Ken Drury

May 21, 2009

I usually keep my two jobs separate, but today I’m going to break that rule.

Ken Drury was the headmaster of my last school, the last Head but one that I served under. He died peacefully in his sleep earlier this week, and I wanted to take a moment to remember him.

He was a big believer in the school as part of the community, so as well as doing his best for pupils in the classroom, he encouraged wider events such as shows, walks, even firework displays to involve the local people.  Face it, these are things you remember from your childhood, not the grades you got in your exams.

Ken was not perfect, but then no one is.  He had a temper, he had his moods, but it’s not easy being the boss, and he got things right far more often than he got them wrong.  His style of management would probably be out of date today, but in my opinion it was the right one for the time and the circumstances.

Dagenham is a poorer place for his retirement and passing.

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Truth is Stranger than Science Fiction 1

May 18, 2009

Imagine an SF story set on a world where countries had long been at war.

After years of fighting, culminating in two devastating wars, an understanding is reached and the countries agree to a peace of sorts.  The occasional skirmish may still take place, there are some very nasty incidents of ethnic cleansing, but generally the populations get along. 

Now, instead of fighting, the countries have an annual contest to see who can write and perform the best song, choosing their best writers and performers to represent them.  The few countries who treat the whole thing as a joke are treated with suspicion at best.

You couldn’t write a story like this (or if you did, you would have trouble selling it, I’m sure) but this is what happens every year at the Eurovision Song Contest.  It took place this weekend, and for once, I watched it. Furthermore,  I enjoyed it, I thought the songs weren’t bad, I admired Andrew Lloyd Webber for sticking his head above the parapet, I thought the swimmers in the plastic pools suspended above the audience were truly amazing (and if you haven’t seen them, you should.)

And, not for the first time, I found myself wondering about how SF writers are supposed to think up new ideas when the real world is so much stranger.  It’s only the lack of robots in the competition that give me hope I’ll still be in a job next year.

My favourite entry?  Portugal, of course.  They had an accordionist in their act.


Pat Mills

May 12, 2009

I’ve included this entry in the Interviews category to make up for the fact that I forgot to mention Pat Mills…

Let me explain.  Interviews usually include a question along the lines of “Who are your biggest influences”, but it wasn’t until I was reading this weeks 2000AD I realised I hadn’t been mentioning one of my biggest: Pat Mills.  Now, its not within the scope of this blog to write biographies (its scope is Robots and Accordions, as I’ve mentioned before), so follow the link if you want to know more about him, but I’m including this entry to make up for Mills’s omission from recent interviews.

So why Pat Mills?  Well, his stories Robusters, ABC Warriors and Metalzoic all featured robots and were an undeniable influence on me, but there is more to it than that.

I grew up on three great comics writers, Alan Moore, John Wagner and Pat Mills.  Mills was always my favourite:  for the breadth of his imagination (Nemesis book 4 is surely the birth of Steampunk), his attention to detail (the research that went into Slaine spawned many imitators), but mostly for his depth of character.  Fitting real characters into SF or Fantasy settings can be a challenge, Mills manages it better than the others, to my mind.

I could go on, in fact I think I will  in another entry some time, but for the moment, here are some recommendations:

Marshall Law

Charley’s War

Nemesis Book 1 


My Robot’s Got No Nose

May 6, 2009

As far as I can remember, only one robot in Twisted Metal has a nose, and she uses this to sniff petrol.  Although all the robots on the planet Penrose have the capacity to install a nose, very few of them choose to do so.  The robots of Shull, in particular, live in a place with very few organic compounds, and so have little reason to smell things.  They prefer to use the metal to make something else.

It probably wouldn’t surprise anyone who has ever been on a writing course to discover this made writing the book (and the sequel) something of a challenge.  Would be writers are always advised to make use of all five senses when describing things, and this is good counsel.  The sense of smell is particularly evocative (the smell of the sea and sun tan lotion always makes me think of holidays, for example) and to remove this sense from the book was a great wrench.

But I had to do it.  The novel is written from the point of view of robots, and the robots in the book have no need to smell things.  

Did it make a difference to the reader of the book?  Did anyone even notice?  I’d be interested to hear what people think…


Interview: Falcata Times

May 1, 2009

The Falcata times interview me here:  http://falcatatimes.blogspot.com/2009/04/interview-tony-ballantyne_30.html