Urdesh

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I’m not done with the Sabbat Worlds Crusade yet, and nor, apparently, is it done with me. Let’s pick up where the last post left off.

The Archenemy is once again at war for the forge world of Urdesh. That planet has already changed hands multiple times as the balance of power in the Sabbat Worlds has pendulumed back and forth. It’s a lynchpin for the military efforts of both sides, a mineral-rich world equipped with enormous industrial capacity and a highly skilled population which also, unusually for such worlds, is fertile enough to sustain that population and even export sizeable and well-trained military regiments. It’s all output for very little input. Its Imperial defenders are ferociously loyal, its Chaos attackers are deadly determined. The next stage in the great war will be shaped by which way Urdesh falls in this newest war.

That’s where these newest books come in.

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Sabbat Crusade

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Things have just been stupid, really.  Stupidly busy, stupidly fast, faster than I’ve had the chance to talk about.  I’ve barely had time to keep up with it all even on Twitter, let alone the wordier, more sedate little space of my poor neglected blog.

Which is a pity, because I’ve been busy doing some stuff I’m actually pretty excited about.  Time to share some of the excitement here.  Let’s see if I can make you feel it too.

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Paradigm Shifts

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Everything’s different.

Home is different. I’ve left the little two-bedroom flat that I lived in for twenty and a half years. (If I direct my mind just so I can recall the sensation, a little thump like something dropping from my ribcage into my belly, when I watched the movers take the bed out of the front door and thought “this is really it, I’ve spent my last ever night here”). I filled something like ten wheelie bins with culled possessions and packed the rest into the car, and can now attest that nothing brings home how many books one has been able to buy over two decades than having to carry every single one of them down six flights of stairs. D and I filled the garage from wall to wall with furniture and bags and boxes and transplanted dust. We still haven’t reseeded it all through the house.

The landscape is different. Not profoundly different, given we’ve moved, what, twenty kilometres? But then again… I’m now surrounded by big-boned, well-groomed houses that sit in among their landscaping looking pleased with themselves, not the blocks of well-used brown-brick flats and townhouses that lined my old street. The hills are over here now, and the river is a different river and it’s that way. There are mountains wrapping around the whole horizon from one side of the house, and so few houses between us and them that the light pollution isn’t enough to blot out the constellations.

There are still sulphur-crested cockatoos, though, screaming cheerful abuse at each other as they fly in formation over the streets or strutting and flexing their crests by the roadside in the mornings. It’s the same mobs that I watched from my balcony at the old place, for all I know. I’m glad they’re around.

Daily life is different. It’s different from what it used to be and because we’re still evolving into our lives in this new place it’s continually different from itself, but it feels… airier. The bigger house in the more open place seems to have changed the whole feel of each day. Housework routines haven’t started to feel oppressive, the schedule for the bus seems to fit into the new rhythm of our days where I had been sure it would mean frantic floundering and scurrying. The bus in to work gives a longer, more relaxed transition from home to work and back than the harried scoot in the car did. (And I’ve actually chipped a hole in one corner of my to-read pile now that I get to sit and read for two hours or so per day while someone else drives.)

Writing is different. I have a manuscript on my editor’s desk at BL, but everything in my current mental workspace is original now, no tie-ins or franchises. For the first time in ten years I’m working without an external canon or style guide, and without even a contract or a firm deadline – everything I’m doing at the moment is on spec, set to go hunting for publication once I finish it and turn it loose.

For the first time in a long time, that’s feeling better and not worse. I’m feeling like I’m taking off with each new story, rather than flailing and wobbling because the comfortable rails aren’t conveniently under my hands any more. I like tie-in writing, I’m pleased I’ve done it and I’m looking forward to doing more of it, but this newness is a sensation that’s very welcome right now.

My habit of sitting up into the small hours on the computer when I ought to turn in so as to have a scrap of dignity the following morning? That’s still the same as always. On which note, time to shut down. Tomorrow I’ll blow the dust of my blog the way I’ve been blowing it off most of my other possessions, and see if I can remember how to post it. ‘Til then.

