Once more Eastercon is upon us, and this year its in Glasgow, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel to be exact, from this Friday, 18th to Monday 21st.
I have two panel items;
1) Grand Designs: Worldbuilding, at 8pm on the Friday, which I will be moderating in the company of such stellar colleagues as John Meaney (Guest of Honour), Simon Morden, Chris Beckett and Kim Lakin-Smith.
2) The Way Things Might Have Been at 6pm on the Saturday, a panel on Alternate Histories, in which I will be a panel member along with Dave Row, Martyn Taylor, Mark Alder, and MD Lachlan.
Should be a hoot, and am looking forward to seeing a lotta folk!
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Waaay back at the start of the century, ho ho, my first novel, Shadowkings, was published by Simon & Schuster’s SFF imprint, Earthlight, itself a labour of love by its editor, John Jarrold, who was the one who decided to take me on as a new author. Sadly, various corporate shenanigans led to John bowing out to be replaced by Darren Nash, himself a staunch fan and champion of all things SF and Fantasy. He shepherded the second book, Shadowgod, into print, but then later more corporate musical chairs led to Darren likewise departing while Earthlight the imprint was dissolved. The third book, Shadowmasque, was published, garnered a number of positive reviews yet overall the sales could not make sufficient headway, for various reason.
Anyhow, the situation is that the Shadowkings trilogy shall once more be making its grimdark presence felt, in ebook and audiobook formats. More information (and cover art) shall be forthcoming nearer publication, but as a foretaste here a link to the Bandcamp page of Peri Urban, Edinburgh electronic musician of the first water, and the music that he originally composed back in 2001 – with yr humble scribe providing gruffly intoned lyrics. Take it away…
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It is my sad and painful duty to inform you that last night, between 8.30 and 10pm, the TV show Sherlock jumped the shark.
Its like this – in the first two series, a certain whimsy and fluff were employed as a charming counterpoint to the intellectual sharpness and deductive intensity of Holmes himself, as well as the dark drama, its strangeness and the twists in the plot. Now we have reached the 2nd episode of Season Three and it has become abundantly clear that the whimsy and the fluff have been promoted to centre stage.
One can only wonder what imp of self-indulgence has entered the Moffat-Gatiss equation but the results are clear to see – flabby, lazy scripting coupled with a disregard for overall dramatic unity. In fact, I would reckon that the actual detective-mystery part of the plots seem to amount to about 40-odd minutes, so if that is what the Moff-Gat axis can come up with then why not turn each season into 6 programmes of about 50 minutes each? Because the two years they made me wait has not been at all satisfied by what they have come up with.
Contrast this with the CBS crime drama, Elementary, starring Jonny Lee Miller as a rivetting Sherlock Holmes in modern day New York. This is a proper TV series with 24 episodes per season and, to be frank, is far more satisfying that the measly 3 episodes a year of Sherlock that are being served up to us. Each episode is about 44 minutes long so the scripts have to be taut, well paced and flensed of waste, and Miller’s protrayal of Holmes is never less than compelling. In Sherlock, Cumberbatch and Freeman remain excellent actors but when I switch on to see a Sherlock Holmes story why am I being force-fed something which resembles a Channel 4 luvvydrama about 30-somethings doing rite-of-passage friendship rituals?
Don’t get me wrong – it’s still an entertaining, well-acted and shot show. It’s just no longer essential viewing.
Yes, tis now the week after my significant trip to Sweden, to be one of the guests at Swecon-Fantastika 2013. I had a tremendous time, and was absolutely knocked out by the courtesy and kindness of Swedish fans (and those who came from Finland, Norway and surrounding regions). I shall blog some more about this at the weekend, when I have a little more strength – am suffering from a resurgence of the sinusitis that was bedevilling me before I went so its back to the hot drinks and throat medicine again!
