Tuesday, 26 April 2011


The Diary of Percy Cavor

13th December 1795 (Evening)

Bole Manor, the Village of Wold Newton, Yorkshire

Fortunately the rantings of Countess Karnstein were somewhat abruptly ended by the impact of a meteor. Not that we were immediately aware that this was the case.

There was a loud ‘bang’ presaging the arrival of this celestial wanderer which shook Bole Manor to its very foundations to be followed a few moments later by a second ‘bang’ as the meteor hit the ground. Immediately the Manor was suffused in an eerie green light and the copper wires von Frankenstein had hung about the room glowed red. Crockery was shaken from the table, several vases were persuaded to fall from the mantle, the candles illuminating the drawing room were altogether extinguished and Lady Hortense, poor delicate lamb, was knocked to the ground.

My immediate thought was that we had fallen under artillery bombardment and that those duplicitous Frogs had decided to export their revolutionary cant to these fair islands in a violent manner. So concerned was I that, in an effort to save Lady Hortense from their treachery, I threw myself across her and enveloped her protectively in my arms, the lady seeming very pleased with my gallantry. Fortunately this assumption of Gallic duplicity was soon disabused: Heathcliff entered the room to announce in a stentorian voice that ‘a black ball’s come smashing out of the sky bashing a damned great hole in a field by Wold Cottage and near taking John Shipley’s bloody head off in the process’.

It says much for the disarray of the party that no one reprimanded the man for his use of such uncouth language but I suppose we were all somewhat distracted. You will appreciate, Dear Journal, that a meteor going to ground in Yorkshire is a rare and peculiar event. For a moment all was chaos but then von Frankenstein was moved to make an urgent examination of the electro-magnetic measuring instruments he had set up, searching for intelligence regarding the effect of the meteor’s arrival. After a moment’s perusal von Frankenstein was able to declare that all those residing in Bole Manor had been subjected to a dose of electro-stimulation a thousand times greater than that ever experienced by a human being.

A somewhat sobering announcement to be sure, but on reflection not one that I was able to correlate with any physical or mental alteration to my person. As I stood away from the delightfully soft and yielding form of Lady Hortense, the only effects I was moved to note was that my hair now stood on end, that there was an odd tingling sensation in my fingers, a stiffening in my nether regions and that my sense of balance was momentarily confused (as was that of Lady Hortense, the lady being obliged to lean against me for support). But other than these I could discern no ill-effects of this electro-stimulation.

Therefore it was without a moment’s hesitation that I accepted Sir Algernon’s suggestion that we should go to investigate this singular occurrence. So, laden with devices von Frankenstein declared indispensible with regard to the prosecution of a correct scientific examination of the meteor, we all took our leave of the house to the half mile to the spot where the meteor had landed.

On arrival at the crater we scientists were denied the opportunity to examine the meteor by the intervention of the local magistrate, Major Edward Topham. It appears there was some bad blood between the Boles and the Tophams, and no matter how insistent Sir Algernon was that his august colleagues should be allowed to examine the meteor, Major Topham was equally insistent that they should not, being determined to wait upon the arrival of the local militia and their announcement as to the benign nature of the meteor. This infuriated Sir Algernon and the conversation quickly became rancorous.

I am not, Dear Journal, a man given to ill-disciplined argument and as the discussion became increasingly heated I decided to slip away and examine the countryside for other pieces of meteor debris. My decision and my footsteps appear to have been directed by Fate. Approximately one hundred yards from the crater I stumbled upon several small fragments of rock which I first took to be Chondrite. However on closer examination I came to note the rock’s amazingly light weight and its green, almost luminescent, colouration, these idiosyncrasies I was unable to attribute to any substance known on earth. I was convinced that these fragments of rock were of alien provenance having been stripped from the main body of the meteor when it entered the earth’s atmosphere.

But even more astonishing discoveries awaited me. Having secreted my rock fragments in my specimen bag, I began to walk quickly back to Bole Manor in order that I might examine my finds more closely by the use of Sir Algernon’s Leeuwenhook enlarger. It was as I passed under the branches of an oak tree that I espied the most wondrous object. There, hovering unsupported some fifteen feet from the ground, was a rock roughly spherical in shape and perhaps three inches in diameter. At first I could not believe my eyes but having clambered up the tree and studied the object from a distance of but a few inches I must tell you that its state of levitation could only be achieved by some particular property enabling it to defy gravity.


This review contains spoilers which only the limp-brained wouldn’t guess anyway!

Went to see ‘Thor’ last night and I suppose I should begin my review by ‘fessing up that he is one of my least favourite Marvel characters (Daredevil runs him close) so I wasn’t over-excited about the film but I was willing to give it a fair-minded shot.

The film’s story is typically anodyne Prologue/Three Act blockbuster fare. Expositional Prologue giving us a headsup on the whole Asgard thingy and explains how Odin (a quite embarrassed looking Anthony Hopkins, who I suspect demanded more money once he’d seen his costume) had defeated the evil frost giants and brought peace to the Nine Worlds. First Act: introduction of Hero, the eponymous Thor (a charisma-less Chris Hemsworth) who is an arrogant, overbearing lout, dazzled by his own popularity, and the Villain, his envious brother Loki (a subtle portrayal by Tom Hiddleston, but Tom, believe me, this sure as hell wasn’t the place for subtlety). A lets-show-off-our-special-effects battle scene leads to Thor being banished from Asgard and Odin having what appears to be a stroke. Second Act: Thor minus powers and his magic hammer, Mjöllnir, arrives on earth where he meets love interest Natalie Portman (so wooden I suspect a wardrobe could have given a better performance) and learns humility, modesty and how to be less of a wuss. Third Act: Redemption. Thor gets his powers back, goes home to defeat sneaky Loki and gets a hug from dad who has miraculously recovered.

