Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Against Nature now on Amazon

And there it is, which is quite exciting.

I'm told that with small publishers, new titles show up on Amazon through some sort of automatic industry thing, and when you order a copy, they have to order it from the publisher. In other words you're better off just going straight to the source as it'll be cheaper and quicker for you and better for whoever has produced the book; but on the other hand, everyone in the world has heard of Amazon and already has an account, and it sort of feels like an achievement, even if the fact that Amazon also sells J. Lee Mace's Naked Deceit kind of proves that it really isn't.

Anyway, for what it's worth, there it is.

Made it, Ma! Top of the world!

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Crappy 1970s Paperbacks with Airbrushed Spacecraft on the Covers

Back in 2008 I embarked upon a slightly obsessive course of reviewing more or less every science-fiction novel I read, slowly branching out to incorporate comic books and things that you would only term science-fiction by a very loose definition. I posted these reviews as a thread
first on one forum, then moving onto another, finally granting them their own blog and taking the opportunity to change the overarching title from Crappy 1970s Paperbacks with Airbrushed Spacecraft on the Covers to Pamphlets of Destiny.

It's now been five years, and I've collected all of this material dating to December 2012 into a chunky Lulu paperback in order to sell it to you. So that's 308 occasionally opinionated reviews of novels, short story collections, a couple of non-fiction titles, comic books, and one CD which I hated so much I just had to squeeze out that poison; and that's including thirty-six Philip K. Dick novels, twenty-two by Clifford D. Simak, fifteen by A.E. van Vogt and twelve from Michael Moorcock. The reviews vary from rambling autobiography and general examinations of my own navel to mini-essays and rants, and as a single body of work could probably be regarded as a biased history of science-fiction literature in no particular order if you felt so inclined.

Accordingly there are reviews and thoughts on a great many of the classics
from Brian Aldiss, Isaac Asimov, Stephen Baxter,
Arthur C. Clarke, William Gibson, Alan Moore, Jules Verne, and H.G. Wells; and arguably more literary classics such as Gulliver's Travels, Don Quixote, Robinson Crusoe, Frankenstein, Dracula, Plato's Republic, Cyrano de Bergerac's Comic HistoryDr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and The Histories of Gargantua and Pantagruel by François Rabelais; and William Burroughs, Jean-Paul Sartre and Will Self who didn't quite seem to fit but I wrote about them anyway; and not forgetting - deep breath - Poul Anderson, Neal Asher, Margaret Attwood, Iain M. Banks, Clive Barker, Greg Bear, Alfred Bester, James Blish, Ray Bradbury, Eric Brown, John Brunner, Simon Bucher-Jones, Algis Budrys, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Octavia Butler, Michael Chabon, Michael Crichton, August Derleth, David Louis Edelman, Joe Haldeman, Peter F. Hamilton, Harry Harrison, Robert Heinlein, Frank Herbert, Mark Hodder, Fred Hoyle, L. Ron Hubbard, Aldous Huxley, Ursula LeGuin, Fritz Leiber, Murray Leinster, C.S. Lewis, David Lindsay, H.P. Lovecraft, Katherine MacLean, Ken MacLeod, Richard Matheson, Anne McCaffrey, John Meaney, Lawrence Miles, Mark Millar, Frank Miller, Walter M. Miller Jr., Pat Mills, Grant Morrison, Jim Mortimore, Ray Nelson, Larry Niven, Daniel O'Mahony, Marc Platt, Terry Pratchett, Christopher Priest, Lester del Rey, Alastair Reynolds, Kim Stanley Robinson, Carl Sagan, Richard S. Shaver, Robert Silverberg, Dan Simmons, Clark Ashton Smith, E.E. 'Doc' Smith, John Smith, Olaf Stapledon, Jim Starlin, Brad Steiger, Bruce Sterling, Neal Stephenson, Dave Stone, Charles Stross, Theodore Sturgeon, Walter Tevis, E.C. Tubb, Vernor Vinge and Yevgeny Zamyatin to name but the ones of whom you will have heard...

