books


Stand and Deliver

A few events and characters to follow up from Stand and Deliver: A History of Highway Robbery

Sawney Beane. Patriarch of an incestuous and cannibalistic gang operating out of hidden caves on the Galloway coast. Inspiration for The Hills Have Eyes, amongst others.

The Gordon Riots. Anti Catholic rioting in 1780 led by Lord George Gordon protesting a law which reversed lots of discrimination against Catholics.

Mohocks. Gangs of rich young men who roamed the London streets assaulting and terrifying members of the public.

Jack Ketch’s Warren. Streets in Clerkenwell that were turned into a no-go zone for the law and had tunnels and secret doors to help criminals escape.


An Embuggerance

An open letter from Terry Pratchett to all his fans-

Folks,

I would have liked to keep this one quiet for a little while, but because of upcoming conventions and of course the need to keep my publishers informed, it seems to me unfair to withhold the news. I have been diagnosed with a very rare form of early onset Alzheimer’s, which lay behind this year’s phantom “stroke”.

We are taking it fairly philosophically down here and possibly with a mild optimism. For now work is continuing on the completion of Nation and the basic notes are already being laid down for Unseen Academicals. All other things being equal, I
expect to meet most current and, as far as possible, future commitments but will discuss things with the various organisers. Frankly, I would prefer it if people kept things cheerful, because I think there’s time for at least a few more books yet :o)

Terry Pratchett

PS I would just like to draw attention to everyone reading the above that this should be interpreted as ‘I am not dead’. I will, of course, be dead at some future point, as will everybody else. For me, this maybe further off than you think – it’s too soon to tell.
I know it’s a very human thing to say “Is there anything I can do”, but in this case I would only entertain offers from very high-end experts in brain chemistry.

Terry Pratchett strikes me as the sort of person who’ll find creative ways to fight Alzheimers. I’m optimistic that we’ll see a few more books from him yet.


Perfection and more perfection

I keep catching bits of Heston Blumenthal’s programme on cooking the perfect versions of iconic meals. It’s no surprise that there are two books out based upon it and the previous series, and Alex has commented that he may buy them. The next time youi’ve got eight hours to dedicate to making the perfect bolognese, these are what you should refer to.


Military SF and Baen books

Military science fiction, a genre probably started by Starship Troopers, which I have yet to read (though I have seen the film, and its fairly predictable sequel- Hero of the Federation). I would recommend The Forever War by Joe Haldeman, effectively a response to Starship Troopers. The two books characterise the two sides of the genre, Heinlein’s allegedly glorifying conflict and Haldeman’s highlighting the sacrifice of the ordinary soldier and their alienation from the people they are supposedly fighting for in an ultimately pointless war.

Baen books publish a lot of contemporary military science fiction, mostly of the more militaristic, right-leaning type. I’ve read a few of them in the last couple of months, from the library or a big bag of battered editions I was given. Carrying on the trend of getting them for free, I’ve just downloaded a few novels from their free library. They’re all good, no-nonsense reads that aim primarily to provide entertainment without breaking much new ground. The occasional lecture on the greater merits of military service, duty and sacrifice tend to slide past without offending or disrupting the flow of the tale.

What I’m thinking of now is writing a few short pieces in the genre, subverting it a bit with my defeatist liberal outlook. The horror, futility and blowback of a poorly planned war entered into for the wrong reasons should provide a good backdrop.


Boyfriend Season

“Autumn is boyfriend season. With the nights drawing in and the weather getting worse it’s the right time to have a man to keep you warm and stuff.”

I was with Lauren and Vanessa, a few pints into the night somewhere in Didsbury, when Lauren had dropped this concept into the conversation.

“And in Spring you can dump them because there’s so much else to do.” Vanessa added.

I think I did a guppy impersonation for a while. It was only later that I thought that men are at their horniest in Spring. It’s all sunny and the serotonin levels are rising again. I’d probably have been told that that’s just the way it goes.