I mean, is this really the best Hollywood scriptwriting could come up with? Hackneyed, predictable, and totally devoid of any tension this is by-the-numbers scriptwriting at its worst. They must have twigged how turgid it all was when they desperately tried to shoehorn some humour into the thing (mostly provided by Kat Demmings who was the best thing in the movie). Talking of shoehorning, couldn’t they have integrated the cameos of characters from the Avengers movie with a little more finesse: Hawkeye looked ridiculously out of place.

Okay, so the special effects were STUNNING but surely a movie should be more than just pyrotechnic eye-candy?

It seems that once again my opinion is at odds with the rest of the cinema-going public who have given the film a massive thumbs-up. For my part I thought the whole thing was irredeemably boring but perhaps the most telling criticism came from Nelli: she fell asleep.

Rod’s score: 4/10

Nelli’s score: 2/10

Monday, 25 April 2011


The Diary of Percy Cavor

13th December 1795 (after luncheon)

Bole Manor, the Village of Wold Newton, Yorkshire.

I write this entry perplexed that I may have neither the wit nor the placidity of mind to faithfully and accurately record the many and wonderful events of this day. Oh, I thank God that He has graced me with the opportunity to see such magnificent sights, to better perceive the elegant but infinitely complex workings of his universe and to come to possess …

After breakfast von Frankenstein commandeered the library and there began to assemble the most strange and novel of devices, which combined batteries of Leyden jars (albeit of a unique and esoteric design) connected to a Franklin lightning tower von Frankenstein had Heathcliff erect in the garden. Once satisfied that his electrical engine was connected in a correct and satisfactory manner he draped a profusion of copper wire about the room such that those sitting in its centre would be enveloped by any electrical charge von Frankenstein conjured through the wire.

His preparations complete and chairs arrange before a podium, von Frankenstein took the floor and for a full sixty minutes directed an impassioned monologue towards his small audience making the outrageous and blasphemous claim that through his enquiries with regard to those poor souls beset by Moral Insanity he had detected a second, latent species of the genus homo lurking within Man. This second species he christened Dark Charismatics or H.Singularities. In the doctor’s estimation H.Singularity was a taxon wholly distinct and wholly antithetical to H.Sapien.

Von Frankenstein further contented that the occasional rousing of the Dark Charismatic within Man was the cause of the periodic rise to prominence of exceptional and brutal individuals who, with distressing regularity, plunged the world into turmoil and revolution and threatened the order of civilisation. He cited such individuals as Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun and Vlad the Impaler as examples of those individuals whose malevolent Dark Charismatic aspect had come to dominate the kinder, more Christian, H.Sapien side. Von Frankenstein went on to state that he had - following the work of Galvani regarding the bioElectricality of the human body - amassed a body of experimental evidence which suggested that the Dark Charismatic within Man could be roused by the said body being subject to electro-magnetic radiation.

He went on to state that he wished to conduct just such an experiment but for this he would need to tap into the electrical discharges made during a thunderstorm. It was for this reason he had had the tower built in the garden. Unfortunately, as the day seemed clear and bright, the prospect of accessing such an unpredictable force of nature seemed remote,

In the discussion which followed Sir Algernon supported von Frankenstein’s theories, placing before his guests information he had uncovered whilst on an archaeological expedition to Kerch in the Crimean. Here he had been made aware of the legend of a pre-Deluge civilisation - matriarchal in nature - presided over by the Goddess Lilith. Lilith had, so the legend had it, caused three new races to rise from the soil of the earth: the Lilithi (a race of women blessed with a strange hive-like consciousness); the Grigori (a warrior race); and the Kohanim (a race of intellectuals). Bole wondered if it was the intermingling of these races with Man that had somehow given rise to von Frankenstein’s Dark Charismatics.

It was William Jekyll who took this line of speculation further, wondering if these ‘mongrels’ could, perhaps, be the genesis of such fabulous creatures as vampyres and others of their ilk.

This comment elicited a profound and excessive reaction from Countess Karnstein. The woman leapt to her feet and wagging a finger in Jekyll’s face loudly and angrily announced ‘zhat you dabble mit forces beyond your comprehension’. Fortunately before this confrontation could become rancorous, proceedings were interrupted by the arrival of a meteor.


Sandy Auden being stalked by Harvey

 Nell and I attended EasterCon over the Easter weekend and I have to say I was disappointed.

Now as a newbie to this whole SF/Fantasy convention lark I suppose it’s a bit cheeky of me to criticise but having in recent years gone through similar experiences with the jazz fraternity I’m starting to see a lot of eerie and quite disturbing similarities.

Let’s get back to first principles. What are the objectives of conventions like EasterCon? To my mind these are threefold:

• To provide a time and a place where like-minded people with similar interests can get together, have a good time, exchange gossip, get pissed and generally hangout;

• To provide a platform where those – especially the young – who have an interest, albeit possibly nascent, in SF/Fantasy can be inculcated into the brother/sisterhood;

• To give an event where new ideas/developments can be aired and tested.

The queue for the cash machine
 Now EasterCon certainly achieved the first objective. In many ways it was like wandering into a family reunion which can be a little intimidating to newbies but as everybody was very accommodating and friendly this wasn’t much of a problem. The real problem with family reunions is that they are comfortable affairs and this is where the parallels with the jazz fraternity come to mind. The jazzers LOVED moaning that they weren’t understood/appreciated/valued (delete as applicable) but actually LOVED it that they were misunderstood/under appreciated/undervalued. They loved being a minority, a little esoteric community, with its own patois and the complacent belief that the mainstream didn’t have the nous to dig what they were digging. Maybe it’s an age thing. It isn’t just attitude where the SF community apes the jazzers: its demographics are weirdly similar too. I guess the average age at EasterCon was 45 and probably the organisers should be aiming to shave at least 10 years off that if they want to avoid a pipe and slippers image.