It's expensive because that's the nature of print-on-demand vanity publishing I'm afraid, so it's hardly a casual purchase, but if you've read and enjoyed any of my reviews, it should keep you going for a good few weeks, or it can be used as a defensive weapon as one might use a house brick; and I've tarted up the crappy grammar of the material originally posted on the Faction Paradox forum. The faint of heart should probably be warned that I'm not a massive fan of steampunk (M
ark Hodder excepted), Neil Gaiman, Doctor Who since 2005, or the short stories of Brian Aldiss, and I got a bit carried away in places, at least where those specific founts of unmitigated shite were concerned; also I personally thought Stephenie Meyer's Twilight pissed all over Bram Stoker's surprisingly tedious Dracula, a view which I am aware some may find irritating. Oh - and there are almost certainly sexual swearwords.

Buy Crappy 1970s Paperbacks with Airbrushed Spacecraft on the Covers here.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Some Pictures from Against Nature

I don't presume to imagine that any of this will necessarily be of interest to anyone but myself; and I'd rather not give the impression that I'm sat here in my silk dressing gown next to a roaring log fire, smoking a cigar and bidding the reader enter as I unleash the mighty force of my after dinner repartee; but there are those who might appreciate a few minor cues or DVD extras of this kind, and it took me ages to forge the picture of House Meddhoran, so...

Against Nature is, roughly speaking, four stories woven into one, each complementing the others in terms of Nahua-Mexica lore whilst hopefully retaining its own distinct character. For the sake of consistency I wrote the initial draft of each section in one session, meaning that I wrote all of Primo's episodes, then all of Todd's, and so on before knitting everything together to make up the thirteen chapters. This was done so as to aid my keeping track of what everyone was doing, and to avoid the bleed through of narrative voice from one section to another. Each section was written with specific images used as desktop background or screensavers - something to set the mood, to remind me of who I was describing and what their world looked like.

This is the main square of San Miguel Coatlinchan, a small town roughly forty kilometres east of Mexico City and the home of Primo. The Nahuatl name of the town roughly translates as House of the Serpent or Serpent Maw, both cave metaphors in reference to its being where the sun once appeared to emerge from the underworld each morning as seen from the viewpoint of other major centres in the Valley of Mexico. Coatlinchan is historically where Acamapichtli, the first ruler of Tenochtitlan was afforded refuge by Lord Acolmiztli when hiding from the Tecpanecs, the dominant power of the Valley during the early 1300s. The sculpture is actually a replica of one unearthed in Coatlinchan but now stood outside INAH in Mexico City. I haven't been to Coatlinchan personally, although I have been to INAH and seen the sculpture many times. It dates from the Teotihuacan era and is popularly believed to depict either Tlaloc or Chalchihuitlicue, respectively Deities of rainfall and running water.

In the previous draft of Against Nature, Todd worked at a company called JMB Restoration which, for no particular reason, I situated off the McAllister Freeway near San Antonio airport - the name was something I pulled out of my head, but I'd worked in the same sort of furniture restoration gig many years before and wanted to get my money's worth out of the experience. When I moved to San Antonio in 2011 I realised it would make more sense to relocate the imaginary JMB Restoration nearer to home, and this presently vacant commercial premises at the back of my local HEB supermarket just sort of leapt out at me. I passed by this place every day and it seemed right, and I had a vague idea of going at the picture so as to photoshop it into a mock up of Todd's workplace. Later, in fact much later, I noticed that the office adjacent to this empty building is occupied by a company called BNB Restoration, which seemed like one real fucker of a coincidence given that my variation of the name had been conceived at least a year earlier. I suppose it's likely that I subconsciously noticed the name of the actual business as I cycled past each day without realising, and was thus put in mind of my own fictitious variation, but the temptation to lump this in with all the other coincidences that popped up during writing is not without its appeal.

Whilst writing Against Nature I tried to avoid sending characters to too many places I hadn't been, with exceptions to the rule that will be obvious to anyone who reads the thing, so visual reference material was usually either photographs I had taken in that place, or photographs I had taken in places that were similar enough to work just as well. This wasn't really practical with House Meddhoran, so I cobbled this up using Gnu Image Manipulation. It  took longer than you might think, which is partially why it's ended up here as a blog post. I didn't want all that swearing to have been in vain.

