stephenpalmersf

Notes from sf author Stephen Palmer

The VAT Apocalypse

Changes in how VAT is charged could destroy the livelihoods of many small presses. If you’ve not heard of this, please support the cause. Here is a particularly good overview of the problem from David Rix at the Eibonvale Press.

“Beautiful Intelligence” – really finished!

Just emailed the MS of next year’s SF novel Beautiful Intelligence to Infinity Plus. Phew! Now to think about a front cover. Well, I suppose it should be related to this one…

muezzinland

Muezzinland ebook

The Western Front by Richard Holmes

Good overview by famed historian and television presenter. Didn’t focus as much as I’d have liked on the soldiers’ experiences of trench warfare etc, but, still, not a bad introduction.

The Western Front

The Western Front

‘Malevolence’ anthology from the Tickety Boo Press

The anthology Malevolence: Tales From Beyond The Veil is now available as an ebook or as a paperback from the Tickety Boo Press. This work includes my story The Chosen One.

tickety 1

Malevolence

Update – punkPunk! edited by Andrew Hook

The punk anthology edited by Andrew Hook punkPunk! will be out early next year, and is now available to pre-order on amazon. This anthology contains my story ‘Blanknoir,’ which is based on The Stranglers’ ground-breaking and extraordinary 1978 album Black & White.

Black & White by The Stranglers

Black & White by The Stranglers

Strange Boat by Ian Abrahams

Music author Ian Abrahams, formerly exploring space rock and counter-culture territory (Hawkwind, Free Festivals in Britain), now turns his attention to former ‘Big Music’ creator and all-round musical traveller Mike Scott, in a fascinating and comprehensive overview of this gifted artist. Originally published in 2008, this new updated version of the book adds much to the story of Mike Scott’s early days, while, at the end, including an article originally written for R2 magazine. Ian Abrahams is well placed to venture again into rock biography, being a journalist veteran of Shindig, Record Collector and R2 magazines, as well as being an author.

The tale of Mike Scott is one of music business good luck, bad luck, accidental meetings, many partings, and a long and winding road of musical ventures, from the early days of Another Pretty Face all the way through to Scott’s spiritual ventures, and the inevitable raggle-taggle solo career post-Waterboys (which, confusingly, included the Waterboys).

Brought up an only child in a family environment that allowed him to do pretty much what he pleased (a trait continuing through his career as a musician, a point well made by the author), Mike Scott was one of those people who, instead of playing at music, threw himself into it so that he could hardly fail. There were elements of fortune, of course: meeting long-time collaborator Anthony Thistlethwaite for instance, which gave Scott the impetus to create the early Waterboys albums, including the era-defining This Is The Sea. Meeting fiddle player Steve Wickham was a life-changing event. The choice of record company was fortuitous. But through this tale of success Ian Abrahams weaves a different tale, via the well chosen and comprehensive words of friends, colleagues and others: Karl Wallinger (himself a remarkable musician – Scott’s equal, undoubtedly), Roddy Lorimer (“trumpet for hire”) and Colin Blakey… and many more. Through these insights Scott emerges as a self-reliant, occasionally anti-social, confused and confusing man, a man who refused to do Top Of The Pops but who went on to court fans and publicity, as in the end all musicians must. The sense is very much of a man on a quest – via music.

Scott’s spiritual ventures are also well documented in the book, not least his reliance on the people and environment of the Findhorn Foundation. The latter years of the solo career, with all its genre twists and turns, is well handled by the author, through his own readable prose and through the contributions of those who know him, including such luminaries as Ian McNabb.

In summary: a particularly well assembled biography of a fascinating musician. No fan of Mike Scott or the Waterboys, of ‘eighties music, or of the many strands of Celtic music will want to miss this entertaining book. Definitely recommended.

s boat

Strange Boat, Ian Abrahams

Eminent Hipsters by Donald Fagen

Entertaining dual-theme book (i) about DF’s upbringing and life as a young man (5/5) coupled with a (ii) not quite so entertaining, though not devoid of interest, account of life on the road as the Dukes Of September, with Boz Scaggs and Michael McDonald (3/5). Certainly one for fans of the Dan. So that’s 4/5 on average.

