Friday, 26 September 2014

Andy Martin on Roy of the Aztecs

There haven't been any reviews of my Roy of the Aztecs collection because I haven't bothered to send out any review copies and wouldn't know who to send them to if I did, but - for what it may be worth - I've just had a couple of emails from my friend Andy Martin whom some of you may remember as one time singer of the Apostles, and here's what he said on the 25th September 2014:

I'm now on page 44 of Roy Of The Aztecs and I am amazed I never bothered to read this strip when it was first produced. I've never liked comics, even when they're done by people I know. I remember a few frames you photocopied and stuck on your toilet wall - the famous frame with Roy off his tree on peyotl which ends the trees, the trees.

Basically this is easily one of the cleverest and most hilarious items I've ever read. I laughed out loud on the D6 bus to work today and I chuckled aloud on the 277 on the way back home.

...and then on 26th September 2014:

I finished Roy early this morning - it stopped me going to sleep because I had to read just one more page and then just one more...until I realised I only had 5 more pages to go and so I decided to read on until the end.

The chap with the punk haircut - can't remember his name - who kindly provides preposterously (and obviously) contrived end of strip cliff hangers by playing thoroughly impractical practical jokes - is splendid!

So there you go. That's why you should buy it. If you've no idea what it actually is or what it's about, then please refer to this blog post, and then open your wallet in the general direction of this webpage. If you still have doubts, ignore them. Just buy it.

Ta very much.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

White Stained Covers

About a million years ago, back when I lived in Lewisham, Mark Crumby of Impulse fanzine told me that he was putting together a book about the power electronics group Whitehouse. This was to be accompanied by a free cassette of cover versions of Whitehouse tracks, and I was asked if I would like to contribute. Mark explained that the covers could be fairly liberal interpretations, and that the point was to have fun with the material. I mentioned this to my friend Andrew Cox as we convened for our evening session in The White Horse, and he was very much tickled by the idea, and thus were born Stan Presley & the Glitterdust All-Stars for the express purpose of failing to see the humour in Rock and Roll, a track originally recorded for Birthdeath Experience, Whitehouse's 1980 album and one of the few that doesn't sound exactly the same as the other two thousand they have since recorded. I also turded out two further tracks, and Andrew played guitar on one of these, but I can't remember which as I don't have the cassette with me, and I haven't heard them in two decades. This is also why I'm not going to name my other two tracks, in case it turns out that they were shite after all. Apparently William Bennet of Whitehouse was somewhat bemused by the cassette when it emerged. Perhaps he thought we had failed to treat his oeuvre with due reverence, or perhaps he was simply angry because our versions were much better than all that ranty ravey I'm going to feel your bottom! stuff of his. Actually, that's probably it, I should think.

Anyway, White Stained Covers has been reissued, for some reason, albeit as a limited run of numbered copies by the Bleak Netlabel in conjunction with something called aufnahme+wiedergabe.

In 1993, a group of electronic troubadours set about writing and recording a tribute to their favourite band, Whitehouse. Amongst them, ex-Whitehouse member Glenn Michael Wallis, founder of industrial pioneers Konstruktivists, former stagehand for Throbbing Gristle. The recordings were given away with the book Still Going Strong, a collection of interviews, reviews and newspaper snippets about Whitehouse and their legendary live actions. Created, edited and published by Mark Crumby's Impulse label, it has become a massively sought after collector's item - the book, that is; not the tape. The tape never got the attention it deserves, and everything around it seems to be embarrassing for the involved persons. It took twenty years to unveil the mysteries to it, to identify the names and persons behind this labour of love. While considered a parody by many, including William Bennett, we feel that this highly underrated work by dedicated artists should be brought to a new generation of power electronic kids.

So there you have it. The tape is not yet available, but is available for pre-order, possibly from this place, or maybe from their friends. Ordinarily I would wait for it to be on sale before plugging such an item, but it'll probably be sold out by then, given that this is how such things tend to go and it's now possible to sell a bit of paper with the word industrial written on it on eBay for thousands of pounds.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Blair Bidmead on Against Nature


Well, it's probably not a review in the conventional sense, but I'm honestly not that fussy, and I particularly enjoyed the reference to Birds of a Feather. So here it is, as transmitted to me just the other day by Blair Bidmead, author of
various good things published by Obverse Books, amongst other mighty works regularly described at Battlefield by the Meadow.