For Primo, Todd, and House Meddhoran I had one primary image which I used as ambient reference material during writing. Conversely, Momacani's sections came about without reference to any single image, but rather a variety of pictures taken in Mexico over the years. The above is the ruins of Teotenanco, a fifteenth century Matlazinca centre near Toluca. Ancestral versions of Todd and Primo ended up in Teotenanco in The Other Side of the World, but it didn't feature in this version, so the reference material wasn't too culturally specific. For what it's worth, anyone visiting the Valley of Mexico and hoping to take in some of the Precolombian sites really shouldn't miss out on Teotenanco. It's off the beaten track, but easy enough to get to, and is more than worth it. Teotihuacan is huge and undeniably breathtaking, but its time has clearly passed. Teotenanco feels like it's still in use. Actually it's one of the most unsettling places I've ever been.

Friday, 8 February 2013

The Collected Señor 105

Facebook aside, I never quite got around to banging on about my Señor 105 novella, Señor 105 y el Pueblo del Gobernador Demente - or The Grail if you really need the English title. It's been available since October and seems to have gone down reasonably well with the eighteen people who proved themselves able to cope with the prospect of 24,000 words about a mystery-solving Mexican wrestler and a narrative which takes the apparently controversial view that perhaps not all modern television is quite so brilliantly brilliant as it could be.

I know. I know. I'm like Sid Vicious or one of those punky singer men with the swearing and saying "bollock" and the two fingers at the Queen and that...

Anyway, Señor 105 y el Pueblo del Gobernador Demente costs an entirely reasonable two quid for your Kindle eReader contraption and can be downloaded from Manleigh Books, and Richard Wright on Goodreads had this to say about it:

Once again, a series that I'm not wholly unbiased about. Just so you know, before you absorb my opinion as absolute fact (though, of course, they are the same thing to all intents and purposes). With Cody Quijano-Schell having laid the groundwork for this new pulp series in Señor 105: The Gulf, Burton is freed up to play. And play he does - this is a four-colour misadventure in which Señor 105 investigates the improbable heroics of his former colleague El Jefe, all of which occur in the world's most perpetually invaded village. There's a lot of good humoured poking at the modern incarnations of Doctor Who on display here, right down to the pervasive and sometimes intrusive musical accompaniment everybody has to suffer, but the wit and hijinks run much more broadly than that. Where The Gulf handled the introductions, The Grail invites you to settle down and get cosy, while it capers for your amusement.

If you're feeling particularly adventurous, Manleigh Books have just squirted out their first electronic Señor 105 collection comprising my novella along with Cody Quijano-Schell's Señor 105 y el Cráter Misterioso and Blair Bidmead's Recuerda, which, at a mere five quid, provides your best value for money in Two-Fisted Weird Fiction. Basically, you would have to be clinically insane to miss out on this amazing offer.

Oh, and Faction Paradox get a mention too...

Thursday, 7 February 2013


Against Nature somehow turns out to be the second novel I've written involving talking dogs. It might be the third, but I'm hazy on the details of what happened in The Other Side of the World given that I ended up rewriting it to such an extent. It's not that I have any particular thing for dogs, vocal or otherwise, and if asked I would have to say I prefer cats. Clifford D. Simak also featured talking dogs in his novels, and although I've come to regard him as a considerable influence, the truth is that I only read City a couple of years ago; but I suppose if you're writing anything involving Mexican folklore, you're going to end up with a talking dog sooner or later.

The talking dog in Against Nature is the spirit of a Chihuahua named Scarface, the former pet of Todd Calavero returned to guide his owner through the afterlife. He's called Scarface because Todd, being Texan, is a fan of the similarly named Houston rap artist.

If you're not a fan of rap, or you're only a fan of rap in so much as you have a few Tribe Called Quest CDs nestled in amongst whatever else you listen to, then you might not enjoy Scarface, although I would say you're most certainly missing out. Scarface is undoubtedly one of the all-time greatest rap artists, and I listened to his albums The Diary, The Last of a Dying Breed, and The Fix almost constantly when putting Todd Calavero together. Specifically I listened to those albums on CD walkman whilst trudging around south-east London back when I worked for Royal Mail.

As a postman, my regular route centred upon the corner of East Dulwich bordering Peckham Rye, delivering mail to both Lesley Sharp - who played Sky Silvestry in the Doctor Who story Midnight - and Faction Paradox author Blair Bidmead - although neither of us realised this until a few years later by which time I'd moved to San Antonio, Texas. More significantly in respect to Against Nature, further along this same road there lived a guy called Jason with whom I spoke some mornings, pleasant conversation being a commodity you learn not to take for granted as a postman because mostly it's either people asking why a cheque is late or else telling you to stick something up your arse. Anyway, Jason had a chihuahua called Troy, and myself being automatically well-disposed towards anything even vaguely Mexican, I became a huge fan of this dog. He had personality.