EH by DF

Eminent Hipsters

Beautiful Intelligence – complete!

I’ve finally finished my novel Beautiful Intelligence.

The novel will be published early next year by Infinity Plus.

It’s a near future, philosophical thriller about artificial intelligence. I began it some years ago, but became stuck half way through, and for a while I thought I wouldn’t finish it. But the novel came back, thank goodness, and now I’m really pleased with it.

It is 100% a standalone, but does act as a ‘volume 1′ to the ‘volume 2′ of Muezzinland…

muezzinland

Muezzinland ebook

Goblin Moon by Teresa Edgerton

In which various Gentlemen and Ladies of Society become involved in Fee Occurrences

In an alternate Teutonic land somewhere near an alternate Russia, inhabited by persons of gentility, some craftsmen, tradesmen and such, and by a dirty, uncouth underbelly of peasants and sundry unmentionables, Francis Skelbrooke – Lord of much that is not initially revealed – finds himself entangled in a plot hatched by various nonhuman characters. These latter persons are stock of dwarves, gnomes, and even the Fee (fairy) races, not least a Duchess with an indigo ape. There are also trolls, but they are concealed most cunningly.

Goblin Moon was first published some time ago, but has now been reissued in a smart new cover by the fledgling Tickety Boo Press. The novel received plaudits for its faux-Regency setting, excellent characterisation, and all-round bonhomie and readability.

I generally don’t read fantasy with magic and suchlike, so I approached this novel with slight trepidation, but it turned out to be a most enjoyable romp through various tangled plots, via pale young women with mysterious illnesses, feisty young women elsewhere, lads trying to better themselves, lords and ladies, and, at its heart, a dark plot to create a miniature homunculus carried through by a river worker (read – scavenger) and a book merchant (read – dabbler in dark magics). The characters are all lifelike, well drawn and attractive, with the not so attractive ones also drawn with skill. I sensed a distinct hint of Jack Vance in some of the magic and nonhuman races, and also in the black/white morality of the Fee races, exploited so well in the Lyonesse books; but this, of course, is no bad thing.

There is very little to say against the novel. Perhaps the ending was a little rushed, with Skelbrooke taken off scene temporarily, and the book was a little slow to start, but these are minor quibbles against a whole set of virtues. Fantasy fans who like a bit of medieval-style muck, moon, sass and spit in their milieu (think Terry Gilliam’s early films, especially Jabberwocky) will love this enjoyable read.

goblinmoon

Teresa Edgerton – Goblin Moon

Guest blog: Teresa Edgerton, Mouse Sandwiches and the Vegetable Phoenix

In 1726, British newspapers published accounts of one Mary Tofts, who gave birth to seventeen rabbits, three legs of a cat, and portions of the backbone of an eel. Nathaniel St. André, physician to the royal family, was sent to verify this story. He concluded that the rabbits were bred inside Mary’s Fallopian tubes. This seemingly miraculous event was explained by the wide-spread belief in “maternal impressions”— that any strong stimulus received by the mother during pregnancy might in some way mark the child, particularly the sight or fear of an animal. By the time the story was revealed as a hoax, several prominent doctors had been taken in.

Research can be tedious, but then sometimes you find resources that make you feel like you’ve walked into a candy shop, there’s such a delicious selection of details you can use to make your story more real— and more fantastical at the same time. The past is much stranger than any fantasy world and it was populated by people who viewed that world in ways that were sometimes, genuinely, stranger than anything the mind of a fantasy writer could create. And when you can get these delightful glimpses into the way they thought and the things they did, then you can just jump off from there and let your imagination fly where it will.

Let us take a brief trip around our metaphorical candy shop. In one glass case, for instance, we find the story of Robert Fludd, medical man and Hermetic philosopher, who early in the seventeenth century, while distilling blood, reportedly pulled from the vessel a screaming human head, complete with hair and all the requisite facial features.