———-

Tis the season to be hunted
Important message for the Brotherhood of Single Men!
It’s Boyfriend Season.
They’re after you, be afraid. Be very afraid.
Or let yourself get caught. Whatever.
Posted by Jim at 00:52:34am

———

I really ought to have asked what a boy does to attract attention during the season. Preferably early on. It could be useful information.

I’m not looking for a relationship, but, then again, I’m not not looking. You know how it is. And the sort of relationship I’m not looking for is a long term one. I don’t think I’m wired for one night stands, flings or seasonal affairs.

Unless the right woman suggests it.

So I’m meeting new people, trying to give a good impression to as many women as possible and having conversations about dating to suit the weather. There’s a whole world apart from the geeks I know and love and it’s quite interesting.

Just so long as they don’t ask me to do tech support.

———-

Sue kills mice for a living.

Not, you know, herself, physically. She does have little hands, probably small enough to wring a rodent’s neck if the need arose. There’ll be a fetish site for that sort of thing.

No. Sue formulates the poison that goes into those mouse hotels, or whatever they’re called, the black or brown plastic boxes with little circular doors you see on the exterior walls of cinemas and the like. Her aim is, perversely, to make the tablets less toxic. If she can kill the mouse quickly and have the poison break down there’s less chance of it getting into the food chain.

God help me, but I found this fascinating. So much so that I sought her out after the speed dating session and we talked some more. It helped that she’s cute. Short, slim, very dark hair, pale. Perhaps a little too pale, she does look like someone who spends her days around poisons. In a room full of topped up tans, Rimmell and hair gel her unpainted pretty face drew me.

I didn’t ask for her number. I don’t know what the etiquette is about that, and she didn’t ask me. I ticked her name on the list, however, and hopefully she did the same for me.

———-

The boyfriend season thing’s becoming a meme. I’ve had a couple of comments and a few people have mentioned it in emails. I’m waiting to see how long it takes for someone to tell me it as if they think I don’t already know about it.

In the meantime, the local chapter of the Brotherhood of Single Men is trying to imagine what sorts of lures we could be using.

“Shouldn’t the hunters be the ones using the lures? We are the prey, after all.” Steve observed.

“Ah, they have their feminine wiles to use as lures.” I can’t believe I said that. This is what happens when you drink strange spirits people bring back from holiday.

“T-shirts with big targets on them.” Bert suggested, “Or that say ‘This space available to rent’ and point at the crotch.”

“Mount me.” I offered.

“What?”

“T-shirts that say ‘Mount me’.”

“Oh. Right.”

“I was thinking more along the lines of a duck call kind of thing.”

“What would it sound like?”

“Wa-Hey!” Bert offered.

“Nah.”

“Get yer tits oot for the lads.” Me.

“Not going to work.”

“I have chocolate.” Bert again.

“That…. Now that might work.”

———–

I really, really hate Neil.

Oh, okay, that’s a lie. I love him to bits, in a totally heterosexual way. But he’s getting laid, so I’m very jealous.

She’s a Phd student, “Companion Animal Learned Behaviour.”

“What?”

“Pet psychology.”

“You’re joking right? They do postgrads in pet psychology? How?”

“Have you ever tried to out-think a cat?”

“Fair point. So what are you doing in the pub with your sad single friend when you’ve got a hot doggy shrink to go home to?”

“She’s got some sort of open session on. ‘Bring in your gerbil and we’ll deal with its Oedipal problems.’ That sort of thing. It won’t be done for a while.”

“I was hoping it was because you still loved me.”

“Nah, sorry. You’re last month’s thing. I’m just slumming with you ’cause she lives across the road. Bar billiards?”

Two games, and another pint, later, his phone rang. “Hey honey.” he glanced out of the window at the flats across the road. “Really? How come? Oh, well, that’s cool. Just take all your clothes off and I’ll be right over. Bye bye.”

My shot had gone so horribly wrong that I’d knocked over all three pins. Mental images.

“I’ve got to go. Finish this if you want.” Neil waggled his half drunk pint.

“She isn’t going to be waiting there naked you know.”

