I’m over here now.
I’m over here now.
Are you offering, Mr. Anonymous?
I thought I’d start out talking about where I’m at with my writing at the moment. I started out with a plan to write 500 words per day on anything. That included articles on here, short stories and my novel. I managed to keep that up for a while, but found work, my relationship and other excuses getting in the way. Anyway, I’ve found that when I do write, my focus has been more and more on my novel. Around a quarter of the way into the novel, I found myself floundering. Rather than give up, which I was sorely tempted to do, I decided to give the Snowflake Method a try (I recommend it).
Okay, so below is a list of things I’ve achieved with my writing this year:
Things I would like to do by the end of the year:
That’s where I am with my writing. I really want to take this seriously, and a lot of my self-esteem is wrapped up in my writing, so I really hope that I can turn it into something real. As always comments, advice and affirmations are more than welcome.
1I keep calling it my novel because the working title is simply the name of the main character: “Laura”.
2"Margaret". I’m not good at names.
I have a student at the moment who is extremely anxious about his romantic life. He is in his mid-teens and has concerns about the girls he has crushes on, and the girls crushing on him.
Anyone who has read my previous blog or who knew me when I was available will tell you that these are problems with which I am very familiar. As something of a late-bloomer, they are concerns which have dogged me even into adulthood. At a certain point in my life, I had a dozen crushes, a few admirers and a couple of almost-relationships at the same time.
The thing about being in this situation is that you forget what’s really important. You look for drama and superficial attraction rather than real compatibility and friendship. I’d like to use an example from my own love life, if I may.
We hung out, flirted and talked for almost the full two-week competition. She would show interest, back off, then sulk when I hung out with someone else. It was a long, frustrating fortnight while she strung me along going hot and cold seemingly at random.
Meanwhile, I was texting another girl. We’d had an those awesome, easy and slightly-drunken converstation at the team-building booze-fest on the first day. We had also swapped numbers and stayed in touch. We laughed at the same off-colour jokes, shared geeky interests, and gossiped about all the adolescent romantic angst going on around us in both the students and staff.
While The Belarusian would get more and more jealous and needy as I gave her less and less puppy-like attention, I grew closer and closer to the girl I constantly texted whose face I could only sketchily remember. Ultimately, The Belarusian bécame another rarely spoken-to Facebook friend while I took Text Girl home and gave her a ring.
Other than some flirting, The Belarusian and I had very Little in common. Conversely, my fiancée and I can laugh and support each other through anything. It just goes to show: sometimes the right choice is right under your nose while you run around chasing the wrong one.
Happy Valentine’s Day, darling. I love you.
((My first attempt at Doctor Who fan fiction, inspired by the picture below. As always, comments more than welcome.))
The TARDIS crashed in the middle of a barren desert. It wasn’t even the attractive, sandy ones you saw in documentaries about Egypt and Afghanistan. It looked more like a never-ending quarry, with broken stone and stained soil as far as the eye could see. River curled a lip at the scanner image while he ran around talking about lost civilisations and the best technicians in the galaxy. She was interested, of course. Any good archaeologist would be, but this was supposed to be a date!
She looked down at the long, tight black dress. The sequins sparkled in the light from the TARDIS console. She sighed meaningfully. He either ignored it or didn’t know what it meant. He was talking about a war or a battle or something. This was going to be one of those kinds of visits. She stomped off, a little impressed that she could in spiked heels, and headed to the wardrobe.
Minutes later, she returned in 19th Century khakis that artfully displayed her wonderful physique. She’d never admit to wasting time in front of the mirror admiring the fact, of course. She’d considered one of those wooden, jungle-explorer hats, but she hated hat-hair.
"Where have you been?" asked an incredulous Doctor. He was leaning against the handrail at the bottom of the steps. He knew where she’d gone and why, but he so loved the inscrutable alien routine. She ignored his mock-irritation and swayed past him. She ensured he had a distracting view as she took another look at the scanner.
"Go on, then. Tell me where we are."
