Posts in Category: ramblings

CABBAGES AND KINGS

The only way that I can describe Jonah Sutton-Morse’s podcast, Cabbages and Kings, is as amateurish — but in the best possible way.

To my knowledge this is his first attempt at podcasting and he has only produced twenty-three episodes so far. The program’s format is a welcome change from the usual podcast format in SFF and gaming, where two or more friends meet regularly to discuss the things that have excited them in the time between episodes. Here instead, we have Jonah talking with a guest about literary science fiction & fantasy. His opinions expressed through speech and editing are undiluted and this is refreshing.

My start with the podcast came with Maureen Kincaid Speller’s appearance in two parts to discuss The Buried Giant, and after that I subscribed and have listened to one or two more episodes from the archive. In places the editing is jagged and there are signs that Jonah is still fumbling to find his way. However, he is enthusiastic and apparently interested in the topics under discussion and the opinions of the people who he converses with. This is charming and the lack of polish does nothing to obscure that: in fact, it might well highlight it.

If anything, the rawness gives the podcast and the opinions expressed on it an added authenticity, but this is another, longer conversation

Now I have given Jonah some gentle criticism and comments in the past, so there’s nothing for me to repeat here, except as a lead into praising his openness towards improvement. This progressive drive is well evidenced by the last episode which I listened to while driving home from work, where he gave an end of year review of the podcast and thoughts on how it could be improved. (And yes, Jonah, I could have skipped forward to the next podcast in my playlist, but I didn’t.) This introspection and commitment to playful experimentation is a Good Thing!

As an episode to start with, try the two mentioned above about the Buried Giant. They are in the show archive around last November.

So Cabbages and Kings is roughly produced and by someone who’s still learning how and what they are making. There is a voice that’s determined to try new things that’s only going to get more distinct. Go on, give it a chance.

Go here: http://www.cabbagesandkings.audio/

Currently reading: HIGH RISE by J.G. Ballard (UK) (US)

The Winter Solstice

It’s the shortest day today. Time for a moan.

Although given the year that I have had mostly spent indoors under fluorescents, I am hard pressed to notice. Now if I’d written about the end of the year last year I’d have probably said it was a difficult year, and I am about to say the same thing again, because that’s the present we have. Everything, for everyone, except a few, is difficult. The good times of easy money, free time and no anxiety are gone. Whatever feeling that I grew up with in in the post Cold War era of Blair & Brown has finally evaporated. 9/11 and the decade that followed put the coffin lid on the project we call society, and the Tories post twenty-ten have hammered in the nails and throw it in a deep grave ready to be covered in shit.

And that’s what I thought last year before all of the shit of the last six months. The first major crisis I can’t write about, but it caused me, in an effort to escape from it, to drive down to Nine Worlds at Heathrow Airport on about four hours sleep and thirty hours of work.

Oh yes, and my partner, J, broke her neck and back in October. She’s mostly recovered now. There was no neurological damage and she required no surgery to glue her back together. She was very lucky! But on top of the first crisis still continuing it’s been a tense twelve weeks.

And the rest of the world has shown itself to be complicated and riddled with doubts. In the small, unimportant field of science fiction and fantasy the sad puppies were an unnecessary thing. A misguided, mostly illiterate out gassing of loosing ownership of something that never really existed in the terms that they articulated.

Also the Tories were elected to torment the UK for another five years. They’ll continue to blame their predecessors until the next collapse, and after that’s happened won’t stop the blame game.

Did anything good happen this year? Is there any light on the horizon? Maybe. I went away for a week to think and be taught in Yorkshire. It was not enough time spent away from everything.

Can everything get any worse? Sure. Today, on the twenty-second of December, the temperature was thirteen degrees. December is now apparently experiencing a ‘heatwave’ according to the World Meteorological Organisation definition. Also, November was the hottest on record. Our climate is collapsing. Everything is collapsing.

Sans Soleil

Last night I watched Sans Soleil with Jenny. For a film essay on the nature of memory I think it appropriate that I remember little of its contents. This is 100 minutes of montage supposedly filmed by the cinematographer who’s letters are being read by a detached female narrator. 

A day later I can only summon the repeated images of white cat statues found in a Japanese Shinto shrine and a second image of a woman in a Cape Verde market place. She wore a blue vest and peered into the camera.

I shall watch this again soon to make my impressions concrete. I am reminded of William Gibson’s 1992 digital poem Agrippa (a book of the dead). Something else to experience again and to meditate upon. Both are essays on memory that avoid a limitation written literature generally imposes on this subject. Words permanently inscribed on a page can be more readily scanned in an order free from the clock imposed by the forward momentum of frames or deletion. Agrippa and Sans Soleil ask you to forget.

All the Possible Routes

I am turning into my Dad.

My memories of trips to the mythic north to visit Grandparents during the festive season follow a consistent pattern. In the morning we blasted up the M1 and across the M62 to get to Rochdale before lunch time. Meals and small talk took up the afternoon until we had to leave for the return south. Our stay often only equalled the time spent travelling. The return route never exactly retracted our original tracks along the M62 and M1. We’d drive along the M62 until we reached Barnsley and then drove over the moors to Huddersfield. When asked why my Dad does this he only replies it makes the journey more interesting. I suspect that like me he cannot stand to retrace his steps too often.

