Interzone #263

Interzone #263 (Mar-Apr 2016)Interzone #263 by TTA Press

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another strong issue of Interzony weirdness. The first two stories deal with a strange drug and a strange natural disaster. There’s a story here about a guy who might be an alien or maybe merely is very alienated. This latter piece reminds me of one of my own stories, one of my best in fact though not one that I’ve managed to sell yet (which reminds me, I need to dig it out and decide what to do with it.)

Possibly my favourite story was “Not Recommended for Guests of a Philosophically Uncertain Disposition,” by Michelle Ann King. I liked it even though it did remind me of all those old Star Trek episodes dealing with things like the Q Continuum and the early “plotless” episodes of Voyager. (I’m sorry, but I loved those early weird space anomaly Voyager episodes even though everything I read at the time suggested everyone else hated them. In hindsight I suspect it was just the result of a lot of men failing to come to terms with the concept of a female captain.)

As ever, the reviews were interesting too even if, occasionally, one or two might whiz straight over the scaly head of this Eng-Lit challenged alligator.


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Interzone #264

Interzone #264 (May-June 2016)Interzone #264 by TTA Press

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of the best issues I’ve read for a while. I very much enjoyed the opening story–a fairly classic apocalyptic piece set in Wales. But I just loved “Breadcrumbs” by Malcolm Devlin and “The Tower Princesses” by Gwendolyn Kiste. Both stories were deeply weird in the best Interzone tradition although leaning more to the fantastic than Interzone used to publish. But I guess genre boundaries are much more fluid these days. Both stories were also fascinating ideas, heavy with meaning which again is the kind of story I love.

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Tony Blair and the Chilcot Report

I don’t talk about politics, honest. I gave all that up 15 years ago. But there’s just so much happening here in Britain lately you might have noticed I’ve broken my rule a few times in the past couple of weeks. And I’m going to do it again, sorry! So stand well back if you don’t like this sort of thing.
 
Tony Blair, my former leader. I used to work for him back in 1996-98. I even ghostwrote for him once. I used to work at the Labour Party “political education” organisation called “Progress” which was effectively Blair’s personal propaganda machine. And soon after I started work there as a keen, young Labour enthusiast something happened that shook my faith in his competence as a future Prime Minister to a quite shocking degree. He allowed something to happen, an act of dreadful organisational stupidity, that affected me personally which to my mind suggested he wasn’t fit for such high office.
 
I won’t give the details as to what it was precisely as it’s all ancient history now, but from that day on a deep doubt set in. I’ve never felt Tony Blair was a liar as many claim. It’s always been my view he was merely a fool and unsuited for the job of Prime Minister. He was a charlatan, or overwhelmingly full of hubris. When he came into office he had little experience but behaved as though he knew exactly what he was doing, practicing “sofa government,” not taking advice from experienced officials but rather favouring his personal advisers and spin doctors. The Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war which was published this morning showed the devastating results of such a casual attitude to government. Evidence about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction was taken at face value. Critical voices weren’t heard. Tony Blair organised his whole government in the same sloppy way he’d once organised his office: a way that meant his decisions and his government’s decisions just weren’t good enough.
 
I wish the families of deceased soldiers well if they decide to sue Tony Blair for his incompetence. In 2002 I tried to sue him myself; I failed, largely because I should have tried to sue him in 1996 instead of waiting so long. But it was impossible in 1996 for several reasons; it was impossible in 2002 as well. Maybe now post Chilcot it’s possible for people with much more reason to loathe him than I’ve ever had to get some justice. Either way, he’s finally having to stand up and respond to his critics, and he’s shedding tears in the process. Needless to say, Gator is studying those carefully videotaped tears closely and is about to give her verdict: on whether they are crocodile or not.
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Weird Times

So I was lying in bed last night thinking how these past 10 days have gone on forever. Ever since the referendum time has crept by in a state of surreal slow motion. My country of birth is in a state of flux. It’s in an oddly British pickle, worthy of Monty Python. And the political party that I used to work for and which used to be so dear to me is about to implode (let’s hope they figure something out). What with sitting up all night on Brexit night and several personal real life commitments my sleeping patterns have been all over the place. So it’s been a weird time.
Fortunately I’m used to weird being a dwarf. People think dwarfs are weird so in a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy weirdness has been known to chase me down the street in search of my autograph.
A whole country given over to the weird though… that’s another thing entirely.
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Character Names, Pt 2

A famous writer (I won’t name him) once suggested that J.K. Rowling owed much of her success to her ability to create wonderfully Dickensian character names. While I’m sure he was exaggerating, at the same time he might have been onto something. So since then I’ve been paying more attention to my character names.

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Bottom, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Names are tough though. It’s best to find something that suits your character but perhaps not something that suits them too well or the name can end up looking like a parody. That’s great if you’re writing comedy, maybe not so great if you’re writing something serious.