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NO RUSH TO EXIT SECC TONIGHT! – SOLD OUT/ SET TIME JUST SHY 3 HOURS
Progmeister General’s Rating – 5 CYGNUS STARS/5
[VIP In Attendance - MR COBLEY ESQ.]
Well this is how it should be done, we arrived at SECC expecting something of a mixed bag, especially after the 2011 tour’s MOVING PICTURES/TIME MACHINE set. They did not disappoint with 3 sets of “70s 80s & 90s” then current “CLOCKWORK ANGELS ” cd & finishing with “THE CLASSICS”.
Exactly on 19.40 they began with their usual filmed comedy build-up to the entrance of the Canadian trio which always ends up with GEDDY LEE, ALEX LIEFSON & NEAL PEART arriving on the stage to a tremendous ovation, this time kicking off with “SUBDIVISIONS” off the highly-regarded ”SIGNALS” cd. These three men can make this music sound epic & always have done; 36 years+ on the road & this was done to a very high standard indeed. During set one they powered through highlights like BIG MONEY, LIMELIGHT, GRAND DESIGNS, ANALOGUE KID & finishing up with FAR CRY from the excellent “SNAKES & ARROWS” — then Geddy announced that as they are getting older its break time, so off they went.
Not an extended interval though, just enough and then we were off again. This time the 2011 “CLOCKWORK ANGELS” was highlighted for an hour, A very good song selection of CARAVAN, CARNIES, WE WISH THEM WELL, HEADLONG FLIGHT HALO EFFECT & the outstanding THE WRECKERS powered the new stuff to great heights along with the addition of a six piece string section, to a climax of CLOCKWORK ANGELS, THE ANARCHIST & THE GARDEN — outstanding set & a lesson on how a band should promote & play new material to an audience. No interval this time just lots of pyros & lights, Then THE PROFESSOR of drums gave us a masterclass in drum solos on YYZ, then it was on full steam ahead (quite literally) to the finale of “RED SECTOR A” and the amazing excerpts from the RUSH fans voted favourite cd “2112″. The band accepted their well deserved plaudits then returned for two sublime encores of SPIRIT OF THE RADIO & TOM SAWYER before finishing the night with more “2112″ classics & the inevitable fireworks which almost blew the roof off the SECC (not a common reaction in this shed). Just one final thank-you to the crowd & the Canadians had exited stage left & the end of their movie was played.
On the whole, contender for gig of the year & a masterclass of how to control yet excite an audience - Thank you guys!!!
FOOTNOTE - How many drummers get 3 solos & triumph on them all?? Answer 1 — NEAL PEART ! – fantastic!
Anyone who’s read my facebook page will have noticed that I tend to rant on about politics – a lot. Well, I counter, we live in an age where what used to be called normal politics (where parties actually stood for different things rather than fine shades of the same thing) is becoming a distant memory. My irritation at the same old pro-market, pro-business policies fuses into a teeth-grinding rage at times, hence my facebook output. I’m thinking of renaming my FB page Rantbook.
But, let’s not forget – I am a writer of SF and fantasy as well, and the considerations intrinsic to the creative process have not, to be frank, garnered frequent mentions by yours truly. Which is why I thought I’d talk/ramble on a bit about my use of character.
Always a tricky thing for me, creating characters which are sufficiently distinct so that I know what role they play, and the reader can distinguish between them. My main failing in the Shadowkings books, I feel, was my inability to really define the characters; in retrospect they all seemed to be aspects of some common template, lacking the idiosyncracies and sharp flavours that make real characters leap off the page. Part of that problem was my fear of allowing the pace to drop, because my observations were that there is a trade-off between character explication and narrative pace, and the more text you devote to rounding out character, allowing them to breath, the less urgent and forward-driven the prose.