"Um…" the Doctor was flustered for a moment before regaining his mental balance. He walked over to her and twiddled some knobs, showing a slideshow of the system from the holonet.
"We’re on the third planet of the Yggdrasil system. It’s the perfect system for a trade base at it bisects a number of high-traffic hyperspace routes. Listen to this." He turned one of a million dials without looking. He thought he was so smart. After a moment’s delay, the noise of thousands of chats, arguments, conversations, whistles, clicks, growls, squawks, and any number of other forms of communication. After a few second, the Doctor killed the din.
"And yet no one lives here. There are beautiful ruins from an ancient civilisation, but no one even holidays here! It’s crazy!"
River had to admit that her interest was piqued now. She reached over to hit a few buttons on the scanner screen, pressing a little closer than was necessary to her young-old lover.
"No radiation, breathable air for most species, no messages warning people away… No obvious reason why such an important port would be empty."
"It’s not just that, either. People don’t hang around upstairs, either. All those voices we just heard? They’ve all gone. New ones have arrived and are already hurrying out of here. No one says why. They just suddenly feel like they’re on a much tighter deadline as soon as they hit this system. It’s like something invisible is making them uneasy."
River surrendered. “Fine, you’ve got my interest. Let’s go.”
"That’s it? No pouting, no fighting? I thought you wanted to go to dinner?"
"Maybe you just know me too well. But here’s a spoiler for you: you WILL make it up to me."
Without listening to his reply, she opened the external door to the familiar creak. She hadn’t taken a step before being faced with a seven-foot tall bird’s head made of what looked like limestone. It looked at her like an intruder in its territory. The Doctor stepped out of the TARDIS and stared wide-eyed at the beheaded behemoth.
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
River rolled her eyes. “Oh don’t start all that “last of the Time Lords” stuff with me! It’s looks kind of like post-Alexandrian Turkey to me. Maybe Commagene. What do you think?”
The Doctor was pouting. “I think it’s a bit out of their district, isn’t it?”
River ignored him and stepped around the statue and into the open hair. It had a hot, damp smell, like the sun was cooking days of rain. A slight breeze eased the pressure of the aggressive purple sun. The sky looked like something created in oils during an acid-trip. Not that the responsible Professor-to-be would know anything about that, of course.
She could see the beheaded body of a gigantic griffon standing proudly in the distance. She made a note in her TARDIS-themed diary - “Statues of griffons appearing on worlds far from Earth and apparently unsettled by earthlings. What was their shared influence?”
Behind her, the Doctor was trying to resist the urge to read what she was writing over her shoulder while ignoring the malaise his previous regenerations were trying to drag him down into. He knew, of course, that these were not griffons, but the psychic forms of the Avileonites who spent their time bouncing around the universe helping primitive civilisations. The pyramids in Egypt were their idea. Of course, they’d had less success with the cuboids of Rabaindo IV and the spheres of Serculous I. The Doctor kept meaning to find out what had happened to them…
River had, of course, wandered off. That’s what his “companions” did. Luckily, he found her around the back of the TARDIS staring at five huge, headless statues. They sat in a line on equally-stony thrones. Each had a different pet curled up and sleeping in its lap. She was taking notes in her diary and searching the statues for any linguistic clues she might analyse.
The Doctor sniffed. There was something familiar. He bounded up a hill. He could see a black shape in the distance. Something that actually wasn’t made of stone. He whistled to draw River’s attention and called out,
"Come along, Song! There’s something here!"
Without waiting to see if she followed, he bounded towards the black object. Its shape and size were unclear through the heated air and sheer size of the desert around the alien thing. The shale crunched under his utterly-stylish black boots. Far better than those thin-soled Converse he’d worn not so long ago. Or was it two hundred years? It was difficult to remember around the one-thou mark.
River saw him slow to almost a stop almost half a mile away from the thing. That was never a good sign: the Doctor being hesitant. She caught up with him in moments, gun in hand and aimed at the dark object. Her sometimes-husband had come to almost a complete stop, now.
