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Diplomacy 101, and Cash for Stories

Sometimes I write these things and don’t post them immediately, and then they seem wildly out of date. But it’s still worth putting them out there. Blogging doesn’t have to be completely reactive. Sometimes it should take the longer-term, contemplative view. So I offer this.

It seems obvious to me that, if your navy personnel are captured by the forces of a foreign power, in peacetime, and accused of being in the foreign power’s waters, then what you should do is as follows:
You say, “Oops, sorry. Didn’t mean to have them off station; didn’t think they were, actually, but if they were, we’re sorry.” Even, and let me make this quite clear, if you know perfectly well that they weren’t in the other power’s territory.

That, it seems to me, would be the diplomatic thing to do

So why did they not do that? My best guess is that they – the British government – were worried about losing face.

‘Losing face.’ It’s a strange thing for the government of what is still a fairly major world power to be worrying about, isn’t it? After all, it’s not as if making such a guarded admission and apology would actually have done Britain any harm, would it?

And it might have got the captured service people home a few days earlier – and without being humiliated on TV – you never know. Perhaps, even, the Iranian government would have apologised in their turn, and admitted that they might have made a mistake.

That last seems almost likely, given that they did appear to concede quite graciously in the end. But what do I know? I’m neither diplomat nor politician, and there might be some way in which doing what I suggested right from the start would have been political suicide. And obviously things will have been going on in the background of which we know nothing. But still…

And then they get home and tell their stories. I seem to be the only person in the country who thinks like this, but I see no reason why they shouldn’t be allowed to profit from doing so. Somebody is going to profit from the stories being told, so why shouldn’t it be the ones to whom they happened?

Sure, if it’s against the rules of the service, then that’s the deal they signed up for. But since the Ministry of Defence authorised it, then at the very least, I don’t see how you can blame the sailors.

I speak as someone who likes to write; so if I imagine myself into a situation like that, I know I would want to write my story once I had escaped. And if I could go on to sell it for professional publication, then you’re damn right I would want to do so. Why not?

The reported reactions of some of the families of service personnel who have died in Iraq is, to my mind, a red herring. There’s no direct comparison. As far as I know, there’s nothing to stop those families from writing, telling, or selling their own stories, or those of their lost ones. If they choose not to, that’s fine. But the two situations are quite different.

Book Notes 25: The Family Trade, by Charles Stross

Charlie shows that he can write heroic fantasy as well as everything else. Except, of course, it isn’t really fantasy. When your hero discovers she can switch at will (or “world walk”) between the “real” world (present-day America) and an alternative world (geographically similar, inhabited, but never had industrialisation) then what you are dealing with seems a lot more like SF to me.

Of course, the alternative world works on a feudal system, and weapons are mediaeval (apart from ones that have been carried over from “our” world). So it has some of the tropes of fantasy, and more may develop. But it looks like there won’t be any magic other than the world-walking ability.

The main fault with it is that it shows its history as the first part of a much longer book which the publishers decided should be split in two. So just as it’s starting to get really interesting, it ends.

Oh well, I look forward to reading the second part, and its sequels.

Alias Doc and Martha

The new __Doctor Who__ episode was butt-kicking excellence! And Martha is a worthy successor to Rose.

Just replacing the sonic screwdriver like that was a bit of a copout, mind: given that it got destroyed, I thought that they might try to make something of him _not_ having it.

Still, that’s a very minor nitpick; it was much better than the start of the previous series (also set in a hospital, curiously).

A really strong start.

Updated to say: I’m guessing that the “Vote Saxon” poster is the first reference to whatever this season’s “Bad Wolf” may be.

Unless it’s just a reference to a dodgy heavy metal band.

[tags]doctor who, tv, sf[/tags]

Straight to Elgin Avenue

So I ordered the new Banksie from Amazon, and to get free delivery, of course, I had to order one or two other things, to bring the price up to the threshold. I tend to have a number of things queued up to buy when the time is right, so I selected some things from that list.

All three items I chose are things that I meant to get at the time they came out, but didn’t, for one reason or another. The book was Christopher Priest’s The Prestige, which I’ve meant to get since I read the reviews when it came out. I’m not sure why I never bought it (actually I did buy it once, but that was to give to a friend who had a particular interest in stage magic).

