Thursday, October 25, 2018

My First FantasyCon

I've been to conventions before. I used to attend Continuum every year in Melbourne, visited Conflux once and even managed to get to WorldCon a couple of times. Since moving to the UK, I've been to a couple of Edge-Lits and a few Sledge-Lits, the winter counterpart. But I haven't really immersed myself in the British SF scene.

Scene. I choose that in place of a better word instead of 'Community'. Ah yes, the 'Myth of Community'. I am planning to write about that soon, but I'll leave it as it is and just move on for now.

Last weekend I visited Chester for FantasyCon. I was hoping to catch up with old friends, make some new ones and even meet a hero or two. And I succeeded on all counts. It was wonderful to see Philip and James again, to spend time with Penny, Simon, Adele and Tom (as well as a bunch of others I haven't mentioned), and to chat, albeit briefly, with Ian Watson. Ian is a fabulous writer, someone I started reading back in the late 70s and never dreamed of meeting. I managed to get a book or two signed, and even copped some written abuse from him in one of them - which was pretty special.

I spent time chatting with Dr Abbey from Japan, even though my Japanese was rusty and he was polite about my abilities, and met Ian Whates and Adrain Tchaikovsky, who were both delightful and fascinating.

Restaurants, bars, sitting outside with friends, walks, and even listening to the karaoke (bleah) made for a memorable weekend.

Seriously though, how do we manage to spend an entire weekend based in a hotel and still not catch up with people we know? I missed a few people I had planned to see. And they were there! I've seen the photographic proof.

If you haven't been to FantasyCon and you live in the UK, it's highly recommended. I plan to be there next year again.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Vale: Tim Chandler

One of my great musical loves, probably my second favourite band after the Beatles, is Daniel Amos. I've been a huge fan since 1979 when a friend dropped the needle on their Horrendous Disc album and told me I had to listen. I remember that moment vividly, and I was instantly hooked.

They're a band who went through a number of changes, both in line-up and style, yet I've loved every incarnation - even the country band they were before Horrendous Disc. Alarma, Doppleganger, Vox Humana and Fearful Symmetry (known collectively as the Alarma Chronicles) were released throughout the 80s, with each album changing style and instrumentation which also reflected the lyrical content.

Tim Chandler joined the band in 1981, in time to tour and record the Doppelganger album. I immediately loved his bass playing. He had his own style, his own musicality and brilliantly creative bass lines. His sound was distinctive and recognisable. Tim played on albums by a bunch of artists, and his playing was always second to none. Standouts include his work on John Wayne by Terry Scott Taylor, and Daniel Amos's own Darn Floor Big Bite.

Apparently he was a really lovely guy. Funny too. He was a member of the Swirling Eddies, a pseudonymous Daniel Amos side project. Berger Roy Al, as he was dubbed, had his own personality, who would suddenly appear in Daniel Amos forums ranting and verbally attacking Tim Chandler. Mad, mad, hilarious stuff.

I only managed to see Tim once. He played bass in Phil Keaggy's band when I saw them at a small venue in Melbourne during the 80s. I still regret not waiting to chat to him after the show.

Tim passed away a few days ago. I saw it on social media just after his friends all changed their profile pictures. Apparently he was ill, but I didn't know that. In fact there is very little I actually know about the man, yet his passing has saddened me.

RIP Tim, I wish you safe travels.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

It's Those Little Differences.

Sometime the smallest differences are the ones that stand out the most. I'm talking here about life in the UK as opposed to Australia, and while I agree the weather, accents, building styles and so on are the most obvious differences, they're not the ones that make me ponder.

Those are differences you expect when you visit another country. The ones that stick in my mind are those you don't or can't anticipate. And so, to celebrate diversity and differences between these nations, here are a few things I find a little odd here.

Not frustrating, not weird, just interestingly different to what I'm used to.

Can I help?
This is the one shop assistants ask when you're waiting in line. Not Can I help you?, but Can I help? And this truncated form still sounds odd to me even after a couple of years.