Authors debate
the extinction of the species
 Which brings me on to the second objective: attracting young people. Young people are the life blood of any organisation and they have to be encouraged, so I was thinking what my two teenage daughters would make of EasterCon and the answer is not much. It was held in a too inaccessible venue; it was too expensive (£32 for two sandwiches and a couple of coffees is taking the piss); there was nowhere to go outside the venue; and, the biggest deterrent, the content was, to say the least, retro (more on that below). The jazzers were always yakking about ‘encouraging the young’ but they didn’t really like them at their conventions because they changed things. Maybe that’s why jazz is such a niche art form. I’d hate for SF/Fantasy to fall into the same trap.

Jo Fletcher and Peter Coleborn discuss
how they could have spent
£450 on one round of drinks
 The final objective: the testing of new ideas/developments. For a conference celebrating those who like to think the unthinkable and envisage strange new futures I was struck by how traditional the programme was and how insular. I was half expecting some events to be sponsored by the electronic/internet companies exploring emerging technologies or maybe talks under the auspices of the New Scientist or even the major games companies describing how they come up with their story platforms. These, I guess, would be some of the things that would attract and hold Kit and Ellie, because today talking heads just don’t cut it. And whilst on the subject of talking heads: the occasional dissenting voice (maybe from outside the SF community) would be nice to stir things up otherwise we don’t have panel discussions, we have cosy chats.

Maybe I’m missing the point and maybe EasterCon has a purpose I just don’t get. But having been once, I’m not sure I’ll go again. EasterCon is the same age as me and I think we’re both a little too set in our ways to change.

Sunday, 24 April 2011


I've been attending EasterCon this weekend - it's the big SF convention in the UK (more of it anon) and as I was doing a couple of signings I thought it would be a good idea to put a few posters up around the place advertising my presence and alerting people to the fact that I was giving a poster away free with each book. The poster I chose to do this was the Heydrich one.

When I arrived on Saturday ... no posters. It seemed that one elderly gentlemen had gotten really bent outta shape ('very emotional' or so I was told) about Herr Heydrich being used to promote a book. He said and here I quote 'I didn't fight in the war to see the likes of him being stuck up everywhere'.

Now, I have a big thing about censorship (any censorship) as I think once you muzzle people it's a slippery slope towards muzzling ALL the people but what was so remarkable about this particular incident is that this chap's objections were self-defeating. Presumably he fought in WWII to stop the likes of Heydrich ever coming to power again but to do that people have to remember! Unfortunately I suspect (and here I make a sweeping assumption) that the majority of those under-25 have never heard of Heydrich and his involvement with the Holocaust. Which brings me back to my old hobbyhorse: if kids aren't taught history in school then the chances of them repeating the mistakes of previous generations are multiplied.

So it's left to writers (and film-makers and the rest) to fill the gap.

The Demi-Monde portrays Heydrich (and Beria, Robespierre et al) just as they were: cold-bloodied psychopaths. In no way does it celebrate these monsters, romanticise them or apologise for their actions. Perhaps this elderly gentlemen should have read the book before he made his protest. After all, presumably one of the things he was fighting for was freedom of expression.


The Diary of Percy Cavor

13th December 1795 (Morning)

Bole Manor, the Village of Wold Newton, Yorkshire.

I met the others who make up the party at breakfast. They are, I note thankful for the privacy I am afforded by this journal, an eclectic and somewhat daunting group of individuals a number of whom, if I was not a guest and hence obliged to act as a gentleman, I would be right persuaded to avoid. Such is the state of nervousness they have engendered that I am beset by an almost overwhelming inclination to run from his house.

But I must not allow such hysterical emotions to have ascendancy.

I reference the principal in our strange ménage first. Doctor Manfred von Frankenstein is a small man, pale and wan in countenance, who complains interminably of the cold, making many and very public criticisms of the drafts – of which there are many – in Bole Manor. He came to breakfast swathed in a long scarf and wearing woollen mittens, which he removed only reluctantly in order that he might manipulate his fork more correctly. His opinion of English cuisine is similarly scathing being very suspicious of the sausages he was served. Young though he is – I estimate that is not yet five-and-twenty – there is an unpleasant arrogance about him, exemplified by the way he wears his shirt collar, the wings coming high up on his cheeks giving him a disdainful look. He smells abominably too, perfumed by a rancid mingling of pomposity and piety.

I disliked the man on sight and manoeuvred myself to sit as far from him as the dining table would allow.

Unfortunately the result of this stratagem was to place me in the chair next to that occupied by William Jekyll, a man, I suspect, who has been overly influenced by the lunatics he attends. Jekyll, it transpires, is visiting surgeon at Eavesham Asylum, an establishment situate fifteen miles north of London where he ministers to the incorrigibly mad. It would appear these onerous – and according to Jekyll, thankless – responsibilities have imbued the man with an alarming number of tics and twitches. He sat on his chair forever fidgeting and sniffing like some recalcitrant schoolboy, ceaselessly dabbing his handkerchief to his mouth and flicking at his cuffs. I will not sit next to him again.

Professor Yuri Andreevich Petrov in contrast is calmness personified. He is tall and well-made, deports himself in a most dignified manner and though a Russian possesses excellent English (unlike Frankenstein’s which is distorted by a heavy German accent). I like Petrov and have decided in future I will favour his company above all others (with the exception of the delightful Lady Hortense, of course).