"What is it?" she asked, all humour gone from her voice.
"It’s… but it can’t be… unless…"
River was officially concerned now. She pulled out her scanner in one fluid movement, and without her aim on the thing wavering even slightly. That was until she smacked the stupid thing with the butt of her gun. It couldn’t detect anything. Just the normal space-time fluctuations you get around the Doctor and the TARDIS. She had a troubling thought. Taking a step forward and keeping the scanner pointed completely away from her companion, she scanned the object again. She got the same reading. This thing was either Time Lord tech or something damn similar.
"Doctor, is that-"
"No. It can’t be. Probably a cloaking device from the Third Imperial Dalek fleet. Or a temporal-shadow from the War. It could even be…"
He kept talking, but River was ignoring him now. He was panicking, unwilling to see the truth: they were looking at a crashed TARDIS.
At this distance, they could see it more clearly. It had a vaguely box-like shape, though the edges were blurred to the point where even that was not clear. It was around the same size at the bird head at the top of the hill. There was an impact pattern around it - it hadn’t left a crater as such, but the shale had been transformed by the temporal explosion into the hard, sticky topsoil it had probably been a few geological leaps into the past. The Doctor had paused at the very edge of the time crater.
Now silent, the Doctor took out his sonic screwdriver. He pointed it the mass and it made its usual excited-dental-drill sound. He looked at it and nodded, as though it confirmed something he had already expected.
"It’s the perception filter. The chameleon circuit must have been damaged on impact. The effect is what’s scaring away the traders. Probably what wiped out the natives, too."
The Doctor was unmoving. Uncharacteristically indecisive. So River decided to make the decision for him. She strode off meaninfully into the damaged ground. She heard him call her name, but she kept walk, knowing it would jerk him into action. She called back,
"Come along, lover. Don’t be afraid!"
Behind her, she knew he was staring daggers at her back, but sometimes you did the unpopular thing to help those you love. He jogged to catch up and, ultimately, they arrived at the thing together. It gave off a strangled version of the familiar TARDIS hum.
There was a sound - like the quiet version of a cell phone in a paint mixer - and one side of the cube faded, showing a black wall punctuated by white circles. The Doctor visibly tensed while River focussed her gun on the open ‘door’. Nothing happened. Nothing continued to happen. That was when it all went wrong.
They dropped down onto the console of the strange TARDIS. Everything was on its side.
"Bring back memories?" asked a perturbed Doctor.
"Swimming pool should be that way, shouldn’t it?"
Without another word, River dived into the depths of the ship. Her husband had barely had time to scream her name before he saw the bungee rope she had clipped to sturdy-looking strut on the console.
River couldn’t see a damn thing. Even the emergency lights seemed to have been knocked out. Activating the ‘explorer lights’ on her vortex manipulator, she found herself in one of the many repetitive TARDIS corridors. Were it not for the Gothic colour-scheme, she could just as easily have been in the Doctor’s own ship. Literally her mothership. She chuckled to herself as she descended. She’d have to tell the Doctor that one later.
Whoever had owned this TARDIS seemed to be much more utilitarian than the Doctor. Every room she scaled past seemed to be a map room, armory, science lab or something else particularly useful to a time traveller. River got the impression that whoever this character was, he wasn’t the moralising pacifist the Doctor was.
She had scaled almost fifty meters before she felt sick in the pit of her stomach. The world turned and she felt like she was going to throw up. Then she hit the ground with a bump. The TARDIS had righted itself. Or, more likely, he did it. River was untangling herself from her bungee line when the Doctor came bounding up the corridor with a grin on his stupid face.
"I hate you," was all she could come up with.
"No you don’t. Now, what did you find?"
She made pain noises as she finally stood up straight.
"Sweetie, whose TARDIS is this? I think you know."
He stuttered, trying to think of an answer that would allow him to keep his secrets and satisfy his wife at the same time. Suddenly, it came to him.
