Whilst rummaging through my papers in the office today, as part of our ongoing attempt to get the house in some sort of sellable shape, I came across a big tub of thumbnails for single panel cartoons.

Let’s be honest, I’m never going to get around to drawing them all properly and trying to forge a second career as a cartoonist with them.

So, in the interests of getting them out there in some form, I present Thumbnail Thursday, an ongoing series which will be ongoing as long as I still have thumbnails to upload. Naturally, being me, the first one is presented on a Friday.

I make no claims of quality or humour, other than that each piece was found in my little discarded tub of scribbles. You may enjoy them or not as you see fit.

Oh, sure, maybe it started as an abduction…

Review: Tales From the Vulgar Unicorn

Tales From the Vulgar Unicorn
Tales From the Vulgar Unicorn by Robert Lynn Asprin

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

When I was a young teenager, thirteen or fourteen, I read a few of the shared world ‘Thieves World’ anthologies and enjoyed them. I remember them as being good, rollicking, adventure-fantasy fun, so when I found this volume at the back of my archive boxes I had an ‘ooh’ moment and decided to give it a read, out of a nostalgic whim for some good, simple fun.

Sadly, the book is dire. Each of the volumes is sprinkled with a smattering of SFnal big names: in this issue it’s Philip Jose Farmer, an author who veered wildly between interesting and embarrassing throughout his career. His story in this volume is an example of the worst kind of hackery, of the sort that would have shamed even John Jakes, and the rest of the anthology struggles to raise itself above his level. David Drake and AE van Vogt represent the old school pulp style with their usual clogging, pedestrian best-of-the-1930s efforts, and there’s nothing that can recommend the efforts of Lynn Abbey, Janet Morris and Andrew J Offutt (a super-pulpy writer whose stories often have the saving grace of seeming to be taking the whole thing with his tongue firmly in his cheek, but who can’t even bring that off in this instance.)

It’s fantasy of the dumbest D&D variety, with one-dimensional characters, hokey broad-brush Burroughsian cultural and social infrastructures, and that peculiar ‘phat phantasy’ mix of conversational English and clumsily formal sentence structures that makes the whole thing come across like some particularly uninspired fourth rate Christmas pantomime.

If I’m objective I can see why I enjoyed this sort of stuff as a naive, non-critical boy of 13– it’s thoroughly escapist, without the sort of soggy character development that demands you think instead of just enjoying the thud and blunder. But I should have left it with my younger self.

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I was chatting with Luscious Lyn yesterday, as is my wont, and the subject of hobbies came up– pure hobbies, done without any need for achievement or motivation, but simply undertaken as a means of play. It had occurred to me that she doesn’t have one: there was a time when writing fulfilled that function for both of us, but writing has taken a back seat for Lyn in recent days, and anyway, it’s been going on a decade since either of us wrote anything without thinking of some form of publication, and that’s not the nature of a pure hobby.

Two hours at Spotlight yesterday and that particular oversight was corrected. She’s on the couch, watching youtube tutorials on blackwork cross-stitching techniques as I type this…
My hobby, these days, is Lego. And for me it’s just that: a chance to play without judgement, to roll my imagination around a different set of concepts and use a different array of skills to produce something entertaining for myself. Or not. It doesn’t matter. It’s just me, playing. But I’m also aware that there’s an enormous community of others who take it far more seriously than I do, and every now and again I’m struck by just how much fun it would be to hang out with some of them: join the clubs, have the conversations, take part in the groups displays, etcetera, etcetera and so on. Then I think about how much time it would take, and I have a stiff drink and a lie down, and everything goes back to normal.
Still, every now and again, even I am the recipient of someone else’s enormous love and dedication to what is, for me, my silly little play hobby. Bricklink, that wretched hive of scum and villainy that makes my Paypal account balance look so consistently tiny and feeble, was the personal mission of the late Daniel Jezek, a Lego fan who took paying it forward to an amazing level. You get guys like Jess Gibson, author/director of the highly entertaining film AFOL: A Blocumentary, a film I watch probably once every three months just for the checkitoooouuuuuutttttness of it. They’re all over the place, and consistently doing something amazing.
And earlier this week, during a period of steam-letting, I took it into my head to work out what the hell the fuss was all about with the Lego community’s seeming fascination with something called The Vic Viper. They’re all over the place– little twin-pronged spaceships of all shapes and sizes, all to the same rough template. They’re cool, but they’re also ubiquitous, and it’s a wee bit odd. So, a bit of research:
The boring bit is that it’s a type of spacecraft from a bunch of games in the early 80s which I didn’t play and don’t recall. 
The interesting bit is that they were the favourite building style of a gentleman named Nate ‘nnenn’ Nielson, who died in a car crash back in 2010. Before my time in the hobby, but if you’d like to see the kind of esteem he was held in, try these out for size:
  • A eulogy posted on the AFOL site The Brothers Brick, which describes him in ways that make we wish I knew the man, or
  • The fact that at Brickworld 2010, hundreds of Vic Vipers were displayed by scores of builders in a missing man formation to mark his passing, or
  • Perhaps most tellingly, that Lego itself not only included a Vic Viper in one of its recent sets, but, well, check out the insignia….
And lastly, as an ongoing commemoration, the AFOL community has dubbed November Nnovvember, a month where Vic Vipers are built, and displayed, and seriously shit-hot cool maps are created and stuff.
Cool guy memoriam. Spaceships. A sense of community.
I’m in.
So I’m giving it a go. I’ve got three days off this weekend, the kids are down south with their grandparents, and apart from writing, it’s a kickaboutalazboutapalooza. Lyn’s cross-stitching, Aiden’s minecrafting, Halo4ing, and Assassinscreeding. I’ve got 13 1/2 thousand pieces in a tub just screaming to be laid out all over the living room floor…..
As a handy guide, here’s a little sign that someone worked up to tell me exactly what is and what isn’t a Vic Viper, with the kind of detail even I can’t find confusing:
I’ve carved me out some interesting pieces from the collection.
I think I’ve got the general shape sorted out
I’ve got this cool funky biplane kind of arrangement going on.
And this is where I was at come bedtime last night
I’ll keep posting pics of the work in progress over the weekend, but in the meantime, if you;d like to have a gander at a bunch of really really really supercool VVs by guys who prove that I have a little playtime hobby while they are creators of stunning imagination and mad brick skillz, check out this Flickr Hivemind.


