Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Happy birthday, Mr Poe

It's the birthday of Edgar Allan Poe, a favourite author of mine since I was about ten and thumbing through a collection of his work. One of the real ale pubs I regularly drink in has a poem extolling ale written by Poe, enscribed up on the wall, which always makes me smile. I wonder if the Poe Toaster made their customary, secretive appearance today? For half a century someone has left cognac and roses on Poe's grave, a rather lovely little tradition, I think; they have become known as the Poe Toaster. I will raise a glass if single malt in his honour myself later on (any excuse).

Last summer the Edinburgh Film Festival had a retrospective of Roger Corman and the great Vincent Price's Edgar Allan Poe films from the 60s in their wonderfully lurid colour and with Vincent's velvet voice. In fact I usually tell people who don't get Poe to read his short fiction and to do so slowly, imagining in their head the voice of Vincent Price narrating it to them. If they still don't get it then they are beyond help.

Poe has influenced and inspired many later writers, not just in the phantasmagorical, horror and fantasy realms but in establishing one of the great literary successes of the last century and a bit, the detective tale, setting out many of the rules and procedures of a proper, modern detective for fiction; without it probably no Sherlock Holmes, no Maigret, no Rebus...

He's been directly referenced by generations of authors and other artists, including some of the finest, such as the immortal Ray Bradbury, who explored one of his favourite, lifelong themes - the battle against ignorance and censorship - in the short story Usher II, where there is a world where all fantastical tales, from outright horror to children's fairy tales, are banned, only the logical and rational is allowed. One rich eccentric builds a replica of the House of Usher and staffs it with robotic versions of Poe characters, inviting the great and good from this new rational society to a party.

They are all shocked by his lawbreaking but take it as a delightful piece of bad taste for one night. What they don't know is the robot characters are murdering them all, one by one, in the style of Poe deaths - a robot ape stuffs a screaming victim up the chimney and the rest of the guests applaud assuming it all artifice. The final victim only realises the trap they have come into as he is walled up, buried alive, at the end. His host explains that if he had read the books instead of burning them, he would have known what was happening and saved himself. Ignorance and embracing censorship has killed them all. He exits and the walls of Usher II rip asunder and fall into the mere...

Anyway, for Poe's birthday, enjoy The Raven, here interpreted in a fine manner by Omnia:

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Home of Robert Louis Stevenson

Had dad through for the day over the weekend and we went wandering around some parts of the New Town taking pictures, including the home of one of my favourite writers, Robert Louis Stevenson:

Home of Robert Louis Stevenson 2

Home of Robert Louis Stevenson

In case you are wondering the old fashioned bell-pull on the bottom left, instead of stating the family name as usual simple says " private house, not a museum".

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Sunday, February 08, 2009

Neil Gaiman talks buttons

Neil Gaiman says a few words about the humble button (ahead of the release of the animated version of his book Coraline, which featurs the superbly creepy Other Mother, with her button eyes...):

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Happy birthday, Edgar Allan Poe

Happy birthday to a writer who has been one of my favourite authors since I was a boy - happy 200th birthday, Edgar Allan Poe, born January 19th 1809 and died October 7th 1849. Or perhaps he didn't die but was simply bricked up alive in a catacomb... Dead for a century and half and still influencing other writers, comics artists, movie makers, not to mention setting out the basic template for the modern detective several decades before Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created Holmes.

In fact it seems to be quite a year for anniversaries on the literary calendar - there's Poe, of course, its 200 years since Charles Darwin was born too, 150 years since On the Origin of Species was published and 150 years since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born. Conan Doyle's delightful adventure yarn of explorers and dinosaurs, The Lost World, is the central plank of this year's One Book, One Edinburgh campaign in February (Doyle being a local lad - in fact he would have studied not far from where I work), following on from the last two years where Cam Kennedy and Alan Grant created graphic novel adaptations of Stevenson. There will be events, free books, school events and other happenings.