He grinned like he had invented electricity and took out his screwdriver, beginning to scan the ship for life signs. The screwdriver made a pitiful sound that even River could translate as a ‘no’.
"Screwdriver not work in here?"
"No. He - I mean, someone must have made sonic scanning impossible in here."
River said nothing, taking out her own, low-tech, 51st Century scanner. She found something.
"Well, I found something. One weak life sign. Looks human."
She led the way. She followed the labyrinthine corridors like it was second nature. As the first child of TARDIS in centuries, maybe it was. She could speak the ship’s language better than even the Doctor. He wouldn’t like it if she said that out loud, though. Instead, she led him into a huge room. It was a library filled with ancient books and computer terminals. Everything was a dark, gunmetal grey like it had been torn from the core of some oil-spewing factory. The furniture all looked severe and foreboding. In the centre was an iron reading desk. A scrawny, strawberry-blond boy sat on the table with an ancient-looking tome on his lap. The boy was around three years old and completely naked save for an ancient-looking fob watch around his neck. Nonetheless, he was reading “Advanced Astrophysics” with eyes of understanding. The Doctor whispered something in River’s ear and approached the child as one would an angry cobra.
"Hello, there. What’s your name?"
The boy stared at him in silence.
"Okay, then. Do you know where you are?"
There was more silence.
"Right. Fair enough. Your business. Um…"
Before the Doctor could formulate a plan, the boy stood and walked out of the library through another door in the back of the room.
"Doctor, who was that?"
The Doctor smiled sadly, “A friend, an enemy. It’s sort of… complicated. When this little hiccup in my time stream is sorted out, I’ll tell you the whole sorry story.”
They followed the small boy out of the library. The slight tension between the Doctor’s shoulders at having River in a library eased slightly. The boy walked towards a huge, greasy machine. It looked like the furnace of a gigantic steam ship. Of course it was nothing of the kind, but every TARDIS had her quirks. The boy stroked a small brass switch on the side of the furnace like a favourite toy he’d never see again. There was an explosion of purple lightning. The boy was gone and the whole world began to shake.
"We’ve got to get out of here before the interior disengages!"
"He was her Time Lord, and his future is in flux! She doesn’t know if he’ll be back, so she’s going into hibernation. We have to get out!"
So, for far from the first time and much further from the last, the Doctor and his favourite Song ran. They ran like they could outrun time. Behind them, the walls began to fold in on themselves. The library became a wall, which was eaten by each subsequent piece of wall like the most intricate origami house in the universe.
They dived out onto the rough shale ground just as the console room folded in upon itself. The TARDIS became a shale-dune and the damaged ground disappeared. They were lying on another bland section of the blasted desert landscape. The Doctor was the first to speak.
"The chameleon circuit is localised, now. It doesn’t consider itself in danger any more. It will sleep until he returns or until the end of time." He sighed. "Let’s go home."
"Oh no you don’t!" River stood and brushed the small stones from her tight pants. "You told me you’d explain all that nonsense to me. You can’t give me ‘I’ll explain later’ and expect me to forget."
The Doctor nodded sadly. “I know, sweetie.”
They began walking back to where his own TARDIS was waiting for them.
"That little boy was Yana. I won’t meet him for an awful long time, yet, but I’ve known him for oh, so long…"
Today, I picked up ‘Pariah’ by Aron Warner at the recommendation of a friend. At first, the book seemed to be yet another attempt to rewrite the near-future plight of superhuman mutants. Following ‘Heroes’, ‘No Ordinary Family’, the ‘X-Men’ movies and any number of others, one would think that that story had been plumbed fairly thoroughly. Thankfully, after a few pages, I found that I was wrong.
The abnormal subclass in Warner’s book cannot fly or read minds, nor are they clad in primary-coloured leotards. They are people who are just too smart for the average person to be comfortable with. Warner understands that many comic book fans consider themselves outsiders from the majority of people; people who do not understand their under-appreciated passions. As a man from a small, slightly closed-minded community who has become a teacher of English in other countries and who has a fondness for science-fiction, fantasy, and roleplaying games, it speaks to me as a member of the nerdy underclass.