Last week, the inimitable Steven Saviletagged me on his blog as part on an ongoing chain of book/author recommendations called The Next Big Thing, a happy reach-around for writers where we all stride about like avenging peacocks with ICBMs where our penises should be. Today it’s my turn to take possession of the giant cockmissile, and answer the ten questions originated by Paul Magrs, then pass over the reins to five other writers who will be doing the same on their own blogs in a week’s time. Ready?

What is the working title of your next book?
The Marching Dead

Where did the idea come from for the book?
It’s the sequel to The Corpse-Rat King, which came out this October from Angry RobotBooks.

What genre does your book fall under?
Loosely under Fantasy, although very much at the absurdist end of the genre. Angry Robot claim they publish “SF, F and WTF?” I’m aiming for “WTF?”

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
I don’t really envisage actors when I’m writing characters, at least, I do so very rarely. There was one character in the first Marius dos Hellespont novel who I based on Bill Nighy’s ‘uptight’ characterisation because it was a nice fit, but that’s as far as it went for these two novels.  If you absolutely had to have an answer, I’d say perhaps Paterson Joseph for Marius, but that’s all I’ve got.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
He found a King, won the girl, and saved the day. If it wasn’t the end of the world as we know it, he’d be bored shitless by now.

Which is 2 sentences, but sue me.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
As with the first novel in the series, Marching Dead will be published by AngryRobot Books, in April 2013. It was represented by the tall, virile and generally froody Richard Henshaw of The Henshaw Group.

How long did it take you to write a first draft of the manuscript?
I completed the first draft in a shade under 5 months. It’s currently with the publisher, who has probably had to call out for more red ink by now.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
That’s a hard one: I actually don’t read a huge amount of fantasy. The Corpse-Rat King seems to have collected a bunch of comparisons to Joe Abercrombie, so let’s say that.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
 A contract that said “two books, with an option on a third”.

The Corpse-Rat King was inspired by a dinner table conversation with a good friend in which we bemoaned the soft-focus, taking-itself-way-too-seriously, hyper-hygienic worlds of too many Fantasy novels. CRK was an attempt to subvert those tropes, and Marching Dead was a good opportunity to introduce a different tone into the world I had created, and push the characters into states of mind they hadn’t experienced in the first novel.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
Anybody who read and enjoyed the first novel will—hopefully—enjoy the chance to meet with some characters alluded to in the first book, particularly Marius’ parents, plus there’s a randy smuggler queen with a patch and an undead dominatrix with a degree in gymnastics and a really really big tub of goose grease. And Gerd loses his virginity. And if you didn’t read the first book, and that makes no sense at all to you, then you’ll be pleased to learn that Marching Dead stands alone as a separate adventure, and you’ll get to experience all this sort of thing for the first time. And, as usual, everybody says fuck far too often for their own good.

