The Turing Test by Chris Beckett

March 28, 2009

The Turing Test is written by one of my favourite authors, Chris Beckett, and is a collection 14 short stories that originally appeared in Asimov’s and Interzone.

Now, as it says in Al Reynold’s introduction to the book, in a perfect world you wouldn’t need me to tell you why you need to read this collection, but, sadly, this is not yet a perfect world. 

So why read it?

Well, Chris Beckett writes a form of literary SF that is under-represented in the shoot ’em first and then torture ’em later sort of Sci Fi that makes up the bulk of stuff published today.  He has a facility for taking a straightforward idea and then drawing out the story for the reader to see.  What emerges can leave you with the feeling I should have thought of that, accompanied by a growing sense of unease at where the story is going to take you, a little like being trapped on a genteel roller coaster that you know is going to take you, despite its leisurely pace, on an extremely uncomfortable ride.  All this written in a economical but descriptive style that is easy to read to but deceptively hard to master.

Now, as I’ve said before, this blog doesn’t do reviews, (In case you’ve forgotten, it does Robots and Accordions), so if you want to know more you’ll have to search elsewhere (and I suggest that you do), but think on this:

Chris Beckett’s reputation is growing all the time, but there’s still time to get in on the ground floor and have the great pleasure in later years of saying “I told you so”.



March 26, 2009


If you have a subscription to Nature Magazine, you might want to look out for my short story TAKEAWAY,  appearing in the 19th March edition. 

If you don’t have a subscription, you can view the article for a  one off payment of $32.  To be honest, you would be better waiting for an anthology of my stories, if I ever get the time to do something about producing one.

Signing: Forbidden Planet

March 25, 2009
I’ll be signing copies of Twisted Metal at the Forbidden Planet Megastore, 179 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, WC2H 8JR, on Saturday 2nd May from 1 – 2pm.
Follow the link to find out more


March 20, 2009

I saw the Watchmen film last night, and yes, I enjoyed it.  There were some things about it that could have been better, its true, but overall it was an intelligent bit of Sci Fi with a superb soundtrack featuring, amongst others, Jimi Hendrix and Philip Glass .

But let’s be honest.  The reasons this film didn’t work as well as we hoped weren’t the fault of the director, but rather of the original graphic novel. Face it, the film was never going to capture the attention to detail of the original book, nor would the viewer ever be given the leisure to pick up on the subtle clues that were hidden amongst the frames and the prose of the comic strip.  The movie had to focus on the story, and to its credit it did that, even improving on some of the things that never sat right in the original.  (For example, that automatic door that trapped Jon Osterman.  If you believe that the scientists would rig up such a dangerous device,then surely Jon would have been aware of its imminent closure when he went to fetch his watch.  And, in the prison riot scene, I never understood  how cutting the henchman’s throat helped Big Figure could get at Rorschach)  Above all, I was never quite convinced by the ending of the book, and I thought the film’s ending was slightly (slightly) more believable.

Is that too negative?  I don’t want to be.  Watchmen the comic was a stunning achievement on so many levels, but that wasn’t to say it didn’t have some flaws.  

All I’m saying is, let’s not blame the film for not living up to what we wanted it to be.


March 18, 2009

This years Alt.Fiction has been cancelled, or at least postponed until 2010. That’s a great shame, this small but excellently run Derby based event is one of my favourites. Apparently there may be some smaller events coming at the end of 2009. I hope so!

There is going to be a website detailing future progress. I’ll post the link here as soon as I get it.

Birmingham SF Group

March 16, 2009

I had the pleasure of meeting the Birmingham SF group on Friday.  This group has been meeting once a month since 1971 in the city centre, and are an excellent organisation with their own newsletter; a regular series of guest speakers;  they even give you the chance to pick up review copies of upcoming works.

 I gave a talk about what SF means to me, relating it to the writing of Twisted Metal.  After the meeting the group discussed various topics over some excellent real ale.  As an added bonus I was given a brief tour of the city centre.

It makes me wonder why we can’t do the same in the Manchester region.

If you live in the Birmingham area, follow the link to find out more.

If you live in the Manchester region, why not send me an email to say what you think?

The Bramble Briar

March 13, 2009

The Bramble Briar, sometimes known as Bruton Town, is a  folk song that dates back to the 14th Century.  In it, a young woman’s lover is murdered by her two brothers because they feel he is too low born for her.  They hide the body in a ditch filled with the briars of the title.

