Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Zeus Ex Machina

Zeus Ex Machina
Peter W. Wilson

You know what it's like, right? You meet this girl, it's all peachy, life is good. And then you do something stupid and you lose her like that. No word of goodbye, no long speech, just an angry 'we're done' and that's that. She's out of your life and not coming back.

I did that. Once. I won't do it again.

It doesn't help that the period between meeting her and losing her was the better part of three millennia and that for much of that time I was head over heels in love, blind to all the selfish bitch's faults. Hey, if anyone was at fault for the occasional argument, it was me. And I just accepted that. I'll admit now that I left the dishes unwashed every now and then and when you come home from a long day at the office you'd appreciate not having all that further work to do. Especially when your other half has spent the day lounging round the flat in his underwear watching repeats of Only Fools and Horses.

But in the end she'd decided she'd had enough. And after telling you what I've just told you, who could blame her? Ignore the fact I'd actually taken her to the Fountain of Eternal Youth back when she was a lowly Athens maiden and that I'd been taking her on an annual basis ever since. I'd just given her the gift of immortality, in effect. I'd made sure she was never out of place in the world. I'd taken her on trips to stars and planets and all that usual lovey-dovey crap. When a man promises that he'll show you stars normally he means he's dynamite in the sack and doesn't mean it literally.

I'd given her kids too, of course. Two of them, both in the last century or so. Both mortal, unfortunately; Nikos died in a car crash in Minneapolis while Chara was recently diagnosed with a rare form of leukaemia. But there's nothing I could have done to stop Nikos's passing - he was on the other side of the planet at the time, and even a god's powers only extend so far (his immediate vicinity, for example) - and I'm doing all I can for Chara. I'm taking her up to the Fountain this coming Thursday.

But no, forget all that and remember the dishes.

Also forget that I had infinite opportunity over the years to leave her for another woman. The Muses have done practically nothing since the fall of Athens, occasionally agreeing to appear in some graphic novel or other, but other than that they've been largely redundant. Calliope's been so bored that she's actually shacked up with some Norse god or other. It might be Thor. Or Odin. Anyway, my point is that there has been a supposedly better class of woman available to me, and yet I stayed with her and didn't once stray.

We'll also forget all that, and the time I forgave her for bringing that postman home.

You know what, life was far more fun when I could just say sod it and turn into a swan without having a ball and chain with a mouth on it around my neck all the time, nagging me to do those dishes.

- Zeus

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Coursework and related musings

Coursework bites like a Jack Russell. Firstly, you know it's going to do it, but there's very little you can do to dissuade it (and any kicks attempting to do so will just make it worse). Then it'll clamp its jaws onto your calf and cling on for dear life. The pain will be extreme at the time, and it'll ensure you're incapacitated for hours on end.

Whilst that was a somewhat tortured simile, I think it gets my point across. Even having Kerrang Radio on in the background blasting Biffy Clyro isn't doing anything to null the throbbing ache at the front of my head as a result of spending much of the last couple of days laying the foundations for my Sentencing coursework essay. The good news is that I finally have a skeleton for the essay and that it shouldn't take much above two or three days to write. The bad news is that I have another 3,500 essay to write after this one, and once that's done I have a dissertation to work on.

All this coursework is getting in the way. It means I'm going to spend a grand total of 5 days off in my 3 weeks away from Newcastle. It means I don't have the time to focus on the two short stories I'm writing. Perhaps most irritatingly, it means I don't get the time to play Football Manager 2011 as much as I'd like to. I really want to have at least a season done in my developing world leagues game (MLS, A-League, Russian Premier Division), but if I'm beyond pre-season with Melbourne Heart then it should be regarded as a success.

On the other hand, it's nice to be away from uni. Once again, I'd got to the stage where the library was becoming more a prison than a place I could look forward to going to get some work done. The SLO was slightly better (it has natural light), but the building in general was starting to feel oppressive. The weather was hardly helping. Snow on the ground, silver building, grey skies; the world painted in greyscale. At least here I have the view of blue skies, skeletal trees out back, the houses on Church Lane, very Scandanavian with their caps of white.

Oh, and there's the PS3 behind me if ever I really need to get away for a few minutes.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Gardens of the Moon

I have to admit to having not enjoyed much fantasy lately. I've enjoyed A Song of Ice and Fire, but that's been about it. Perhaps it's because I've wanted my fiction to be more grounded in reality (or, at least, plausibility), but fantasy hasn't been hitting the spot for me. It's probably good for people to know this ahead of this review, as I think had fantasy been doing it for me this review would be very different.

Gardens of the Moon was recommended to me by a friend about 18 months ago and I picked up a copy pretty soon after (second hand, £1.75 - considering that it was in tremendous nick and only a couple of years old I thought I'd got a bit of a bargain there). It's taken until now for me to get round to reading it, which is a bit of a surprise considering that I normally read this kind of book inside a week or two. Perhaps it was because I've had stacks of books on the bookcase unread for the last couple of years and I was just working my steady way through those. Perhaps it was because part of me just didn't fancy the 750-page brick. Either way, I should have read it ages ago.