“She might be. And would you pass up the chance?”

“No, I guess not. No doggy style, though. Might remind her of work.”

———–

Maybe Neil’s girlfriend can introduce me to a few of her friends.

Or maybe not. The last time we went to a student party Steve and I got drunk and started reminiscing about the early nineties.

There are only so many times you can hear, “I was only four!” before you start to feel old.

————–

Larger offices tend to have a demarcation along employment status lines. The perms look down on us temps because we don’t have their security. We look down on them because that security so often leads to lack of imagination and risk avoidance. Morlocks and Eloi, where it’s always the other bunch who are the knuckle dragging devolveds.

Karen was another of the temps at work. We’d developed a nil carborundum kind of camaraderie against the management stupidity. It was her last day on Friday, so we went for a few drinks.

She’s quite buff, goes to the gym twice a week, to maintain the flat stomach and muscle definition. I refused the offer of an arm wrestle. Cycling does wonders for the definition of my arse and legs, but my top half is flabby and weak.

One by one our band of Eloi disappeared, off home to S.O.s and cats. In the end it was just Karen and me. Somehow we’d made it to the Kro on Oxford Road opposite the University. It was that flux period, between the after work drinkers going home and the party animals getting dressed and heading out.

Karen cycles as well. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Perhaps I should have suggested a ride, but there’s an inner ten year old that just can’t accept the possibility of being beaten by a girl.

At some point before closing time we went our separate ways. I don’t strictly remember the bus ride home. Not that I blacked out. It’s just that I’ve made it so many times it all passes me by unless something particularly interesting happens.
I can’t believe I didn’t get her number or email. I think sh
e knows about my blog.

—————

Sue chose me!

Hungover and befuddled I checked my email. I nearly blocked the message from the speed dating site. It proclaimed ‘Susan wants to see more of you!’ and I was about to mark it as spam when I recognised the site name in the email address.

Sue put a tick next to me on the website. As I ticked against her on my page we get each other’s emails to do with as we please. I was far too hungover to do anything and decided to leave it for a while.

Steve owed me a fry up, so I headed over. Somehow he convinced me to pick up the bacon and sausages on the way. There’s something not quite right about that.

Bert had been photoshopping and now his desktop is a picture of Alyson Hannigan as Vampire Willow, saying “Be vewy, vewy quiet. I’m hunting boyfriends.”

We like the idea of being hunted. We don’t believe it really happens, though. Any woman caught making it easy for a bloke would be kicked out of the girly club.

————-

Sue emailed me whilst I was out. Is it a bad sign that she’s capable of being that coherent on a Saturday morning?

She wants to get together some time, tonight even, if I’m free. I guess if I take some paracetamol and drink enough water I’ll be able to pass for sentient by the evening.

————

Food and drinks in Metropolitan on Burton Road. We met early evening, before the pre-club crowd filled it. It was as awkward as you’d expect at first. I bought her a drink (Directors, good call) and we found a table.

“So….” I began, but couldn’t think of what to say next. ‘Why did you wait nearly a fortnight to tick my box?’ would probably sound too judgemental and/or desperate. I sort of waved my hands and smiled.

“Sorry I took so long to complete the feedback. It’s been hellishly busy the last few weeks. I just got back from three days in Germany yesterday.”

“Sounds interesting.”

“Not really. I didn’t get to see anything of the area. It was all meetings, trips around chem labs and late meals at the hotel. I got some reading done.”

“What sort of stuff?”

“I’m re-reading all my Pratchett.”

“Oh. I started doing that last year.”

We discussed the Discworld for a while, and somehow it segued into hobbies. Thankfully, nothing Sue does in her spare time involves cruelty to small furry animals. We ate, and drank a bit more, then it became a bit too crowded.

Her place was only a couple of street away. It seemed logical that we should end up there. It was a single bedroom flat on the first floor. I sat on the sofa and checked out the living room whilst she broke open some wine. It was good to know I’m not the only one who’s so untidy. It wasn’t messy, it was just that paperwork, books and magazines were filed in piles on available surfaces.