Yes! Against Nature! I read it and that. A while ago now. I thought I had already mentioned it to you, but I think your book broke my head, because I didn't, so I am mentioning it now instead. What a thing you gawn and done, eh? A tremendous thing! Crafted within an inch of its life. A dense, sleek and impressive thing. I am reminded of that episode of Birds of a Feather when Dorian pretends she has written a book and Tracy reads it and says to Sharon, 'Nah, Sharon. It's like a real book, with bits I don't understand and everything!' So, yeah. You're getting that I greatly admire your book? I enjoyed it too, sort of. A bit. But, what do I know? Eh? I'm pretty low rent, really. So, greatly admire is a proper win, yeah? I would especially like to applaud the book's militant opacity. I respect that that most.

There was a point, about halfway through, I think maybe when the talking dog appears (he the same one from your Doctor Who book, innit?), where there seemed to be a classic bit of exposition to clarify shit, and I thought two things - one was; ah, he's throwing us a bone here, right the path shall become clearer now, the second thing I thought was; ah, so I have been following what was happening. That's good to know. But, that was it. There was no further concession made. It was keep up or fuck off and I like that. And do you know what's really weird? That talking dog's face has just appeared in the sponsored ads column as I type this! Spooky. Oh, and the final chapter? It's a happy ending, so that's nice, isn't it? These other books of which you speak. Some cunt will publish them, surely?

I don't know the answer to that question, but Against Nature is still very much available through channels referenced elsewhere on this blog.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

The Brakespeare Voyage

I probably should have mentioned this here when it came out, but never mind. The Brakespeare Voyage by Simon Bucher-Jones and Jonathan Dennis finds itself effortlessly amongst the finest weird science-fiction novels I've ever read - and I've read a few - which is hugely gratifying seeing as I painted the cover. As is sometimes my custom, I took photographs of the painting as I was working on it, principally because it was one of those pieces composed mainly by pushing the paint around until it eventually looked right - roughly following suggestions made by Mr. Dennis. This is an occasionally haphazard method which can sometimes unfortunately result in one painting over something half decent with something which turns out to look crap the next morning. Happily that didn't occur with this one. Anyway, I've been meaning to post the in progress material for anyone who wants to see it, so here it is.

If anyone wishes to download larger versions, for whatever reason, they can be found somewhere in this Flickr set, excepting the finished piece which is here - right click on the image, select the size required, then click on save as or whatever. It's not that hard.

If you haven't yet purchased a copy of The Brakespeare Voyage then I really can't recommend it enough, and it is available either from the Obverse Books site or here if you live in North America and don't wish to pay a million dollars postage fees. My own novel, Against Nature is also still available from both of those, in the event that you haven't yet bothered to buy the fucker, but nevertheless expect me to speak to you next time we meet, and for my friend who gushed most convincingly over how excited he would be to buy the thing when it comes out in paperback, it actually is a paperback, you tool.

Oh, and for what it's worth, here's what I thought of The Brakespeare Voyage in a little more detail.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

The Vostok Lake Interview

A few years ago I was a regular on a poorly attended bulletin board frequented by Random Static recording artist Daphne Lawless, and became roughly the only other contributor - excepting Daphne herself - to a question and answer thread vaguely forming a preface to the release of Vostok Lake's excellent Small Group Psychosis album. More recently, whilst going over some old writings, essays, shopping lists, and cat feeding reminders posted on the fridge door, I came across this interview and noticed that, as it stood, it wasn't that easy to read, often comprising blocks of five or six unrelated questions followed by the attendant blocks of five or six answers; so, I had a go at editing it into something with a more organic flow, and which I pray carries a slightly more conversational tone.