The wait wasn't really worth it. I can see why people would enjoy it, but these were the same reasons I didn't. Throughout the book the narrative sustains a breakneck speed, whizzing from one bit of the action to another without thought for allowing the reader to gather his own thoughts and take stock of the situation. I can see why this can be addictive and compelling reading, but I personally prefer for an author to have a bit of patience. Breakneck pacing is all well and good, but some explanation as to what's going on in the first place and a bit of a recap every now and then wouldn't go a million miles amiss.

Steven Erikson came across to me as a writer very much bursting with ideas, many of which were original and exciting. I really mean that. Some of his ideas were tremendous, such as the mix of gods and mortals in the cast. But he needed (as of 1999) to learn to slow this all down and reveal his world slowly. I floundered when it came to keeping up with some of his revelations, because I hadn't the foggiest where they'd come from and how it impacted because he'd not explained properly just what this god had to to with that mortal and how it all tied in.

If I described Gardens of the Moon as a 1,200 page trilogy all rammed into a single 700 page volume it would probably best sum up my feelings on the pacing. Too much, too fast.

But then again, it did leave an impression (at the end, when I'd sussed out what was going on). Erikson isn't a descriptive writer, and he has a driving style that, when applied properly to his plot, is compelling. He hasn't got a legion of intelligent fans for nothing, and at some point I may go back to it, if only he drops things like assassins guilds and the street urchins helping to broker power. Seriously - that's been done to death and annoys me so much these days that I've written a spoof meeting of assassins.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

December ramblings

After recently getting practically no time to do any writing whatsoever beyond scribblings in legalese, I may finally get the opportunity to get stuck in to a meaty bit of fiction over the next couple of weeks.

I'll freely admit that I don't expect it to be any good. It'll be a matter of bringing myself back up to scratch through doing a bit of editing and tinkering before starting on anything new, but then it's hardly my fault I'm shockingly out of practice. Uni takes priority, and it will continue to do so during the holidays (the target is to do both pieces of coursework - totalling 7,000 words - and at least 3,000 words of my dissertation over the three weeks off). But with no seminars or SPSs, I stand a chance of being able to get at least one story done, and I have an idea of what that story will be.

In other news, I got a rejection the other day for a piece of flash fiction I sent off. It had been previously rejected in perhaps the most pretentious manner possible (resulting in that website going on my blacklist - no, I'm not bitter at all), so to get this rejection back was a breath of fresh air. It was helpful, pointed out the flaws they believed the story had and seemed almost apologetic that they hadn't taken it on. I'm definitely submitting there again. As for the story, it's gone off again for the final time before time is called on it and it's posted up here.

One thing about uni has been that I've been able to get plenty of reading done in the evenings, when the cricket isn't on. Recent readings have included Isaac Asimov's Complete Stories (volume 1), Stephen Baxter's quasi-history Evolution, and, for my Law and Literature module, The Trial. At some point I may review them on here.

But in the mean time, Christmas is coming. X-Factor number ones, socks from your grandmother, dodgy Christmas specials on the telly and the inevitable Boxing Day murder of an aunt by your sister after she bought the wrong colour bobble hat.

Oh joy.

Monday, 6 December 2010

England... win!

Some say I've been waylaid by a mob of rampaging Tories trying to justify their economic policy. Others whispered that I was the victim of a freak yachting accident involving the England cricket team and Pope Benedict IX. Still more dreaded that I'd finally fallen victim to my own ego. All were wrong. My break from the internet was as a result of a ludicrous workload and a lack of anything interesting to post.

Well, now I do.

England have beaten Australia at cricket. In Australia. In the Ashes and not some poxy one-day thing. OK, so it's only the second Test, but the point is that we never, ever lead the Aussies in the Ashes in Australia.

We played well. Very well. Not just in piling on 620-5 dec, but also in taking 20 wickets and winning by an innings. Don't get me wrong, this Australia team is nothing compared to the great side at the start of the decade, a side with Waugh, Warne, McGrath, Lee, Gilchrist and Ponting all at their peaks. Throw in Langer and Hayden and you're talking a sensational team. The only survivor of that side is Ponting... and he's aged badly over the last couple of years.

He's still a danger. After 150 Tests and a Test average of over 50 you can't discount the talent of the man. He'll come good this series, hitting at least one big hundred on the way, but the rest of the side is lacking. Katich, Clarke and Hussey are all fine players - but they're not the likes of Adam Gilchrist.

But England deserve credit. Against a mediocre attack the batting lineup did the damage in fine fashion. Pietersen looks back to his best, as does Cook. Only Strauss didn't impress in the most recent Test - and he hit a ton at the Gabba. And as for the bowlers: Swann was imperious, Anderson's ever-dangerous and Finn has struck at crucial times. The best attack in the world is still young in cricket terms (Broad is 24, Finn is 21, Anderson 28 and Swann 31) and it all bodes well.

Roll on the next Test. I promise to enjoy it.