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Below The Line

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A quick political note. I don’t get into politics much on this blog, but we’re in election season at the moment and this is a damned useful tool for voters, too useful to keep quiet about.

I’m referring to a free-to-use website called Below The Line, which has been set up to help people navigate the maze of candidates and preferences that they will be required to assign to their votes come election time.

There’s a field to enter your electoral division, and the site then lists all the candidates for your House of Representatives seat, with links to their web presence or their party’s where those are available. It will also list everyone on your State or Territory’s Senate ticket, with links ditto. If you select a candidate, it will show exactly where that candidate/party has allocated their preferences so you can see where your vote will cascade to if your primary choice doesn’t make it in.

Here’s the really neat part. The site includes a ballot editor feature, where once you’ve got your preference list you can click and drag the names around until the candidates are in the preference order that YOU want them in. Then you can download a customised how-to-vote sheet as a PDF, to print off and take in to the ballot booth with you.

I love this feature. I’ve voted below the line at the last couple of Federal elections, and while I’m glad that I did it could be a slightly teeth-grinding experience trying to work out where to send a vote, what exactly some of these minor parties were about (Help End Marijuana Prohibition or the Bullet Train Party I could take a pretty good guess at, for example, but what about the Building Australia Party? The Uniting Australia Party? The Australian Independents?), and of course fretting that somewhere in numbering the hundred-and-whatever different boxes I’d accidentally left a number out, or doubled up on one, and would spoil my vote if I didn’t pick up on it.

Below The Line lets me prepare a custom HTV in my own time, and simply copy the numbers across on the day so I don’t have to worry about tracking them back and forth on a ballot paper that’s spilling most of its length off the edge of those dinky little cardboard standing-desks. (And trust me, it will. I just had a look at the Senate ballot paper that a family member got sent for their postal vote and it’s huge.)

Whatever the politics of the BTL creators, this is a non-partisan tool that you can make use of no matter which side of politics you want to send your votes to. More broadly, I happen to think that anything that weakens the hammerlock of the major parties and their preference deals is a good thing, and so I want to promote anything that makes people more mindful of voting their own ticket and makes it easier for them to do so. I encourage you to help spread the word about this site – it deserves lots of use and lots of support.

Nighttime Reading – short stories by Pratt, Bailey, Willrich

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My routines are a bit scrappy and all over the place at the moment so short stories are the best way to keep up my fiction dosage. Here are a few I’ve taken in lately.

Everywhere you go, you always take the weather with you…

The Secret Beach” by Tim Pratt, in Antiquities and Tangibles and Other Stories
“Mating Habits of the Late Cretaceous” by Dale Bailey, in Asimov’s magazine, September 2012.

I didn’t have a particular theme or anything in mind for this post, just a bunch of stories I’d read over the past few months and had something to say about. But when I actually started writing about the first two I noticed I was talking about a common theme that was too striking not to remark on. Each is about an unhappy protagonist who breaks out of their lives into a strange place, and finds there wonders and a real chance to change – but their failings are part of them, even in this new world, and so the changes are poisoned or stillborn.

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The Secret Beach” is the second story in Antiquities and Tangibles, a collection by Tim Pratt that I backed in a Kickstarter last year and am finally reading now I managed to find my blasted Kobo. It’s a clever, nasty sting-in-the-tail take on the portal fantasy. Our narrator seems to have been rescued from a bitter, lonely, accomplishment-free middle age when he finds a secret route onto a miraculously beautiful beach that by all reason shouldn’t exist there. There are clues and signs that some magical destiny is waiting beyond that beach… but sometimes magical destinies aren’t ready for the baggage that people bring to them, and sometimes the people enlisted to help a destiny manifest itself aren’t content to be its helpers.

