Friday 28 September 2012

#FridayFlash - Weaving

Infinite Weft - Weaving Process Flames blazed in the wall braziers around the stone courtyard. Ornate clocks lined the columns of the cloister, though the hands never moved around their faces. Time hung suspended over the citadel of the Fates, its momentous occasions twinkling like stars in a false firmament.

The first sister sat on a stool, her eyes roving across the expanse above her. A large sack, its fabric the colour of midnight, lay on the ground at her feet. Every few moments, she reached into the sack, and drew forth a length of yarn. She wound it between and around her fingers, her eyes never leaving the celestial snapshot.

The second sister leaned over the loom, adjusting the shuttle before it rattled across the warp with its yarn cargo. She peered at the weave produced thus far, and frowned. Whole patches of muddy brown and rancid mustard marked the otherwise cheerful pattern. She wiggled her nail between the threads, but the yarn didn’t lie. It couldn’t lie.

The third sister roamed around the courtyard, staring into the darkness congealed in the corners. She was concerned by neither the wonders in the sky, nor the patterns of the loom. Images of solitude, and the eternal peace of oblivion, occupied her mind. She fashioned silence from the shadows, letting the gentle breeze catch her cobwebs of catatonic thoughts.

“I don’t like how this piece is turning out,” said the second sister.

“What’s wrong with it?” asked the first sister.

“Well it should be a cheerful pattern. It started out that way. But now all of these horrid colours are creeping in.” The second sister sat back, watching the shuttle do its work.

“So change the pattern,” replied the first sister.

The second sister got up and drifted across the courtyard. She disappeared into the cloister, and the rooms beyond.

“It’s so nice being outside for a change,” said the first sister.

“I notice it not,” replied the third.

“It’s such a pleasant evening.”

“It’s neither pleasant nor evening. It simply is.”

The first sister rolled her eyes and returned to her sack of yarn. A shooting star, a flare of stupendous endeavour, streaked across the blanket above. She smiled; it had been some time since anything positive echoed through Time.

The second sister returned empty-handed.

“Where are all the patterns, dear? I can’t find a single one for a happy ending. The whole cupboard is bare.”

“We’ve used them all up. There are no happy endings any more. There can simply be what will be.”

The third sister stopped roaming, and glided towards the loom.


“I think what our dear little depressive means is that your patterns are going to get a whole lot muddier,” said the first sister.

The third sister peered down at the loom. She scowled.

“This pattern has gone on too long.”

She reached into the large pocket of her apron and pulled free a large pair of black shears. She severed the thread, and the snip of the shears reverberated around the courtyard.

A tiny ripple flickered in the firmament overhead. None of them noticed as a single light went out.

Thursday 27 September 2012

#GuestPost - Cyberpunk as Literary Genre

As you know, I like to hand over the reins to other writers here at the Blunt Pencil, and I'm always happy for people who know more about a topic than me to come and discuss it - variety, after all, is the spice of life! (Except I prefer paprika. But that's another story for another time) I've been chatting to cyberpunk author Colin F. Barnes on Twitter for a while, and I asked him if he'd come and talk about cyberpunk fiction - if I'm honest, I don't know much about it, since I prefer my punk more of the 'steam' variety. But enough from me, over to Colin...

* * *

Cyberpunk is one of those evocative words that often gets used in marketing for video games, films, and other visual arts. And for very good reason: the genre often features extrapolations of fashion, technology, architecture, and even physical appearance. So it naturally lends itself to a visual medium. See Blade Runner, or Ghost In The Shell as prime examples of this. But how does this sub-genre of science fiction portray itself in literature?

Hyper Reality and Interconnected Societies

One cannot talk about Cyberpunk in literature without referencing William Gibson’s classic novel, Neuromancer. It’s a touchstone of the genre and should be one of the first stops for anyone new to the world of cyberpunk. Within this book, Gibson expertly describes a near future where senses are turned up to the maximum; cities are illuminated by neon and giant screens, and humanity has augmented itself with technology. We are increasingly seeing a lot of this happening around us today.

One of the interesting things about Neuromancer is the prediction of the web and the Internet; this is a common theme amongst Cyberpunk—especially from the 80s where computing was just coming into the homes of ordinary people, and authors extrapolated how we would interact with the technology. Many stories feature networked computer systems, artificial intelligences, and characters that can manipulate these technologies.

More Than Just Technology

It’s fair to say that a lot of cyberpunk stories are centred on the technology and the humans that manipulate it to increase their talents/senses. But an often-overlooked aspect is the 'punk' part. Anarchic and dystopian settings regularly feature in a good cyberpunk story. The characters tend to be those living just outside of society’s rules: often criminals, hackers, or people intelligent enough to slip between the cracks and use the broken society to their advantage.

As we enter the information age, those who can control, aggregate, or create that information are the ones that rise to the top. We can see this today with the likes of Google, Facebook, and Twitter generating vast databases of information all generated by the people. A typical punk protagonist tends to be against the establishment, or looking for ways to break free from their increasingly restrictive grasp on their lives. In some senses, you could say these punks are anti-heroes. Much like the punks of the 70s.

Variations and Placement on the SF spectrum

Cyberpunk, much like horror or steampunk, can sometimes just be a flavour set atop another genre, or it can be wholly cyberpunk. It’s usually considered a sub-genre of science-fiction, and usually at the more realistic end as opposed to the more speculative end of the spectrum with such things as Space Opera or far-future stories. It’s not uncommon to find thrillers and noir settings with the Cyberpunk realm, especially as we move away from the 80s and early 90s where it had its heyday. We now see combinations of genres, such as cyberpunk/thriller, as our own technology starts to approach—and sometimes surpass—that of what was predicted in earlier novels.

