Tag Archives: writing sci-fi

Why do I set my books in Lyonnesse?

Yes, it’s another one of the questions that comes up in the author interviews, “why did you chose the setting that you did for the book?” or some such. “Why there? And what was the reason behind it?”
In my case it is simple, because my Lyonnesse is the world I would very much like to inhabit. It is a place where life is simpler and where magic and mystery still exist, and on the whole people are kinder to one another. Money isn’t the be all and end all and life is respected and held sacred. Not just the people, but everything that lives there, animal, plant and fungus. Things aren’t done quickly because it saves a few pennies (or cents). Things are done properly with love and attention.
I have been criticised as being anti-establishment and anti-capitalist. Not true, well not in the conventional sense anyway. Probably because I make a big thing out of everyone bartering in Lyonnesse. I fully understand that money is the ultimate, and in some ways, logical tool for bartering with. However I do object to the way it is used in our society. It is used to coerce the poor into unfulfilling and mind-numbing jobs, whilst the gap between rich and poor grows ever larger. The mathematics is simple, if everyone gets a 10% pay rise then the man at the bottom earning ten thousand a year get an extra thousand to take home. However, boardroom man earning one hundred thousand gets an extra ten thousand a year, the equivalent of an extra man doing the work at the bottom. I could go on and I know that this is simplistic but it is still true.
Also, because boardroom man is keen to meet targets and because labour and wages are the single greatest expenditure for most companies, if a few seconds can be shaved off of the time it take to do something, so much the better. As a result everything becomes just good enough at best, and pride in the work you do goes out the window. Take roads for example. Yes, alright, I have a bugbear about roads, but they make a good example. Years ago councils used to have their own road building/maintenance departments to look after the roads. And for the most part they did a good job and took pride in their work. They had to because their foreman of works would come along during and after the job to make sure it was being done properly.
Then, in an effort to save a few pennies, it was decreed that all works commissioned by councils had to go out to tender, and council work gangs were laid off. Many of the recently laid off workers organised themselves into small companies, often with the same managers they had had before. They still did a good job of repairing the roads and the council saved a little money because the small company didn’t have to support tiers of management and could therefore do it cheaper. The councils still had to pay someone to inspect the work after, but all was well, and the men still had pride in their work.
Enter big business. Why? Because the contracts for road repairs are very lucrative and there is money to be made. So many of the small business either had to reduce their prices to compete for the tenders or they were bought out by bigger firms. Since the costs of the materials used were fixed the only way to reduce the price was to do the job quick and therefore with less care. This reduced the number of companies vying for the tenders, seen as a good thing because it generates competition. The councils are still happy because they are still saving money, and they can save even more money by nor replacing their inspectors as they retire or leave because they are confident that a good job will be done because it was last year. The workers aren’t as happy because they no longer have the time to do the job to the standard they are used to.
Years pass as they have a habit of doing. All the small companies that were started when the work first went out to tender have now either gone out of business or been bought out by big business. This reduces the number of companies bidding for the tenders. The council is still under pressure to save money and goes for the lowest bid. (Yes, I’m not going to say anything about the backhanders that go on to get contracts.) The big companies have to save money, somewhere because they have the tiers of management to support that the small companies didn’t. But that’s ok because the old work gangs are getting to retirement age and are fed-up with the half arsed job they were doing. Instead of having the expense of hiring and paying wages, all new recruits are taken on as self-employed subcontractors. This not only saves the expense of employing staff but also means they don’t have to pay them if there is no work for them to do. The workers are only happy in the fact that they have a job and are earning a wage. The council still haven’t hired any more inspectors because they can’t afford it. Big business realises this and starts cutting corner in the work they do. This saves them even more money.
A short time later big business is happy because they are making lots of money. There is no one left in the gangs who knows how to repair the roads properly because they have all gone. Instead, the workers have to work to a tick box minimum standard and do it as quickly as possible using the least amount of materials as possible. They have no job satisfaction because not only are they self-employed and have no rights in the company and no say, but also they know they are doing a half arsed and how much the management is getting paid.
In the end the workers have no job satisfaction, council is paying more for the job that it would if it was doing the work itself, and the roads are in a terrible state because they have been poorly maintained and work is no longer inspected.
Big business is happy because there is an endless supply of work repairing roads that they didn’t repair properly before, and they are still getting paid for it.
Alright, alright, this is highly simplistic, but it is still true, and not just for roads, for everything that was subcontracted out and put to tender. Everything is now done to a tick box minimum standard. Excellence and pride in a job well done have become too expensive because there is no profit in it. Communism does not work because there is always someone who wants a larger slice of the pie. However, capitalism can only exist where there is a poorly paid underclass.
As usual please feel free to comment or rant at my rantings.

