel of the day, talking about the 'death spiral' of the paying magazine markets for offline sf/f short fiction, and knowing he's probably right, in the long run.)

Finding Philip Palmer to be a thoroughly companionable, knowledgeable and grounded chap. And feeling guilty all over again, because I still haven't read Debatable Space, damn it, even though it's on my list ...

On an obscure exterior wall of the venue, high up on the brickwork, where no one would see it unless they were looking for it, a tiny, plain plastic sign that said 'The Darwin Room Sign'. I stared at it, bemused, for longer than I should have.

Forty or more fancy dress rockers, at a Derby bus stop. The guys in sharp suits, plastic quiffs and stuck on sideburns. The dolls in pink puffy dresses.

A fine rant on the perfidy and lunacy of the Hollywood scriptwriting machinery, courtesy of Graham Joyce.

The limitations of Quentin Tarantino's conversational ability being revealed by Chaz Brenchley.

The role of 'maverick cocks' in genre fiction being inadvertently revealed by Michael Marshall Smith. (You had to be there).

The Lady Boys of Bangkok, or the sound of them and their audience at least, rising exuberantly from the theatre next door to contend with the wisdom of the later panelists: a vaguely fantastical backdrop to musings on fantasy. Their audience seemed fractionally more excitable than that of the authors. Can't imagine why.

Getting a lift back to the hotel (or, more to the point, to the hotel bar) from a Hobbit. Seemed appropriate.

Riding back to Edinburgh on hot wheels. Half the train had to be sacrificed at Newcastle, and its passengers relocated, for it is possible for wheels to get just too hot. Had the train been busy, perhaps tempers would have warmed up too, but it wasn't, so all was calm and good-humoured. Customer reaction to failure is context-sensitive.

Northumberland: Rabbit Heaven. Little crowds of them in what seemed like every trackside field for mile after mile, all clustered close to the railway line as if the titanic earthly vibrations of these roaring iron horses call out to and soothe some primal level of their little bunny brains.

Standing in the midst of a vast, empty field, within sight of Edinburgh: a single roe deer, watching us pass. Frozen in a patch of bright sunlight, as if locked between fascination and alarm at the sight of us.

So that was Alt.Fiction 2008 for me. It was good.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Bloodheir Bits and Pieces

My trusty test reader enjoys a quiet moment with the finished Bloodheir. He's smiling, so presumably happy, even though the only reference to bears occurs on page 161 and involves poking a sleeping one with a stick. Not much to engage the ursine reader, you'd think. Still, it's probably an improvement on Winterbirth, in which the main bear involvement was getting wheeled around in a cage and shot full of crossbow bolts. Contrary to appearances, I have nothing against bears.

Big box of hardbacks and the UK trade paperback turned up on my doorstep last week. One of those moments that I suspect never quite loses its appeal, no matter how well-established and megastarish an author becomes. Orbit have done a lovely job with the book, methinks. It's a very fine package. Seeing the cover art up close and in situ it's striking what a fine piece of work it is. Given that my artistic skills are on the wrong side of non-existent, this kind of thing leaves me not a little impressed. And jealous. The illustration is by Gene Mollica, much more of whose diverse work can be admired here.

There's a Bloodheir review up at Pat's Fantasy Hotlist. It contains the succint and pretty accurate line: 'Aeglyss is a complete basket case.' Yep. Can't really disagree with that. The guy's got issues, you know.

And I'll just insert the customary reminder here that anyone who wants to buy a signed copy of Bloodheir can do so via Transreal Fiction. It'll cost you the cover price plus post and packing. Dedications, inscriptions and so on can also be included, but not, sadly, any cute little drawings, as my artistic skills ... well, see above.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Win a Copy of Bloodheir

Free copies of Bloodheir are being given away over at Pat's Fantasy Hotlist. Just thought you might like to know.

And P.S. : I like the digital revolution, I really do. But sometimes it tries the patience. Like now. My internet connection is playing a game of 'now you see me, now you don't', which becomes tedious after you've had to reset your router for the third day running. Blogger is denying the fact that there are comments on the previous post, despite the fact that there demonstrably are. Look, they're right here, Blogger. Why do you deny it? Shortcuts have magically disappeared from my desktop, leaving unsightly holes in my neatly and carefully arranged array of icons. And Windows has taken it upon itself to ensure that any new documents I create within certain folders absolutely, definitely must be read-only documents. It's for their own good. If I try to tell it otherwise, it disagrees, for I am but a human and it is IT.

Hardly earth-shaking, I know, but I just wanted to get that off my chest. It's annoying. Wearisome. (Especially the read-only document thing, which is, in its own small and trivial way, doing my all too human head in).

EDIT to add: And of course what Blogger was waiting for before acknowledging the presence of comments on the previous post was for me to put up a new post complaining about their absence. Obvious, really. Don't know why I didn't think of it sooner.

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Monday, April 07, 2008

Another Country Ticked Off

A first, very brief, visit to Ireland for me over the weekend. Gorgeous place. Was in the Burren, on the west coast, which is a place so fantastically landscaped it looks like it belongs in fiction.



Huge expanses of exposed limestone, all corrugated and cracked. Basically looks like a moonscape, only with less dust and a bit more grass (though in some places not much more - the photo above is really a positive oasis of grassiness compared to the really cool bits, but of course I didn't get a photo of them). And for extra cool points, the whole place is dotted with relics of Stone Age humanity. Like this tomb, which looked precariously balanced to me, but presumably will last a bit longer since it's made it through from BC times this far:


Away from the limestone, it's all rolling countryside, verdant fields and wide open shores.


Very nice. Well done, Ireland. Good effort.

Despite the fact I wasn't paying attention, the world saw fit to continue to happen over the weekend, and indeed happen in ways that manage to be very modern but would also be entirely familiar to our ancestors from a few hundred years ago: the hyper-modern (and rather fine looking) sailing ship Ponant got seized by pirates and last I heard is holed up in a Somali port hiding from the French navy who are in pursuit ... Terrible business, I'm sure, but since nobody seems to have got hurt so far, I feel able to admit that my first reaction was something along the lines of: 'Ha. Cool. Them's some pirates with taste.'

And in other, marginally less noteworthy news, the US mass market paperback of Winterbirth turned up in the post. It's published next month, and is a lovely little thing that I am entirely charmed by. Small, but perfectly formed.

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