And finally: A reminder… (the 5 who will be tagged)
In the interests of sharing the pimp—and really, isn’t that what life is all about?—I shall be tagging the sensational KA Bedford, Stephen Dedman, Wesley Chu, Daniel Russell, and Guy Salvidge. They may have already done this—I was too slack to check. They may not wish to be involved—I was too self-involved to ask. They may be dead—I was at home with my wife and she’ll vouch for me. But won’t it be fun to come back to their blogs in a week and see if they join in?


I’m feeling generous. Have a little taste of Father Muerte & the Divine first-drafty goodness:

It is easy to disarm a philosopher’s stone. The stone transmutes elements. Lead can become gold, wood can become steam, bread and wine can become flesh and blood. All it takes is for the stone’s wielder to focus his will upon the subject long enough for the chemical reaction to occur. The stone itself is merely a catalyst: the trigger that initiates chemical change without engaging in, or being changed by, the reaction. It is Maxwell’s Demon, bringing the wielder and the will ever closer whilst remaining aloof, unchanged; providing balance as both sides of the equation continue to eat themselves like chemical ouroboros. To destroy one, it is only necessary to turn its power back upon itself. Complete the loop of chemical change so that it is the stone, not the wielder, that becomes both agent and the reagent. Command the stone to turn itself to shale, to soap, to water, and the monster was destroyed. 
The difficulty is never in the act, it is in persuading the stone’s owner that it must be done.


Damn, I just noticed: that damn word count widgetty things updates every damn instance of it each time it updates.

Ignore the ones in the text column, my peeps. I’ve put one in the sidebar now.

(I have peeps?)


It’s November, that time of the year which should be all about my birthday but is instead all about everybody else’s birthday, Americans playing spin-the-bottle-win-a-fuckwit, my day job providing umpty millions of opportunities for all the other writers in the region to get their wordfreak on, and me running around trying to please everybody and getting fuck all done on the personal front.

Except, of course, that I got me two weeks holidays, so suck on that, hidden Overlords of the Universe. Coz I get to stay home all day and do Nanowrimo, at least until next Wednesday.

Angry Robot duties are in abeyance for the moment– Marching Dead has been delivered and I’m quietly waiting for the edits to come back and ruin my Christmas– so I’ve turned my attention back to Father Muerte & The Divine, with a self-imposed brief to have the bastard finished by the end of the month and a synopsis package in the hands of my agent in time to ruin his Christmas by making him sell the damned thing for me.

6 days in, I’ve managed 15 000 words. Helps to have time off and a project you’re already 50 000 words into, no?

Right now it’s my usual melange of weird, unrelated shit, pummelled together without rhyme nor reason in the hope that not too many bits fall off once the editing starts: time travelling Benito Mussolinis; intelligent dinosaur ghosts; the Fall of Lucifer; the Red Baron’s previously unknown fetish for post World War I biplanes; rain cycles; pareidolia; the stone of Scone; the hive mind of children; philosopher’s stones; live human skinning; and 4 dimensional Maxwell’s Demons abound, there’s still another 30 or 40 000 word to go.

As Cupid Stunt would say, it’s all done in the best POSSible taste!

Anyway, for those who’d like to play word count progress bingo, some cute little widgets, courtesy of nano:


Okay, so you may have noticed a couple of reviews on the site in recent days. There’s a very good reason for this: I’ve discovered how to cross-post my Goodreads reviews onto Facebook and my blog.

It’s all part of that wonderful multi-platform cross-posty thousand screams into the wilderness with a single click line of bullshit that is social media. If nothing else, it’ll help to point out what shitty taste I have in books.


Review: Storm Front

Storm Front
Storm Front by Jim Butcher

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Thanks to the vagaries of the Western Australian library system, I’ve read about half a dozen of Butcher’s Dresden novels, out of order, having arrived at them via the engaging and sadly defunct television series.

They get better– a *lot* better– but this opening volume is surprisingly weak: choppy, badly balanced, written with the kind of breezy lack of depth I’d normally associate with a Star Trek or Star Wars tie-in. It pulls deus ex machina out of its backside with cheerful abandon, sketches characters in with slapdash rush, and just generally feels like a good idea the author was incapable of taming properly before it loosed its chains on him. I usually enjoy the Dresden books as good-natured sorbet between weightier tomes, but this was hard going. And that’s before you get to the jocular misogyny that litters the book: women are either hard bitches, whores, or damsels in distress– sometimes in turn, sometimes simultaneously– but they are *always* liars of one stripe or another, and always either in need of a good seeing to or engaged in doing just that without his aid, at which point they’re back to being whores again.

I’m not naive enough to confuse author with text, particularly with a narrator as obviously flawed as Harry Dresden, but it does add a rather distasteful subtext to the novel that took some swallowing, and even my best intentions barely made it through the ‘love potion as rohypnol with added rapey goodness’ scene.

Had I experience this volume first I strongly doubt I’d ever have picked up another volume in the Harry Dresden series.

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