I leave the most peculiar guest until last. Peculiar but enigmatic: the Countess Mircalla Karnstein came to the breakfast room as though dressed for a funeral, being swathed from her hat to her shoes in the deepest and most uncompromising black. Her gown, although fashionably close cut, was made from a satin of such profound ebony that it seemed to ensnare the light in the room. Her face was covered by a veil of black tulle that fell from a small pill box hat that sat rakishly to the side of her head. With her face and features masked so effectively it was impossible to tell the age of the woman, but by the way she held herself and by the energetic manner in which she emphasised her conversation with her hands, I have determined that she is young rather than old: perhaps around thirty years of age. The Countess did not eat and neither did she engage me in conversation, but though I had no intercourse with the woman, I nevertheless felt a great unease at being in her company.

These, Dear Journal, are the dramaticus personae with whom I will pass the next few days, days I anticipate with a burgeoning dread.

Thursday, 21 April 2011


The Diary of Percy Cavor

12th December 1795

Bole Manor, the village of Wold Newton, Yorkshire

I arrived safe and well, if in a state of considerable dishevelment and much perturbation of mind, at Bole Manor just after seven of the clock. I will not trouble your patience with a studious reminiscence of my tedious and unpleasant journey from London: suffice it to say that said journey took seven days, many changes of carriage and the revealed understanding that the standard of accommodation offered to travellers diminishes in direct proportion to the distance hostelries are from our nation’s capital.

Such were the rigors of the journey that I find myself at a loss to understand why a personage as elevated as Sir Algernon Bole chooses to tolerate residing in such a backwater as Wold Newton. It is a pretty enough sort of place, though nondescript architecturally and very confined, but this pleasing aspect is, I suspect, slight compensation for the isolation dwelling here must, perforce, impose on a scientist of Sir Algernon’s rank, removing him as it must from the intellectual cut and thrust of London Society.

I can only assume the Sir Algernon wishes to ensure the fruits of his scientific studies remain private and confidential.

The length of the journey did, however give me ample time to reflect upon my decision to accept the invitation made so generously – and unexpectedly – by Sir Algernon to visit Bole Manor. I use the word ‘unexpectedly’ with regard to the invitation as, previous to the invitation’s receipt, I had enjoyed only the most tentative of acquaintance with Sir Algernon. I seems, however, that the paper I submitted to the Royal Society entitled ‘The Peculiar and Interesting Effects of Extreme Magnetic Flux on the Workings of the Body’ caught Sir Algernon’s eye and provoked him to offer me the opportunity to participate in the scientific soiree he is hosting in this very house tomorrow.

Quite why my enquiries regarding magnetic flux could be of interest to one, such as Sir Algernon, whose investigations are of a more anthropological bent is beyond me. But as Sir Algernon has no small reputation within scientific circles - his especial passion being the study of the ancient civilisations which flourished in preDeluge Anatolia – it would have been churlish to refuse: churlish and fiscally foolhardy. The Bole fortune is reputedly vast (being derived, I understand, from the slave trade) and has been used to generously fund the work of talented but impecunious scientists, within whose ranks I am numbered. Thus I grasped with alacrity the opportunity to meet and to discourse with a number of the more celebrated of Europe’s scientists and by doing so to impress Sir Algernon.

However, having met the man, I am of a mind to criticise the precipitous enthusiasm with which I accepted the invitation. Sir Algernon is a most singular individual with quite a forbidding disposition.

But I get a little ahead of myself.

Upon my arrival, tired and travel stained, I was ushered without the least ceremony or my being given the opportunity to repair my dishabille into the drawing room, where I was greeted by Sir Algernon and his fiancée, Lady Hortense Steele, who is to act as hostess for those select individuals Sir Algernon had brought together at the Manor.

It is with no false modesty that I attest my belief that I am a broad-minded individual, blessed with a malleable and phlegmatic temperament, and hence I was not immediately discomforted by the oddity of Sir Algernon’s form or appearance – the man is peculiarly tall, peculiarly thin and peculiarly pale – but my sangfroid was tested by his icy cold demeanour.

When I was brought before Sir Algernon there was such little warmth evinced in his greeting that my initial – and very disturbing – impression was that Sir Algernon had developed a premature and quite unjustified aversion to me. He was reluctant to shake my hand or to rest his gaze upon me except for the most fleeting of glances. But now on reflection I believe Sir Algernon to be afflicted by a most extreme and debilitating form of misanthropy: he loathes his fellow man. But there is more: as I stood in that room I came to realise that though a fine fire blazed in the hearth, the room was chilled. It was as though Sir Algernon’s antipathy drew all the warmth from the place.

I must record that the man unnerved me.

The remarkable thing is that Sir Algernon’s fiancée, Lady Hortense, is the very antithesis of her husband-to-be. She is a remarkably handsome young woman, though perhaps a trifle tall to be ever thought a beauty. She is also something of a rarity in the Society of Georgian England in that she is well-educated and decidedly well-read and out-spoken on many matters. Fortunately, for the sanguinity of mind with which I anticipate my sojourn, where Bole is frosty and aloof she is all smiles and gaiety. Together they make an ill-matched pair and one can only speculate that it is the Bole fortune that persuades her to stand at his side as his putative bride.

