Friday, 17 January 2014

All of this has happened before and all of this will happen again...

When a new year rolls around, it seems custom dictates that we look back upon it and those of us so inclined to waffle on do so in that retrospective manner. Those of us so inclined take to using bizarrely structured sentences with big words to make themselves sound ever so more eloquent than they really are, to promote the idea of intelligence. That or the person in question has just watched the last episode of Sherlock again and as such is feeling like prancing around and being a smartass. Unfortunately, that is all I'd be able to do as I lack Sherlock Holmes' rather brilliant deductive processes.

Anyway, that's a digression. Back to the matter at hand, which is the retrospective look at 2013. Blame old Janus for that one, two-headed know-it-all. Thanks to that particular god - who, fun fact, has no equivalent in Greek mythology - we spend a lot of January (shockingly enough named after him, vain little bugger) looking back at the year before and planning on doing so many wonderful things in the year ahead. We call them New Year's Resolutions, more commonly known as "sign up for the gym in January then stop going in February because I can't be arsed". Disclaimer - there are those in this world who do manage to actually stick to their resolutions and kudos to them, but I'm one of the little naysayers who doesn't even bother them. No definite philosophical aversion that I'm going to jam down your throats, I've just never felt the need for them. Simple apathy really.

Oh bollocks, I'm digressing ONCE AGAIN. Ahem. All right then. 2013.

First off, thirteen. The number has itself a bit of an unlovely rep. In the western world we have this undue obsession with thirteen being unlucky. In fact, in the later months of 2013, I was serving a customer - as my job requires - and as they had ordered food, I gave them an order number. It happened to be thirteen. So they said "Can I have another number?" Now I'm usually one to just bend over backwards and say "Yes, sir, of course, sir, no problem, whatever you like, sir." But I developed an affinity for thirteen in my old age. I happen to think it's a bit of a misunderstood number, the underdog that everyone should be rooting for. So my less-than-composed response was something along the lines of "Really?" The gentleman did not seem entirely impressed, especially when I tried to explain my off-hand objection in the context of my feelings towards thirteen. Epitomised by the serial number of my Colonial Fleet dogtags, 428813. I changed the number despite him apparently yielding to my defence of thirteen. Just to attempt to keep the customer happy, even though I'm 99.9% certain that he was distinctly unimpressed by the whole exchange.

But that's the latter half of 2013. Let's talk about the beginning. Now the last time I did a retrospective, I talked a lot about movies, babbled a little about books and went all gushing about people. Not sure if I'm going to do all of that, but there is some kind of abstract exploration I want to do. You see, when 2014 rolled around, I noted many people on the dread website Facebook noting how glad they were it was over. Indeed, I managed to blunder myself into one of my trademark hole-digging session on New Year's Day, just after the stroke of midnight, when I decided that there was really only one person I wanted to text and did so, expressing the sentiments to the effect of a hope that the coming year would prove as awesome as the last. Only to discover that in spite of several awesome things having happened to this person, a lot of crap happened afterwards. I sense, from the tidal wave of Facebook sighs of relief that many people felt that way about 2013.

Given my affinity for the number, I had some pretty high hopes that 2013 was going to be my year. It's been hinted and intimated on many an occasion (or maybe not, so some exposition will follow) that I have been attempting to woo/impress the object of my affections. First of all, object of my affections is an awfully unfortunate phrase. This person is not an object, they're a rather fantastic human being who on several occasions I was quite absolutely sure I'd completely blown it with. The beginning of the year being the first roll of a tiny snowball down the mountain, that eventually tumbled down and exploded at the end of June. Thank the Lords of Kobol that when it did, I discovered the lady in question did not in fact revile me or want me gone, they actually quite value my friendship and thus my affections have safely died away and some seem to be stirring elsewhere, but what becomes of that remains to be seen.