Happily, Daphne has now posted this interview in full on her Vostok Lake blog here. Hopefully it should be of some appeal to anyone with any sort of interest in progressive rock, electronic music, home recording, the New Zealand scene (or lack thereof), prog-cabaret (of which Daphne presently seems to be the sole proponent), or even the fabled Faction Paradox opera; and if you're still unconvinced, read it anyway because Daphne is one of those rare individuals who makes both the internet and the world a more pleasant and interesting place, and as such she deserves your support.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Against Nature Nahuatl Glossary

Pronunciation is generally consistent with Spanish with x yielding a soft sh sound as in sherry, tl representing a single phoneme similar to the ch in loch, qu generally being a hard k, and hu amounting to w; so, by way of example, Ahuizotl is pronounced aweezotl, huexotl is pronounced weh-shotl, and Quetzalcoatl being ketzal-kwa-tl.

Fictional characters or concepts are denoted in bold italics.

Acamapichtli. first and founding Tlatoani of the Mexica centre of Tenochtitlan (1375 - 1395), former Cihuacoatl to the court of Culhuacan, born of a Culhua mother and Mexica father.
Achicatzin. a son of Axayacatl, brother of Xocoyotzin.
Acolhua. one of the numerous chichimec tribes who settled the Valley of Mexico from the seventh century onwards, associated primarily with the centres of Coatlinchan and Texcoco.
Acolmiztli. Acolhua Tlatoani of Coatlinchan (early fourteenth century), also a minor Death God.
Acuauhtla. small town east of Chalco at the southern extent of the Valley of Mexico, now San Francisco Acuauhtla.
ahuehuetl. cypress tree.
Ahuizotl. eighth Mexica Tlatoani of Tenochtitlan (1486 - 1502).
Amimitl. Hunter God of lakes and lake fishermen.
Anahuac. Mexico.
aoompa. a fool, one who walks along looking all around.
Apan. the great ocean found at the eastern limit of Tlalocan.
Atepexolotl. the beast of the city foreseen by Ocotochtli.
atlachinolli. symbolic conflation of fire and water, an explosive union of opposing forces representing sacred war.
Atlaua. Hunter God of lakes and lake fishermen.
Atlazol. a minor official within the court of Xocoyotzin, possibly a nephew of Itzcoatl.
Atlixocan. the mythic location of the entrance to Cincalco.
Atonal. an elder man of Xochimilco.
Atotonilco. town to which Tezozomoc reputedly sent warriors in search of the fugitive Acamapichtli, presumably Atotonilco el Grande in the state of Hidalgo.
Axayacatl. sixth Mexica Tlatoani of Tenochtitlan (1469 - 1481), father to Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin.
axocotl. hog plum.
Ayahueltec. a resident of Ayahueltlan.
Ayahueltlan. a town of dubious provenance.
Ayotzinco. small town to the south of Xicco in the Valley of Mexico, now Santa Catarina Ayotzingo.
Azcapotzalco. Tecpanec centre on the western shore of Lake Texcoco in the Valley of Mexico, Tecpanec capitol prior to the defeat of the Tecpanec hegemony by Itzcoatl in 1428.
Aztec. a tribal resident of Aztlan, ancestor to the Mexica.
Aztlan. the mythic island home of the Aztecs, variously reported to have been somewhere in the north of Mexico, or even in the United States, although Mexcaltitlan on the west coast seems a promising candidate.