Polite Notice
While a sign in an Australian car park might read "Warning: Private Car Park. Violators will be towed", in the UK the word Warning is likely to be replaced with Polite Notice. I'm still trying to figure out which part is polite, and why it needs to be declared. It's almost like those veiled threats in noir movies, a friendly warning.

Apparently they are optional in the UK, and even the police and road safety people have told me you only have to use them in situations where you think it's necessary. So if you're in a turn lane, or there's no-one else around, don't bother. Of course that means sometimes people make turns (or don't) when you least expect it.

Street Names
There are many, many, many fine examples. Some are named simply because of their destination. In Heighington, the road that leads to Branston is known as the Branston Road. Once you're arrived at Branston, however, it's known as the Heighington Road. I've wondered if there's an official point at which it changes, or does it always depend on your destination? Other street/alley/lane names are simply weird or very, very naughty. Local favourites include The Smooting, and The Glory Hole.

Australian Preconceptions
While we all have preconceptions of the 'other', The UK have built their ideas on TV tourism ads, Neighbours, and Steve Irwin. No, we are not inundated with deadly spiders and snakes which we daily battle, we don't spend every free minute at the beach or having barbeques with shrimps, very few of us every drink Fosters voluntarily, and we don't all have glorious weather 365 days are year. Oh, and rugby. Unless you're from New South Wales or Queensland, very few of us even care. Many are surprised I don't know a thing about rugby, or that I saw my first game on TV when I was in my late 30s. And we're not even talking League here, they mean Union - which has even less of a following in Australia.

Just a few of the things I've noticed. There are more, but we have to remember that there are things about Australia the Brits find odd.

These tiny cultural differences are wonderful. They only enrich our lives.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

I May Not Know Art.....

One of the reasons I started reading science fiction was the cover art.

I loved it, back in the seventies, when the spaceships were unusual shapes and bright colours against dramatic spacescapes. Chris Foss, who I was fortunate enough to meet a couple of years ago, soon became a favourite cover artist. I don't recall if I was aware of who he was, but I could easily recognise his work. Then there were other, more metaphoric designs for SF books. Some I loved, others I merely appreciated. Photographed covers have aged the worse. Even back then photos of model aliens or men in silver suits look dated. I seem to recall a photographed Stainless Steel Rat cover that was terrible.

So for me it was illustration, preferable paintings. Unfortunately for me, they seem to have died off as the primary source of cover art.
Recently I had a conversation with a writer who told me about the economics involved. It's cheaper to buy and crop stock artwork than commission new. It's even cheaper to buy digital manipulated pictures than buy paintings. And with the unrelenting tsunami of self published mediocrity, the standard of cover art has fallen even further.

I know graphic artists who are in competition with anyone who has access to Photoshop, regardless of the quality. New writers self publishing a story manipulate a couple of pictures, throw on text and away they go.

Here's a clue. Many of these look cheap and nasty and entice no one.

I really miss those painted covers. They had a quality missing in the digital age. I understand a painting is not going to be affordable, but at the very least hire someone trained in design to direct the art on the cover.

Me? Well, you'll find me over here gazing at my Asimov's and Harrison's and dreaming of yellow and black checked starships against enormous nebulae.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Not All Are Equal.

Despite what Goodreads and Amazon reviews may suggest, not all publishers are equal.

I recently read an anthology from a small press, one that was given to me a couple of years ago. I'd heard good thing about this publisher, and I have no reason to believe they are anything but honest and supportive of their writers. This particular book had excellent reviews and ratings on the above mentioned websites, and I was looking forward to delving into this particular collection.

4.5 stars?  Give me a break. Family and friends, and possibly authors themselves, bumping up ratings.

As you may have surmised, I found it was well below average.
There were misspellings, sentences that were incoherent, absent punctuation, swapped homonyms, and generally sloppy layout. Editing? I wonder if that even occurred. Oh, and most of the stories were just poorly written.