So when it came to having an animal spirit to guide Todd Calavero around the underworld, Troy was the obvious choice, renamed by asking myself what Todd would have called him.

At this time, although still living in England, I'd already met Bess. We had decided to get married, and I would move to the United States because I'd pretty much had my fill of cold weather, extortionate rent, and being miserable. Bess and I communicated daily by means of email, Skype, Yahoo messenger, telephone, or whatever else we could get working long enough to facilitate conversation. Conducting a long-distance relationship was not easy, but we coped well enough knowing that it wouldn't be forever. Of course, few people can go on indefinitely without the sort of occasional crisis that is made all the more difficult by a partner being five-thousand miles away, and we suffered our share, but got through them well enough.

One of these, and a particularly tough one as it happens, inspired Bess to buy a kitten seen advertised on Craigslist. He was small and fluffy with enormous ears. Over Skype she told me that her son - now my stepson in case that wasn't obvious - had named the kitten Scarface after a Native American hero he'd learned about in school. The coincidence was ridiculous, but no more so than any other arising from my meeting Bess and writing this novel. The fact of our turning out to have the same birthday was another big one.

So we have Troy, Scarface, Blair Bidmead, a Doctor Who actress, me writing this novel, and Peckham Rye the place where William Blake historically experienced visions, this being the same William Blake from whom Daniel O'Mahony derived the title for the Faction Paradox novel Newtons Sleep, and even Ellis Pike who played Godfather Morlock in the Faction Paradox audio plays produced by BBV living at the other end of Peckham Rye as I discovered when I delivered a parcel to him during a rare flurry of overtime. Some may believe this all adds up, and that it all means something, but so far as I'm concerned it's just patterns, sufficiently wonderful in and of themselves without the need for spooky music or dry ice.

So there you go. In terms of a showbiz confidential, it may not quite be up there with Kelly Brook as you've never seen her before,  but it is what it is.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Prelude to Against Nature

Acolmiztli (Acohua Feline) - Mictlantecuhtli complex
acrylic on paper 23X35cm 30/07/99

Momacani swept back the material covering the entrance and suffered a churning within his gut, the sensation of something deeply wrong - a sudden, terrible awareness of the vacuum where what is and what should be had failed to connect. It was that blind instant of revulsion, worms clustered in an open wound.

A moment passed before he understood.

He would not be considered a familiar face in Lord Ahuizotl's court, although Ocotochtli had brought him here often enough, and he knew the layout of the palace with a degree of certitude. He knew this passage as host to the antechamber wherein scribes kept paint and bark paper, and also another space set aside for more general storage. Nothing else was found here but for these two rooms.

Ocotochtli stood in the lintelled entrance of the third and central chamber, the gravity of the situation bringing new wrinkles to his face. He was with two other men, both wearing colourful cloaks over white cotton robes - the Lord Ahuizotl and the Cihuacoatl, the first minister. A jaguar knight stood at attention nearby, face phlegmatic within the carved wooden maw of his helmet, but his posture spoke of obvious fear.

Ocotochtli beckoned to his apprentice. 'Step here. This is something you should see.'

Momacani went forward, hesitant, as much in the presence of royalty as the presence of mystery. He made to bow, reaching one hand towards the ground in prelude to the traditional greeting, but the ruler forestalled with a wave of dismissal.

'Be at ease, apprentice. I'm sure we can dispense with formalities on a day such as this.'

Momacani felt himself blush, although the embarrassment was forgotten as his eyes ventured across the threshold of the intrusive, improbable new room.

Ocotochtli stepped back. 'Please look closer. Your opinion is of value.'

He went forward as the priest and the ruler discussed him in muted tones - this is the fellow who you say has made himself so famous? and yes, I would say he has a polished eye for matters such as we see here. Momacani's thoughts were nevertheless entirely taken by the chamber interior.

All appeared as relics discovered within some ancient cavern. All took the form of life, yet fashioned as much by human hand as by nature; and all grown over with a patina of crystal. The reliefs upon the wall were of patently foreign design, and Momacani could make no sense of them; but the two bodies collapsed at the chamber's heart inspired unfamiliar ideas for no reason that he felt fully able to explain.