This time it will also extend to Glasgow and ties in with the Darwin 200 events across the UK, including a graphic nove biography of Darwin by Simon Gurr and Eugene Byrne, all of which I hope helps gets younger readers excited and reading and maybe the Lost World will give them an interest in dinosaurs then natural history (so they know to tell 'intelligent design' eejits to feck off when they encounter those brain-damaged idiots). It certainly did for me a kid, leading me to look for factual books on dinosaurs, then geology, evolution, which tied in with interests in astronomy and space exploration, being able to apply that learning to other bodies and... Well, that's kind of the point, once you start a chain of reading like that it sparks off more and more ideas and questions, leading to more reading and a continually growing link of reading and learning that goes with you through life. All from a good adventure yarn and some dinosaurs.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Neil Gaiman interviewed

Over on the FPI blog my good friend Pádraig Ó Méalóid has interviewed one of my favourite writers, Neil Gaiman, which we just posted up today, with them talking about Neil's comics, novels, films and those rumours about him writing for Doctor Who.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Mark Millar talks Wanted

Over on the Forbidden Planet blog my colleague Mark poses some questions to another Mark, Mark Millar, Scottish comics superstar (Civil War, Ultimates) about his comics and the movie versions of Wanted and Kick Ass. On the blog there's a second, shorter video with an excerpt from the special effects creation extras on the Wanted DVD too.

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Arthur C Clarke laid to rest

While I was off the air last week we lost Sir Arthur C Clarke, one of the few authors to cross out of his genre to become a cultural icon recognised by millions, including those who never picked up a science fiction book in their life. Sadly he passed away at the age of 90 just weeks before the annual Arthur C Clarke awards are due to be announced. I've been reading Arthur's books and short tales since before my voice broke; basically I have been picking up books of his for over thirty of my forty years on Planet Earth and apart from some wonderfully imaginative fiction (which still usually remained grounded in some real science) I think the quality I most loved in his work over the decades was the optimism. Here was a man born as the slaughter of the War to End All Wars was being fought and who played his part working in radar in the war that came after that, who saw the many atrocities that marked the last century and yet still his stories had this optimism, this belief not that the future would turn out alright but that we could make it better if we tried, if we really wanted to make it that way, to evolve our minds and our morality both. While darker edged fiction often satisfies me more dramatically I need that does of hope and optimism sometimes.

And like many best writers his books made me want to go and read more books; I'd read the story then need to investigate some of the actual science which was used in the tale (my favourite reading is always the book which makes me want to read more, learn more; good books are like brain cells, they work best when creating more links). Reading his collection of non fiction essays a few years back, Greetings, Carbon-based Lifeforms, was also fascinating - because of the reputation he earned worldwide Arthur met just about everyone, from hanging out with Ginsberg at the Hotel Chelsea to presidents and kings, working with Kubrick of course and even during the animosity of the Cold War he was so respected by both superpowers he was one of the few men who shook hands with both Soviet cosmonauts and NASA astronauts. Its not been the best of recent weeks for book people - we just lost Arthur, Terry Pratchett is facing the spectre of Alzheimer's, Steve Gerber left us... At least we always have the books. Sadly we're all mortal, but the printed word, that magical, alchemical fusion of human imagination, paper, ink and technology is immortal.

Arthur's final interview, recorded for IEEE Spectrum in January from his hospital bed, can be found online here. I leave you with Clarke's Laws:

When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”

The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

You know, of the three I think I am most fond of the second; I like to think the impossible rarely remains impossible forever. Perhaps some of his optimism has rubbed off on my cynical mind over the years... The people of Sri Lanka, where this Somerset-born lad had made his home for decades, showed their respect for their adopted son with a national moment's silence to coincide with the funeral service. His gravestone will read "Here lies Arthur C Clarke. He never grew up and did not stop growing," in line with his own wishes. I've met a lot of brilliant science fiction writers over my career in books (including two of this year's Arthur C Clarke Awards nominees), but I never met Arthur. And yet I feel as if I have known him most of my life and I'm going to miss him, especially that wonderful human quality of hope he always seemed to summon forth.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008


The penultimate episode of ITV's Primeval comes up this Saturday and its penned by the very fine novelist, screenwriter and comics scribe Paul Cornell, who was also responsible for some of the finest episodes of the new Doctor Who - "Father's Day" and "Human Nature". We were lacking time for a full-length interview but I couldn't let it go past without marking it and Paul kindly took some time out to answer a few questions for the Forbidden Planet blog, should you fancy a read before the episode airs on Saturday evening.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Neil's blog is nine