The conversation with Sir Algernon was mercifully brief. He advised me that the rest of the party would be arriving from Scarborough – there they had been taking the waters – tomorrow and will comprise Doctor Manfred von Frankenstein from Ingolstadt in Bavaria, who is, without doubt the most prestigious Alienist and pathological anatomist in Europe; Professor Yuri Andreevich Petrov, Head of the Natural Sciences Department of the St Petersburg Academy of Sciences and a man whose papers regarding gravity I have found profound and illuminating; William Jekyll, a leading authority on lunacy and disorders of the mind; and the Countess Mircalla Karnstein, who is, it seems, the world’s foremost expert on preDeluge history.

A strange and eclectic group to be sure, especially as Sir Algernon has brought us together to debate a remarkable discovery made by von Frankenstein regarding Man’s soul and the resulting theory that H.Sapiens might be the unwitting host for a second and much more visceral species. I am advised that the Baron, somewhat whimsically, calls this his ‘Cuckoo Contention’.

In view of the sensitivity and the potentially scandalous nature of the topic – especially within Church circles – to be discussed, Sir Algernon has arranged that he and his guests will, after luncheon tomorrow, be attended by only one of his staff, his mulatto butler, Heathcliff, a man in whom Sir Algernon places immense trust.

I repaired to my room, my head abuzz with a concoction of disparate emotions: eager anticipation of meeting and debating with my fellow scientists; trepidation of further experiencing Sir Algernon’s frost; and excitement at the prospect of being in the company of the lovely Miss Hortense Steele.


Lord Cardigan who blogs on  Precipitation with Insight has been speculating that the Demi-Monde has a Wold Newton connection. So I suppose I have to 'fess up: there is but it's quite tenuous (or maybe not!). Much of it revolves around the discovery of Cavorite. So (with dutiful acknowledgement of the genius of Philip Jose Farmer) I thought some readers might find it interesting to learn how the Cavors came to discover Cavorite and (some) of the ramifications this had on the world. To begin ...

A Statement made by Professor Thomas Cavor and written on the 1st January 1947

To my unseen Reader...salutations!

A New Year dawns but rather than heralding hope and a belief in better times to come I sense that 1947 will bring misery and hardship unprecedented in human history. These are dark days. We are only a scant five months on from the rude announcement of the dawning of the Age of the Atom but already I feel the heavy hand of dread destiny gripping the world.

But is not the threat of such a fearful and uncertain future that renders me so pessimistic, rather it is the knowledge that my disagreements with Sir Roderick Bole grow ever more vehement and, as a consequence, that this will be my last year on this earth. A somewhat melodramatic statement some of you might judge, but of my imminent demise I have little doubt. Sir Roderick is a man who deals with those who oppose him in a decisive fashion and I have opposed him in the matter closest to his black heart: power.

This being the case, and having no use for the proposition that Paradise awaits me, I have devised my own way of unburdening my soul and of alerting you, Dear Reader, to the strange events that have so wilfully shaped history since 1795 and which now conspire to make Bole (and ParaDigm Enterprises) the pre-eminent power on earth. More, I do this in the hope that being forewarned you might be forearmed and careful of those such as the Boles, the Kentons and the Jekylls who would seek to subjugate Mankind and to deny us free-will.

My story will, I suspect, astonish and alarm those of you of a more hysterical disposition, and many will consider it to be nothing more than a fanciful product of a mischievous and malevolent imagination. My claims, I have no doubt, will be mocked.

So be it.

But being mocked does not alter the veracity of what I will relate. I pledge to you that the events related below are facts, but being advised by Laplace that ‘the weight of evidence for an extraordinary claim must be proportioned to its strangeness’ as proof I have appended faithfully rendered and apostilled facsimiles of the pertinent diary entries of my ancestors. These I trust, with just a modest alleviation of the narrow-mindedness of which we British are prone, will speak persuasively, such that those reading this letter and its addendums will be moved to believe. To these, the more fair-minded members of my putative audience, I say look around and if you see a congruity of your history and mine, then beware, for death and destruction walk behind you!

To begin.

Overleaf you will find the diary entry made by my great-great grandfather on that fateful day in December 1795 when he was invited to attend a scientific soiree in Bole Manor situated in Wold Newton.

Read … and prepare to be amazed.

Sunday, 17 April 2011


I’ve got an idea for a story which involves a psychic reading so I thought I’d do a little background research. With that in mind Nelli and I attended the ‘Psychic Evening’ at Ye Olde Dog and Partridge (I kid you not) in Tutbury, a village just up the road from where we live.

Now, as one of the main characters in ‘The Demi-Monde: Winter’, a guy called Vanka Maykov, is a faux-psychic, I’d already done some pretty extensive background reading into the art of ‘cold reading’ and ‘flim-flamming’ so I went well prepared but not, I hasten to add, in a particularly cynical frame of mind. Rather I was of a mind to be amazed.

I wasn’t.

The woman (who will remain nameless to spare her blushes) looked the part – middle-aged, dreamy, sort of fey looking – and the table she was using was dressed to impress – tarot cards, ribbons, a table cloth embroidered with what looked like elves. So I sat down, she closes her eyes as though in deep thought and we’re off.

Now let’s digress a moment to see what non-verbal clues I’d given this woman just by the act of sitting down. She’d know that I’m a married man (wedding ring); that I’m around sixty (so probably retirement looming, children off and running, parents dead); that I’ve got no noticeable impediments (I don’t limp and I’ve still got the use of all my appendages); and that as I’ve come for a psychic reading then I must have a reason for being willing to part with twenty quid for thirty minutes of her time.

It was this last aspect she tested first: ‘I hope you haven’t come here to test me?’ she asked’. No, not to test, merely to learn.

Then it was ‘I see the presence of a woman hovering around you. Has your mother recently departed for the world of spirits?’ No, my mother died 15 years ago. ‘You were close to your mother’. Wrong again … actually very wrong again. ‘You are going through a change in your life’. Nope and I ain’t menopausal either. She frowned and said I was difficult to read.