Calmecac. clerical school.
Camaxtli. Hunter God.
Ce Calli. One House - day 183 of the 260 day Tonalpohualli count.
Ce Calli. One House - a specific trecena of the tonalpohualli calendar, a group of thirteen days sharing certain qualities and beginning on the day Ce Calli.
Ce Calli. One House - year 40 of the 52 year Xiuhmolpilli.
Ce Izcuintli. One Dog - a specific trecena of the tonalpohualli calendar, a group of thirteen days sharing certain qualities and beginning on the day Ce Izcuintli.
Ce Tochtli. One Rabbit - year 1 of the 52 year Xiuhmolpilli.
Centeotl. Corn God.
Chalchiuhtlatonac, Codex. indigenous account of events in and around the Valley of Mexico dated to the early 1500s.
Chalca. one of the numerous chichimec tribes who settled the lakes to the south of the Valley of Mexico from the seventh century onwards, associated primarily with the centres of Chalco and Xicco.
chalchihuitl. jade, a precious stone.
Chalchihuitlicue. River Goddess.
Chalco. Chalca centre on the eastern shore of the lakes south of Lake Texcoco in the Valley of Mexico.
Chalco Atenco. see Chalco.
Chantico. Goddess of the hearth and volcanic fire.
Chapultepetl. woodland area on the west bank of Lake Texcoco centred around the hill of Chapultepec.
chiauhcoatl. rattlesnake.
Chichimec. generic term for members of the nomadic tribes which began to arrive in the Valley of Mexico around the seventh century, mostly but not exclusively Nahuatl speakers.
Chicoce Cuauhtli. Six Eagle - day 175 of the 260 day Tonalpohualli count.
Chicoloapan. river on the eastern shore of Lake Texcoco in the Valley of Mexico, now Chicoloapan de Juarez.
Chicome Cozcacuauhtli. Seven Vulture - day 176 of the 260 day Tonalpohualli count.
Chiconahui Izcuintli. Calendrical designation of the Goddess Chantico.
Chimalma. mother of Quetzalcoatl and consort of Mixcoatl.
Chimalpopoca, Codex. indigenous account of events in and around the Valley of Mexico dated to the early 1500s.
chinampa. an artificially constructed field built up from the bed of a shallow lake with bricks of mud and soil.
Chitilma. an Ixtilli and colleague of Momacani.
Chollolan. large centre to the east of the Valley of Mexico, now Cholula de Rivadavia.
Cihuatecuhtli Hueyhueycuauhtliocelotlalayotl. Lorraine Conti.
cihuacoatl. political office roughly equating to first minister.
Cihuatlan. the land of women found at the western limit of Tlalocan, sometimes conflated with Tamoanchan.
Cincalco. a lesser known region of the dead associated with those who have perished by suicide.
Coahualxiuh. phonetic Nahuatl rendering of the name Goralschai which clumsily yields Fire in the Serpent.
Coatepetl. hill on the eastern shore of Lake Texcoco in the Valley of Mexico, now Coatepec.
Coatlicue. mother of Huitzilopochtli.
Coatlinchan. Acolhua centre on the eastern shore of Lake Texcoco in the Valley of Mexico, now San Miguel Coatlinchan.
copal. resin incense derived from the plant Protium copal.
Cuauhnahuac. large centre to the far south of the Valley of Mexico, now Cuernavaca.
Culhua. one of the numerous chichimec tribes who settled the Valley of Mexico from the seventh century onwards, associated primarily with Culhuacan and tracing certain dynastic ties back to Tollan.
CulhuacanCulhua centre on the southern shore of Lake Texcoco in the Valley of Mexico.

Ehecatepetl. hill on west bank of Lake Texcoco in the Valley of Mexico, now Ecatepec.
Ehecatl. Wind God and aspect of Quetzalcoatl.
Ehecatztintli. a priest who summoned the demon Coahualxiuh according to Codex Chalchiuhtlatonac.

Huastec. culture group inhabiting Mexico's northern gulf coast region and belonging to Macro-Mayan language stream.
Huehueicnocaltlan. the ultimate location of House Meddhoran.
Huemac. purportedly the ninth and final Tlatoani of the Toltecs, a man led into decadence by the sorcerer Tezcatlipoca, and who  thus brought about the destruction of his people at some point during the twelfth century.
Huetepol. a priest who summoned the demon Coahualxiuh according to Codex Chalchiuhtlatonac.
huexocanauhtli. black-crowned night heron.
huexotl. willow tree.
Huexotzinca. the people of Huexotzinco, a centre to the south of Chollolan.
huipil. blouse.
Huitzilopochtli. Patron God and culture hero of the Mexica.
Huitztlan. the Land of Thorns found at the southern limit of Tlalocan.
Huixachtepetlprominent hill to the south of Tenochtitlan, now Cerro de la Estrella.