Memorable names are also advisable as are varied names so characters are easily distinguished from one another. And it’s best to avoid names ending in “s” to bypass the cumbersome apostrophe issue. Beyond that you can pick anything—just as long as you don’t accidentally pick the name of that wealthy doctor living in a neighbouring street and give it to your evil medic. It’s always best to Google before settling on a name–especially the names of your villains.

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Character Names, Part 1

So it’s official: I’ve started to write a novel based on my first published short story “Europa Spring”. Making it official and actually telling people I’m writing a novel means I have to finish it, right? That’s the logic anyway. After all, if it never gets finished I’ll look like a right wally.

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Definitely what you’d call a character

One issue that’s cropped up early is that of character names. The original story of “Europa Spring,” was written quite a few years ago when I knew less about writing than I do now. At that time I didn’t give much thought to character names. I just named my protagonists the first thing that popped into my head. No doubt I would’ve thought about it more if I’d imagined for a minute that the story would become the basis for an entire book but at the time it was just one short story which I didn’t even know would end up as my first sale. So now I’m thinking of changing the character names. Do you think anyone will notice? Shhh. Don’t tell everyone!

Anyway the hunt for new names is on. Gator has gone undercover with bait but I think I’ll use more conventional methods, Google and such. Even so, not an easy task!

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A Small Announcement

I have a small–make that very small (pun absolutely intended)–confession to make. When I started writing I made a decision to keep a small (there’s that word again) secret from my online writing friends.  More importantly, I didn’t want all the editors to know. Not initially. Not entirely. Even when I was writing about disabilities I might have mentioned once or twice that I have a disability but not what sort of disability. I decided I wanted to be judged on equal terms. I didn’t want to be pigeonholed as a particular sort of writer. I wanted to either win the Writers of the Future contest or become a member of SFWA (the professional science fiction writers association) before anybody knew the full details.

That point was reached a little while ago. I’m an associate member of SFWA. That’s not quite a full member (yet) but seeing as I’ve put writing short stories on hold in the hope of finishing a novel it could be quite a while before I’ve any chance of qualifying for the rest of it. And obviously I’ve no chance of winning the Writers of the Future contest if I stop submitting short fiction. So I think it’s time to spill the crate of far-from-fresh fish. I suspect a few folks already suspected there was something a bit fishy about me: the fact I don’t travel to conventions or anywhere else much anymore; the fact that I have a very peculiar online avatar and alter ego (yes, I’m looking at you, Gator). But it gets weirder, folks, and could only get weirder still if my name were GRR Martin–as I’m a little person, a dwarf.

I have a condition called diastrophic dysplasia. I’m 3’3” tall which means I’m really rather a small dwarf. I’m shorter than Warwick Davis, the actor who is definitely no giant among dwarfs.

For the first 30+ years of my life I never met anyone who didn’t instantly know that I was a dwarf. I could walk into a room of strangers (or rather roll as I’ve always used a powered wheelchair when out, even when I used to be more mobile than I am now) and I’d know anyone who happened to turn their heads my way couldn’t fail to notice how little I am. If I so much as sneezed I could attract media attention and I must confess I’ve occasionally made use of this. Not so online. Here I’m utterly invisible. Here I actually have to tell people I’m a little person (I generally want them to know) which is kind of strange. And it doesn’t always seem appropriate. Unless of course I simply take photographs which is an even less palatable option.

But people talk about personal stuff so much online it was all beginning to feel a bit ridiculous that none of my writer friends knew about this. My decision to keep quiet began to seem more and more ill advised. Some of you guys I’ve known for years and yet you don’t know this most blatant and fundamental thing about me. So it was time for a change, at least time to write this blog post. Beyond that, I really don’t know what this “outing” of my dwarfism means, if anything. At the very least I’m hoping it will mean I can be more open about how my disability affects my writing process because it certainly does that.

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Me at 18

A brief word about terminology before I end. The terms “little person” or “person with dwarfism” are pretty much universally acceptable. To describe someone as “a dwarf” as I’ve described myself here is less widely accepted although for me it’s okay. Others–maybe those less enamoured of fantasy fiction than I am– don’t like it much. The word “midget” is offensive to everyone. It’s pretty much equivalent to the “N-word”. It’s hard to pin down exactly why except that it seems to be the term of derision we were all called as kids (at least I was). Possibly it’s derived from the word “midge,” ie. an insect. I remember once how shocked I was when a close colleague used it, a woman who in every other respect had never given the slightest indication of prejudice. I remember I didn’t have the heart to tell her what she’d said. People just don’t know.

And with that I should sign off. I need to go and placate Gator with a large bucket of smoked salmon, or possibly two buckets, or maybe this time she’s going to end up with that fish farm she’s always dreaming of. I sense our “relationship” may change a little. After all, she’s really not going to be such a happy snappy alligator when people learn the truth about just how small she is. Poor huge Gator.

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