She tried another tack, asking me to choose a piece of ribbon from a bundle. I chose green. She stroked it for a while and then put it down. I never did find out the significance of picking green.

‘Let’s try the cards’. I had to shuffle the tarot cards, she split them into piles (seven, if I remember aright) and I had to pick one. She turned them over, arranged them, rearranged them, frowned, took a sip of water, frowned and then put them down. ‘You have a daughter’. Good try: I’ve got three actually. ‘The youngest has healing hands’. Only if you can ply them from around your throat but I let this observation slide. ‘She is a nurse or a teacher.’ Here my psychic was making a judgement based on my age but as Ellie is the progeny of my second marriage, she’s still at school. I told the psychic this. ‘Then she’s going to be a teacher or a nurse’. Again had all the hallmarks of a bloody good guess. I’m reasonably well-spoken so the chances are my daughter will be too: therefore she ain’t gonna be working in Costa Coffee, and as the professions with the highest number of female participants are teaching and nursing, my psychic was just playing the odds.

I won’t bore you with the rest of it: suffice it to say that even the psychic got embarrassed and halved the fee to ten pounds. But what the session did was get me thinking that it would be possible to devise a foretelling programme based purely on algorithms because that, in a crude way, was what my psychic was doing, picking up cues and then making educated assumptions based on those cues.

I think there may be a story in it after all: not artificial intelligence but artificial prescience.

Thursday, 14 April 2011


Reading the blog of Lord Cardigan (Precipitation With Insight) regarding Wold Newton got me thinking that perhaps it was time to pay tribute to the great man himself, Philip Jose Farmer.

Some of you younger readers might not have heard of PJF but he was an inspirational (he certainly inspired me!) writer. Sadly PJF died last year but he lives on in his books and to my mind his greatest work was the Riverworld series which were instrumental in persuading me to populate the Demi-Monde with historical characters. If you haven’t read the books I urge you to do so: they are simply marvellous pieces of fantasy and packed with imagination.

The other thing that PJF did was introduce sex to SF. Even today his books ‘Image of the Beast’ and ‘Blown’ have the power to shock – the remembrance of what the girl with the steel teeth did still lingers.

Probably though, what PJF is best remembered for is the creation of the Wold Newton Universe. A comet crashed to earth in a tiny place called Wold Newton in Yorkshire in 1795 (a real life event) and PJF conjectured that the radiations it emitted affected the occupants of a coach travelling near the village, causing genetic mutations. These people became the precursors to a group of superheroes that are the staples of classic pulp SF: Tarzan, Doc Savage, Professor Moriarty, Allan Quartermain and many others. It was a real leap of imagination and is tremendous fun.

But what those who study the mystery of the Wold Newton comet forget, is that it wasn’t just the radiation that was to shape history. The detritus of the comet itself would have strange ramifications …

Tuesday, 12 April 2011


The guys at HarperCollins were meeting today to discuss the cover for the US edition of The Demi-Monde: Winter so I was asked if I had any thoughts. This at least gave me a chance to dust off some of the ProtoCovers Nigel had done before Quercus had optioned the Demi-Monde series. I was reminded how bloody good some of them were.

A couple I've blogged about before so I'll confine myself to some of the others.

This one I think is the best of all of Nigel's efforts. It combines the steam-punky typewriter-esque font of the book's title with a London cityscape (circa 1870) - which could be amended for other books in the series which are set in other Sectors - with a rather freaky head shot of Ella showing a rather ambiguous semi-cyber aspect. I think this is a VERY strong cover.

This second one is also strong. It used the valknut rune which is the emblem of the quasi-fascist ForthRight and could, of course, be altered for other books. Too subtle? Perhaps but I've adopted the stamp for my book signings so all is not lost.

The third and final cover is good and very much in the tradition of pulp SF (a good thing, methinks!) but is perhaps a little too reverential of Philip Jose Farmer for comfort.

Just a shame the Poles didn't think of asking me if I had an unused cover going spare - 'cos I have! But living proof that Mr Nigel Robinson is one talented guy.

Monday, 11 April 2011


The American version of 'The Demi-Monde: Winter' is going to be launched on the 27th December so I've just got the edit of book back from HarperCollins (love the Camelcase!) and though it’s a lot lighter than I feared it has highlighted more inconsistencies in the text than I’m comfortable with. How can I have missed these things? I’ve only read the damned book a hundred times!

Still hopefully there’s time to tweak the UK paperback so all is not lost. I'm just thankful that the American editor was so bloody eagle-eyed.

Funny thing is that I hadn’t realised that Americans use so many z’s in their spelling – all these specialize, recognize etc. And that they don’t use blonde when describing the colour of a woman’s hair was a surprize too.

Give it another hundred years and the two languages will have all the similarities of French and Spanish.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

CamelCase Gives me the Hump

I would never have believed it but my choice of camelCase – sometimes known as medial capitalisation – seems to have gotten up the nose of one or two of my reviewers, so it is probably useful to remind them of what camelCase is and to tell them why I used it when I was writing The Demi-Monde series of books.

To put it in a nutshell camelCase is the insertion of a capital letter into the middle of a word for stylistic or functional reasons. As it produces a ‘hump’ in the word some wag thought it sensible to call it camelCase. Now this grammatical oddity isn't as unusually as you might imagine, we meet camelCase everyday: think ‘MacDonald’, ‘iPad’, ‘AstroTurf’, ‘WikiLeaks’ and ‘NaCl’. But although the use of camelCase is centuries old it became really evident and popular when computer programmers had to write multiword identifiers without the use of spaces between the words because these foxed the programs. This trickled down into the lexicon of designers and suddenly the use of camelCase became very hip.