Neil Gaiman's blog celebrated its ninth anniversary yesterday, I notice - that's quite a long time in blogging terms and in terms of author's sites is even more impressive. Many authors and artists and bands these days have their own sites and blogs (some designed and maintained by my good mate Ariel, in fact) but Neil's been doing it longer than most (actually I am trying to think which published author has been blogging publicly the longest now - anyone know?). To celebrate the anniversary he and his web elves are going to make one of his books free to read online for a month - and they are asking fans to pick it out. Neil being Neil he has thought about it and offers up some advice for picking one from the four on offer (the brilliant American Gods, the very funny Anansi Boys, the recent Fragile Things and the far-too-good to be just for kids Coraline):

"What I want you to do is think -- not about which of the books below is your favourite, but if you were giving one away to a friend who had never read anything of mine, what would it be? Where would you want them to start?"

One of the things I like about writers blogging - and Neil's web journal in particular - is the way it allows them to interact with readers and I like the fact this interaction is being celebrated by asking those readers to pick a book of his that might get others to look at his work. Its an interesting move because it will generate a lot of online discussion and linkage for his site and interest in his books, it might introduce new readers to his material in a painlessly free manner and, as Cory Doctorow, Charlie Stross and others have proven, putting up free digital version of your work (they have done it under the Creative Commons license), far from harming traditional sales seems to work to boost reader awareness and interest in your work and so help sales.

I'm not sure which of the four on offer I'd choose myself - I think American Gods is a splendid story with some great use of myth, a book which could work for readers who don't normally go for science fiction and fantasy novels in the same way his Sandman series worked for people who norm
ally didn't buy comics (and my signed copy of American Gods is one of the prizes gems of my collection). But it is very long and that might make it hard to read on a screen. Anansi Boys is very funny and a bit shorter while Coraline is deliciously creepy in places and there is the movie version coming up and - oh smeg, I can't decide! But it is still a good idea.

And on a personal note I'm still indebted to Neil as one of the writers who spoke up for me on their blogs back when I was going through the whole Waterstone's firing thing a few years back; he said something like if he had his own bookstore he'd like me working in it, which is one of the nicest compliments a bookseller can get and that I was 'opinionated but in the good way' which seems like a reasonable description. Anyway, happy ninth anniversary to Neil and his web elves.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The last man on Earth

Grabbed some time to go and sit and watch I Am Legend before I go back to work. Now I had already surmised from trailers and articles in Empire that yet again Hollywood had not done the book. Third time a film has been made of Richard Matheson's classic 50s novel of Cold War paranoia and humanity's seemingly endless ability for self-destruction and third time they haven't done the bloody book! Come one, please....

That said the film, although different from the book - relocated to New York, which actually works well during the scene of Will Smith hunting wild game in an overgrown Times Square, main character Robert Neville is now an army doctor working on a cure, the scientifically created vampires are now fast, aggressive zombies (although still photophobic) - it actually works very well in creating a sense of isolation and terror as the last man in the world tries to hold it together in a Manhattan populated only by him, his dog and a legion of the infected.

Instead of an unspecified biological agent from a war (as in the book) the cause here is genetic engineering in an attempt to beat cancer, although even if you knew nothing about the story going in you could guess nothing good would come of a medical breakthrough by a character with a name like Doctor Crippen (a cameo by Emma Thompson). Scenes where Neville heads to the DVD store during daylight to withdraw films and return old ones illustrate how he is trying to use routine to keep himself together, rather than simply grabbing whatever he wants from the store. Populating the shop with store window dummies so it looks occupied and he has someone to 'talk' to adds to that feeling, being both slightly amusing and disturbing at the same time, stirring sympathy for Neville.

(SPOILER WARNING: don't read on if you are going to see it, I won't describe the whole finale, but it might spoil it for you if you are planning to see it)

Which makes it all the more annoying when the final section totally destroys what had been so carefully built up earlier, opting for the big fights with masses of CGI infected, big bangs and adding a redemption arc which clashes with the themes established earlier in the same way the original 'happy ending' forced on Blade Runner on its original release, really annoying the hell out of me, Hollywood managing an interesting, bleak, disturbing film then getting cold feet and going for SF CGI action fest at the end. And the CGI is annoying because the infected are hyped up creatures (why? they are diseased, why do they have amazing superhuman abilities now???), leaping up high buildings and their leader's jaws opening preternaturally wide as he yells - yes, they come right out of the Mummy (except some infected dogs which was copied shamelessly from Resident Evil), which was fine for the Mummy which was daft but fun and knew it, this was serious and bleak and psychological then went all cartoony and bollocksed it up.

