Thursday, 29 November 2007

Iain M Banks

Just back from seeing him being interviewed by Farah Mendlesohn at Imperial, and us all eating curry afterwards. I can't write about Matter yet, though I don't think it's giving too much away to say that I think it's very good. What he certainly is is a star turn as a speaker. I particularly like his frank acknowledgement that a large part of the fun of science fiction rests on no more than naked wish fulfillment. Banks has no time, he claimed, for the Calvinist view that life is there to be endured. As long as your idea of fun isn't shooting up a school, why not have fun and realize your wishes?
That seems reasonable, though not in my view incompatible with a cheery sort of belief (Chesterton rather than John Knox, perhaps). It was nice to see a writer admit to the one thing that really marks the good work in the genre, and which almost everyone else denies hotly. If sf is going to work, you need to feel the writer thinks he's coming up with really cool stuff (even if he disapproves of it).

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Rejoice! Rejoice!

As that fat old fraud and bilker Ted Heath said when Mrs Thatcher fell from power. It may be moderately alarming that the Inland Revenue (train your children to say "Boo! Hiss! Behind You!" at this point) has managed to lose the intimate financial details of half the UK's adult population.
And it may be small beer compared with the 300 cameras on which we are captured each day, and which Uncle Zip is happy to use as screensavers.
Perhaps it will mean fraudsters will try to empty my bank account, or yours.
But on the bright side it means this: anyone who wants to make the case for ID cards is self-evidently, and on every empirical basis known to human rationality, completely barking mad or evil.
Cut out today and yesterday's front page stories and photocopy them. Send them to your MP twice a day.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Blue in Greene

As Hargreaves came in, the rain dripping from his Burberry, the cracked bell from the churchtower behind the pub was sounding for Low Mass. He had often considered stepping through the door of the ugly redbrick church but, on the only occasion he had ventured as far as the threshold, the bell had brought to mind a moment from his schooldays, and he had retreated instead to the Red Lion.

It would do no good anyway, and the sausages in the Red Lion were excellent, even if the bitter was indifferent. Sometimes he drank the mild instead, but it was not much better. Besides, he did not really like mild.

“Hello, Lily,” he said, fumbling amongst the old tram tickets in his overcoat pocket for coins.

“The usual, dearie?” She smelled of soap and pork pies, and had already poured his half pint. “And what will it be today? A ham sandwich?”

“No, I think a pork pie,” he said.

“We’re clean out of them,” said Lily cheerfully. “I sold the last two to those gents there.” She waved vaguely towards the corner where Hargreaves usually sat.

There were seldom pork pies still to be had at ten past one, but Hargreaves never felt that he could leave the office until Jennings came back in.

Jennings usually took a girl from the typing pool to the Old Ship; she would come back, two ports and lemon later, but unmolested. Despite his sports car and his broad hints, Jennings seldom got anywhere very much, Hargreaves thought. The girls in the typing pool had fathers who were brigadiers, and brothers who were high up in the Treasury, or the FCO. They had bigger fish to fry.

“A ham sandwich, then,” he said. “Some crisps?”

“Cheese and onion do you, dearie?”

“Haven’t you any ready salted?”

“Fraid not, love.”

He seemed destined to be disappointed today.

“Oh, cheese and onion, I suppose.” He perched at the bar, self-consciously and uncomfortably, and took the newspaper from his briefcase, pulling it from between The Eagle – bought for Sam – and his copy of the Jerusalem Bible, with sections heavily underlined.

“Six and ninepence, dearie,” said Lily. He found that he had only five shillings and sixpence in his pocket.

“Haven’t you a friend who’ll cash you a cheque?”

“Yes, yes, I suppose so. Later, perhaps.”

“Never mind, love,” she said, unapologetically taking the coins he offered apologetically. “I know you. I’ll trust you.”

She knew him; she would trust him. He thought of his friends and colleagues, the stratagems they adopted.

The ease with which they dealt with one another, with tradesmen, with members of the Party, as easily as Sam, back at home near Woking (or as his wife insisted, near Guildford) played with the puppy. Would he trust himself? Did she know him?

He felt in his pocket for the broken plastic rosary that he had found in the street that morning. No one would want it now. Any pretence it had had of magic would surely have gone. And yet its owner had presumably hoped that this cheap piece of tat would put her (for some reason Hargreaves was sure it would have been a women) in touch with a world beyond this one. What a lot of nonsense it was.

It was like the office’s certainties and secure measures. No, it was like the Party’s diktats and chalked messages on trees. No, it was like the difficulties you had with your wife, her telling you to come home, and go easy on the J&B. No, it was like a cheap competition in a shoddy newspaper.

Where was it you could buy tickets to Central America?

If only my vacuum cleaner worked.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Hello, Iain M Banks fans!

I'm reading Matter. Ha!

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Norman Mailer is dead

To tell you the truth, I'm not that bothered about the work. It's work for the reader, with insufficient reward (had a go at Ancient Evenings?). It's his role in gossip and litcrit circles which is fun. Specifically the fact that he thumped Gore Vidal. Once in the Green Room of the Dick Cavett Show in 1971, when he butted him.
I don't like "headbutt" – a butt has to be done by the head, and if it means you butt someone TO the head, well, where are you going to butt them? on the knee?
Then seven years later, at a party, he threw a glass at him and, by some accounts, including Vidal's ("I saw this tiny fist coming at me"), punched him. Still on the floor, Vidal announced: "Words fail Norman Mailer. Yet again."
All that muscular nonsense American novelists go in for. How many times did Hemingway shoot himself, fall downstairs, or into fires, or all that rubbish?
Anyway, Vale.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Smoke, Mirrors, Snow, Glass, Apples

I wrote very early on in this blog about Neil Gaiman's work. Since it's his birthday tomorrow, I thought I'd get him the 25 pence worth of royalties or whatever it is is by buying something he'd written.
Needless to say, I still haven't got round to any of the graphic novel stuff. Give me time. And strength.
Smoke and Mirrors includes a wonderful fairytale reversal. Not quite as completely good in its Weltanshaung as Sondheim's Into the Woods, but in its own way almost more perfectly pitched; fantastically nasty, scary and clever.