Pratchett, games and lists

To the Unicorn Theatre last night for the latest of the Studio Theatre Club’s Pratchett plays. The group has gone back to its roots with a revised version of the very first such play that it did, in 1991, a few months before I came to Abingdon and a year before Bonusbarn was born. Wyrd Sisters: The Director’s Cut.

The usual high standards; nigh on perfect casting all round. It was a shame they left Death out but you can’t have everything. Plays also can’t include lines of narrative text: I remember from the novel the lovely line “they turned to see a dwarf trying to loom over them”. Also difficult on stage would have been the bit where someone tries to sit in a chair occupied by the ghost of the dead king. “Is someone sitting here?” / “Yes …”

On the way back home Bonusbarn gave an interesting insight into the politics of gamery, or the workings of his own mind, or both, speaking contemptuously of the people sitting in the row in front, who I would guess to have been students. “I’m never going to be that nerdy. They were talking about Magic: The Gathering. That’s a card game.”

… which led on to a discussion of which is better, a technologically accomplished piece of work graphical like World of Warcraft, where everything is laid out for you on screen, or a proper role playing game (you may see where my prejudices lie) where you may have a few props and enabling items but the main action takes place in the imagination.

… which led on to a reminder (following from his suspicious identification of my ability to recognise authentic player-talk) that I was in the university SFSoc in my day, even though I hardly ever went to a meeting because they clashed with scuba diving on Thursday evenings and so I just turned up to the end of term video weekends.

[Sigh] “Were you the president?”


“Did the president have long hair and a trench coat?”

Um. Thinks. I do remember a long(ish) haired president. I also remember a trench coat. I forget if they were the same person. But …


Which leads on to something almost completely different but saves me doing two blog posts where one will do. Apparently the Guardian is having one of those prescriptive moments that the national press do so love and is listing the 1000 books everyone must read. They’ve now got down to science fiction and fantasy titles. There’s 149 of them (for the sake of convenience Discworld, Narnia, His Dark Materials etc. count as one title each) and the full list is kindly summarised here so I pinched it.

Some I’ve never heard of; some (I’m looking at you, Rowling) I’m thinking “what??” With the possible exception of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell I’m thinking that any book published in the last five years is too recent to say everyone should read it; I’d say published this century except that China Mieville’s there (though not with the title I’d have chosen). But anyway, here’s the list again, with the ones I’ve read (60/149 = 40%) in bold.