She brought a bottle of white and two tumblers and sat right beside me. One glass later she was draped across my lap and I was pushing and tugging her top off.

She’s got tiny tits with responsive nipples that seem, relatively, large. I couldn’t keep my hands, lips, tongue and, occasionally, teeth off them. She squirmed a bit, made a lot of appreciative noises and finally went tense and then limp with a little “Wow”. The flush on her pale skin was very sexy.

Having made her come just by concentrating on her breasts I had sealed the deal. We took things to the bedroom.

————-

Coffee in bed. Sweet.

The bedroom’s tidier than the living room. Two bookshelves completely filled, a dressing table and two cupboards. The only signs of disarray were the suitcase and our discarded clothes from the night before.

It was good coffee, too. “I buy the beans from the health food shop. They’re FairTrade.” Sue explained.

She was wearing a big baggy top, looking tiny. Her hair framed her face and she looked worryingly young. “I nearly didn’t tick anyone from the speed dating night. I kept telling myself no-one would be interested.”

“So what made you change your mind?”

“You seemed a nice guy, and interesting. And I was a bit horny. And, well, it is boyfriend season.”

Notes I did think of posting this in parts, but then decided to present it in one piece. “Boyfriend Season” was written in October whilst working on an IT helpdesk. It was inspired by a conversation very like the one that opens the story (see my own version of the Boyfriend Season post). Sadly I haven’t seen the women who introduced me to the concept since that evening.

I’d like to expand upon this story. I was experimenting with minimalism when I wrote it and on re-reading it I think I may have stripped away a little too much. I’ve stated my aim to incorporate this into a novel about a blogger to be called Post & Publish. I see it being the second, of three or four, distinct parts of the novel. Parts 3 and 4 will concentrate on Jim and Sue’s relationship developing and the lives of their friends. I’ve only got this lightly sketched out at the moment, it’s my New Year writing project.

Other fiction-

So Much To Answer For, a crime story also written whilst I was on the helpdesk.

Heavensent is the propeller-punk sci-fi war novel I recently wrapped up.

Download Another Education/Ruby Red or Ten Years Asleep.

Donate Now I’ve started writing again I’m unlikely to stop, but it would be nice if I could eat during my breaks. So please feel free to donate some money to my starving author fund by clicking on the PayPal button below.


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Who'll watch the Watchmen?

The film adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ major graphic novel, Watchmen (or buy Absolute Watchmen, a hardcover special edition with bonus features such as sketches and script samples), looks like it may be about to happen. The director is Zack Snyder. His remake of Dawn of the Dead was quite good and the trailer for his adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300 (buy the graphic novel) looks gorgeous. I’m not so sure about his involvement with an adaptation of Rainbow Six (buy the book), one of Tom Clancy’s poorest efforts with a moronic anti-environmentalist message and a plot stolen from Moonraker, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Who’ll watch the Watchmen? I will, for one.

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Rip it up and start again?

Darren at ProBlogger has set a challenge- tell him how you’d proceed if you were to start your blog all over again.

I started Spinneyhead in January 2001. The simple and most obvious thing I’d do would be to post more often, and longer posts. That would have been a little tricky, of course, given the fact that I was mostly posting on work time. Looking back on it, I should have posted more often about work and what I was putting up with, but done it after hours.

2001 wasn’t a good year for me, and I came out of it a lot poorer and significantly less healthy. Too much time on the road, drowning my sorrows and maxing out the daily expenses allowance on big meals. All in all it was ideal fodder for the sort of work blog that would get you sacked now but would then have been a short cut to notoriety (and maybe a book deal) then.