So when it came to writing the Humanity’s Fire trilogy I tried to think more deeply about character types, and about dialogue – and I found myself delving further into character motivations than I had previously. But still, there was that fear of boring the reader, of deadening expectations of excitement with navel-gazing and inner brooding. Again, in retrospect this anxiety led to having a few characters who were defined by their dialogue ticks rather than a genuine feel for their wholeness. Its not just ego that drives this worry, but also the admiration I experience when I read the writers I admire, Joe Abercrombie, Dave Wingrove, Lauren Beukes, George RR Martin, James Tiptree, from whose pages I come away both delighted in the ‘how did he/she do that?’ and gripped with envy and the resolve to reach for a similar benchmark.
And I cannot help but wonder if part of my discontents in this matter is the fact that I will never know if my characters DO work – I will never be able to read my work as if I were an innocent reader. It is really difficult to know if you have actually reached a benchmark worth reaching, because as the writer you can see the inside of the work. Anyone who’s seen any of those pictures taken from inside the Statue of Liberty will understand – the outer semblance of unity is underpinned by unseen frameworks and welded supports, which is how a final, pre-publication MS draft feels to me. I know where the joins are and where the surgery took place, so the launch, of a new book upon the raging seas of the readership really is a time of consternation, in a mild way.
And there’s the new book, Ancestral Machines, which is notable for the relatively limited number of characters compared to the previous two trilogies. This time out I have deliberately allowed the characters to speak, or brood inwardly, in order that definition of character becomes a stronger aspect. Does this mean that the pace is less frenetic than previously demonstrated? – possibly, but the setting and the background will I hope provide sufficient weirdness to keep the reader thinking, ‘what the heck happens next?’
Once again, the dry ice billows and a sparkly cape rustles amid the haze, for the Progmeister is back with another ace review. Take it….away….
“THE BLACK CHORD CHIMES OUT IN TUTS”
4/5 WAKEMEN-CAPES FOR MUSIC. SOLD OUT!
Well first of all I have a puzzle for you … how do you fit 3 prog/rock bands into a maximum allowance of say 3 hours? Answer is you can’t. This is the continuing problem in this venue (as I have said before). Doors are 20.30 – actually they opened at 20.50 – resulting in all bands having to perform shorter sets. But as all Progmeisters know this cannot be done with our genre of music. Its relies long, building passages very much like an orchestral recital.
This started right away with support bands HIDDEN MASTERS and PURSON performing what seemed rushed sets, but I must say they both won over the crowd with different types of Prog/Rockabilly/Goth Rock music.
ASTRA arrived on stage at 22.20 & immediately encountered technical problems (this being down to using old-fashioned type equipment for their music, Moogs/Mellotrons & Fender Rhodes etc). After this false start off they launched with track from new cd THE BLACK CHORD – QUAKEMEAT, a great intro for this very competent young five piece band from San Diego. After a great show of virtuoso heights they then continued to play five more songs, THE BLACK CHORD , THE RIVER UNDER, OUROBOROS, THE RISING OF THE BLACK SUN & the showstopper THE WEIRDING. Great music, all with highs a plenty, long soloing but never appearing indulgent, 23.30 on the button & ASTRA were gone rather disappointingly, no encore due to … well you know the rest! And after talking with two of the band afterwards found out they wanted to play at least two more songs but local curfew stopped this. A masterclass performance apart from all these problems.
Maybe my next review will not mention CURFEW – I really do hope so because that means it was a perfect night for us all.
Message to promoters at KTWWH – sort this out & let Prog Thrive again in Glasgow.
Sad to recount, Debbie Miller, a good friend and great fantasy writer, has passed away. I first met Debbie when her first novel, Talisker, was published by Simon & Schuster’s Earthlight imprint at the same time as Shadowkings, part one of my fantasy trilogy. We were both ’discovered’ by the redoubtable John Jarrold, prince among men, who was head honcho for Earthlight. At that time she was writing under the name Miller Lau, having adopted her (formerly) married surname as a nom-de-plume. Talisker was book of her determinedly Scottish fantasy sequence, The Last Clansman trilogy. Round about the time that the final volumes of both our trilogies were due to appear, Simon & Schuster had a fit of deck-clearing; having already dispensed with John Jarrold and promoted Darren Nash to editor, they then decided that Earthlight was unnecessary and ditched Darren too, with upsetting consequences for their stable of writers. (Its worth pointing out that John and Darren went on to higher, greater greener pastures in subsequent years.)
