The Human Factor Uploaded to Scribd – by someone else!

Weird and unlikely things happen when you distribute your work for free over the internet. And it seems that my story The Human Factor has been downloaded from Feedbooks and uploaded to Scribd.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. I guess the guy who did just liked the story, which is good and isn’t gaining commercially from it – although Scribd are of course through advertising – whereas there is no advertising on Feedbooks.

Writers – what do you think? Are you happy to see your work distributed for free by others if you have already made it free?

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Alt Hist magazine submissions coming along nicely

A bit less blogging recently because I have been concentrating on managing the flow of submissions to Alt Hist. We’ve had quite a good number of submissions in and I am received to say that a lot of these are good enough to be published. Some have not quite made the grade, but so far three have – as I blogged about on the Alt Hist site. Of those that have been rejected, some of them were very good, but didn’t quite do it for me. As well as quality I am also looking for stories that I like, which I suppose is what all Editors do in the end – you have to be subjective, if you don’t like a story, it’s unlikely that your readers will either.

If you are writing short pieces of historical fiction or alternate history then please do visit Alt Hist and submit your work. I would also love to see some non-fiction too – reviews and features about historical fiction and alternate history.

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The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini: Book Review

First paperback edition book cover
Image via Wikipedia

Fact is stranger than fiction, and fiction is nothing unless it tells the truth. Powerful and moving stories often tell us something true about life, about the world and about ourselves, even if the details have been manufactured inside the author’s brain. The Kite Runner, one of the most popular more high-brow novels of recent years has been successful because of the moving story it tells of human weakness and redemption, set in a country, Afghanistan, that we have all become more familiar with for all the wrong reasons.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini tells the story of Amir, son of a privileged oligarch living in Kabul during the 1970s in Afghanistan. Amir grows up alongside Hassan, the hare-lipped son of the family’s principal servant Ali. Although of a very different background, Hassan is Amir’s childhood companion, yet at the same time is also resented by Amir, who is jealous of any affection shown the boy by his own father. The story covers Amir’s struggles to come to terms with his relationship with Hassan and his father, and historically covers the period from the end of the monarchy in the 1970s to the US invasion in 2001.

The book is a quick read although also a harrowing one, with death, rape, guilt and destruction common presences throughout its pages. I can’t say much more about the plot without giving away too much, but I would recommend that you read it yourself.

Although the Kite Runner is a heart-wrenching and powerful story, I get the feeling, especially during the last act of the book that rather present a “real” story of this war-ravaged country, the author is carving out a book with a powerful narrative arc, one that hits all the emotional and thematic buttons – for instance the kites and the redemption of being able to make up to Hassan by adopting his son etc etc. It’s all a bit too convenient and well-fitting. So despite the truly harrowing and sad story, the book left me feeling that I had ready something contrived rather than something true.

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Cheltenham Literary Festival: British Science Fiction: Moorcock, Banks and Mieville

Sounds pretty top drawer to me – and I thought all Cheltenham was famous for was horse racing!

Here’s details of the event:

Iain M Banks, Gwyneth Jones, Michael Moorcock and China Miéville: British Science Fiction

Sunday 17 October 2010 at 4:00 pm (60mins)
Event 317 at The Inkpot
Price: £6 (reserved seating)
(member price: £4.80) more

From H G Wells to John Wyndham, Britain has been home to some of the most groundbreaking and successful classic science fiction writers. Explore past classics and the best of the current crop as authors Iain M BanksGwyneth JonesMichael Moorcock and Guest Director China Miéville discuss this very British tradition.
Programmed by China Miéville.

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“Midway along the journey of our life” – Great Medieval Verses

From Canto I of Dante’s Inferno:

Midway along the journey of our life
I woke to find myself in a dark wood,
for I had wandered off from the straight path.

These are the opening lines to Dante’s great poem, and probably the most famous poem of the Middle Ages. What better way to start off a new series of posts about great poetic verses from Medieval poetry.

There is so much going on in these three lines, a lot of symbolism and allegory already, but also a suggestion of the clear descriptive style that Dante uses to such great effect in his poetry. Let us take the verse line by line:

Midway along the journey of our life

With the word “our” Dante makes this poem not only about him but about us as well, an allegory that we should be taking note of as well. In the Middle Ages mortal life was seen as a journey or pilgrimage, with the ultimate goal being Heaven, thus the journey that the poet travels is through the three possibilities for a person after death: Hell, Purgatory or Heaven. The poet is notionally midway through his life in the setting of the poem as he was born in 1265 and the poem takes place in 1300.

I woke to find myself in a dark wood,

Oh dear, things can’t be good for Dante, he’s in  dark wood, which I imagine can’t be bad thing. The simple phrase “dark wood” is a great example of the simple descriptive style, it conjures up so many allusions to being lost, to being afraid, to being isolated and outcast and to being in a dangerous place, that Dante need to say very little more than this (although he does expand on the bitterness and savagery of the place in subsequent verses).

for I had wandered off from the straight path.

