Into the Unknowable

Into the Unknowable

Into the Unknowable

I suppose I ought to simply ignore bad reviews of my fiction and indeed this review of Into the Unknowable by Austin12345 is so unambiguously bad that perhaps that’s exactly what I should have done.

However, he is right. There is a great deal of what could be called pornographic in the novel as indeed there is in the whole of the Anomaly Trilogy. I can only accept the criticism as it stands, though I think the sexual element isn’t really much more prominent than in many other Science Fiction novels and is mostly there to justify the novel appearing in Sex Fiction sites (many of which are becoming increasingly queasy about the darker side of sex or indeed of life as a whole). Perhaps I should just eviscerate the sexual content. It wouldn’t make much difference to the length of the novel and would require only a few tweaks to maintain the narrative. By this I don’t mean that I’d remove the incidence of sexual activity, just the explicit depiction of it.

However, out of interest I looked at the rest of Austin12345‘s reviews, of which there are many. They are all reviews of Science Fiction novels, many of which promise similar Space flight adventures as in the Anomaly Trilogy, and most of which also earn the reviewer’s scorn.

I think I’d probably agree with Austin12345 in his assessment of much of what he’s reviewed (although I’ve not actually read any of the novels that he covers). His criticisms relate to poor editing, poor use of English, repetitive style and being derivative. None of the others, however, are criticised for being pornographic so, whereas Into the Unknowable is not criticised for the stylistic reasons most of the others are.

Where I might disagree with Austin12345 is his belief that the Science in Science Fiction has to be Scientific. Although that’s what I prefer and I really have problems with novels with faster-than-light space travel, unrealistic distances between bodies in space and countless misunderstandings of the physics, biology and chemistry of the universe, those Science Fiction stories are generally the ones I avoid. But if I reviewed a novel which contravened the Laws of Science, I’d generally let this pass rather than use this factor to be the reason for damning it outright. (Though with universal access to Wikipedia one would have thought it would be dead easy for a Science Fiction novelist to check the facts).

What these reviews tell me is why I don’t and wouldn’t post negative reviews on the internet. There are too many targets and there is too much opportunity to be critical. It’s great fun to read Austin12345‘s reviews and I have been tempted to write such fun reviews myself on the huge body of shoddy amateur fiction on the internet.

But, beyond being fun, what would the purpose of it be?

I’d just upset a lot of people (often in a very hurtful way) and nothing would be gained. The badly written novel would remain bad. And the only ones to get satisfaction are those like me who don’t mind a chuckle at someone else’s expense (and no doubt shouldn’t).

That’s why the only story reviews I shall ever post will be ones of stories where I believe there is considerable merit.


Teenage Jihad




It is difficult to know what to say after the horrendous attacks on the innocent citizens of Paris on Friday. The horror we all feel is not only because we feel sympathy for the victims but also the all too obvious reflection that if this could happen in Paris in the sorts of place where there isn’t normally an apparent need for security then it could happen to any of us anywhere in the world: not just Beirut, Baghdad and Kabul where we have become inured to such carnage, but also in Paris and no doubt London, New York, Berlin and Moscow.

However, little analysis has been done as to what type of person becomes attracted to commit these crimes. An article in the Guardian gives some insight as to what incites this Teenage Jihad, and what it reveals is that the stay-at-home terrorists who carry out such atrocities have rather more in common with fantasists like Anders Breivik and the bored American teenagers who at least once a week shoot up fellow students and cinema-goers.

You could say for Breivik and for the teenage followers of Islamic State that there might be an element of ideology underpinning their relish for massacre, but I would say that the tenets of Islam, just like those of the radical Right, are not necessarily a set of instructions to take AK47s into the street and shoot down strangers. In fact, I think the real motivator is the attraction of inflicting violence on other people and the means to do it. In all these cases, Anders Breivik, the American teenagers and the ISIS jihadists, there is a very similar pattern.

First there is the motivation, which as we know from the countless cases of American teenage mass-murderers, is often a very weak kind of excuse that becomes hardened over time more by a process of reinforced self-delusion than brainwashing or even ideology. Although many of the teenage jihadists may well think their reward lies in the afterlife, my guess is that it is rather more nihilistic and much more about going down in a blaze of glory. It is likely that it is more images of a Hollywood hero dying in the final few frames of a movie with a grim smile and suitable background music than images of an eternity worshipping Allah that motivated them towards what most of us would consider the ultimate sacrifice.