And if they had stuck to the bloody book in the first place they might have avoided it. The book is far more effective - each night Neville has to be home and barricaded in his home before sunset. Outside his home many of the infected who have become vampire-like creatures due to the virus are people he knows, friends, neighbours (his next door neighbour bellowing 'Neville!' each night seems worse than simple roaring fiends in the movie, more personal) and in a harrowing flashback we see Neville in the book burying his wife then finding her resurrected by the virus and coming back to try and kill him and feed on him. In the book there are live and dead vampires as the virus mutates living victims but also resurrects the dead, who act differently. None of this comes in the film. In the book Neville hunts them by day as they lie in their comas, staking them and wondering why it is that this method of killing from myths works, all the time becoming more paranoid, more bloody and violent himself, staring into the Neitzchen abyss and having it stare back into him, becoming a monster as he fights monsters.

I won't spoil the ending of the book here, but suffice to say Matheson maintains the bleak atmosphere he established effectively with such commendable economy (the book is very short), a skill he used also as a screenwriter (he would work on many of the Vincent Price-Roger Corman Edgar Allan Poe movies), in contrast to the movie which ruins itself at that point. And the title I Am Legend has a very different, darker explanation at the end of Matheson's powerful novel than the film. Film - watchable but be prepared to be suddenly let down at the clunking gear change towards the end (and what a shame, the earlier bits as I said are effective and Smith is allowed to act for once). Book - bloody brilliant, one of my personal top books of the last century, a real insight into the paranoia and fear of the Cold War era which still works perfectly in today's troubled world. You should read it.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Terry Pratchett has bad news

Awful news from Terry Pratchett confirming on Paul Kidby's Discworld News that he is suffering from early on-set Alzheimer's. Terry's not just one of the biggest (and most consistently enjoyable, smart and funny) fantasy authors, he's one of those rare bestsellers who appeals way beyond the genre, making him one of the most popular writers on our wee planet. I've seen lines of fans at Terry's signings stretch round the store, out the doors, down the street and round the block; I've also seen him sit there and sign for each one of those folks and chat to each of them too, occasionally taking a moment to rest his wrist in some iced water then start signing more books. As Cory Doctorow notes in Boing Boing though, Terry is employing his humour, trying to stay positive and encouraging readers to do the same:

" I would have liked to keep this one quiet for a little while, but because of upcoming conventions and of course the need to keep my publishers informed, it seems to me unfair to withhold the news. I have been diagnosed with a very rare form of early onset Alzheimer's, which lay behind this year's phantom "stroke".

We are taking it fairly philosophically down here and possibly with a mild optimism. For now work is continuing on the completion of Nation and the basic notes are already being laid down for Unseen Academicals. All other things being equal, I expect to meet most current and, as far as possible, future commitments but will discuss things with the various organisers. Frankly, I would prefer it if people kept things cheerful, because I think there's time for at least a few more books yet :o)

PS I would just like to draw attention to everyone reading the above that this should be interpreted as 'I am not dead'. I will, of course, be dead at some future point, as will everybody else. For me, this maybe further off than you think - it's too soon to tell. I know it's a very human thing to say "Is there anything I can do", but in this case I would only entertain offers from very high-end experts in brain chemistry."

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Saturday, November 10, 2007


New today that one of the best known novelist of the last half century, Norman Mailer, has died. In truth I've never been quite sure what to think of Norman - the Naked and the Dead is a powerful read worthy of space on any reader's shelves, but a lot of his other work I find uncomfortable. He belongs to the mid-20th century class where writers were almost the rock stars of their day - long before spoiled musicians would get drunk, stoned and into fights Mailer and his ilk were there, living it all. He even head-butted Gore Vidal once (I'm sure there are others who have wanted to). Thinking about it, it is surprising he lived so long, you'd half expect him to self destruct like Brendan Behan. Most modern writers aren't quite the same - sure many of them enjoy a decent drink (and I've been lucky enough to share a few drinks with a handful of them) - but the excesses of the Mailer type writers is something more confined to musicians these days.