And now we know why Dante is in a “dark wood”. He has gone off the straight path to God for some reason. He has sinned perhaps or has let his attention drift from the proper goal of a Christian’s life – i.e. the pilgrimage or journey towards God mentioned in the first line of the poem.

It’s not the religious content that attracts me to this verse, but the sheer simplicity and depth of meaning which is conveyed by these three lines. They effectively set-up the whole premise for the Divine Comedy.

Here’s an alternative translation and the original Italian from the Princeton Dante Project:

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
ché la diritta via era smarrita.

Midway in the journey of our life
I came to myself in a dark wood,
for the straight way was lost.

Expect to see a few more choice verses from Dante’s work coming up in future posts.

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How to Read Science Fiction: M John Harrison. Toby Litt and Nalo Hopkinson

Interesting talk on Science Fiction being promoted at the Cheltenham Literature Festival on Saturday, 16th October. Some people you might have heard of are involved, see below for the organizer’s blurb:

Are you open-minded about science fiction but don’t know where or how to start? For an introduction to some recommended reads and an expert guide to this alien world join Toby Litt, author of Journey Into Space, Nalo Hopkinson, and Arthur C Clarke Award-winning author of Nova Swing, M John Harrison, as they explore some beguiling writing.

Programmed by China Miéville.

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Ghostmaker by Dan Abnett: Book Review

Ghostmaker by Dan AbnettGhostmaker by Dan Abnett is the first Warhammer or Warhammer 40k tie-in novel that I have read.

When I was a teenager I was an enthusiastic player of Warhammer and to a lesser extent Warty Thou as we we called Warhammer 40K. The Black Library books have now become a publishing force in their own right that is just part of the massive Warhammer franchise. It really is impressive to see what the Games Workshop guys have done over the last 20 or so years. I do still yearn for those youthful days when White Dwarf was a bit more accessible and not just a Games Workshop mag – you could have all sorts of articles in there once upon a time, as long as they were RPG related.

Ghostmaker by Dan Abnett follows the fortunes of Gaunt’s Ghosts or the Tanith First and Only regiment that he commands. The book takes us from their unfortunate formation (there were supposed to be three regiments, but when Gaunt gave the order to abandon their home planet, most of the troops were lost), through a number of battle encounters with the forces of Chaos. Chaos seems to be the main enemy nowadays, although I do remember Space Orks used to play quite a big role, but perhaps not now?

The plot is fairly episodic with each chapter based on a separate engagement, but there are threads running through it – for instance the resentment felt by one of the characters, Major Rawne, towards the hard-faced Gaunt, who he hates for letting Tanith be destroyed. But I do get the impression that the book works almost like a comic strip (where Abnett) has his routes, with each chapter forming almost a separate story. I have also read that the book is made up of a collection of short stories from Inferno! magazine, which would explain things.

Between each chapter the story swings back to the planet Monthax where the Tanith First and Only are currently based, each of these interludes serves to introduce the next story in effect. However, we do eventually end up with the last fifth of the book telling us what happened to the regiment on Monthax. It’s quite a good ending to the book – a good way to bring some of the characters together.

The book is perhaps a bit too geared towards war and battles for my liking – it can be unrelenting, and sometimes this just becomes a bit of a blur as you read – one section could be much like another. However, it is well written, gritty and page-turning stuff. I can see myself trying one or two more of these books. Especially if they are less episodic than this one.

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Archaeologists say Hartlington Stones in Yorkshire Dales were Medieval furnaces

There’s an odd illogicality to this story – the medieval stones are only 114 years old??

Interesting though that such a large scale bakery would exist in a village – you would imagine most villagers would bake their own. I wonder what was going on?

The full story is at Culture 24

Here’s an excerpt:

Archaeologists believe a set of 114-year-old stones found in a sleepy Yorkshire Dales village may have been used as a furnace in a mass Medieval bakery.

The Hartlington Stones, which were discovered in 1896 on a village green near Burnsall, were thought to have been used as part of a corn drying kiln, an important agricultural device used in the Medieval and post-Medieval periods to ripen corn for harvesting or dry crops before they were ground into flour.

Investigators were forced to revisit the stones after experts from the National Park Authority found clear differences between their appearance and the formation of another kiln in nearby Kilnsey.

The team is currently toying with the idea that it might have been a communal bread oven says Dr David Johnson, the archaeologist leading the inquiry.

“The structure is also very near to the site of the Medieval manor house and lords of the manor controlled bread baking in the community as they saw it as a source of income for themselves, so the oven’s location fits.

Historians knew there was an oven within the ancient parish, but until now attempts to pinpoint its location have remained inconclusive.