Secondly there is the means. In America, these are bought over the counter at Walmart and other reputable stores. It’s not that difficult to buy weapons in Sweden and Norway (although mostly as protection against bears and wolves). And Islamic State has the necessary stash of weaponry in Syria and Iraq and also has the means to distribute these lethal weapons to French, Belgian and other teenage militants should they show the willing to use them.

Thirdly, there is the planning which when stretched over a long time and conducted sufficiently dispassionately, will make the whole exercise into a kind of game that appeals to an aspect of human nature that we all share and that is the need for a kind of purpose and meaning to our daily lives. The problem with the planning involved here is that the end result isn’t to pass an exam, catch the right combination of trains and planes to get on holiday or organise a pension, but to be involved in action that will almost certainly end in the perpetrators’ death.

The preparation and cost ultimately leads to a sequence of events that for those engaged is probably more like a video game. It is exciting, it is deadly and, for the kind of people most attracted to it, the carnage and chaos is undoubtedly fun.

Which it most definitely wasn’t for those in the cafes, restaurants and concert theatre where the guns and bombs were used.

I don’t know what the right response to all this should be and I guess the security services and the elected governments have a duty to apprehend the criminals and secure the safety of ordinary citizens. And after so much provocation, I would be surprised if the conflict in the Middle East doesn’t lead to a more conventional kind of warfare. But this has all become very ugly, will become uglier still and there will be much injustice perpetrated on both sides before it’s resolved.

What I don’t expect to see is the same restraint practised by the National Rifle Association and the American Republican Party towards the continued sale of lethal weapons in the United States extended towards the rights and freedoms of Muslims whether in America or on the other side of the globe.


A Dick’s Life

A Dick's Life

A Dick’s Life

Recently I read an article in the London Review of Books about Creative Writing, and besides being a very interesting account of how much modern writing has been determined by the mechanical spirit of Creative Writing courses, it mentioned a type of fictional conceit I’ve not tried out before.

Heavens knows I’ve tried my hand at most fictional conceits including backwards stories (Peace Returns), dialogue only stories (Vagina Dialogue) and diaries (Cottage Life). But I haven’t really explored the “surprising point of view” trick, at least not insofar as I’ve used a non-human perspective such as that used in Joseph Addison’s ‘Adventures of a Shilling’ (1710), as mentioned in the article, or the more pertinent and more famous The Autobiography of a Flea.

So here is my modest contribution, the story of a penis’ life known evocatively as A Dick’s Life.

To be honest, there isn’t much to the story. It tells the life of the penis of a man who obviously enjoys using it (a lot), but is still studiously heterosexual (I didn’t want to write a “Penis Dialogue” to accompany Vagina Dialogue). I’ve promoted it as satire, but I’d say that the satirical elements are mostly well hidden unless readers believe that the “Dick” of the title happens to be someone called “Richard” or whether the character of a philandering male is the same as that of a dick (in the pejorative sense) which it may well be.

There is a limit to how much can be written from an entirely phallic perspective for the story to remain interesting to read. There isn’t much surprising character development, action remains mostly below the waist and I haven’t given Dick much of a distinct voice.

However, in some ways this story is similar to my I Remember Erewhon which is another attempt to show a person’s life from a novel perspective which tries to capture the scope and limitations of life, from birth through youth and middle-age to decrepitude and death (although I Remember Erewhon doesn’t go all the way).

However, I hope it’s a story that many will enjoy and perhaps even relate to.


Story Ending

Reading Comprehension by SRS Vision

Reading Comprehension by SRS Vision

I recently got a comment on Literotica for my story Under One Sun which essentially complained that the story ended too soon and too abruptly.

I’ve received a few complaints like this recently, not least for Glade and Ivory which at least took thirty chapters and 130,000 words until it reached the end. Similar remarks have been made about other stories I’ve written, followed sometimes by a request to write subsequent chapters.

So, clearly, it could be said that I have a problem in bringing my stories to a satisfactory end.

In my defence, I’ll say that it isn’t always that easy to determine what the end of a story should be. And that’s because the end of a story isn’t supposed to be just the point at which the author had run out of ideas, although my guess this is often what has happened for some writers and even more often what it seems like.

The end of a story serves a number of very important functions. Sometimes it is where there is a twist in the narrative such as in my stories, People are Strange and The Fix. Sometimes it’s where the story provides some kind of moral message. At other occasions it works to tie up all the loose ends, particularly in a very long story such as The Sot-Weed Factor and most novels prior to the twentieth century. Whatever its function, the end of the story is supposed to offer some kind of a resolution to what’s happened before. It serves pretty much the function of the last two lines of a sonnet, which may turn upside down what seemed to be the thrust of the text until then or simply to reinforce or bring to a natural end the general proceeding.