I suppose in a way his behaviour wouldn't have been out of place at one of Byron's parties a century and a half earlier. As I said, I've never been quite sure what to make of Mailer the man - I'm not sure I'd like to have been around him personally and yet at the same time we need colourful characters in literature as elsewhere, acting out what we can't or won't do, almost like a catharsis, and we like reading about it, whether it was Byron and Shelley's antic, Mailer, Werner Herzog or Pete Doherty. Part of us looks on disgusted at their selfish indlulgence and bad behaviour and another envies that they seem to be able to get away with it.

It reminds me a bit of a story I once read of a hotel manager making up the bill for - I could be wrong, my memory is hazy - I think it was the Who or a similar 60s/70s rock band after they did their usual and trashed their rooms. Their tour manager asks why the hotel manager looks so pissed off - after all they will more than pay for the damage. It isn't that, he answers, do you think when I was at school this is what I dreamt I'd be doing for my life, running a hotel? You guys are living the lifestyle the teenage me wanted to do and will never get, I just get to pick up and tidy after you. Tour manager smiles understandingly, tells the hotel manager, go pick a room and smash the living crap out of it to your heart's content and stick it on our bill, mate. Rock'n'roll. Mad, bad and dangerous to know. It has a certain allure and you're often left wondering if they act that way because they are spoiled or if that reckless self-indulgence and belief normal rules don't apply to them is what made them write great poetry, novels or songs? The medium and artists change with the decades but the song remains the same...

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Sunday, September 09, 2007

Happy birthday to the Book Group

I just realised today that this month's meeting of the Edinburgh SF Book Group will mark the fourth birthday. My former colleague Alex and I thought it up back in the summer of 2003 and decided a good start date would be after the busy circus of the Festival left town, so we opted for September. And for our initial discussion it seemed fitting to pick a debut novel, so we opted for one of the best debuts novels of recent SF by one of our favourite writers, Glasgow-based Richard Morgan, the Philip K Dick award-winning Altered Carbon (which also introduced Richard's character Takeshi Kovacs and also made headlines when it was the subject of a large film rights deal via Joel Silver. I remember the Guardian running an article on that and unable to reach Richard who was on holiday at the time they nicely pilfered quotes from our interview on the Alien Online without asking or crediting the site).

The book group has gone on over those four years, surviving the debacle of the Bloggergate nonsense between me and my former employers at the Bookstore Who Shall Not Be Named (where it had driven sales of backlist titles and boosted the company's profile, but no more - that's their loss) and trying to find a new regular venue after that. We've got a good core of different folks who come regularly and we've had more folks join us since then. We take turn about getting to choose books for the month which means we get a good, diverse range of material.

We've taken in graphic novels like the Sandman, classic SF from Alfred Bester and HG Wells, contemporary political SF like Ken MacLeod, horror from James Herbert, fantasy like the Lies of Locke Lamora and also more mainstream material with touches of SF like David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas or Michel Faber's Under the Skin (which the literati can read, safe in the knowledge that they aren't really part of that 'SF nonsense', they're literature). Ursula le Guin has rubbed shoulders with Margaret Atwood, Charles Burns, Aldous Huxley, James Lovegrove, Kazuo Ishiguro, Jeff VanderMeer, Sheri S Tepper, Neal Stephenson and Robert Louis Stevenson among many others. Because each of us gets to take a turn picking a book we get exposed to more diverse material and so more to discuss, more to think about, more to enjoy. One of the few pleasures better than reading a good book is being able to share it with others and talk about it. And if that also means enjoying some trips to the pub too, so much the better (since there is a very welcome social aspect to the group too).