Icnopilli. a senior and founding member of the Ixtilque.
ihiyotl. shadowy component of the tripartite Nahua soul.
Ihuilcamina. see Motecuhzoma Ihuilcamina.
Ilancueitl. wife of Acamapichtli.
ilhuitl. a festival period of twenty days, a Mexican month by some definition of which eighteen made up the solar year.
Itzcoatl. fourth Mexica Tlatoani of Tenochtitlan (1427 - 1440).
Itzlacoliuhqui. Frost God.
Itzpapalotl. Malign Goddess.
Itztapalapan. town on the southern shore of Lake Texcoco linked to Tenochtitlan by a major causeway.
ixihtec. an essence or quality.
Ixiptla. a person chosen to impersonate a God for a period of time.
Ixomitectin. people who wear masks of bone derived from unknown beasts.
Ixpuztec. minor Death God.
Ixtilcalli. the court of the Ixtilque, a subdivision of the Calmecac.
Ixtilli. a member of the Ixtilque.
Ixtilque. plural of Ixtilli and meaning People of Authority, a secretive organisation purportedly established during Ahuizotl's tenure.
Iztaccihuatl. one of the two largest volcanoes of the Valley of Mexico.

macehual. a commoner, generally meaning a young male.
Macuilli Ocelotl. Five Jaguar - day 174 of the 260 day Tonalpohualli count.
Macuilmalinaltzin. regional governor of Xochimilco during the reign of Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin.
Matlacoatl. an Ixtilli and colleague of Momacani.
Mactlactome Calli. Twelve House - year 12 of the 52 year Xiuhmolpilli.
Mactlactome Malinalli. Twelve Grass - day 12 of the 260 day Tonalpohualli count.
Mexitin. plural of Mexica.
Micapetlacoli. minor Death God.
michihuauhtli. literally fish amaranth, a curd of mosquito larva and insects harvested from lake waters for consumption, probably not a delicacy.
Mictecacihuatl. Death Goddess and consort of Mictlantecuhtli.
Mictlan. the Realm of the Fleshless found at the northern limit of Tlalocan.
Mictlantecuhtli. Death God and ruler of Mictlan.
Miec. the group of stars known in recent times as the Pleiades.
Mixcoatl. Hunter God and father to Quetzalcoatl.
mizquitl. mesquite tree.
Mocolxiutecatl. meaning Those of the Lineage of Time Twisted upon Itself.
Momacani. A young Ixtilli of uncertain origin.
Motecuhzoma Ihuilcamina. fifth Mexica Tlatoani of Tenochtitlan (1440 - 1469); father to Axayacatl, Tizoc, and Ahuizotl.
Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin. ninth Mexica Tlatoani of Tenochtitlan (1502 - 1520).

nahualli. spirit guide or twin, today referred to as the nagual.
Nahuatl. major indigenous Mexican language presently spoken by some two million people.
Nahui Acatl. Four Reed - day 173 of the 260 day Tonalpohualli count.
Nanautzin. Creator God and lowly aspect of Quetzalcoatl.
Nauhyotl. Acamapichtli's loyal adviser and grandfather.
Nemontemi. group of five unfavourable days occurring at the end of the solar year and outside the agricultural and civic calendars.
Nenecuani. a priest who summoned the demon Coahualxiuh according to Codex Chalchiuhtlatonac.
Nexquimilli. apparition of ill-omen taking the form of an ashen mummy bundle.
Nextepehua. minor Death God.
Nezahualcoyotl. sixth Acolhua Tlatoani of Texcoco (1418 - 1520).
nopal. cactus, prickly pear.

Ocotochtli. aged priest, formerly the sponsor of Momacani.
octli. alcoholic beverage made from maguey sap.
Olac Xochimilco. see Xochimilco.
ololiuhqui. morning glory plant.
Ome Acatl. Two Reed - year 2 of the 52 year Xiuhmolpilli.
Ome Ozmatli.  Two Dog - day 210 of the 260 day Tonalpohualli count.
Otomí. one of the numerous chichimec tribes who settled the Valley of Mexico from the seventh century onwards, associated primarily with the centres of Otompan and linguistically distinct from the Nahuatl speaking groups.
Otompan. Otomí centre in the north-east of the Valley of Mexico, today Otumba.
Oztomeca. a clandestine subset of the Pochteca guild.