Anyway, my interest was recently rekindled because of the film coming out, of course. I may want to watch it one day, and I’m not going to read or not read something on the reported say-so of some film director. I can’t find a reference for that: the director is supposed to have said, “Don’t read the book before you see the film.” Though I suppose that I will, in effect, be doing exactly that — in a contrary way — by insisting on reading the book before seeing the film. Whatever: books come first.

But I didn’t bring you here to talk about books, for a change. No, this time it’s music. Because I also got two CDs from Amazon.

Regular readers might not be surprised to hear that I’m a huge fan of the late, and sadly missed,Joe Strummer. As such, I want to get a hold of anything he released that I don’t yet have. Now, during his so-called “wilderness years”, Joe did a lot of soundtrack work. I’ve got most of that on record, but I never got round to getting the soundtrack for Alex Cox’s Straight to Hell. I recall hearing a borrowed copy in ‘87 or so, and enjoying it, but not being overwhelmed by it. The one track I remembered was ‘Rake at the Gates of Hell’, by The Pogues, more of which later.

In the intervening years, I mostly forgot about the album. Once in a while I might have poked around a second-hand record shop, but it was low on my list of priorities. Recently, though, I discovered that it had been reissued, revised and expanded. Into my “buy later” list it went, until the other day.

As well, I discovered it was possible to jump back to an earlier part of Joe’s career, namely his pre-Clash band, the 101ers. Elgin Avenue Breakdown was originally released back in 19-something-or-other. At the time I was mildly interested, but saw no need to rush out and buy it. I had the ‘Keys to your Heart’ single, and it was OK, but nowhere near as good as the heights of The Clash. And Joe was still around, and we could expect new music from him in the future.

We are in that future now, of course, and we don’t have Joe anymore. So buying the 101ers’ album is a way to hear him again.

And a damn fine album it is. Straight ahead rock ‘n’ roll, jam-packed with bounce, verve and excitement. What it doesn’t have is the political sensibilities of The Clash. Or actually, it does have the first vestiges of them; and indeed, the first vestiges of The Clash’s excellent ‘Jail Guitar Doors’ (the B-side of ‘Clash City Rockers1‘), in the form of ‘Lonely Mothers Son’. And I’m sure that title should have an apostrophe in it, but I’m not sure where.

And the Straight to Hell soundtrack? It’s great. It’s mostly film music, of course: largely instrumentals. There are selections by Elvis Costello and Pray for Rain, as well as by The Pogues and Joe. Among the proper songs are one by Joe called ‘Evil Darling’, which is OK, and the original version of ‘If I Should Fall from Grace With God’, which The Pogues wrote during filming, apparently. Then there’s a version of ‘Danny Boy’, by the cast, led by Cait O’Riordan, and the album ends with ‘Rake at the Gates of Hell’.

It’s hard to express how good that song is. From the opening guitar riff, through Shane’s crazed-gunman-death-worshipper lyrics, to the shouldn’t-work-but-does device of the verse and chorus being exactly the same tune, it struts into your ears and rips your head apart. In a good way. I’ve hardly had it off repeat on my MP3 player since I got it.

Go and buy it. Now.

  1. In googling to check that I had the right A-side (how crap is my memory?) I discovered an excellent project that Billy Bragg is involved in. Check it out 

Apologise, explain?

Totally not sure about this one. Someone emails their MP and gets an accidentally-sent response (in the MP’s name? Not sure) calling the constituent’s mother-in-law “snotty”, and saying, effectively, “don’t rush to answer this, since they don’t like the government.”

So far, so unsurprising (though your attitude towards the government should not affect the service you get from it). But the MP has just been on the radio refusing to apologise.

She was very good on defending her staff: they’re professional, but they’re human. Fine, people make comments that shouldn’t become public, and mistakes get made. But surely an apology for the mistake would be in order?

I suspect that more will come of this.

Book Notes 24: Variable Star, by Robert A Heinlein and Spider Robinson

These are still the 2006 Book Notes. I’ll finish them soon, honest.

Heinlein used to be my absolute favourite author. Indeed, he is in large part responsible for me developing a lifelong love of science fiction. And I’m also very fond of Spider Robinson. So when I found out that this existed, obviously I had to buy it.

It seems that, sometime after the death of Heinlein’s widow Virginia, his literary executor discovered an outline that Heinlein wrote in 1955, but never expanded into a novel. If remarks by Heinlein, that Spider refers to in his afterword, are true, then it was John W Campbell who talked him out of doing so. Which seems strange, and rather sad. Still, if Heinlein had written that novel, it’s possible that we wouldn’t have had one of his other ones; and of course, we wouldn’t have this one.