Douglas Adams: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979)
Brian W Aldiss: Non-Stop (1958)
Isaac Asimov: Foundation (1951)
Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale (1985)
Margaret Atwood: The Blind Assassin (2000)
Paul Auster: In the Country of Last Things (1987)
JG Ballard: The Drowned World (1962)
JG Ballard: Crash (1973)
JG Ballard: Millennium People (2003)
Iain Banks: The Wasp Factory (1984)
Iain M Banks: Consider Phlebas (1987)
Clive Barker: Weaveworld (1987)
Nicola Barker: Darkmans (2007)
Stephen Baxter: The Time Ships (1995)
Greg Bear: Darwin’s Radio (1999)
William Beckford: Vathek (1786)
Alfred Bester: The Stars My Destination (1956)
Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
Poppy Z Brite: Lost Souls (1992)
Charles Brockden Brown: Wieland (1798)
Algis Budrys: Rogue Moon (1960)
Mikhail Bulgakov: The Master and Margarita (1966)
Edward Bulwer-Lytton: The Coming Race (1871)
Anthony Burgess: A Clockwork Orange (1960) [seen the film; does that count?]
Anthony Burgess: The End of the World News (1982)
Edgar Rice Burroughs: A Princess of Mars (1912)
William Burroughs: Naked Lunch (1959)
Octavia Butler: Kindred (1979)
Samuel Butler: Erewhon (1872)
Italo Calvino: The Baron in the Trees (1957)
Ramsey Campbell: The Influence (1988)
Lewis Carroll: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)
Lewis Carroll: Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871)
Angela Carter: The Passion of New Eve (1977)
Angela Carter: Nights at the Circus (1984)
Michael Chabon: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2000)
Arthur C Clarke: Childhood’s End (1953)
GK Chesterton: The Man Who Was Thursday (1908)
Susanna Clarke: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (2004)
Michael G Coney: Hello Summer, Goodbye (1975)
Douglas Coupland: Girlfriend in a Coma (1998)
Mark Danielewski: House of Leaves (2000)
Marie Darrieussecq: Pig Tales (1996)
Samuel R Delaney: The Einstein Intersection (1967)
Philip K Dick: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)
Philip K Dick: The Man in the High Castle (1962)
Thomas M Disch: Camp Concentration (1968)
Umberto Eco: Foucault’s Pendulum (1988)
Michel Faber: Under the Skin (2000)
John Fowles: The Magus (1966)
Neil Gaiman: American Gods (2001)
Alan Garner: Red Shift (1973) [didn’t understand it, but read it]
William Gibson: Neuromancer (1984)
Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Herland (1915)
William Golding: Lord of the Flies (1954)
Joe Haldeman: The Forever War (1974)
M John Harrison: Light (2002)
Nathaniel Hawthorne: The House of the Seven Gables (1851)
Robert A Heinlein: Stranger in a Strange Land (1961)
Frank Herbert: Dune (1965)
Hermann Hesse: The Glass Bead Game (1943)
Russell Hoban: Riddley Walker (1980)
James Hogg: The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824)
Michel Houellebecq: Atomised (1998)
Aldous Huxley: Brave New World (1932)
Kazuo Ishiguro: The Unconsoled (1995)
Shirley Jackson: The Haunting of Hill House (1959)
Henry James: The Turn of the Screw (1898)
PD James: The Children of Men (1992)
Richard Jefferies: After London; Or, Wild England (1885)
Gwyneth Jones: Bold as Love (2001)
Franz Kafka: The Trial (1925)
Daniel Keyes: Flowers for Algernon (1966)
Stephen King: The Shining (1977)
Marghanita Laski: The Victorian Chaise-longue (1953)
Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu: Uncle Silas (1864)
Ursula K Le Guin: The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)
Ursula K Le Guin: The Earthsea series (1968-1990)
Stanislaw Lem: Solaris (1961)
Doris Lessing: Memoirs of a Survivor (1974)
CS Lewis: The Chronicles of Narnia (1950-56)
MG Lewis: The Monk (1796)
David Lindsay: A Voyage to Arcturus (1920)
Ken MacLeod: The Night Sessions (2008)
Hilary Mantel: Beyond Black (2005)
Michael Marshall Smith: Only Forward (1994)
Richard Matheson: I Am Legend (1954)
Charles Maturin: Melmoth the Wanderer (1820)
Patrick McCabe: The Butcher Boy (1992)
Cormac McCarthy: The Road (2006)
Jed Mercurio: Ascent (2007)
China Miéville: The Scar (2002) [why this and not Perdido St Station?]
Andrew Miller: Ingenious Pain (1997)
Walter M Miller Jr: A Canticle for Leibowitz (1960)
David Mitchell: Cloud Atlas (2004)
Michael Moorcock: Mother London (1988)
William Morris: News From Nowhere (1890)
Toni Morrison: Beloved (1987)
Haruki Murakami: The Wind-up Bird Chronicle (1995)
Vladimir Nabokov: Ada or Ardor (1969)
Audrey Niffenegger: The Time Traveler’s Wife (2003)
Larry Niven: Ringworld (1970)
Jeff Noon: Vurt (1993)
Flann O’Brien: The Third Policeman (1967)
Ben Okri: The Famished Road (1991)
George Orwell: Nineteen Eighty-four (1949)
Chuck Palahniuk: Fight Club (1996)
Thomas Love Peacock: Nightmare Abbey (1818)
Mervyn Peake: Titus Groan (1946)
Frederik Pohl & CM Kornbluth: The Space Merchants (1953)
John Cowper Powys: A Glastonbury Romance (1932)
Terry Pratchett: The Discworld series (1983- )
Christopher Priest: The Prestige (1995)
Philip Pullman: His Dark Materials (1995-2000)
François Rabelais: Gargantua and Pantagruel (1532-34)
Ann Radcliffe: The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794)
Alastair Reynolds: Revelation Space (2000)
Kim Stanley Robinson: The Years of Rice and Salt (2002)
JK Rowling: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997)
Salman Rushdie: The Satanic Verses (1988)
Joanna Russ: The Female Man (1975)
Geoff Ryman: Air (2005)
Antoine de Sainte-Exupéry: The Little Prince (1943)
José Saramago: Blindness (1995)
Will Self: How the Dead Live (2000)
Mary Shelley: Frankenstein (1818)
Dan Simmons: Hyperion (1989)
Olaf Stapledon: Star Maker (1937)
Neal Stephenson: Snow Crash (1992)
Robert Louis Stevenson: The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886)
Bram Stoker: Dracula (1897)
Rupert Thomson: The Insult (1996)
JRR Tolkien: The Hobbit (1937)
JRR Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings (1954-55)
Mark Twain: A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court (1889)
Kurt Vonnegut: Sirens of Titan (1959)
Horace Walpole: The Castle of Otranto (1764)
Robert Walser: Institute Benjamenta (1909)
Sylvia Townsend Warner: Lolly Willowes (1926)
Sarah Waters: Affinity (1999)
HG Wells: The Time Machine (1895)
HG Wells: The War of the Worlds (1898)
TH White: The Sword in the Stone (1938)
Angus Wilson: The Old Men at the Zoo (1961)
Gene Wolfe: The Book of the New Sun (1980-83)
Virginia Woolf: Orlando (1928)
John Wyndham: Day of the Triffids (1951)
John Wyndham: The Midwich Cuckoos (1957) [what happened to The Chrysalids?]
Yevgeny Zamyatin: We (1924)