And this, I guess, is a general weakness of mine.

In some cases, like Into the Unknowable the final chapter was written long before most of the novel’s body was written and the narrative is all about how to get there. But in Glade and Ivory and, indeed, Under One Sun the end seems somewhat arbitrary. It might suggest resolution or it might suggest that more is yet to follow. This is the problem of stories that don’t begin “Once upon a time…” and end “They all lived happily ever after.”

Although it’s clearly far from obvious in many of my stories, I do have an idea what the end of the story might be, but I’m aware that there may often be scope for improvement. In Under One Sun, the final phrase “I do” was supposed to evoke the modern institution of marriage, just as throughout the story I deliberately threw in references that might seem to be anachronistic, like the names Fern and Heather and the use of the term “What the heck”. However, I’m not sure what is truly anachronistic in a story of this nature given that we have a lot in common with our Neolithic ancestors and many customs that might seem contemporary, such as naming people after green vegetation, might well have happened in the many thousands of years preceding the written record.

But as well as not being quite the resolution that, in this case, Anonymous  might prefer, I guess there is also the suggestion that some of my stories, such as Under One Sun should be either longer or be the first chapter of a novel. In this case, I’m not sure Under One Sun has enough going for it to be extended to novel length. Ironically, I had originally intended to write a quarter of a million word novel on Neolithic Britain and this was going to be part of it, but further reflection convinced me that it was difficult to get much narrative and plot out of such a setting without losing my way and probably lose my readership at the same time.

So, I’m afraid we’ll just have to be satisfied with what we’ve got.

Under One Sun

Frank Frazetta - Angel Hair

Frank Frazetta – Angel Hair

This post is to announce that I’ve added a new Short Story Under One Sun to all the usual places where I publish my fiction. Like Glade and Ivory and Big Game, this story has a prehistoric setting, hence the illustration above by Frank Frazetta.

The setting is actually a lot more recent than the other two stories in that they were set in the Ice Age and this story is set in the early Neolithic in the period when agriculture was beginning to be established in Britain where this story is set.

In a sense, the prehistoric setting is almost incidental to the thrust of the story although it gives me an opportunity to speculate about life at that time.  It assumes a summer solstice pilgrimage that is attended by everyone who is able to do so throughout the British Isles and which ceremony serves a purpose rather like the pilgrimages in Mediaeval Christianity and modern-day Islam to hold together disparate communities and cultures in a shared peaceful ritual. But its general theme which relates to an encounter between a young girl and a young man from very different cultures could easily have been set at any time and any place in history.

In a deliberate attempt to make this prehistoric society seem more modern than it really is and thereby make its theme seem more timeless, I gave the two sisters at the centre of the story the names Heather and Fern which seem rather contemporary although they were just as likely to have been used several thousand years ago.

There aren’t very many stories written by anyone that covers Neolithic society. Most stories that deal with prehistory prefer a time when there were mastodon and great ground sloth in America and mammoth and woolly rhinoceros in Europe. Although there was a quite different fauna in Neolithic Europe than today, it wasn’t quite as exciting and with the exception of such animals as aurochs and the great auk most of the animals that lived then are much the same as today but in larger numbers. The biggest differences relate to domestic animals and cultivated fruits and vegetables, but these don’t make very exciting reading for those of us who like to imagine a prehistoric world more like the one that Raquel Welch inhabited than that of Ötzi the Ice Man. Personally, I think this period of history is worth writing about in rather more depth than I have in this story, but as I realised when I originally contemplated writing a 64 chapter novel set in Neolithic Britain there is so much that’s unknown that it would be difficult to do so with any confidence of accuracy and also quite hard to make it especially interesting to the average reader who justifiably would prefer to read about a much more exotic landscape than one that in many ways isn’t too different to that of today.

But I’m sure there’s someone out there with more knowledge than I have of Neolithic society who could write those missing historical novels and who could incorporate the megaliths of Dorset and the Orkneys along with the various observable changes in prehistoric society that might reflect, perhaps, the incredible longevity of a society in the British Isles which congregated at Stonehenge and the other prehistoric sites, the abrupt breakdown of this society in the Bronze Age and the construction of Hill Forts all across Southern England, and the evidence of remarkably extensive prehistoric trade and commerce around Europe and beyond.

Alif: Review

Bruno di Maio: Come Amor

Bruno di Maio: Come Amor

Over a decade ago, in fact in 2001, I posted on the internet my novel, Alif, which has appeared in many places and some which I’d never expected.