You can find the lyrics here:  My favourite versions are by Martin Simpson  and Bert Jansch.  Bellowhead offer a nice twist on their recent album “Matachin”

Now, I’m currently in the middle of the still untitled Twisted Metal 2, and The Bramble Briar keeps running through my head.  This is probably because TM is partly inspired by old ballads (there is a good reason for this which I’ll probably talk about another time),  but it’s also because a couple of weeks ago I was stuck on a plot point and I was struck by the following …

In the ballad, the young woman dreams that her murdered lover comes to her and tells her about his death.  She goes out next morning and finds his bloody body in the ditch.   Now you couldn’t get away with that sort of a development nowadays.  The woman’s lover is gone.  How is the writer going to get her to find him and thus advance the plot?  Will she ask around, look for clues, think about his likely behaviour, question her brothers motives further?   All that would take time and would involve a lot of thought on the writers part to make it work.  So no, she just has a dream and it all gets explained.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not having a go at all those men and women who contributed to the ballad’s present form, after all things were very different then and writing was still developing.  But writers today fall into the ‘explain everything by having a dream’  trap.  I do it myself. 

But lets be honest, it’s lazy.  And I really don’t think there is any excuse for this nowadays.


March 9, 2009

I just finished Greg Egan’s Incandescence.  Now, this is not a review, after all, that’s not what this blog is about (it’s about Robots and Accordions if you were wondering), but there are two great things in this great book I thought worth mentioning.

First, it’s clever.  Better,  it celebrates cleverness.  Part of the book deals with an alien society living in an enclosed world who gain an understanding of the universe just by watching the motion of rocks. It’s fascinating to watch as the society develops number, and then algebra, and then a general theory of relativity, all based on the observation of the  tiny world around them.

Second, it’s logical.  It doesn’t rely on coincidence or emotion (which is not say that there is no emotional connection with the characters) to drive the plot forward.  The book is built on the same foundations as the universe, the story unfolds according to natural laws, and is no less satisfying for this.

Now, this is not a book for everyone. You need some maths and physics to get to grips with it.  But so what?  There’s nothing wrong with writing something challenging.

Another Point of View

March 6, 2009

Anyone wanting to write for the US market would do well to remember they don’t like head hopping over there.  By that I mean they prefer each section written from one point of view. 

And good on them, I say.  Personally, I prefer stories written in third person, past tense, strict point of view.  I don’t mind first person occasionally, but that’s it.  When I see anything else I usually suspect that the writer is using gimmicks to disguise thin content.  Strict POV is not difficult:  if you want to show another character’s thoughts, stick in a line break and start a new section.

Anyway, why mention this?  Well,  I spent yesterday working at the still untitled Twisted Metal 2, a novel set on a world populated by robots.  One of the interesting things about SF is it forces you to write from points of view you wouldn’t encounter in regular fiction.  Writing from a robot’s point of view means that many expressions can’t be used: expressions like ‘heart pounding’, ‘breathless exhaustion’ and ‘sick to the stomach’ to name but a few.  Robots don’t have hearts, stomachs and they don’t breath, so why would they use these terms?

This makes writing harder, not least in getting the reader to empathise with the characters.  But I think it makes writing more interesting.  At the very least, it avoids cliche.

Folk Music

March 3, 2009

I went to a folk music concert this weekend. This may put you in mind of bearded men playing fiddles and guitars, or women in long skirts singing old ballads, but this concert was neither of these things.

The concert took place in a village hall in Stainton, Teesside. It had been put together by the locals, and it began with one or two of them standing up and giving short recitals. One man sang a song, a second performed two tunes on the trumpet. After that it was time for the main act: Pearl Fawcett on the Accordion. Half time involved some of the locals bringing around trays of tea and biscuits. The second half took the form of the first, with some short recitals followed by more displays of Accordion virtuosity. I’m sure that to some readers, this may sound like musical hell…

Why mention this? Well, I’m a folk music fan. Recently I’ve seen Kate Rusby, Spiers and Boden, Bellowhead and Show of Hands, to name but a few. All authentic British folk musicians delivering authentic British folk music. But if folk music is supposed to be the music of the people, then surely the Stainton Accordion concert is about authentic as it gets?

I’d like to have finished by quoting Joni Mitchell, and saying how Pearl played real good for free, but she charged £5 for a ticket.   Sometimes Real Life has to transcend Art.