They are ‘vitros’. ‘Vitro’, from the Latin meaning ‘glass’ has connotations of science, artificiality and controversy. In vitro experimentation has had more than its fair share of detractors, particularly from a moral standpoint. The origin of the vitros is not yet clear, but obviously it will be as contentious as the nuclear technology that gave birth to the the X-Men.
The main character, Brent, is a non-mainstream weirdo living in the world of the ‘normals’. He is amazing in a way no one can appreciate; perhaps something we all think or wish we were. He also has romantic problems and is bullied at school. He is very easy to identify with for me personally and for the class of excluded fanatics I mentioned before. I am looking forward to reading his continuing adventures.
Pariah Issues 2-4
As the subsequent issues progressed, I was surprised to see that Brent, with whom I empathised immensely, was not actually the main protagonist of the series. In issue two, we are introduced to the ‘Marinus vitros’. Vitros have been employed to research, apparently for the benefit of mankind. They are researching any number of astrophysical and biological topics including the development of alternative fuel and bioweapons. Meanwhile, a plan to sabotage their work and release a deadly virus brings them to the forefront of public attention.
This is the first book where we see a cynical perspective of human governance as a whole. In the first issue, we have the question of isolation on the scale of a small town. Now, we see the powerful take advantage of the ‘freaks’ firstly for scientific gain, and ultimately for political gains. The vitros are the scapegoats just as homosexuals, atheists, Muslims and any number of other minority groups have served as such in the modern media for any given issue. Much like the original message of the X-Men, we see how the ‘different’ can be used and abused by those who are both ‘the same’ and in power.
Indeed, “Marinus” as a name of a laboratory of freaks is an interesting one. It has links to niche science-fiction culture in the title of a class episode of ‘Doctor Who’, The Keys of Marinus. It is the name of two learned men from the first millennium: one a philosopher, and the other an Ancient Greek polymath. It is also the name of two popes and a crater on the moon. It is a name that relates to genre fiction, to classical learning and to ecclesiastical learning. It also speaks of a certain amount of social intelligence. On the whole, people do not stop to listen to philosophers, mathematicians and priests unless the speakers have a certain amount of ‘people power’. Although it is unfair to extrapolate much from a simple name, it is the name that starts the action in this newly-created world, and it is a name with so many different connotations of ‘differentness’.
In this issue we also have our first glimpse of the star of issue four, Franklin Hyde. Hyde stands in the space between the victims and the victimisers. He speaks for those in power, but apparently with the desires of those without power in mind. I’m racking my brain trying to think of a real-life example of this where it is judged so equally, but just as happens to Franklin later in the story, these individuals are labelled as ‘sympathisers’ of the evil side of the conflict. I am reminded of Rene from the BBC TV series “‘Allo ‘Allo”. Rene was amiable with Nazi, Italian and French Resistance alike. Depending on whom he helped or hurt, he was a spy, a sympathiser, a loyalist, a traitor or an ally. This situation, played for comedy, is the one in which Franklin finds himself. He is the feckless tool of the ‘normals’, and yet is hated by the other, equally-used vitros he finds himself with. Brent, our hero from issue one who understands being different, is the only character willing to give him a chance.
In issues two to four, we see how the gifts of the vitros can be used in many different ways. We have Brent the inventor, followed by the enactors of what we might term ‘high’ science in the Marinus labs, while Franklin sits alone in his room and analyses a world he has never seen. Indeed, he understands it to such a degree that he can manipulate the complicated political machinations of his parents and their government.
On the other hand, in issue three, we have something quite different in Robert Maudsley. He is a vitro who we see using his abilities at a young age. He can use his analytical skills to read any individual and to affect their decisions. He can control people by understanding them. In the beginning, we see him use his power as a child. He convinces a man to leave behind his sandwich to attack a jogger. His only reason for this is that he was hungry. When we move back to the near-future we see that his human experiments are more and more deadly and his name is high on the vitro most-wanted list.
