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.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Roy of the Aztecs


As about three people in the entire universe may remember without too much wincing, I was once a regular contributor to Brian Moore's Head, the award-of-some-sort winning Gillingham F.C. fanzine, drawing a regular four page continuing strip called Roy of the Aztecs which appeared in issues 59 though to 79, running from late 1996 to October 2000. Brian Moore's Head, so far as many were concerned - myself included, was one of the better football fanzines more or less regardless of personal investment in Gillingham F.C., or even in the game itself, which I personally never quite understood, and it was a pleasure to be involved, and to feature in the same vessel as the mighty data correlation of Professor Tarquin Zoological-Garden.

Roy of the Aztecs was a ripping boys' tale of ballgames and human sacrifice in ancient Mexico - essentially Roy of the Rovers with more pyramids, tortillas, and creaking puns - the tale of one young Mexican's rise from obscurity to becoming the star ball player for his theocratic city-state; and now it's all collected together in a single volume with a fancy painted cover.

In case this all sounds vaguely familiar, I've spent two years trying to load this thing up to Lulu, each time managing to print out a single copy before the Lulu book generator throws a wobbly and tells me that my masterpiece is flawed. Anyway, I've finally worked out what I was doing wrong (I had black and white images set to default rather than grayscale, which apparently is terrible) and so at long last, you can buy the thing should you wish to do so.

It may not be Watchmen, but I know at least three people who laughed at the jokes; and it's reasonably cheap, and you can buy it here:

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Andrew Hickey on Against Nature

Tepoztlan, 2005.
This time a review of my leaflet from Andrew Hickey, posted originally on his excellent blog Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!

Full disclosure before I start this - I am friendly with the author and the publisher, and I also potentially have a book coming out from this publisher. I don’t think that this has biased my opinions in any way - I became friendly with them because we shared a lot of tastes, so it's unsurprising that I would then enjoy this book - but it's only fair to point out up-front.

I've been putting off reviewing this one for quite some time, because as I've said before I've not been thinking very well for the last few months due to ill-health, and this is a book that deserves a more considered, thoughtful response than perhaps I am able to give. However, I'm still not fully well, and don't know how long I would have to wait otherwise, so this is my best assessment given my limited faculties.

Against Nature is a fascinating, difficult book, that makes no concessions to the reader but is all the better for it. It's dense, allusive, and expects its reader to think - but it gives plenty to think about. This is Faction Paradox in big, important, thoughtful mode, rather than light adventure mode - think Newtons Sleep or, especially, This Town Will Never Let Us Go rather than Erasing Sherlock or Warlords Of Utopia. I've read it twice, and I still haven't got all of it, but that's a good thing - this is a book that absolutely rewards rereading.

I loved it.

I'm mistletoe, Todd thought, I was living on that tree, and now I'm cut off, just moving forward until I sputter out. He wondered if this life might present him with other obvious symbols for his consideration, truths revealed in the everyday details. It felt a little like this whole world was all for his benefit, so maybe.

Against Nature is about sacrifice, and the nature of sacrifice, about dying-and-resurrected gods (and ones that die without resurrection), about what it means to be cut off from one's culture and one's past. It's a book that could only have been written by someone profoundly disconnected from his own culture - and it's no surprise that between writing the early drafts of this, and its final publication, Lawrence emigrated to the US.

The same injustice had befallen Europe a few centuries earlier, barbarians at the gates and so on, swords turning out to be mightier than pens despite the proverb. It was always the stupid idea that caught on, the story that even the village idiot could follow without giving himself a headache. Human history was a ratings war, and people would always choose the flashing lights, special effects, and generic hero pleading you don't have to do this! over things of value.

One of the ways in which Lawrence creates this effect has been misunderstood by several of the readers, particularly on some Doctor Who forums (Faction Paradox still has a residual connection to what Lawrence refers to as Magic Doctor Who Man Telly Adventure Time). The book is set in multiple times, in multiple locations, with multiple cultures. Two of those cultures - the Great Houses and the medieval Mexica people (the people we think of, wrongly, as the Aztecs) are ones which are very, very different from the likely cultures of any of the readers, not only in behaviour and attitudes, but in language.

Lawrence throws us in at the deep end, cutting rapidly, every two or three pages, between wildly different locations and time periods, with stories that parallel and comment upon each other, but do not link up until near the end. Each of these different cultures is presented to us without comment or explanation, so our first glimpse of the Great Houses' culture comes with:

The blinkers were fashioned from the clothing of the deceased, specifically a pressure suit once belonging to Herrare, the material cut to form a collar of hide curving around the eyes in the manner of goggles. Emioushameddhoran vel-Xianthellipse adjusted the knotted strips of fabric which kept the blinkers in place and took a moment to inspect herself in the cheval glass.

while the Mexica strand of the story starts:

It was the day Ome Ozmatli of the trecena Ce Izcuintli as reckoned by the Tonalpohualli calendar of the Mexica - Two Monkey, presiding Deities being Xochipilli, Xipe Totec and Quetzalcoatl. This was hardly an auspicious combination by which to embark upon travel, but there being only nine days left before the occasion of the impending New Fire Ceremony, Momacani was left with little choice.

The cultures involved are ones which Lawrence has an expert understanding of - he has been studying the Mexica people for decades, and has been involved in Faction Paradox fandom (for want of a better word) for almost as long. The result is that he can write about these cultures fluently, from the perspective of someone who lives there, because he does, at least internally.

Several readers complained about the fact that they had to keep track of unfamiliar names like Emioushameddhoran and terms like Ce Izcuintli, and there is no question that this does make the book many times more difficult to read than it otherwise would be. But this seems to me to be entirely intentional - the reader experiences a miniature culture shock every two to five pages, and has to assimilate everything with no background. One is as rootless as Todd, the closest thing to an audience-identification figure in this book.

But I'm making this sound like it's a hard slog, something to read out of a sense of duty, and it's anything but. It's a clever, thoughtful, sometimes funny, always thought-provoking book, and will almost certainly prove the best novel I read this year.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Obverse Books in Starburst Magazine


Well, technically it's on the website, and I'm not sure if that translates into the print edition, or even whether a print edition exists in these days of eBooks and virtually entertainment as it is known to youngsters; the point is that Against Nature gets a plug in Starburst, and a plug which even provides a sample of the first chapter, so woohoo.

I still remember buying the first issue of Starburst from Martin's newsagent back in 1722, an oddly sphericular painting of assorted Star Wars in Colour! characters on the cover, and inside exciting news of all sorts of great films I would never get to see - Message from Space, Laserblast, and The Manitou. I kept on buying for the next couple of years, and then stopped for reasons that escape me, probably because I'd discovered Throbbing Gristle or something. Anyway, the point is that it's quite exciting to get a mention in the magazine which first alerted me to the existence of Max Beeza and the City in the Sky.

Funnily enough I did actually watch Message from Space on Netflix only yesterday. Turns out it wasn't that great.