We started with an author who now lives in Glasgow and this fourth anniversary month sees us discussing a recent novel from an Edinburgh-based scribe, Charlie Stross as we discuss his novel Glasshouse. In a lovely bit of coincidence Glasshouse won the Prometheus award (given by the Libertarian SF group) last week just after it was picked for our September meeting, so congrats to Charlie. We normally meet on the last Tuesday of the month in Henderson's on Hanover Street and anyone is welcome to come along - meeting details usually go up on the Book Group blog.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Edinburgh from the air

At the weekend I did something I haven't done since I was a about seven years old - I climbed the 287 winding steps of the Scott Monument to the uppermost viewing gallery. Built to honour the memory of the famous Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott this great neo-Gothic rocket of Binny sandstone was completed in 1844; designed by George Meikle Kemp. Kemp was the son of a shepherd in the Pentland Hills, reputedly inspired from his rural existence as a boy by a visit to Roslyn Castle and Roslyn Chapel. He seemed to have a knack for the fine arts, but it was an an unknown he entered the public competition to design a memorial to Scott; in fact for the first round he used a pen name rather than his own humble name which at that time had no great reputation, so when his design was ultimately chosen he went from being a respected but not well-known draughtsman and designer to being responsible for one of the major iconic landmarks of the capital of Scotland, an area now designated as a UN World Heritage Site.

Sadly poor old George did not live to enjoy the fruits of his studies and labours; early in 1844, several months before the Monument was completed, he fell into the canal at Fountainbridge, not far from where I live, and was drowned. Citizens of the city lined the streets for his funeral procession as his casket was led to Saint Cuthbert's kirkyard, in the shadow of the Castle and in sight of his construction.

It was very odd to be back at a spot you hadn't been to in decades; last time I went up those stairs was with my mum and dad as a wee boy. One thing that was noticeably different was that the spiral stone staircase seemed a lot smaller and much, much narrower than it was a lad. One way up and one way down, so if you are going one way and other folks coming down the other it is a bit of a problem. The higher you go the more the spire narrows and so does the staircase. On the final segment from the mid gallery to the upper one the staircase becomes very, very narrow; the heavy stone walls are scraping my shoulders and I need to duck as the roof is lower. Hemmed in by dark stone blocks you could swear you are deep inside the lowest dungeon, which is a strange feeling when you know that you are almost 200 feet in the air.

The viewing platforms become smaller too as you ascend. The first one is relatively wide, with a tall, narrow room in the centre with beautiful stained glass windows and carved wood which includes the names of Watty's books carved into the decorations; many scores of feet beneath this is a similarly proportioned, but far plainer chamber, deep beneath the earth, between the massive stone pillars of the Monument which one guide claims go down almost 40 feet into the bedrock (our 19th century ancestors built to last). Up, up and up to the next level, wind blowing through the arrow slit windows of the stone stairwell (no escalator here, kids, you walk 200 feet into the air by foot) and a smaller gallery to look out from, all the time surrounded by dozens of sculptures, large and small, of characters from Scott's many books. That final, tight, narrow climb and out onto a tiny upper gallery barely wide enough for one person.

Wind streaking past you, carrying the sound of the bagpipe player at the gates to Princes Street Gardens up to you even 200 feet above him. I don't suffer from vertigo but leaning over the top still makes my stomach do a wee twirl; 200 feet may not sound much in our age of high-rise buildings but for the mid 19th century it must have seemed staggering. Since there is a limit on how tall a building can be in the centre of Edinburgh to preserve the brilliant skyline the Monument remains towering above most of its neighbours. Right across the road from it the Victorian splendour of Jenners Department Store, the original facade covered in carvings and sculptures. I've admired some of the Caryatid statues on the building many times but how odd to see a building I pass every day, a large and tall building, from above, looking down onto it. Raise your eyes up and the view leads you across the Georgian splendour of the New Town to the River Forth and the hills of Fife on the far side, upriver the great iron shape of the Forth Bridge looms out of the haze.

Walk round, the wind stinging your eyes, trying not to hit your knees against the stone rail in the narrow walkway. There's the expensive grandeur of the Balmoral Hotel, North Bridge striding across the valley between New Town and Old Town past the old Scotsman building; in the background the distinctive modern dome of the Dynamic Earth, the new Parliament next to it, Holyrood Palace and rearing above it the great volcanic rock of Arthur's Seat, nature's way of pointing out She's even better at this monumental architecture than humans are. The skyline of the Old Town with its tall, narrow old buildings and church spires, with the Pentland Hills visible beyond the city, the white marks of the dry ski slope standing out against the grass. And then turn your head past there, past the expensive homes of Ramsay Gardens and there you go, the Castle. I just don't get tired of that view, but how cool to see it from the top of the Monument again after all these years.