It’s certainly a rich set of tropes and ideas that can be applied across the board of all speculative fiction. My own cyberpunk story, The Techxorcist, could be classified as a horror/sci-fi/thriller mashup, in that the story takes place in a cyberpunk future, but with elements of those other genres still visible within the tale.

Further resources

Being such a rich idea, there’s a lot of cyberpunk media available to you. For starters here’s a partial list to get you started if you wish to explore this fascinating genre.

  • Sprawl Trilogy by William Gibson
  • Synners by Pat Cadigan
  • Snow Crash by Neale Stephenson
  • Cyberpunk by Bruce Bethke
  • Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

  • Blade Runner
  • The Matrix
  • Ghost In The Shell
  • Terminator
  • Videodrome

Comics/Graphic Novels
  • The Surrogates
  • Akira (also a film)
  • Transmetropolitan
  • HardDrive
  • Lady Mechanika

About Colin F. Barnes

Colin F. Barnes is a writer (and publisher with Anachron Press) of dark and daring fiction. He takes his influence from everyday life, and the weird happenings that go on in the shadowy locales of Essex in the UK. Colin likes to blend genres and is currently working on a Cyberpunk/Tech-thriller serial The Techxorcist. The introductory part, Rebirth, is currently available from Amazon, Smashwords, Lulu, Kobo, and Anachron Press.


Wednesday 26 September 2012

Help Needed: Blogging

I don't often talk about my day job on here, and to be honest, I'm not about to start now. However, I've been tasked with delivering a masterclass session about blogging for those foundation degree students who need to set up and produce a blog throughout their time here. I'm doing it because, being a writer with an active social media presence, I'm deemed to know what I'm talking about. OK, so a lot of my experience has come within blogging as a writer, not a designer, but the skills are transferable.

BUT. It's difficult to remember what it was like when I set up my first Blogger blog back in 2009 (first ever post is here), and a lot of what I know has been steadily accrued over that time. I've covered the likes of use of images (and copyright) and how to find blogs to follow, as well as drive traffic to your blog, but what I want to know is...
  • Have you got any specific questions about blogging that you want addressed?
  • What do you wish you'd known when you first got started?
  • What do you worry you're doing wrong?
  • What advice would you give to a new blogger?
Any answers will be helpful, just to make sure I give the students everything they need to start blogging and, more importantly, enjoy it!

Tuesday 25 September 2012

[Book Review] Crooked Fang

I've featured a lot of Crooked Fang on my blog over the past few months, including a guest post from the very delicious Carrie Clevenger about turning blog serials into novels. It's now my very good honour to feature a review of the book itself! Enjoy...

Oh yay, another vampire, I hear you cry. Stop right there. Forget for a moment that Twilight ever existed, and give Crooked Fang a go. Why? Because sometimes you can almost forget that CF's hero, Xan Marcelles, is even a vampire. I prefer to think of him as a grumpy, whisky-drinking, chain-smoking bassist who's going to live for a really, really long time.

Basically, Xan lives in a bar named Pale Rider in Pinecliffe, Colorado. He does odd jobs and plays bass in his band, Crooked Fang. It's pretty clear he'd be happy with his quiet existence, not bothering anyone as long as they don't bother him, except real life has a way of intruding into his private world. If he's not dealing with abusive boyfriends or singers prone to tantrums, he's being dragged back to his old stamping ground, New Mexico, to track down an errant vampire. Yes, Xan hunts other vampires, and he's very good at it. This is not just any vampire, but rather a Nesferata, and it's an inventive touch that almost raises the possibility of racism among the vampires themselves. It's not just "humans" vs "vampires" - oh no, it's every bloodsucker for him/herself.

I followed Crooked Fang back when it was a blog serial, and I was excited to finally have a paperback copy in my hands. The gorgeous presentation aside, it's just one of those novels that you can actually describe as 'gripping'. I've never been a big fan of vampires so it stands testament to Carrie Clevenger's storytelling skills that I am a HUGE fan of Xan Marcelles. He's an incredibly likeable and plausible hero, carrying with him that 'reluctant hero' air that makes the likes of Snake Plisskin so cool. Xan also has an incredibly strong voice, so the book often feels like you're sat at the back of Pale Rider, and he's telling it to you over a drink. Clevenger pulls off the difficult task of making it feel like Xan's simply dictated the story to her, and I couldn't NOT fall for him a tiny bit. The secondary characters are also incredibly strong as Clevenger creates plausible characters that you either love or loathe, and I particularly love the banter with his friend, Scott.

I actually can't recommend Crooked Fang enough and I can't wait for the sequel to drop!

Five blunt pencils out of five!

You can buy Crooked Fang for the Kindle from Amazon, or buy the paperback from Createspace.

Monday 24 September 2012

Celebrating The Guns of Retribution

Well today is the last day of my The Guns of Retribution celebration, since today marks the one year anniversary since it came out in paperback. Where does the time go, eh?

I just really wanted to thank everyone who's bought and reviewed it, and everyone who's enjoyed it and asked me to write another. I love working with my bounty hunter and I've been really glad to see people enjoy the Friday flashes I've put up over the last fortnight (The Bounty and Mahko). I also wanted to thank Heath Lowrance, Carrie Clevenger, Matt Pizzolato, Nerine Dorman, Tony Noland and Pete Newman for hosting me at their blog, and I want to thank Tony Bengtsson for dropping by at the Blunt Pencil and letting me interview him.

You can get Dead Man's Hand, the interconnected three-part story that relates to Guns, from Amazon (if you want to pay $1.23 or 77p and help fund my writing), or you can download it free in .mobi, .epub or PDF from my website.