They had been a man and a woman, both young. Their garments appeared closer in weave to that of their surroundings than to anything worn in Tenochtitlan - dark armour formed from bone or perhaps a hard wood. Masks covered the upper part of their faces, animal skulls, although from what creature these were derived was not easily deduced. The entire tableau seemed a contradiction, like something very recently alive made subject to a dry lifespan of years within a single instant, ossified in the blink of an eye.

Ahuizotl gave voice, deep and pensive. 'Are these then spirits escaped from the dead lands, from the Place of Hares? What would you say, Momacani?'

The younger man stared at the corpses, wrestling with a thought that had no right to assail him with such familiarity. These were Mocolxiutecatl - Those of the Lineage of Time Twisted upon Itself, and this realisation bothered him no less than than did the matter of its origination.

How is it that I should know this, he wondered, yet lack recall of how I came by such information?

'I do not think they are spirits in a sense that would be understood by you or I, my Lord.' Momacani suffered a flutter of ill ease as he heard himself relating the inexplicable to the ruler of the known world. 'They arrived here by sorcerous means, I would say, but I do not think they truly understood the full detail of their transit. Whatever phantoms may have once guided them were weak, and lacking fame here at the heart of the world, they found no sustenance.'

The observation inspired further muttering: It is miraculous that he should know of such things, and then, sadly the child does not himself fully understand how he came by an intuition for such matters. He walks close to the sacred without properly divining his path.

A gentle old hand touching his arm, then Ocotochtli's voice of dry leaves. 'Come away now. It does no good to look upon such things for too long.'

Momacani stepped back in something of a daze.

The Cihuacoatl spoke at last. 'We must conclude that there is the world we see, and the world we do not see, and perhaps this is something born of a different place.'

Ocotochtli scratched angrily at his loincloth. 'That may be so, but this matter is beyond the scope of any conventional theological understanding.'

Ahuizotl stared gravely into the chamber. 'I say we must have People of Authority ready to deal with intrusions such as that which we see here today.' He set a hand to Momacani's shoulder, fixing the youth with a hard eye. 'I will speak with my Council of Four. Ocotochtli gifts us with shining testimony of your practical thoughts and clear sight. If it pleases, I would have you amongst this order of my Ixtilque.'

The apprentice nodded dumbly, humbled by the realisation that his Tlatoani had begged his favour as would a novice to a teacher. He once more turned his head to gaze upon the impossible. There was now only a stretch of wall set between two entrances - the scribes' chamber, and that in which palace officials kept wooden boxes and other materials. The Mocolxiutecatl had slipped from the surface of the earth like droplets from the back of a water bird. Whatever they were, it was as though they had never been here. Whatever province had birthed them, it was apparent that there must be a world which could not be understood by the ordinary terms of the sacred.

Something of the clouds and mist had visited itself upon Tenochtitlan...


This blog was originally conceived as an outlet for all sorts of stuff that might interest the two of you who bother to read it, but - as you can perhaps see by the sparsity of recent posts - it has fallen victim to my ruthless need for order, the terrifying pride I take in maintaining boundaries between one type of thing and another. My book reviews, continuing where I left off in threads posted on forums which I now recognise as being rife with tossers, I keep to Pamphlets of Destiny; other, more autobiographical writings and witless landfill - pieces which may be read and hopefully appreciated by those who might not necessarily give two shits about science-fiction or the fact that I write it - I transmit unto the universe through the agency of An Englishman in Texas.

The problem (as I saw it) has been that other material hasn't seemed consistent with either of the above, and some posts found here would, with hindsight, make more sense elsewhere; and for a while I've needed a place to consolidate all my shameless promotional crap, general plugging of things I've written, literary DVD extras and the like.

So for what it may be worth, Ce Acatl - named after the year in which Quetzalcoatl was born, roughly speaking - will henceforth contain anything of potential interest relating directly to my own writing, principally because I'm reluctant to clog up either Pamphlets or Englishman with buy my book shite. So ignore the older posts, or read them if you feel so inclined - they probably shouldn't be here but never mind.

Getting to the point, or one of them, Against Nature, my first (to be published) novel is now available for pre-order from Obverse Books, and I will be posting some peripheral related material over the next few days.

Back soon.