So, a little more geeky context. Earlier in 2013, I mentioned a television show called The Almighty Johnsons, the main thrust of which is the mortal incarnation of Odin seeking to reunited with his true love, the mortal incarnation of Frigg. Since watching the show, this has been something of a theme, the quest to find the Frigg to my Odin. Let's face it, if I could be Odin going around defeating frost giants and looking particularly badass with an eye-patch, it wouldn't be so bad. But I'm not exactly Odin, I just like the phrasing, "the Frigg to my Odin". Other potentials are "the Starbuck to my Apollo" and "the Holmes to my Watson". All in keeping with a theme of finding...companionship. I hesitate to say more because it feels a little too much like tempting the gods and they have an awfully annoying habit of making things awkward and pissing themselves laughing at the folly of mortals. That and it seems to me that there is a perception, nay even a prejudice, against those who seek to bestow affection on those they deem worthy of it. Phrases such as "You'll find it when you're not looking" are commonly thrown at you, should you dare to actually believe that you can find your Frigg. Or Odin. I can testify that things seem to work best when someone comes out of the clear blue sky, tearing through the little bubble world you've been in and drop-kicking you in all of the complicated feels, but nonetheless I do hope that I can find my Frigg. And if not, I can definitely say I've made some wonderful friends along the way.

AHEM. I think it's time to move swiftly on to a point that I've kind of been building up to. It's kind of a life philosophy. About six years ago, the world as I had wanted it to be crumbled down around me. The woman I believed I loved promptly turned around and jumped on some other donkey, dangling the false carrot of possible friendship as opposed to reconciliation and pretty much left me to emotionally bleed to death. Gods, that was awfully melodramatic. Anyway. As a result, I became even more of determinist in order to reconcile what had happened with the way I believe the world should be. Eventually, this evolved into a simple mantra - "Bad fortune is merely good fortune in a very clever disguise". Now in some cases, this is extremely hard to follow. I know because by sheer virtue of believing something, you invite others to criticise and challenge you. By way of example, 2013 put one of my friends through the absolute frakkin' ringer. Hades himself couldn't have been more sadistically evil in torturing them. Yet I believe that all that bad fortune, all the bad things that have happened, happened with good reason. It may not show itself immediately, but the reason is frakkin' out there.

Before this life philosophy attracts more raised eyebrows and strenuous objections, time to move on to the housekeeping. Well, the little details, more relevant to my journey through 2013. I've covered the big, nearly screwed-it-up-with-amazing-person-who-still-wants-to-be-my-friend, but 2013 wasn't all me bumbling around trying to love someone who loved me back, but only as a friend. In fact, in terms of my working life, 2013 was frakkin' epic. On the front of my paying job, I had a boss who unlike the last two jokers actually had the vaguest hint of a clue what they are doing. A revelation after the abject hell me and my colleagues had been through in the previous year. Then, as I mentioned in my last blog entry of 2013, I actually started and finished the first draft of my novel! Backtracking to the bad fortune/good fortune thing, I want to say that 2013 is almost...part one of a trilogy. Or maybe part two. Heck, it's Empire Strikes Back. The bad guys have one, the good guys are on the run, but all the crap we've been through, all the things that have happened good or bad have set us up for where we're going to be next. So 2014, if it turns out to be as awesome as everyone hopes, might just owe a frakton of thanks to 2013 for being so crap.

Also in 2013 where some other artistic, non-writing touches, but not by me. First of all, I had my first ever tattoo:

In keeping with my nerdiness and obsession with Battlestar Galactica, this is the Colonial symbol for Scorpia. To put it as simply as I hope I can, each of the Twelve Colonies of Kobol is named after the twelve constellations of the Zodiac. So, if you go by my logic, to figure out which colony you're from and which symbol is yours, look at this simple table, pick out your star sign and BOOM, that's your colony:

Aries - Aerilon.
Taurus - Tauron.
Gemini - Gemenon.
Cancer - Canceron.
Leo - Leonis.
Virgo - Virgon.
Libra - Libran.
Scorpio - Scorpia.
Sagittarius - Sagittaron.
Capricorn - Caprica.
Aquarius - Aquaria.
Picses - Picon.

For further information on the Twelve Colonies of Kobol, visit the helpful Battlstar Galactica wiki or, if you're in anyway obsessed with Galactica like me, go to Quantum Mechanix and buy the Map of the Twelve Colonies. It's where I took the symbol from that is now permanently inked on my arm. So say we all. Straight-faced this time. Also, photo credit goes to my colleague, call sign "Sonic" on account of his mohawk (not blue though), who as of Monday, 13th January 2014, has become my wingman. This could turn into a very interesting year...

