I Kneel Before the Throne of the Empty Hand

I’m writing this in that most magical of times – just after midnight, just starting my second beer. It’s quiet and it’s late, but not too late, and although I’m up with the boys in the morning, ideas are flowing – I’ve just knocked out a whole set of lyrics and I think I may have had the idea I’ve been waiting for to tie the last act of my novel together. This afternoon I finished the introduction for a forthcoming edited edition of the journal Nova Religio, so I’m feeling rather pleased with myself.

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It’s been a horrible couple of months though. I’ve had a fairly serious chest infection which lasted seven weeks and took two courses of different antibiotics to shift. I even had an x-ray to make sure it wasn’t something more serious. This was all happening while I was teaching full-time, and then continued through the school holidays. So time and energy for writing have been hard to come by. Still, back to normal now. I’m trying furiously to box off all my commitments because as of wednesday morning, I will be shutting myself away for the whole of May to turn my PhD into a book.

I’m quite excited about having an intensive block of work like this, and if you’ll allow me, I’ll be blogging about that rather than anything else for the month. Unless, you know, someone assassinates David Icke or something.

Reading:

The Hawkline Monster, Richard Brautigan – I’ve an affection for those writers who started off as Beats and then became part of the 60s and ended up drug-addled cynical old men (see also Alex Trocci). This was slight but amusing. Two killers are hired to help the Hawkline sisters rid their mansion of a malevolent power. It’s doesn’t really make sense and the morality is very much ‘of its time’ but has some wonderful sparse description – “Central County was a big rangy county with mountains in the north and mountains in the south and a vast lonliness in between.” 3/5

Cell, Steven King – Obviously, I read an awful lot of Steven King boooks. This was one of those where you can tell he doesn’t know where the story is going. It’s his take on a “modern vampire” story – ie one where its some kind of virus and zombies can be fast and vicious. There is some personal interest in that this was the first novel he wrote after the accident which almost killed him, but overall it’s meandering and only saved (as is often the case) by well-drawn characters. 2/5

The Abyss Beyond Stars, Peter F. Hamilton – I’ve read the previous novels in Hamilton’s Commonwealth Saga, and I think this is the best. It combines the striking images of Pandora’s Star with the sci-fi/fantasy melange of the Void Trilogy, but without the weight of continuity and too many characters. Hamilton also uses the structure cleverly to create dramatic tension and some genuine surprises. Wait till you find out what’s in the Desert of Bones… 4/5

Nemo Trilogy (Roses of Berlin etc), Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill – These handsomely produced volumes are a spin-off from the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series, perhaps intended to tide O’Neill over while Moore finished major projects The Show, Providence and Jerusalem. The three stand-alone but interrelated stories tell the life of Janni Nemo, as introduced in Century. They’re fine, but there are only occassional flashes of the formal brilliance which Moore and O’Neill are capable of – such as the antarctic mission when the panels are muddled to create the same confusion in the reader as the characters are experiencing. But mostly, they are exercises in ‘spot-the-reference’, and the weakest volume in the saga thus far. 2/5

Unwashed and somewhat slightly dazed

Just returned from an enjoyable but exhausting couple of days in London, presenting at the INFORM session at the London School of Economics. I say ‘enjoyable’, but it was a bit stressful. On the way there, I left my passport, so had to go back for it, and I eventually arrived at the front gate of the airport at 8:03, for a plane whose gate closed as 8:15. So I was too stressed to sleep on the plane, etc. But it was great to see pals like Kim Knott, Matt Francis, Titus Hjelm, Beth Singler and Eileen, Amanda and Suzanne from INFORM, and to make new friends and colleagues.
It had already been a busy week, because two long-term publishing projects came together. One I will announce when the contract is inked, but I can hereby announce that I will be publishing my first monograph, UFOs, Conspiracy Theories and the New Age: Millennial Conspiracism, with Bloomsbury in January 2016, in their Advances in Religious Studies series. As well as having a strong editorial team, Bloomsbury guarantee that the book will be available as an affordable paperback (although not straight away, regretably). I felt strongly that I wanted this to be available outside of academia, but I lack the clout (or academic capital, to be more post-structuralist) to have demanded this of some other publishers. And while I didn’t actually approach them, I can’t imagine one of the more mainstream bookshop-friendly academic presses like OUP even considering going near a book with that title by an unknown author. Expect to hear lots more about this in the coming months.
READING:
The Unwritten (Mike Carey and Peter Gross) reached its end and its 70th issue. I loved the set-up (stories are magic and reality is a story and where does story end and so who creates and dammit #everythingisfiction) and generally the execution, despite the series sometimes feeling like it was spinning its wheels unnecessarily (although by no means as much as other work by Carey and Gross have). A good read though, especially if you’re Ethan Quillen.
Clementine is a novella (or maybe novelette) in Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century series, which I have enjoyed quite a bit. This one concerns the notorious confederate spy Belle Boyd, recently turned private detective, and her quarry, the gigantic airship pirate and free slave, Croggan Hainey. It wasn’t my favourite in the series, but Priest’s prose is as sharp as ever and her characters vividly drawn, particularly the female ones. It’s a believable and consistent world, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes a film or TV series before long.