No one would have believed, in the early years of the 21st century …

Today’s Astronomy Picture of the Day from NASA is a 360 degree panorama from the Spirit rover on Mars. It’s been up there five years, trundling around doing its stuff.Five years! Those rocks and sedimentary layers and grains of sand have been unobserved for millions of years, but now Wall-E’s distant ancestor is rolling around up there and taking it all in. It fills me with almost as much wonder as the thought that America now has a black president.

Making the picture even more fun is spotting the number of features named after science fiction people or ideas. There’s Arthur C. Clarke, Roger Zelazny, Jack Williamson and Frederic Brown, not to mention Monolith, Martian Chronicles and Malacandra. Someone at NASA is reading far too much of exactly the right stuff.

Fish, fiction, friends and Fighting Fantasy

Two months ago it was an American convention centre the size of an airport. Yesterday it was a converted fishmarket in Northampton, just off the market square. The latter is much more fun for a convention.

The Fishmarket has been converted into an arts venue by the council but retains its character. It’s an L-shaped building and both arms distinctly slope down towards the corner – a relic of the time when it had to be sluiced down at the end of each day to get rid of scales and guts. As an acoustic environment it is, um, challenging. Vast amounts of space above, in front of and behind you for speakers’ voices to get lost in. This was the initial layout for the panels, everyone facing lengthways down one of the long bits.

Thankfully, after the first panel they turned it 90 degrees so that the speakers had a wall behind them and everyone could sit a little closer to them.

The sloping floors aren’t the only remnant of the fishmarket past. At one end, where the book dealers dwelt, they still have the old marble topped counters.

(That thing looking like a bizarre sex toy is in fact a cuddly knitted Saturn V …)

Master of ceremonies was Kevin the Jester, sometimes on stilts.

And the con? My favourite kind. Small scale, personable, interesting panel topics and a chance to meet and chat with everyone you want to. I counted a total of 7 people who had been at our wedding – 8 if you count young master Simon F, who is 18 months old now and was enwombed at the time. Guests of honour were Iain M. BanksKen MacLeodStorm Constantine and Paul Cornell. Topics were on the usual range of subjects like which medium holds the future for science fiction, space opera, fantasy, yadda yadda yadda but for once I was getting a real feeling of the future being shaped as we spoke. Everyone was going home with a slightly firmer idea of where we all stand, which for a writer is no bad thing.

My sole public contribution was on the space opera panel (“Is ‘New Space Opera’ just ‘Old Space Opera’ in a fresh set of clothes?”) which I had a horrible feeling might turn into the Iain + Ken show plus three rabbits blinking in the headlights, a.k.a. Tony BallantyneJaine Fenn and me. Ian Whates moderating. Shouldn’t have worried, as Ian moderated well and Iain and Ken are both pro enough and nice enough guys to spread it all about. At one point I said that one reason I didn’t write space opera any more was that I could no longer take the navies-in-space idea seriously, in this age when an airliner can take off from Heathrow and land the other side of the world without any necessary human intervention; interestingly, that sparked Iain into talking about his whole underlying philosophy for the General Systems Vehicles and other Culture craft, which I’d not heard before.

There was also my sort of dealers’ room – not books stretching as far as the eye can see, which actually can be counterproductive, but a few select ones including but not limited to Erik Arthur from Fantasy Centre with a wide range of good condition ex-review copies at £4 each. At least, that was who I gave most of my custom to. I’m one of those strange people who don’t usually come home laden with books but this time I made an exception.

Erik mentioned that a lot of customers my sort of age come in to buy old Steve Jackson Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. “I realised I don’t sell books,” he reflected. “I sell memories.”

Making me wonder what today’s 18-year-olds will be buying in the 2030s …