Papaztac. Minor Octli God.
Paynalozmatli. an Ixtilli and colleague of Momacani.
pinauiztli. beetle of ill-omen.
Pochteca. travelling trader.
Popocatepetl. one of the two largest volcanoes of the Valley of Mexico.
Popoloca. culture group found to the east of the Valley of Mexico and speaking a language regarded by the Mexica as unintelligible.

Quecholli. yearly twenty day hunting festival, ilhuitl 2.3 of the agricultural and civic calendar roughly contemporaneous to November in the Gregorian count.
Quetzalcoatl. God of wisdom and culture hero commonly identified with a former ruler of Tollan.
Quetzalpetlatl. sister to Quetzalcoatl.
Quilaztli. Creator Goddess.
Quiname. a long extinct race of giants.

Tamoanchan. the land of women found at the western limit of Tlalocan, sometimes conflated with Cihuatlan.
Tecciztecatl. Lunar God and aspect of Tezcatlipoca.
tecolotl. screech owl.
Tecpaneca. one of the numerous chichimec tribes who settled the Valley of Mexico from the seventh century onwards, associated primarily with the centres of Azcapotzalco and Tlacopan.
Tecpatl. knife, also standing for the northern direction and sacrifice.
tecuitlatl. spirulina algae.
Temazcalteci. Matriarchal Goddess.
Tenochtitlan. Mexica centre founded on the largest island of the southern reaches of Lake Texcoco in the Valley of Mexico
Tenquauhui. a minor official within the court of Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin.
Teotihuacan. large centre in the north of the Valley of Mexico built and then abandoned around the seventh century, and wrongly believed to have been the work of the Toltecs up until fairly recent times.
Tepeilhuitl. yearly twenty day festival in honour of the mountains, ilhuitl 2.2 of the agricultural and civic calendar roughly contemporaneous to October in the Gregorian count.
Tepeyollotl. volcanic aspect of the God Tezcatlipoca.
Teuhtlan. town to the far south of the Valley of Mexico.
Texcoco. Acolhua centre on the eastern shore of Lake Texcoco in the Valley of Mexico
Tezcatlipoca. major Fate God of which but one lesser manifestation is the Towering Man.
tezontli. red volcanic stone.
Tezozomoc. early Tecpanec Tlatoani of Azcapotzalco (1343 - 1426).
tilmatli. cotton cloak.
Tititl. yearly twenty day generative festival, ilhuitl 2.6 of the agricultural and civic calendar roughly contemporaneous to January in the Gregorian count.
Tizapaan. barren volcanic plane in the Valley of Mexico upon which the Mexica were obliged to reside during their nomadic period.
Tlacalael. legendary Cihuacoatl to the court of Itzcoatl and four successive Mexica rulers.
Tlacopan. Tecpanec centre on the western shore of Lake Texcoco in the Valley of Mexico
Tlahuixcalpantecuhtli. God of Venus as the Morning Star.
Tlaloc. Rain God.
Tlalocan. that which is below the Earth.
tlamacazqui. priest.
Tlamatzincatl. the youngest aspect of Tezcatlipoca.
tlatoani. ruler or dynastic leader.
Tlazolteotl. Matriarchal Goddess of sin, sexual love and weaving.
tlazoteotecatl. a coarse grass.
Tlohtoxcatl. an ageing Tlamacazqui by the Nahuatl rendering of his name, elsewhere famously given as Tlotoxl which, being meaningless, was presumably set down by a non-Nahuatl speaker.
Tohcual. a priest who summoned the demon Coahualxiuh according to Codex Chalchiuhtlatonac.
Tollan. Toltec centre in far north of the Valley of Mexico which fell into ruin sometime around 1170, now Tula de Allende.
Tolteca. theoretically one of the first Nahuatl speaking groups to arrive in the valley of Mexico sometime around the fifth or sixth century.
tonalli. heat, one component of the tripartite Nahua soul.
tonalpohualli. the divinatory calendar.
Tonatiuhcan. the solar afterlife of those who perish in battle or by sacrifice located at Ilhuicatl Tonatiuh, the fourth level of heaven.
Totonac. culture group found to the north-east of the Valley of Mexico and regarded by the Mexica as rustic.
Tozoztontli. yearly twenty day agricultural festival, ilhuitl 1.2 of the agricultural and civic calendar roughly contemporaneous to March in the Gregorian count.
Tzitzimime. celestial demons which will one day descend to Earth as spiders down silken threads to devour the living.
Tzonatatetl. an aide to Acamapichtli.
Tzontemoc. Death God.
Tzonpanco. town based on an island to the far north of Lake Texcoco in the Valley of Mexico, today Zumpango.