One of the fundamental thrills of a story that brings the fantastical into collision with mundane life is seeing how it transforms: how the world will change by what has emerged into it, how the people will change when they find something that defies the familiar architecture of their world. Once you’ve seen what you’ve seen, nothing can be the same, even if you never see it again. Clive Barker’s characters, for example, often throw themselves into these transformative moments, even when the fantastical thing they’re running towards is almost certain to kill them, simply because every moment after this can only be “mere existence”. Pratt’s take is simple and subversive: what if the transformation doesn’t actually go far enough? If the magical intrusion into our world breaks all our rules, well there must be a chance that we’re going to break the rules of the magical world in turn.

In Dale Bailey’s “Mating Habits of the Late Cretaceous” the transition is technological rather than magical, and this time the protagonist knows exactly what she’s in for: she’s paid good money to a travel agent for it. The story follows an unhappily-married couple taking the last stab at salvaging their chilly, brittle relationship with a stay at a time-traveller’s resort in the age of the dinosaurs.

Bailey works more slowly and subtly than Pratt, gradually fading the detail in rather than using the sharp dramatic sting, but Gwyneth and Peter have the same problem as they play tennis, sip cocktails and plan their dinosaur-spotting expeditions. They’ve arrived somewhere wonderful, incredible, and it isn’t working. They’ve brought the weather with them. Their attempts to reconnect with one another are still stilted and painful. Peter won’t open up to the wildness around them and pulls right back into himself; Gwyneth, the main character, finds herself captivated by the land and the dinosaurs (and by the man who’s guiding them out on their travels) but the result is that as she turns toward these new things she turns away from him.

I’m probably making this sound quite soap-operatic, and I admit that while I was reading it I was feeling a bit snarky about it – it sometimes felt a little like one of those overwrought slice-of-life stories about comfortable bourgeois couple fretting over their mid-life crises, with some dinosaurs tacked on. That was doing it a disservice. There’s some very clever, character-driven writing in how the couple’s reactions to their surroundings mirror what’s going on deeper in their heads, which then becomes more powerful for being understated. And the story ends with a cataclysmic event that makes it clear that although the couple might survive, their bank-breaking attempt to restart their lives together was doomed from the start.

…and other stories.

Luminous” by Tim Pratt, in Antiquities and Tangibles and Other Stories

Star Soup” by Chris Willrich, in Asimov’s magazine, September 2012.

Elsetimes in recent reading: “Luminous” is the third piece in Antiquities and Tangibles, a neat little cyberpunk-tinged fantasy about a husband-and-wife team of thieves who have to rethink their careers in a hurry after one of them is bitten by a feral angel. Their new direction is… not what I expected, but in the best way.

What I’m really impressed with in Pratt’s work so far is his perfect sense of timing. The Antiquities and Tangibles I’ve read so far each pick up one of those casual “what if” questions it’s fun to ask about a familiar story going in an unfamiliar direction, and turn it over to see the new story that it reveals. It would be easy to write these stories as largely forgettable one-punchline novelties, or to overdo them and stretch the original conceit too thin. Pratt hasn’t done that so far: these stories are compact, economical and entertaining, with exactly the right rhythm and substance for their length. I’m looking forward to reading more of them.

Star Soup” is from the same edition of Asimov’s, a twist on the re-contact story where a starfarer comes to visit a world that has gone for too long with no visits from starfarers. The story has a cosy, even fairytale feeling, with the visitor showing himself into a frightened little village one evening and sitting down to prepare a meal of “star soup”, a twist on the children’s story about the clever cook making a pot of stone soup. During the cooking the visitor manages to draw the townspeople out to talk to him, getting them to tell them his stories, soothing their fears and perhaps planting some new hopes and dreams.

Although some of the villagers’ tales have sombre undertones – one tells of bearing witness to the death of a great predatory beast, one has a story of being held hostage by the AI of a wrecked spacecraft – the piece as a whole feels gentle and upbeat, with a hint of steel to the ending: the stranger warns his hosts that if any of them try to stop their youngsters from following their dreams of exploration and travel, he and his friends will know, and return.