The next subject of art is also in a similar tattoo vein. You see, I've wanted a tattoo for ages. Before I decided on the Scorpia Colonial symbol as my first tattoo, I came up with the idea of a dragon and a wolf in a Yin-Yang pattern. As luck would have it, I'm friends with a rather brilliant artist, Jennie Gyllblad. Click the name to discover her website and the brilliance of her work. Further good fortune smiled upon me, as she accepts commissions, so I commissioned her to design it. Now, given that I am something of a fan of The Song of Ice and Fire books and the associated television show, the design is a Targaryen dragon and a Stark direwolf. It now sits, beautifully framed, on my desk, right next to my computer. It looks (sans frame) a little something like the link you can click on which is these words. It is supremely beautifully awesome and much kudos goes to Jennie for her hard work and artistic genius. Still debating the tattooing of it upon my body, but by gods I still have an awesome piece of artwork to proudly display in my humble hall.

I suspect I have waffled on for a lot longer than I usually do and about subjects I don't usually waffle about, though I suppose that just goes to show that I feel a bit strongly about some of these things. Especially the bad fortune/good fortune thing. It's not the most popular life philosophy, mostly because people look on it as a cop-out, a cheap way of excusing bad things. It doesn't excuse them, barely explains them. What I hope it says, what I want to say to the people who have had a shit 2013, the people I care about who know who they are and will punch me repeatedly for being so stupidly sentimental, is that the bad things don't have to rule us. They happened because they needed to, to put us on the path we're on now. Hell, at the risk of getting myself shot, it's time for a final thought.

This year, I started out being completely in love with this incredible girl. I still love her in this moment right now, but I cannot stress enough how platonic that feeling is. She is my friend. For the very good reason that without falling in love with her, without expressing my feelings to her, putting myself through the ringer with own neuroses and insecurity, I could not be the man I am now. Slightly more confident than yesterday. Looking at 2014 with Mal's pistol strapped to his hip, the promise of Vera on the horizon (see QMx's Facebook page for context), high hopes for a Mk II Viper one day and hoping that maybe, just maybe, out there somewhere, is the Frigg to his Odin, the Starbuck to his Apollo.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Curled Up Next to the Fire: Iron Council

In the lengthy silence that I have been hiding in whilst writing my novel, I have done a spot of reading. Not much, given that I've been furtively writing most of the time, as well as taking a hiatus from reading because I was less than one hundred pages from the end of the book mentioned in the title. You see, it has been mentioned in two previous entries, one Sitting Under the Shade of the Tree and a fellow Curled Up Next to the Fire, incidentally also blogged about at the start of a year. For today's blog speaks of the wonders of China Miéville's work. And I couldn't bring myself to finish reading Iron Council before finishing my novel, because I knew I would absolutely have to blog about it. So I forced myself to be patient and wait until the writing was finished before the reading was.

Now, before I dive in and babble about the book itself, a small warning of potential spoilers. While I aim to avoid them as best I can, Iron Council is the third book in the Bas-Lag Trilogy. There is that ever-present risk that some of the events of the previous two books might get mentioned.

So, with that disclaimer out of the way, on with the babbling.

Iron Council is set some twenty or so years after the events of Perdido Street Station and The Scar, which are set near back-to-back. From what I've been able to gather from the novels and some Google referencing, Iron Council takes place in the year 1804 (or around then) in the Bas-Lag chronology, the previous having taken place in 1779 and 1780 respectively.

1804 then. Big changes have happened in New Crobuzon, the toxic city at the heart of the Bas-Lag trilogy. Well. The city administration, the Parliament and its tyrannical Mayor, are still as corrupt and tyrannical as ever. But the feared New Crobuzon Militia is no longer a secret police hiding in the shadows, they have uniforms and are patrolling the streets, though they still wear masks to hide their identities. And all the while, New Crobuzon is waging a costly war against the mysterious city-state of Tesh. Against this backdrop, the rag-tag liberal dissidents of New Crobuzon gather, independently of each other, to bring about great change in the city of rotten dreams.

Iron Council follows three dissidents - Cutter, Ori and Judah Low. Cutter and a band of fellow dissidents from the Caucus, a loose affilitation of the dissident groups in New Crobuzon, are on the trail of Judah Low, who has disappeared halfway across Bas-Lag's continent of Rohagi in order to find the fabled Iron Council of the title. He and his band of fellow seditionists are only a few steps behind the New Crobuzon Militia, who seek to destroy the Iron Council, a symbol of hope and rebellion that could unravel the tyrannical fabric of Parliament's rule.