Would that be a good or bad thing, though? That is what we are here to decide.

I became intensely irritated by the story early on. The first-person narrator is supposed to be eighteen years old at the start, and he just doesn’t sound like an eighteen-year old. I don’t mean the narrative voice: that would not be a problem, as we can assume that the narrator is supposed to be telling his story in later years. I’m talking about his dialogue, and particularly his thought processes.

Tied to this is the fact that we are left largely in the dark about the society on Earth where the novel starts. The only thing we learn is that sexual mores have gone backwards by several hundred years, in North America, at least. Our narrator and his beloved can’t move in together, or even just spend the night together (despite living independently from any parents or guardians): they have to get married if they want to have sex. That his how Spider gets round the fifties expectations of Heinlein’s outline, of course, but it doesn’t sound like any eighteen-year olds I’ve ever heard of.

Except, perhaps, those who subscribe to one of the world’s many anti-sex religions, which these two don’t. In fact, the handling of religion in this work is quite interesting.

It is slotted into the timeline of Heinlein’s ‘Future History’ stories. In that timeline, the name of Nehemia Scudder appears, but I don’t think there is a story in which he ever appears directly as a character. Scudder is some kind of Christian fundamentalist leader, who becomes, I think, the World President. In this novel we are after the time of the Prophets — Scudder and his successors — and the world is still recovering from the restrictions that were placed on life, on scientific research, by them: “We could have had immortality by now,” one character complains.

It’s a good story, but not as good as it could be. Robinson has obviously worked hard at “channelling” RAH, but it seems to me that there are parts of the story where things just don’t quite fit together, or totally make sense. Though this may in part due to the speed with which I read it.

It is, of course, a good thing when a book makes you read it quickly: it usually means that the plot is compelling and you are keen to find out how it will play out. But if it causes you to skim, and miss — or at least, imperfectly absorb — important information, then that’s not so good. Though I don’t think that can really be considered a criticism of a book.

It’s worth a read, and I suppose I might read it again at some point, to see whether I did just miss some bits; but I’d probably prefer to re-read, say Have Space Suit, Will Travel.

A Deadline Crash, and a Reading

Over the last few weeks I’ve been trying to write a Doctor Who short story. It was for a competition that Big Finish, publisher of DW books and CDs, were running. Alas, the closing date was the 31st of January, which is now past, and I didn’t finish it (does that make it a Small Finish?)

Still, I’m enjoying writing it, and intend to finish it anyway, just on general principles. It doesn’t do to go around having lots of unfinished pieces (and I speak as someone who has a great many unfinished things lying around, of one variety or another).

When I do finish it, I’ll probably put it online. Now my question is, does such a work now count as fanfic I suppose it does, on some level. Curious, because the winner of the competition gets professionally published, and that obviously isn’t fan fiction.

Still on a literary note, my friend Andrew was in town the other night, because he was one of the authors who was doing a reading that was organised by Farthing magazine. Until Andrew told me about the event, I didn’t even know that the publication existed.

It was a good night. I missed the first reading, by Anna Feruglio Dal Dan, but heard various drabbles, Andrew’s story, and two other fine stories.

During the interval I picked up the back issues of the magazine and took out a subscription. Then at the end we helped the Editor, Wendy Bradley, to carry some boxes back to her flat, and drank her whisky.

All in all, it was a fine night.

Homophobic Christians

I started writing this post while watching This Week again. This time they were talking, inevitably, about the new equal rights legislation (good legislation; from this government? Amazing.) The Catholic church is trying to have itself made exempt from the new law; and the Church of England has come out alongside it. Or at least John Sentamu has.

It looks like they’re going to be smacked down for now, which is good.

I was brought up as a Catholic, but I grew out of it, and am, like any sensible person, profoundly anti-religious now. And what I say to the Catholics who would try to destroy one of the few good, well-intentioned pieces of legislation that this government has brought in, is this:

We here in Britain are trying to build a tolerant, inclusive, multicultural society. If you can’t work within that, within the laws and regulations that govern adoption, then you shouldn’t be in the adoption business. And if you don’t like the way our society is developing, maybe you’d be happier elsewhere. I hear they’ve got quite a theocracy going in Iran.

Of course, there’s nothing to stop people saying the same to me, when I speak out against ID cards, for example. But that’s democracy for ya: full of contradictions.

And anyway, it could come to that yet.