The hundreds of times I’ve travelled through these places as a passenger has given me a virtual knowledge of these towns. One day I’ll stop in Huddersfield to find out what it’s like. I suspect I’ll be disappointed.

Last weekend I met my girlfriend’s parents for the first time. I made jokes to friends about the risk of being buried in a Warwickshire field, but in the end it turned out fine. There was a meal, slightly tense, but aren’t meetings like that always a little bit? There were two Sundays that weekend, not one. With Sunday #1 involving a wander along bucolic county lanes covered in mist and lit by the weak winter sun. On Sunday #2 Jen showed me her village. It scared me with its event horizon of restaurants and the existence of a village auction house.

I wasn’t disappointed. Mostly because of the deli and second-hand bookshop.

Leaving on Monday afternoon I decided not to follow the motorway corridor that me and Jen took on Saturday. That’d be rammed with rush hour traffic and it’d be boring. Instead I consulted Jen’s Dad for advice on alternative routes, bringing him the vague idea that following the Coventry orbital in my silver Fiesta might prove more interesting. The great God Google was consulted for directions. Directions were printed. They proved illegible in the dark but useful to consult in a petrol station. After goodbyes I disappeared back to Leicester with a kiss from Jen as I left her behind for nine days. The journey was only bearable because I got to throw my car around dark country roads while getting mildly lost and using my initiative until all the possible routes converged on the M69 as the final leg to get home. Driving is only worthwhile when it illuminates new places, otherwise it becomes a chore I’d rather avoid by catching a bus so I can read.

I am only turning into my Dad by repeating his behaviours.

Next time: what a small car filled with books is like to handle while driving up hill in heavy traffic.

Sky Attempting to Snow


This morning when I was forced out of bed to answer the doorbell the sky was attempting to snow. A few drips of sleet landed on my naked torso as I signed for my brother’s Amazon parcel. That sad state of attempted snowfall reminds me of my own attempts at writing fiction, or anything else for that matter, over the past couple of months.

Always on the edge of a surprise storm.

Old Habits


What I want are a games that I can play for a little while and then put down so I can go away to do other things. I don’t want any narrative, I have books for that. All I want is pure gameplay. I found the answer back in 2004 and really should try to avoid forgetting this. Rob mentioned Ikaruga at a BBQ on Sunday. In doing that he reminded me that I’m not so secretly in love with the games Kenta Cho puts out on his website ABA Games.

The short description provided on each the webpage for a selection of his games tells you most of what you need to know.

Abstract shootem up game, ‘Noiz2sa’.

Speed! More speed!

Speeding ship sailing through barrage, Torus Trooper’.

Strike down super high-velocity swooping insects.

Fixed shooter in the good old days, ‘Titanion’.

Defeat autocreated huge battleships. Shootem up game, ‘rRootage’.

And my favourite:

Defeat retro enemies modenly.

Retromodern hispeed shmup, ‘PARSEC47’.

These games are almost perfect because they each have a single purpose. Most of Kenta Cho’s games are variations on the 2D shoot-em-up but with a different gameplay twists. The graphics are kept abstract. Everything is minimal: the music, the instructions, the content, the file size. Most of the games have some randomly generated levels, but also these games have highly attractive endless modes where you play until it’s game over. (This helps keeps each individual session short.) All you can do with these games is play them to improve your high score. There is no creative thought involved, only reflex twitching.

Now excuse me because until the hammering stops from next door I’m going to play some Parsec47.

Annie’s Box (Alt. Vocal)

I’m slowly getting back in the habit of constructing playlists to listen to while working on short stories. I should start to record the changes I make over time to the lists in more detail as each addition or deletion from the list is marker for a point in time where I’ve understood something new about a story/myself/the world.

The current playlist is only about half a dozen songs at most long for a short story and doesn’t even exist on my computer. Only in my head. I know that Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s “East Hasting” appeared on the list, although I suspect it’s now off the list again because it’s a bit obvious. Portishead’s “Machine Gun” is, I think, the replacement track. The Entertainment for the Braindead songs “Run!” & “Mi Corazón” from Hydrophobia might be the thematic core of this story. Don’t know where this version of Annie’s Box fits into the soundscape/narrative. It just fits somewhere. Maybe at the middle point between the Entertainment for the Braindead songs before going into the harshness of “Machine Gun.”

Hmm listening to “Machine Gun” again while I type this (bits of all these songs apart from GSY!BE have played while writing this) and I’m not sure it matches up with The Knife or Entertainment for the Braindead as well as I thought it would. But the lyrics do work. Sort of.

The story this mix is indented for is technically complex and in the end will be a failure because I’ve deliberately overreached myself. Maybe the mix should reflect this. It’ll be an interesting failure.

(If you haven’t gathered by now I always see narratives folding out of music and can usually imagine music for a given narrative.)