I'm not even sure if this press is still operating. I haven't heard them mentioned in a while and I haven't googled. If they are, I wish them well and hope they have improved.

Your product is your greatest advertising. People won't buy a second if they are underwhelmed by the first. And, of course, this is the same for writers. Send out your best work, polish it and proofread to make sure it's close to perfect. Choose where you allow your work to be seen.

I guess this is one of the reasons I have decided to not go down the self-publishing road. The whitenoise of mediocrity is deafening. I have yet to personally stumble across any self-published work that I would consider recommending. I am sure they exist, and I know of the famous exceptions, but they are the tiniest of minorities. I don't even bother anymore.

And please, don't self publish then tell me you did so because your work has been rejected everywhere. It's hardly a glowing endorsement. Yes, editors and publishers make mistakes or reject stories that don't suit them, but maybe, just maybe, there's a reason no one wanted to buy your work.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Another Con Down, Another Con to Go.

I went to Edge Lit 7 last weekend, a fabulous mini-convention held in Derby. It's a one day affair, with some great guests, panels and workshops. I've been before, as well to it's November counterpart, Sledge-Lit, and always had a good time.

I travelled up with Andy Remic, which was a joy as always. We talked life, books and writing. Lots of writing. We're friends, but I also enjoy reading his work. He's a great writer with a long, established career, and it's a privilege to spend time in his company and be offered writing advice from him. (Which usually commences with 'Cameron, have you started writing a novel yet?)

A few of the friends I traditionally catch up with weren't able to attend. Work, life, and in one case an offer to watch the World Cup. To be fair, it was an offer to travel to Europe to watch it on TV and I believe beer was involved. But there were others I was able to spend time with. I saw Selina briefly before she had to leave, was able to dine with Jay, which was great as always, and met Neil, Simon and Lucy, with whom Andy and I shared a drink or two.

I met some writerly types for the first time as well. Gav Thorpe, Anna Smith-Spark, Anna Stephens, RJ Barker, Paul Tremblay Stan Nicholls, Steve McHugh, and Adele Wearing, as well as a few others.

The panels I saw were great, I went to Andy Remic's workshop which could have been longer, and enjoyed the Gemmell Awards.

David Gemmell was a really well known fantasy author in the UK, but I'd never heard of him. Some told me his fame was limited in the US and Australia. I'm looking forward to investigating his writing.

Congratulations to Alex Davis and the team for the organisation. The weekend away inspired me. I came home and signed up for Fantasy Con in October. If you're going, it would be great to see you there. If you're not, why not?

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The Lady Who Sings to the Dead.

I'm so very pleased to be back in the pages of Outposts of Beyond.  A great little magazine, containing novellas, short stories, flash fiction, poetry, articles and reviews. I feel privileged. This is the fifth time I've been published by Alban Lake, and I look forward to having a new shiny copy of this issue in my hands.

My story, The Lady Who Sings to the Dead, is set in Australia long after an apocalypse but in a non-technological time. This story occurs in the same world and many years following the events depicted in two of my other stories, The Last of the Butterflies and Fireflies.

I love this world I've created. I love visiting it and I love writing in it. I really like some of the people who populate it.

I imagine there are many more stories to be told. For the time being, however, you we have this one.


Table of contents:

The Lady Who Sings to the Dead by Steve Cameron
The One That Is All by Mike Adamson
The Voice of the Moroth by John Buentello & Lawrence Buentello
The Monster at the End of the World by Lee Clark Zumpe
The Steppenwolf Revisitation by Alan Ira Gordon
The Assassin Program by Christina Sng
The Quicksilver Wall by t.santitoro
The Unfolding by Melanie Smith
The Stories We Tell by Holly Day
Terran Vacations 2070 AD by Marge Simon
Water 2050 AD by Marge Simon
Meteor Shower BC by Marge Simon
The Ship by Marge Simon
The New Canadians  by Aaron W. Haney M.D.
Blade Runner 2049 Review by Kendall Evans
Integral Parts by Robert E. Porter