Xicco. Chalca centre built upon a large volcanic island in the eastern stretch of the lakes south of Lake Texcoco in the Valley of Mexico.
Xilonen. Corn Goddess.
Xipe Totec. Corn God.
xiuhmolpilli. the tonalpohualli equivalent of a century, a period of fifty-two years equating to a single cycle of the calendar.
Xiuhtecuhtli. God of Fire and Time.
Xochimilca. one of the numerous chichimec tribes who settled the lakes to the south of the Valley of Mexico from the seventh century onwards, associated primarily with Xochimilco.
Xochimilco. Xochimilca centre built on the southern shore of Lake Xochimilco, itself south of Lake Texcoco in the Valley of Mexico.
Xochipilli. a God of song and revelry responsible for punishing sins of excess.
Xochitonal. a monstrous alligator found in Mictlan.
Xocoyotzin. see Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin.
Xolotl. twin of Quetzalcoatl and Venus as the evening star.

Yaotl. a female aspect of Tezcatlipoca.
Yauhtlan. centre to the far south of the Valley of Mexico.
Yauhtloc. an ageing Tlamacazqui by the Nahuatl rendering of his name, elsewhere famously given as Autloc, which, being meaningless, was presumably set down by a non-Nahuatl speaker.
Yei Malinalli. Three Grass - day 172 of the 260 day Tonalpohualli count.
yolia. breath, one component of the tripartite Nahua soul.
yollotototl. honey creeper  or bananaquit bird.
Youaltepoztli. aspect of Tezcatlipoca appearing as a headless giant.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Smoking Mirror

I produced a POD version of
Smoking Mirror some time ago, so it really is old and probably not very interesting news. Nevertheless, it's just popped up as a topic of minor curiosity on the Outpost Gallifrey forum, presumably someone working their way backwards from my more recent, arguably more legitimate written efforts; and I realised I'd never got around to reposting this 2011 review from Andrew Hickey's wonderful Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!, so here it is:

Obligatory disclaimer-cum-explanation as to why I've bought this book. I've vaguely known Lawrence Burton as one of the more intelligent posters on the Doctor Who forum Outpost Gallifrey and on the Faction Paradox forum for a year or two. We've recently become Facebook friends, and he wrote a very flattering review of my most recent book. So I may be biased here.

On the other hand, I don't know him well enough that I think I'm biased - and if you read through that thread (Lawrence reviewing several hundred science fiction books) it's obvious both that he can actually write, and also that he shares a number of my tastes - of the books we've both read, I'd say I agree with at least 80% of his reviews, and especially the stuff he's most glowing about (Philip K. Dick, Lawrence Miles, David Louis Edelman) and his tastes in individual works by writers (preferring The End Of Eternity and The Gods Themselves to Asimov's Robot stuff).

So when I saw he'd self-published a couple of books himself, I bought this one without even reading the description.

It turns out to be an unofficial Doctor Who novel. I'd hesitate to call it fanfic, partly because it was intended for BBC Books (and quite why it was rejected I can't understand) and partly because fanfic tends to suggest something of poor quality, and this is anything but. It's a Doctor Who novel that happens not to have been licensed by the BBC, that's all. (Lawrence is selling the book at cost price and not making a penny from it, I hasten to add).

Given that it's self-published, there are surprisingly few criticisms I can make of it. The review thread linked above is called Crappy 70s Paperbacks with Airbrushed Spaceships on the Cover, and the cover design is a perfect imitation of those, the typography on the back being spookily reminiscent of some of them (the closest comparison I can find is the Granada paperback copies of The End Of Eternity and The Zap Gun, but I know I've seen something even closer). However, the typography in the book itself is less wonderful, being in Times New Roman (or a facsimile thereof) and eight- or ten-point type. Having a legally-blind wife, I know from experience that ideally one should print things in at least twelve-point, and wherever possible use a sans-serif font, for readability.