It was because of this association with computer programming that I was first attracted to the use of camelCase. The Demi-Monde is a virtual world, platformed on the world’s first quantum computer, ABBA, so when I was developing the religions and the philosophies I would use in this world it seemed natural to me that ABBA would put a camelCase twist on their names. Hence UnFunDaMentalism, HerEticalism, LessBienism and the rest.

But there was another reason I used it. I’m writing about a world where there are eight religions and any number of sub-cults. Now it is asking a lot of my readers to remember what each of them are and what they stand for without there being some form of aide memoire. And this is where camelCase really came into its own: hence HimPerialism is the religion which promotes the supremacy of men; Suffer-O-Gettism is the extreme feminist cult dedicated to the subjugation of men, etc. etc.

I hope this explains things and persuades some of my more didactic reviewers to cut me just a little slack!

Wednesday, 6 April 2011


Following Steve Jobs’ announcement of Apple's new iPad 2 I thought it appropriate to preprint this announcement by ParaDigm CyberResearch of its own, vastly superior, product offering.

ParaDigm CyberResearch is proud to announce …

From the 1st March 2014, discerning users of PolyFunctional Digital Devices will be able to purchase, via reputable purveyors of electrical merchandise throughout the Empire, ParaDigm CyberResearch’s utterly new and peerless Bulldog 47 Polly.

Without doubt the Bulldog 47 is the swiftest and most convenient Polly ever to be made available to the general public, being built to a most generous specification.

Within a sturdy and most pleasing brass case is contained a circular CRT Flexi-Plexi with an embedded Feely-Screeny matrix, this permitting users to enjoy all the facilities of the Bulldog 47 even in the brightest sunlight. The utilisation of an eyeSoar Mark 47 operating system with multiple de-lux enhancements allows full and crackle-free use of the Bulldog 47’s eyeMail, eyeVid and eyeSpeak capabilities, these most speedily and promptly provided by the employment of a 10 Ghz Empire-class Aye-5 bespoke-designed, refined-performance, replete-power, system-on-a-mote. As all our customers have come to expect, connectivity is provided by ParaDigm’s very own ‘Wi-Not’ custom wireless telemetry. Ample on-board warehousing of data is achieved via a Dreadnaught-class C-wide storage unit. Last but by no means least much thought has been given to the controls of the Bulldog 47: input is achieved through the use of posterior-mounted split-Qwe/rty keyboard which enables eight-digit manipulation for speedier typing whilst twin thumb controls ensure prompt and accurate scrolling.

The Bulldog 47: the best of British
Price: £14 19s 11d (including purchase tax)

So you see sleek and sexy though the Apple iPad 2 undoubtedly is, as touch-screen tablet devices go it can’t hold a candle to the Bulldog 47 Polly. There’s simply no substitute for brass, rivets and British know-how!

Now I hear you asking “who are ParaDigm CyberResearch?” and “what in the Real World is a Polly?” but fear not, once you’ve entered the world of the Demi-Monde all will be revealed … eventually. You’ll have to trust me on this: there are still three books to go and I am a great believer in the art of script-tease.

In fact, the old adage that fact is stranger than fiction is borne out by the story of the creation of the Polly. The Bulldog 47 Polly you see above is the second iteration of the thing, being originally conceived three years ago for a book I’m still writing called ‘Invent Ten-N’. I briefed Nigel Robinson, who designs all my Demi-Monde stuff, as to what I thought it would look like and this is what he came up with.

Remember this is one whole year before the announcement of the original Apple iPad. Maybe Apple’s Steve Jobs reality distortion field is actually a window on the world of the Demi-Monde – or maybe not, I hear he's not too keen on windows. But I would have thought that reading a book before it's published is beyond even the miraculous talents of Steve Jobs. But the fact remains: ParaDigm’s Polly preceded the Apple iPad onto the market – well, a market - by a clear twelve months.

No matter. The reality is (and as all SF fans know reality is a very mutable thing) that despite the very generous insights offered by the Demi-Monde to ParaDigm’s would–be competitors, Pollys remain pre-eminent in the field of computational tablet devices. For instance, Pollys come in all shapes and sizes (in-ear devices, spectacle mounted displays, flexi-plexi screens etc.): it's a system rather than a device. And while iPad Apps are proprietary and will only work on Apple iPads (and Apple phones), meaning that they are only available to small percentage of the market, Pollys use any software made available on the Demi-Monde equivalent of the internet, the PollyNet. But then I suppose this isn’t to be wondered at: after all, ParaDigm CyberResearch is the PollyNet. Yes, the CEO of ParaDigm, Septimus Bole, has achieved what Steve Jobs hasn’t been able to: Bole has locked 100% of users in to one company. But then Bole is …

Enough of that!

I suppose my objective in bringing the ParaDigm announcement of its Bulldog 47 product launch to your attention a full three years before it is made is in the hope that if and when ParaDigm’s imitators bring out circular screens and anterior-positioned keys you’ll remember that you saw mention of the use of posterior-mounted split-Qwe/rty keyboard which enables eight-digit manipulation for speedier typing and of circular CRTs here first.

Yeah, and that a round Polly makes Steve Jobs new iPad 2 look positively square.

The Polly and its images were conceived by Rod Rees and designed by Nigel Robinson. © Rod Rees/Nigel Robinson

Tuesday, 5 April 2011


Okay … ‘Sucker Punch’ has been slammed by some of the worst reviews I’ve seen this side of ‘The Last Air Bender’ and its box office takings in the US have fallen off a cliff but I still have the feeling that ‘Sucker Punch’ will, in twenty years or so, be seen as a seminal movie.