Meanwhile, back in New Crobuzon, Ori grows tired of the Caucus's ineffectual rebellion, growing to deeply admire and fall into the company of Toro, a militant seditionist who seeks to take direct action against Parliament and the Mayor.

Finally, Judah Low. While some of what we see through Judah's eyes is a telling of events transpiring in the now, the majority of his perspective chapters deal with the past, with the birth of the Iron Council, its roots in New Crobuzon's indiscriminate attempt to expand its dominions through the creation of a great railroad. Interesting side note, Judah Low is a golemist, a particular tradecraft for fashioning golems from various mediums. In the historical context of our Universe, Judah Loew ben Bezalel, famous for creating the Golem of Prague, a creature made from clay.

Anyway, back to the point...

I've waxed lyrical on the subject of the Bas-Lag Trilogy twice now and as the above paragraphs might show, I'm a bit naff at plot summaries. When I gush about China Miéville's works, I'm gushing about setting, about the atmosphere of things. The trick with Iron Council is that the setting is pretty familiar - we're back to New Crobuzon, the city that Perdido Street Station did a very good job of introducing us too. The lure of Iron Council is the state of New Crobuzon some twenty years on from when we last saw her. No less decayed and broken, the city is fast approaching a tipping point - the war with Tesh is going less-than-brilliantly, seditious elements in the city become even more organised in spite of the public presence of the Militia and despite having caught and executed famous Remade revolutionary Jack Half-a-Prayer years before, the violent spirit lives on in the previously mentioned Toro. Underneath the surface of it all, the city can feel that the whole stinking mess is about to violently explode.

Iron Council definitely feels different to the rest of the trilogy. And it's the finality that I think does it. You can feel that everything is coming to a head, that the final showdown is imminent. All roads lead to revolution and all that jazz. The usual sense of setting, the incredible character that arises from the places the characters inhabit isn't really here, which is a shame, but there are some pretty cool locations explored. One in particular, which I'm going to stick a giant SPOILER WARNING before just in case...

Much later, around the middle of Iron Council, we learn that the titular entity has retreated into the fringes of the Cacotopic Stain, a region first mentioned in Perdido Street Station. The Stain is a massive blight, a barren area where the laws of reality unravel, ravel themselves up again in new arrangements and play general havoc on anything they come into contact with by virtue of a highly unstable magical energy source called Torque. One of the dangers approaching the Stain is something I find particularly fascinating - a substance called smokestone. From what I can gather, it rises as smoke and then, when it comes into contact with living or inanimate matter, it hardens and creates solid stone. It's frakkin' dangerous stuff and litters the area around the Stain.

For all that I'm bigging it up though, we don't stay in the Stain long. Iron Council isn't so much about its settings as Perdido Street Station and The Scar were. This one is all about the oncoming storm that is about to zap New Crobuzon's Parliament in the butt.

As part of a trilogy, Iron Council comes to be judged next to the merits of its peers. Standing next to Perdido Street Station and The Scar, Iron Council is the weakest instalment in the trilogy, but no less a satisfying conclusion and a worthy entry in the Bas-Lag mythology. As with all of China Miéville's work, including the shudder inducing Kraken, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would definitely recommend reading it. Let's be honest, if you've read the first two in the Bas-Lag Trilogy, you should read the end, if nothing else to complete it. For all that I seem to be underwhelmed by it, it doesn't detract from my opinion that China Miéville is a genius, a brilliant writer whose work I continue to devour with near-religious devotion. Around the middle of the year, when I've demolished my reading pile a little more (hopefully), it'll be on to the next offering of his I have in my reading pile - Railsea. Oh, it turns out he has a bit of an obsession with definitely comes across here in Iron Council, but doesn't take anything away from the narrative, so all in all...just an interesting side note I guess.

Moving on...

As my babbling is reaching the level where I feel all sanity and confounded Vulcan logic has left the building, it's time to wrap things up. In summation, Iron Council is a good book, a worthy read, but alas not up there with the predecessors in the series.

Gods I feel all evil and dirty saying that...I suspect I need help.

Anyway, until next time dearest readers, where I plan to recap the exciting adventures of 2013 in a Year in Review-style blog, read, enjoy, curl up next to a nice roaring fire with a good book.