Other than that, the only really jarring thing about the book is a moment of lampshade hanging, when the Doctor is on a collect-the-plot-tokens quest and thinks about how he hates this kind of thing when it happens in books. It's not done quite well enough to overcome the problems.

One other problem I have - and one that's my problem rather than the book's - is that the book is set in pre-Columbian Mexico, and so the characters' names are all phonetically unlike anything I'm accustomed to. This gave me some difficulty in keeping track of the characters, but that can hardly be helped, given the subject.

The plot is a pretty good one - why has the universe shrunk, so that it now consists of only a small area of Central America and a few centuries? Why are the Gods walking among the humans? - but the plot is less important than the writing. Lawrence obviously has a huge love for the Mexica culture and mythology, and this comes across in every word. Before I read this, all I knew of the Mexica culture was that some of their sculptures in the British Museum look like they'd been made by Jack Kirby, if Kirby had had an obsession with skulls (which is a good thing). But Lawrence manages both to make this seem like a sympathetic culture (putting even the human sacrifice into a context where it seems entirely reasonable) and to bring out the utter strangeness of the culture's myths.

A lot of individual scenes will stay with me for a long time - the Doctor getting an inkling that problems are starting when Carl Sagan starts talking about how the Earth is a few thousand years old, the god at the centre of the TARDIS, the journey through Mictlan - this is a book as much about the journey as the destination, and Lawrence isn't afraid of devoting time to his interests, whether that be retelling old myths or explaining Mexica social structure or making asides about old sitcoms.

In fact, after the obvious in-joke that the Third Doctor used to watch Dad's Army (which starred Bill Pertwee) I started wondering about the other references - what does the confirmation of a Doctor-Who-universe Wilfred Brambell and Tony Hancock mean for the careers of the 'Whoniverse' Ron Grainer and Terry Nation? - but that's just the 60s-TV fan in me coming out.

And there's a very sitcom feel about parts of this book, but in a good way. It's a funny book, but the humour all flows from the situations, whether it be the Doctor's other console rooms (I want to see the McConsole Room™ now) or the TARDIS translation circuit malfunction that renders speech more… idiomatically than before. The one funny bit that doesn't quite fit in is the bit with three priests (trying not to spoil anything here). But that is so funny - and so incongruous - that it works, even though it could easily have fallen into the too-common trap of mistaking a reference for an actual joke.

The characterisation is spot-on as well. Lawrence catches Peri's voice perfectly, and his Sixth Doctor is definitely Colin Baker (although the character here is closer to the TV series than to the more nuanced portrayal in the audio stories - understandably, as this was written in 2002, when the audios hadn't been going that long). At times the Doctor seems almost too verbose, but then this is a Doctor whose defining writers were Pip & Jane Baker, and the fact that nobody else talks like that shows it as a stylistic choice rather than a tin ear.

It's a first novel, with all that that entails, and Lawrence's influences are clear (and he thanks Philip Purser-Hallard and Simon Bucher-Jones in the acknowledgements, if it hadn't been obvious) - I'm sure the use of Mictlan here is at least in part a reference to its use in the Faction Paradox books - but while this doesn't rise to the level of the very best Doctor Who books, it's funny, clever, well-written and written by someone with an obvious love for his subjects - both Doctor Who and pre-Columbian Mexica culture - and is certainly better than a good 90% of the Doctor Who books I've read.

Now if only Air France hadn’t lost my bag with my DVD of The Aztecs in, I could do a compare / contrast here. Oh well…

I wouldn't necessarily recommend this to a non-fan of Doctor Who, but it's an excellent self-contained story which requires a minimum of continuity knowledge, so if you're even a casual fan - especially if you're a fan of the Sixth Doctor, who's otherwise even worse-served in print than on TV - this is well worth a read. I'll definitely be buying Lawrence's book of short stories.

So there you go - that all seems fair. It's available here if anyone's tempted.

Finally, I should probably stress for the benefit of the three of you to whom this might make any sense, although Smoking Mirror shares a setting with Against Nature, it's a distant ancestor rather than a direct relative, and certainly isn't the first draft of the more recent title.