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Neil writes

Nice post on Neil Gaiman's journal showing the rather lovely notebooks he writes some of his stories in by hand after taking himself off to a quiet location.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Charlie Huston interview

I've just posted up an interview with Charlie Huston on the FPI blog, already an established author in the US for his Henry Thompson crime novels and now moving into a new vampire-noir-crime series featuring a character called Joe Pitt. The second book has just come out in the last few weeks in the States while my friends at Orbit are set to release the first one, Already Dead, in the UK in February - if you like vampire novels and want something a bit different I highly recommend it.

Charlie also made his comics debut in 2006 with the revamped Moon Knight for Marvel, with the first arc recently issued in a hardback collection, winning his quite a few plaudits. And I loved his answer when I asked him how he saw his interpretation of Marc Spector:

"He was always a visceral character to me, and I wanted to try and share that feeling with other readers. Violence, drug abuse, mental illness, moon copters, these are all visceral elements. I wanted Marc Spector to be a shambling mess of a human being who only comes alive, who only understands the world when he puts on a cowl and a cape and jumps out of a helicopter and lands knuckles first in someone’s fucking face."

Ah, superheroes, they are so noble...

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Thursday, January 27, 2005


One of my friends phoned me this morning to tell me to check out the Glasgow-published Herald. There was an article expanding upon a join letter attacking Waterstone's over-reaction to my blog sent in by Ken MacLeod, A L Kennedy, Iain Banks and Neil Davidson.

I was unaware of this happening - Ken had hinted that there was some form of joint letter by authors in the works, but this was a (pleasant) surprise. I've had so many folk from around our little, wired planet offering support and it is still incredibly uplifting to see something like this; to know that people will take some of their own time to help someone else. I feel humbled and uplifted at the same time and very, very grateful.

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Monday, January 10, 2005

With the kind permission of author Richard Morgan I'm posting the text of a rather eloquent letter he wrote to my former manager and is copying to Waterstone's head office:

Dear sir,

I am writing with regard to the dismissal this week of one of your long-time employees, Joe Gordon. As an author who has had dealings with Joe through author events and signings at your branch, I was stunned to learn about the proceedings. I can honestly say that in my experience, Joe has always behaved with the utmost professionalism and enthusiasm, and a brief round of conversations with other authors has only reinforced this impression. He is a valuable member of staff of the sort that any bookstore should count itself fortunate to have.

I understand that this dismissal has been occasioned by comments on Joe's blog column, which I read on a regular basis and thus am familiar with. While I don't wish to interfere in company business, I have to say I think this bears comparison with taking disciplinary action based on private conversation overheard in a pub, and raises some disturbing issues of freedom of speech. Waterstones is, after all, a bookseller, whose stock in trade is the purveying of opinion, not all of it palatable to those concerned. You sell books which offer serious critique of the corporate environment and government, but do not expect to suffer punitive action from government or corporate quarters as a result. You sell books which criticise and satirise religious and political groups, but you do not expect to be firebombed by extremists as a result. Surely Joe has the right to let off steam in his free time without having to fear for his livelihood as a result. The action that has been taken so far bears more resemblance to the behaviour of an American fast food chain than a company who deal in intellectual freedoms and the concerns of a pluralist liberal society.

It seems to me that this whole matter has been an unfortunate over-reaction with no positive outcome for anyone concerned. Joe has lost a job he liked and did well, Waterstones the company in general and your branch in particular will attract rather negative publicity from the incident, and there will doubtless now be all the lengthy confrontational unpleasantness of an industrial tribunal. In short it leaves a sour taste in everyone's mouth. Surely there has to be a more productive way to deal with the issue. I worked for many years in management myself, and I understand well the stresses and complexities of situations like this. But given the value that Joe offers as a participative member of Waterstones staff, and given the issues of free speech raised, I would hope that some compromise more in keeping with a civilised society and an intellectually involved company could be reached.

Though I shall hardcopy this letter to you and Waterstones head office next week, I would appreciate your response to this e-mail as soon as you have the opportunity.

Many thanks.

Yours faithfully

Richard Morgan

Another author, Edinburgh-based Charlie Stross has also posted a very considered opinion on his live journal.

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