The main aims of the first three issues are to introduce a range of characters, situations and motives to the reader. I think this is expertly done, as each episode introduces a new set of characters to be joined together destined to meet in issue four. As a man who enjoys his genre fiction, I have waited much longer for character introductions to come to fruition. What these issues also do is make the point that what the characters are is not the same as who the characters are. We go from a geek to a group of scientists through a master-criminal and end with an amateur politician and saviour. They are as many kinds of vitros as there are people. Just as there are many different kinds of people in all minorities.
The end of the last issue gives us an entirely unexpected twist, which will either be the long-term setting of the series or an episode in characterisation. Either way, it takes us away from X-Men territory while still being very much about exclusion, and I’ll be fascinated to see how it works out.
I suppose that’s the crux of my review: I really want to see what happens next. Right now, we’re in the early stages of world- and character-building. The battle of ‘intelligence’ versus ‘normal’ is one that really speaks to me as a teacher and a person who values didacticism. Warner’s characters are real and flawed, just like the world they live in. My main hope that this ‘mutant series’ avoids the hazards of its predecessors and allows the few introduced characters time to interact and adventure before more are gratuitously added. That slight worry aside, this series is definitely set to be on my regular pull-list. These characters, this world and this writing deserve to live a long, interesting life which I will read eagerly.
Okay, I get that. Thank you very much for the critique. I’ll try to be a little less flippant in my conclusions.
I’d like to apologise that a private argument broke out on my blog. Some people see hate wherever they look, and responding is more than a little foolhardy. I won’t do it again.
This began life as a post to the person in question, but it grew too large. I was genuinely upset to be called racist, and began a conversation with my accuser about the subject from the below article:
notreallymuchofanything's response and most recent message, to which I was replying:
It seems like I’m asking genuine questions in an attempt to improve myself and my writing and you feel the need to insult me in response. I haven’t said anything disrespectful to you. If you don’t want to discuss it point-by-point, allow me.
1) The point about LGBT rights in Mexico - they come from comments I’ve heard in class, in the staff room and in advice I’ve been given from native Mexican teachers.
2) This is the point that I get the feeling insulted you. I felt the emphasis in the churches here on the death and torture of saints to be palpably uncomfortable for me. I’ve certainly felt that in British churches, but death in those churches tends to be hidden away by stone or decades of varnish, whereas here in Mexico there are plastic replications of dead bodies in most of the churches I’ve visit. Perhaps I discussed it in a disrespectful fashion, but I would do no less regarding a church in a predominantly white country.
3) The comment highlighted about the number of worshipped here is a fair one, I suppose. That wasn’t a respectful comment, though I did follow it up by saying that I can understand the emphasis on those heroes, as they did fight to liberate their countries from oppressors such as the English, Spanish and Americans.
4) If things were more equal for minorities over here, then my conclusions would be very different. The work ethic, customer service, food, manners and any number of other things are far superior in Mexico. Nonetheless, I can’t help but feel that many of my friends in Manchester and London would be ostracised in the community I’m currently living in. I know some wonderful gay, bisexual, transgender and polyamorous people amongst my straight friends, yet I honestly don’t feel that they would be comfortable in the Mexican communities I have experienced.
Equally, religious fanaticism bothers me. It makes me very uncomfortable. That discomfort ranges from the wide-eyed, naive believer I’ve met in the UK, to those bigots who picket soldier’s funerals in the UK. Belief without doubt and without proof is damn terrifying to me, and that probably affected the tone of my previous article more than it should.
I am genuinely sorry for any offence I caused. The article was simply meant as my honest, slightly-irreverent perspective on the country I find myself living in. I no more look down on my colleagues for being Mexican as I do my fiancée for being a music geek.
Hello, everyone. I’m sorry about the delay in my posts - I’ve been working on a couple of longer writing projects these last few days. You can expect me to be spamming your feeds with my writing before the day is out.
Thanks for reading!