Anyway, not wishing to laboriously go into a detailed historical account (although it should certainly be noted that the David Gemmell Award would not exist were it not for Debbie’s iron resolve and cheery and creative persistence) I need only say that the last time I saw Debbie last year she was looking better than she had for a while, having been through gruelling courses of chemo, and was looking forward to regaining some of her former energies and forward momentum.
But it was not to be. In January of this year the cancer reappeared and this time she was not able to overcome it and on May 7th she passed away. The field has lost one of its champions, and I have lost a good friend – part of me feels diminished by the loss, but my memories of her genuine nature and her indefatigable joy more than makes up for it.
Vale, Debs. Safe journey.
Cannot believe that I somehow forgot to post the link here to the movie-trailer for The Ascendant Stars – it was on the list of posts and reachouts to fulfill but….ach, must have had a senior moment of some kind. Darn, another coupla million braincells gone west. But anyway, now, here it is!
The animator is a Yorkshire guy called Ingram Blakelock, who has done various other pieces including the video for the band, A Forest Of Stars, for their track Gatherer Of The Pure. Here’s a link to it -
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Another in a continuing series, a concert review from the Progmeister General!
CROWES SOAR OVER GLASGOW…….. AT LAST!
(RATING - 5 CROWS NESTS; ATTENDANCE 4000 APPROX (SOLD OUT); TOTAL PLAYING TIME 2 HRS 15 MINS)
So almost ten years since they last roosted in the famous Barrowlands ballroom (although the LIONS tour was not a triumph). The BLACK CROWES finally made it back…But boy was it worth the long wait!
A massive sell out crowd of around 4000 shoehorned into this great hall for what we all agreed after was a true night of CROWES history. Talking to sound crew, this gig was always set up to be special! On the LIONS TOUR 2003 it was like a band who was just about to disintegrate, as it turned out for almost five years. Not tonight though, from the opening dual guitars of “JEALOUS AGAIN” right through to the third encore (more off later) the CROWES did indeed deliver the corn and then some!
Chris Robinson & brother Rich along with mainstay drummer Steve Gorman were so together in music that it reminded me of “SOUTHERN HARMONY” tour of 1990, yes it was that good. At times they were simply spellbinding; new guitarist Jackie Green may go on to be another Marc Ford – on this performance I cant wait! “SPACE CAPTAIN”, & “OH JOSEPHINE” paved the way for truly jaw-dropping stunners like “WISER TIME” & “HOTEL ILLNESS” where the band jammed long but never bored or indulged themselves. Acoustic section was short but oh so sweet, “GARDEN GATE” & “WHOA MULE” before launching into a storming “SHE TALKS TO ANGELS” & “HIGH HEAD BLUES” then finishing the set off with a truly remarkable “BY YOUR SIDE”, “SOMETIMES SALVATION” & end song of “HARD TO HANDLE/HUSH (yes a storming version of Deep Purple classic). The crowd responded so much that Chris signaled to the band after a short interlude & they played in my opinion the two best CROWES tracks “DESCENDING” from the past & “GOODBYE DAUGHTERS OF THE REVOLUTION” from the present era CROWES, but the fans were still making an amazing noise for more, So “BOOMERS STORY” followed & you could see the band was visibly astounded with this very lively & noisy crowd, Chris then put on his hat, coat & scarf , He thanked us all for keeping the faith all these years & promised to return soon. Truly concise & complete they walked of stage, lets hope they will return, GLASGOW deserves it! Only one disappointment, no Kate Hudson – oh well, can’t win them all then.