On the shelf below: the rural practitioners who prescribed a meal of mouse on toast (fur and all) as the cure for such various ailments as stammering and bed-wetting, also lice, the sexual organs and excreta of animals, human perspiration, saliva of a fasting man, cuttlefish, and scorpions regularly used in medicines. Next to them, the country folk who kept bottles of urine, in order to monitor the health of distant loved ones by observing the appearance of their piddle.

Here is something meant to satisfy your sweet-tooth: Theriacs— antidotes for poisons or the bites of poisonous creatures, viz. apes, snakes, dogs, and human beings— were in use from the time of the Roman Empire through the nineteenth century. An antidote originated by Nero’s physician contained sixty-four ingredients, including cinnamon, viper’s flesh, honey, and opium. These sugar-based antidotes, which came to be known as Venice treacle eventually became, in a debased form, the common syrup we know today. This in turn led to the brimstone and treacle (or in the United States sulphur and molasses) prescribed as a tonic by our own grandmothers and great-grandmothers. As for viper’s flesh, it too remained in use into the nineteenth century.

And another confection: In the sixteenth century, the renowned physician Paracelsus (a.k.a. Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim) not only claimed to create a homunculus, or miniature human being, he also published the formula. Other formulas, by lesser-known philosophers, cited such ingredients as wax, soil, human sperm, and egg white. Mandrakes pulled from the earth beneath a gibbet were also popular, nourished as they were by a hanged man’s tears. (We might bottle them for our own use.)

A century later, natural philosophers occupied themselves with the resurrection of plants, most particularly the “spectre of the rose” in all its glory of petals, leaves, and stem. Many notable scientist of the era experimented and some, according to their own writings, were successful at calling up this apparition, reviving the “vegetable phoenix” by heating the ashes, which had previously been burned, then treated with a salt reduced to a fine blue powder. Continuing to extend our metaphor, we might characterize this historical snippet in the nature of a bonbon.

Here at the back of the shop, almost hidden, is a grotesque little story, the kind of thing not to be taken in excess, unless you are writing horror. It is said that a certain physician obtained the body of an executed criminal, for the purpose of dissection. Completing his work, he ordered his assistant to pulverize the brain case, a popular remedy. Afterwards, the student went to bed, leaving the powder in a paper on a table. At midnight, he was awakened by a noise, the source of which he could not immediately ascertain. At last, going to the table he was horrified to discover a small head staring at him from the paper with the powder. Two arms sprouted, and then the hands. A ribcage developed next and the musculature. After growing legs and feet, the tiny figure stood up, wearing the very same clothes the hanged man had worn to his execution. One can scarcely imagine the assistants terror— but perhaps a certain scientific satisfaction at achieving such a remarkable result?

If the clockwork figures beloved of steampunk readers and writers stimulate your appetite: long before the Victorian era and as early as the ancient Greeks, people were fascinated by mechanical figures and automatons. According to the poet Pindar, on the island of Rhodes automatons were so common that:

“The animated figures stand

Adorning every public street

And seem to breathe in stone, or

move their marble feet.”

During the Renaissance, in Augsburg, Hans Schlottheim built a mechanical galleon made to sail up the dinner table during a banquet, cannons firing and trumpets blowing. By the eighteenth century, spectators were charmed by clockwork flying pigeons and digesting ducks, a rooster powered by means of a bellows, a mechanical chess-playing Turk, and dolls that wrote or played musical instruments. Personally, I find the duck a little daunting.

And these are just a few of the treats available to the fantasy author with a strong stomach, a taste for whimsy, and a craving for the grotesque.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Many thanks to Teresa for these insights into her writing life. I’m currently reading her Goblin Moon novel, just out from Tickety Boo Press, and it’s really good (review to follow soon).

I am currently preparing a guest blog on my own research for Teresa.

goblinmoon

Teresa Edgerton – Goblin Moon

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.