That’s a little slice of my latest reading accounted for. Meanwhile, in the other document open in my taskbar, I’ve got my protagonist standing and looking up at a nine-metre door covered in bones. Time for me to go back and step him through it. Catch you later.

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That issue of Asimov’s is months gone, of course, but if you like the sound of Antiquities and Tangibles then Amazon has the paperback and Kindle editions, and Smashwords has the Epub version.

The Great December Blog-Unclog

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I’m currently sitting out on the back deck at D’s house, absorbing the heat, looking out over the rooftops framed by sunlit eucalypt foliage, listening to the summer breeze in the leaves and the birds and cicadas.* In a nice bit of geek synchronicity I’ve got William Shatner and Edward James Olmos incoming on my Twitter feed, while in another tab I’m reading a conversation on Tangency about the Enterprise versus the Galactica. Just poured a fresh glass of agrum and considering the next story beat of the Project You Shall Not Ask Me About.

These surroundings, though, make for a mellower, more reflective mood than suits the teeth-pulling/teeth-grinding exercise that is the aforementioned Project, and it’s not lost on me that I’ve had blog posts stacking around in my head in an increasingly crowded and unruly holding pattern for… well, go check the dates of the last entries. Way too long.

I suspect that deciding to clear the blogging decks before the year winds up is going to be making a rod for my own back, since there’s bound to be one I don’t get finished in time to post by midnight (or forget about until tomorrow). But there are a few bits and pieces from 2012 that I should probably talk about here, just so I can get a clear run at talking about stuff that happens in 2013. Should any stuff happen then. Some stuff probably will.

Off the top of my head there’s the Roller Derby season, this year’s Games Day, and, uh, oh, right. The new novel.

Gonna stretch a bit and pour myself some more agrum. There might be a bit of a blog-burst when I get back.

 

*(And the sirens. Something with a siren went by earlier today and all the neighbours’ dogs started howling in sympathy. Glad that’s died down.)

Placeholder clockscorpion

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Oh, for…

Okay, Easter was wonderful, both productive and relaxing, with crisp sunny days up in the mountains and the company of family.  But no internet.  I’m now back within reach of the internet, but my laptop’s power brick has started giving out little beeps and flickers that apparently mean it has powered its last – I have about ninety minutes of computer time left, which is not exactly enough to do the posting I wanted to do.

(Okay, I can’t pin it all on the power brick.  I could probably have come back from the hills with at least one entry cued up and ready to post.  I kind of wasn’t expecting this.)

Anyway, while I’m sorting my tech out, I shall leave behind some tech to keep this place sorted out.  This thing doesn’t look like it’ll take any shit from anyone, does it?  If I were a Mechanomancer I’d certainly make sure it didn’t.

That's CLOCK scorpion, you gutter-minded crowd.

I have no idea who actually did make this thing, by the way, I just found the image kicking about the place.  If you know whose it is, let me know so I can credit them.

More later.

All our Januaries

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“That’s right, Lloyd, I’ve been away but now I’m back.”

And how were all our Januaries this year, anyway?  Does anyone else observe a little tradition of startled angst as the end of the month passes them, muttering “oh, shit, the year’s one-twelfth over and I’ve done NOTHING!” to themselves?

Actually, weirdly, now I come to have typed it, it occurs to me that this is the first year in a while that I haven’t done that.  Well, I did it, but slightly self-consciously and for the sake of a little performance, not from really meaning it.  I haven’t made a running leap into 2012, exactly, but I like to think I’ve accomplished a brisk and purposeful-looking saunter.