Let me explain …

Hollywood – filmmakers generally, actually – are periodically blindsided by cultural/technological change. They were sniffy about TV and found themselves adrift in the 50’s when they were hit for six by this ‘new’ entertainment format. They were similarly nonplussed by the commercial success of games in the ‘80’s and were left floundering in gaming’s wake. And now they are struggling with the impact of the Net. All these formats Hollywood should have owned … but they didn’t. But I suspect that there are a few visionaries in La La Land who recognise a challenge when they see one and rise to it. And one of these is the director of ‘Sucker Punch’, Zack Snyder.

Until I came to ‘Sucker Punch’ I hadn’t been much of a Snyder fan: ‘Watchmen’ I thought an overblown mess and ‘300’ suffered by being too slavishly enraptured of Frank Miller’s original. It seems to me that unencumbered by fan demands that he ‘honour’ original source material, Snyder’s imagination has been given a real chance to soar. And soar it most certainly does.

‘Sucker Punch’ tells the story of a young girl – Baby Doll – incarcerated in an asylum and facing a lobotomy, who retreats into a fantasy world as she tries to engineer an escape. Now the plot has been lambasted as escapist trash but I actually think it works. The lunacy of the three levels of reality Baby Doll populates intermesh well and I thought it convincing enough to suspend belief. And the sheer visceral excitement of the adventures Baby Doll and her pals experience is astonishing: the steampunky artefacts Snyder brings to the screen are mind-blowing. This is some of the most exciting film-making I have EVER seen.

Much has been made of the girls’ costumes, that they have a near-pornographic aspect designed to titivate teenage boys. All I can say is this is hokum. Kit, my elder daughter, is a great manga devotee and she explained in detail that the costumes were manga-esque in their conception. Neither she nor Ellie (both intelligent and sassy teens) had any problem with the girls’ outfits. Sure I could see where some viewers steeped in knee-jerk feminist thought could take affront but for kids used to wearing this stuff there was no problem. In fact they saw the adventures of Baby Doll et al as quite empowering: here were a gang of girls fighting hard for their freedom and handling the knocks they got along the way pretty stoically.

On a more mundane level the colouring of the film is marvellous, the soundtrack terrific, the camera work (especially the close-ups) as good as any I’ve seen and the editing simply wonderful.

But to me, what ‘Sucker Punch’ does supremely well is conflate all the elements of modern entertainment – film, music, video, internet and gaming – and mash them up into one piece of amalgamated entertainment. It’s the first time I’ve seen this accomplished with such panache: it knocks ‘Tron’ into a cocked hat. And this is why I believe it will be cited in twenty years as the film which was the first to successfully bridge the divide between all the entertainment platforms.

I’d urge you to go and see ‘Sucker Punch’ but only if you can leave any cultural or intellectual sniffiness you might be carrying outside the door of the cinema. If you can, prepare to be amazed.

Monday, 4 April 2011


Thaddeus and the Firing Squad (Kit's on the right!)
Spent yesterday in London. Kit plays saxophone in a beat poetry combo going by the name of "Thaddeus and the Firing Squad" and she had a gig at the Camden Eye pub so we all went along to support.

I hadn't been to a poetry evening for years so I was a little ring rusty, but all in all it was a very enjoyable evening. The event was organised under the auspices of http://www.rrrants.co.uk/ who are intent on taking poetry out into the world and although the quality of the poetry on offer was decidedly patchy some of the acts were terrific.

Lobby Lud (in the hat) backed by The Antipoets
  Of course the Firing Squad was seriously good - Kit played really well - though I thought Thaddeus was a little subdued. The other highlights were the VERY funny Lobby Lud - if ever there was a man destined to step out of the poetry shadows and embrace stardom it's this guy. Think Tommy Cooper mixed with George Formby and you get the picture. Some of his ideas - the ukulele-playing machine, for instance - border on genius.Also worthy of mention was Karen Hayley: although she was only given time for one poem it was a cracker - a love affair between two clowns - and her delivery was comic perfection. Watch that name!

Much of the rest was simply too crude to have much interest. Shock is a useful tool in poetry but it should be used to season the poem rather than become the poem. Some of the stuff being performed was simply too gynaecological for my taste: the performers were using their poetry as a cheap form of transactional analysis, substituting verbalised shit for talent.

Still the diamonds in the smut made it a very enjoyable evening. Well recommended.


Good review in The Sunday Times yesterday (03/04/11). Writing in the 'Culture' section, this is what Alison Flood had to say:

Rod Rees provides a delectably dark addition to the growing subgenre of science fiction about virtual reality in his debut The Demi-Monde: Winter. Dreamt up by the US army to prepare their soldiers for the nightmare of war, the Demi-Monde is a computer game peppled by simulations of the worst tyrants history has to offer: Nazi psychopath Reinhard Heydrich, Spanish inquisitor Tomas de Torquemada and their ilk. When the president's daughter is lured and trapped in the virtual world, Ella Thomas - desperate for money - is recruited to enter the rabidly racist, psychotic and increasingly self-aware Demi-Monde to rescue her. Rees is a little too enamoured of his puns (HerEticalism is a religion based on female supremacy etc.) but overall this is a feisty and nightmarishly enjoyable debut that bodes well for his Demi-Monde series.

Pretty damned good! Just a word about those puns. There are eight religions in the Demi-Monde and a number of sub-cults so when I was originally writing the books it was a bit of a bugger to remember what each one stood for so I came up with the punning-mnemonic. It seems to have worked: even the reviewers remember them.