An Election Day in 2011

Picture selected because it's the only image on Wikicommons that isn't a national ballot paper.

tl;dr — Make sure you vote. I don’t care who for or if you vote yes or no for AV, just fucking cast your ballot. People died and are still dying today for the right to vote. Don’t waste yours.

Almost a year ago today, in the United Kingdom, we went to the polls for a general election. We all know the results: No overall majority for either Labour or the Conservatives. A coalition government between the Conservative Party and, as junior partners in government, the Liberal Democrats.

Today a number of different elections being held. In my own area there are just the local council elections and the referendum on the alternative vote. In one part of Leicester there are those two elections and a by-election to elect a new member of parliament and a mayoral election.

The important point I want to make is: if you’re registered to vote then make sure you vote. People have died to guarantee you that right and people are currently dying in North Africa and the Middle East for the right to vote. Fucking vote!

I should say that it doesn’t matter who you vote for. It isn’t my business who you vote for — it is after all a private ballot — although hopefully you are reasonably well informed on the people and the issues. Just go and vote.

But if you want to know what I think you need to read below the cut.

Eastercon 2011 & Managing a Minecraft Habit

It must be a sign that you are developing a problematic addiction to a computer game when you change your computer’s windows manager so that the game runs faster. On my Linux desktop instead of using Gnome I am now using xfce. It’s a far more minimal environment. I have gone through periods of using it heavily before. It lets me play Minecraft with a much higher frame rate than I was playing it with under Gnome. Also in full screen mode, which a very good way to lose track of time and end up playing a solid fifty minutes and let a mug of coffee go cold right in front of you. More importantly this machine is getting quite old and under this windows manager everything is a lot more responsive than it was under Gnome. I will probably keep using Gnome until the lack of native support for all my Gnome keyboard shortcuts for dealing with Rhythmbox, an iTunes clone, irritates me.

Recent activities in Minecraft include building a glass fronted house near the deep cave system I explored this evening. Also finding my first redstone ore and also a few blocks of gold ore. I don’t have any grand building project in Minecraft at the moment. The phase where I was excited and built and underwater house is over. My habits in this game are at the moment all about finding the deepest caves and exploring them for the rare materials inside.

There is an environmental lesson that can be learned while playing Minecraft. I’m sure of it.

I have decided that the most liberating object you can craft in Minecraft is your first compass. The ability to always be able to find home makes me feel much more comfortable just going for a wander to see the sights.

Last Saturday I took a break from playing Minecraft and went to Eastercon, the UK’s largest SF convention, at a hotel on the site of the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham. Below is the post I made to Whitechapel’sVile Hugging Thread” about an hour after getting back home. To give you an idea how much food cost at the Hilton Metropole the burger I had in the evening cost me £15 and the total I spent on all the books mentioned below was about that much.

I went to Eastercon today. The usual tradition of missing junctions and getting lost on the way to conventions happened twice today. I blame tiredness. While there I spent far too much money, mostly on expensive food, but I did buy some books: J.G. Ballard’s High Rise, Harlan Ellison’s Shatterday, a copy of New Worlds 2 and M John Harrison’s Parietal Games. The copy of Shatterday was a bargain at £1 for a “tatty” hardback. Although the best deal of the day was being sold a new copy of Parietal Games for £6 instead of some of the eye-watering prices its available for online. Parietal Games is essential reading. My mind is blown right now. Utterly exhausted and kinda content.

I didn’t go to any panels, but I did watch Doctor Who in a room filled with hundreds of other people. That was a strange experience. Also didn’t find out anything about the new New Worlds. Sorry.

Edit: At this point I’m just mashing on keys at random until some meaning emerges.

Now I’m going to read The Dead and try to go for a run in the morning.

“Merchants of extraordinary tea & coffee.”

Still waiting for a response from a second interview. The sound of a broken exhaust muffler rumbling in the garage. Driving into the city after the rush hour. Enjoying the perfect light. Reading M. John Harrison’s Climbers while waiting for an interview at the job centre. Watching someone being scammed out of their benefits by the job centre. Being given details for a tax office job where applications close today. Finding that I maybe don’t have to sign on for two weeks. Escaping from the job centre without coming to harm. Wandering around the city centre looking for a place to get a coffee. Deciding to buy a unit of culture. Avoiding Dark Side because it feels deflated of enthusiasm. Avoiding cultural quarter just because. Finding myself in Waterstone Market Street browsing the general fiction stacks. Being tempted by Ferenc Karinthy and Yasunari Kawabata. Noticing a slim girl dressed in black reading. Her face covered by long tangled black hair. Pink converse trainers. Leaving Waterstones to find coffee. Trying to decide between buying a book and a copy of The Fountain. Discovering a new place will open in St. Martins in May.”Merchants of extraordinary tea & coffee.” Wandering back to Market Street. Looking at Karinthy and Kawabata again. Finding Joyce on the same shelf. Buying a copy of The Dubliners. Walking up the street to my favourite sandwich shop. Buying an egg and cress doorstop. Walk back to the car through Highcross. Remembering when I last visited Dublin. Deciding to spend the day reading Joyce in the garden and drinking Yerba maté. Arrive home still needing a coffee.