I even managed some pace at the end of last year, believe it or not, and you won’t, because the blog through December was a whistling void, without form or word count.  (And I even took notes all through the epic CRDL Roller Derby grand final, and never blogged it!  Sorry about that.)  I’d gone for a hard burn on the latest novel project (coming out later this year, details hopefully public later this  month), powering through a hundred thousand words and change in… well, way shorter a time than I usually take, which is because it was probably the most enjoyable novel-writing I’ve ever done.  I’m trying to be more conscientious about taking breaks to rest my hands and eyes, and I have never, ever before found myself thinking “aw, man, three more minutes of break?  I wanna get back into that scene…”  I just hope it has the same effect on your collective selves when you read it.  That done I kicked down a gear to do some editing and revision and lots of lovely, lovely reading, zooming through books by Glenda Larke and Joyce Chng.  And then, good grief, it was Christmas.  A house packed to the gills with D’s relatives, a mound of presents and a short sharp hailstorm while we all ate Christmas Eve lunch out on the veranda.

The new year was a trains, planes and automobiles sort of affair.  D and I rode the train up to Sydney on the thirtieth, flew across to New Zealand on New Year’s Eve and sat a deathbed vigil for 2011 on the floor by the hotel room’s window-wall, watching the fireworks explode around Auckland’s central tower.  After that cue a few days of motoring about the North Island: Coromandel Peninsula (gorgeous scenery and a twisty road make for nerve-wracking driving: oh, that’s beautifAGHWATCHTHEROAD oh, that’s beautifAGHWATCHTHEROAD) and then to Matamata to visit the Hobbiton set and on to Rotorua.  What a surreal place: the steam plumes drifting up from the undergrowth and the stink of brimstone percolating through the whole town, enormous pools of water at a gently fizzing boil like freshly-poured champagne, and little waterfalls steaming as if they had just been poured from a kettle.

Also, a traditional Maori village, and hangi.  Oh, wow, hangi.  Don’t go through life without having eaten hangi.

The rest of the visit was mainly for this year’s FWOR retreat, held at Kerikeri toward the north end of the island.  Two weeks at the Nine Muses homestead, newly acquired by FWOR members Russell and Kylie and soon to be in business as a professional writers’ retreat and artists’ colony.  It was the perfect venue to lose track of two weeks in: a big, luxurious house in a pocked of landscaped parkland, including a rainforest gully, seventeen-metre waterfall and swimming hole.  And a whole separate studio in its own meadow, which I colonised for my own.

By the first week of the thing I had a new novel pitch finished and away, and had broken the first ground on the new manuscript, a fantasy project that will have another thousand words or two added to it when I finish this blog post and go home.

Here’s where I’m writing this, by the way. Somewhere across the Pacific, John Scalzi has felt derisive for a moment and doesn’t know why.

This feels a bit odd, to be honest.  It’s the first thing in quite a while that I’ve started purely on spec, with no pitch, contract and deadline, just the trust that I’ll find a publisher who likes it once it’s done.  That change in approach has been enough to stall me once or twice before now, I admit, but I’m feeling nice and upbeat about this one.  So far.  Let’s see how we go.

Two Black Library projects on the go, too, both Warhammer 40K, neither of them novel-length, both with their challenges.  One’s in with the editors at the moment, and the other is actually the other file open on my laptop at the moment, which I was working on before the delicious and entirely carbohydratastic rosemary/sea-salt bread arrived.

And… well, okay.  There’s a stack of stuff from the last couple of months to talk about, really, some of which I’ll have to leave for a bit and some of which I can go into now, except that even as a quick recap this is really turning into something rather vague and rambly and trying to cover everything at once will only make it worse.  There will be more posts to tackle it all in.  Better that way.

In the meantime, if anyone’s left out there, how about your year?

Games Day Australia 2011

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I shall not even attempt to reconstruct a coherent narrative for the maniacal, exhausting blur that was Games Day Oz 2011.  It wouldn’t work.  Instead, I’ll try to bring back and record some impressions in more or less the chronological order that they happened.

(Yes, I know that Twitter is excellent for doing this sort of thing as it happens.  While I am on Twitter now  – @FullyNocturnal, if you’re minded to seek me out there – I don’t have a smartphone and wasn’t updating for a while.  I even got a reminder email from Twitter pointing that fact out.)

Anyway.

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