I didn’t write it as a sex novel and there is, indeed, rather less sex contained in its pages than in, say, Women in Love or One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, but seeing as the novel is set in a State Brothel and given that one of the protagonists, Binta, is naked throughout virtually all the novel, not to mention that the central relationship in the novel is between two women there are plenty of salacious references which would normally be a natural fit for an erotic novel.

However, the well-travelled reader will have noticed that the novel’s title refers to the first letter in the Arabic alphabet and that many of the names of characters and places are of Arabic derivation. In fact, despite the fact that the main religion of the Republic of Alif is a form of Christianity, it is obvious that this fictitious society and the world it inhabits is more Arabic than Western, although it could just as easily be Eastern Europe in the years of the Cold War or indeed any nation in the World that aspires to be developed but isn’t quite yet a member of the world’s wealthiest countries. And such nations have tended towards an arbitrary legal system, some idiosyncratic cultural biases and a peculiar mix of the enlightened and the barbaric.

All this is to celebrate that my novel has been reviewed in GoodReads which can be read by following the link. The reviewer is Lbousson, an American with a voracious appetite for reading and in a very wide range indeed. I don’t know whether Lbousson is a man or a woman, but for convenience I shall refer to the reviewer as “she”. And she has written a rather nice review of Alif which can be read here. She’s also reviewed Glade and Ivory, but like Bluerabella she isn’t happy with the relatively abrupt end of the novel. (Perhaps I should have added a few more chapters after all!)

Lbousson is puzzled whether Alif A Satire is the same novel and I can assure her that it is. I don’t know why the subtitle has become conflated with the title (as it sometimes has with Omega whose subtitle is “A Satirical Phantasy”). But I am delighted that she says that my novel “was a great way to spend the weekend.”

And I can think of no greater praise than that!




Glade and Ivory: Review

Glade and Ivory

Glade and Ivory

It’s a huge treat when one of my novels gets reviewed and (let’s be honest) it isn’t something that happens every day. So I was delighted when Bluerabella chose to review my novel Glade and Ivory on a website called LibraryThing which is “a community of 1,900,000 book lovers” that “connects you to people who read what you do“. And an excellent thing it is too.

Bluerabella’s review can be found here, so there’s no need for me to quote her review in this blog. She is a fan of reading and as she makes clear in her review, Jean M. Auel‘s series of novels about the Stone Age are a particular favourite of hers. So, inevitably she compares  Glade and Ivory to the Earth’s Children series and, perhaps not surprisingly, my novel is found wanting. On the other hand, it has never been my ambition to write a novel in the style of Jean M. Auel (whose fiction I’ve still not been bothered to read), so I don’t feel too bad about that.

However, Bluerabella makes a number of points which I guess I ought to respond to, but by doing so I don’t wish to give the impression that her review isn’t considered, reasonable or worth reading in its own right. She quite rightly says that Glade is the more roundly drawn character of she and Ivory, and though it was never my intention for that to be the case I can’t deny that this is almost certainly true. She also says that the end of the story was “a little too abrupt” which again may be the case. I suppose I was worried that the kind of end I wantedwhich was to conclude with Glade’s death, Glade’s remembered acceptance into Ivory’s tribe, and the direction Ivory subsequently takes her peoplemight have been diluted by too much wordy exposition.

The only part of Bluerabella’s review that I found disturbing was when she says that “To call the novel satirical is stretching the definition of that word a bit too far”. She admits that it contrasted with the “honey-glazed sweetness like the Jean M. Auel novels are”, but that “satire has at its heart caustic wit” and that this is “wanting in this novel”

As no one has ever accused me of not being sufficiently satirical before, I think I should give Bluerabella’s view the consideration it deserves. I think she may well be right. I’m so used to thinking of my fiction as satirical, because so much of it is, that I suppose I assumed that Glade and Ivory, because I wrote it, must also be satirical.

In truth, the satire is not as obvious or as prevalent as it is in most of my fiction. It isn’t parody (even of Jean M. Auel), it doesn’t present a dystopian society, and it makes no obvious comments about the present day world. I suppose it presents a set of alternative societies and attitudes which could be seen as social commentary, but then that may not be of enough force to be considered a “satire”. It certainly isn’t Jonathan Swift, George Orwell, William Makepeace Thackeray, Alexander Pope or even Jane Austen. So, I may well be guilty as charged however much I might protest.

Still, as Bluerabella is so kind to say, Glade and Ivory  is “Recommended for those looking for a rather more depraved version of Jean M. Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear series”. This may never have been my original ambition, but I am of the opinion that an author’s intention is less significant than what the reader makes of what they’ve read.