Then, of course, there was September 11th. I was working in Cardiff that day. At some point someone set up a TV in a corner of the office and, as we found out what was going on, we all gravitated to it to try and take in the events. I was shocked, obviously, and living with a guy who claimed he knew people who worked in the World Trade Centre made the degrees of separation smaller. Yet somehow I didn’t find myself caught up in the clamour for War On Terror the way so many others did. Even back then I felt that some of the stuff we were being sold was utter rubbish. Such as when people kept telling us that no-one had ever thought terrorists could use civilian aircraft as weapons. What about the Tom Clancy novel where an avenging Japanese pilot landed a 747 on the State of the Union? Surely Clancy was just the sort of people Bush Jr.’s people read?

Maybe I should have published these thoughts, controversial then but justified now, and had another shot at notoriety.

But the honest truth is, sometimes when you’re in a shitty situation it’s just too hard to see how bad it is, let alone write about it objectively. Especially when the person who’s making it worse, by agreeing to every idiot idea from management, is supposed to be your friend. And I’m not great with conflict, so I didn’t really want to tell the truth to all those revenge blinded Americans.

So in the end, this is the Spinneyhead you got instead. It’s still here. My enthusiasm has waxed and waned but never died, and the family has grown. Maybe, after all, I wouldn’t change a thing.

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Going Postal

This has to be the 300th Discworld book, and Terry Pratchett is still managing to come at his creation from different angles. Moist von Lipwig was a conman on the top of his game, until he was caught by the Ankh-Morpork watch. Sentenced to hang, he is offered redemption by an angel, albeit an angel in the unlikely shape of tyrannical patrician Lord Vetinari. In return for his restored life, Moist is to become the new Postmaster of Ankh Morpork.

Of course, the Post Office isn’t in the best of conditions. The grand chandeliers have gone from the main office and every available spare space is filled with letters that were never delivered. And it’s been that way for over twenty years, ever since the workload became too much and they brought in Bloody Stupid Johnson and his Pie to speed up the sorting. As if that wasn’t enough, the clacks signalling system, the Post’s main competition, has been subject to an unfriendly, and very sneaky, takeover and will use any underhand means necessary to stay ahead.

Moist must enlist the help of golems, many strange postmen- including one young man raised by peas- and the Smoking Gnu in his quest to redeem himself and get out of town alive and, if possible, in profit. Along the way he shall discover the joy of pins, invent philately, deal with the Ghost in the Overhead and maybe get a date.

As with any Pratchett the joy is as much in getting there as arriving at the conclusion. He plays games with pop culture and history, has a dig at corporations and public utilities alike and throws in some simple silliness. Highly recommended, just like all the other Discworld books.

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I'd like to say Sidewinder, but I don't think I can afford to

Aeroplane and other manufacturers demand royalties from model companies wishing to depict their products in miniature. This is fine for their commercial vehicles, argues Internet Modeller, but now they are increasingly demanding money to use the names and likenesses of their military creations. IM’s argument is that the names of the military’s toys are public domain as the taxpayer, through the government, paid for the development and acquisition of such things as the F22 rather than the companies that went on to build it.

No doubt this licencing issue also exists for video games, but will it extend to authors wishing to be the next Clancy? Are the B-52s and U2 going to get backdated demands for royalties?


Executive Orders

Okay fanboys, get your heads around this. Seven of Nine was married to Jack Ryan, President of the United States and recurring character in Tom Clancy’s books. But they got divorced. Seven cited the President’s desire to have sex with her in public at “avant-garde” (as he called them) clubs in New York and Paris (Tom Paris? He’s involved in all this as well.) They should have just used the holo-deck.

(Executive Orders- Tom Clancy, Star Trek: Voyager)


Normal Service Resumed

I’ve only just got back onto the PC, having been swallowed by a book yesterday evening. Night Watch by Terry Pratchett, in fact. Sam Vimes travels back in time to meet his younger self a few days into his Watch career. Not as absolutely hilarious as some of his other work, and a little cramped by the knowledge (and the Causality Monks’ assertions), that history heals itself and everything that had happened in the original past will happen in this one- only in a slightly different way. There’s some neat background on the origins of characters, but little room for some of the inspired inventiveness that you’d get from Pratchett in new territory.

And my brain refuses to imagine what the Ginger Beer torture actually involves.