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The Bump – Jim Webster talks about writing and his new release.

It’s a bit difficult to know where to start. Really I suppose I’m trying to explain what I wanted to achieve in a book without spoiling it for those who haven’t yet read it.

I drifted sideways from Fantasy to Sci-Fi with my book ‘Justice 4.1 (The Tsarina Sector).  I regard SF and Fantasy as a continuum rather than two separate genres. Hard SF is very much at one edge of the continuum, Space Opera is much closer to Fantasy.

Tackling a new field, I wanted to try and achieve something I’d never really attempted with Fantasy, I wanted to show the ‘alien-ness’ that is possible within humanity. Matthew Hughes explained it best in his book, ‘The Other’.

I’ll quote him, rather than try and explain it myself;-

“At that moment, Imbry experienced an instance of the abrupt mental dislocation that often struck those who travelled widely among the Ten Thousand Worlds. He had heard it called the ‘Bump’ or the ‘dissonance’ and had encountered it himself more than once. It was the psychic shock suffered by a human being from one world who suddenly became aware that the person from some other world with whom he was innocently interacting possessed a radically, perhaps chillingly, different mindscape.

The two might be chance-met in a tavern. They would fall into innocent chat about inconsequential matters, each convinced by the other’s views on the weather or the quality of the beer that they were like-minded in all that matters. Until one of them offers an offhand comment about the tedium involved in having to sell his surplus offspring, or enthuses salaciously about next week’s public evisceration of a malefactor whose crime turns out to be something like scratching a buttock within ten paces of the portrait of a local saint.

An icy frisson passes through the stranger. He holds himself perfectly still though his eyes dart about, alarmed. Shadows seem to gather about him. All at once it seems perfectly possible, even likely, that the bland couple sitting at an adjacent table, or the idlers in the street outside might without warning show fangs and unsheathe claws, leap upon the hapless visitor, and turn an until-now pleasant excursion into an impromptu abattoir.”

How do you write ‘the Bump’? Is it possible to allow the reader to experience it or is it merely something you describe the characters experiencing?

I’ve got theories, (or less pompously) I’ve got a feeling that it can be done, but I think that to do it, the universe and the characters must seem normal. They must be people that the reader can empathise with and like. Once you’ve achieved this, you might be able to have your characters and readers go through ‘the Bump’ together. Perhaps.

But still, I wanted to bring into the story things that were of striking normality, experiences the readers could imagine and might want to share. Here’s one of them:-

“When Haldar and Bartan arrived back it was still dark, the streets were quiet, bicycle rickshaws taking the last of the revellers home. Padro was waiting to pilot them in his own flitter. As they flew north and east, Bartan peered down into the darkness spreading out below them. They passed over the lights of the city, then the suburbs, until finally below them was largely dark.

Finally Bartan, sniffing appreciatively, said. “I’m finally beginning to feel at home.”

”Why’s that?” Padro asked, curiously.

“The subtle chife of night soil carried on the breeze,” Bartan explained.

Padro waved a proprietorial arm, as if encompassing the entire plain. “I was born down there.”

Haldar leaned over the side of the flitter and asked, “What are those lights?”

Below them were hundreds of tiny pinpricks of light, concentrated in a rectangular area, perhaps a thousand yards long and a hundred yards wide.

Bartan glanced down. “I’d guess they’re little weeding droids. Are they Padro?”

“Yes, the lights are so you can find the damned things when you need to move them to the next plot.”

“They’re little things about the size of a fist,” Bartan explained to Haldar, “big enough to carry recognition software and pair of snips.”

Haldar was still watching the lights in the darkness. “Why the parallel sides to the area they’re working in?

Bartan asked Padro, “It looks like you use standard half meter soil pipes.”

“Indeed, then they feed into fifteen mil pipes running between plots and we use the usual commercial solar pumps to keep things moving.”

Bartan nodded. “There’s your answer Haldar, the pipes mark the sides of the plot. They serve a combination fertiliser and irrigation system. At least I’d assume irrigation, are there waste water reservoirs, so that you can dilute for irrigation purposes?”
There was pride in Padro’s voice. “Yes, fertiliser and irrigation, but the reservoirs are buried, we don’t waste land. The fifteen mil pipes take standard fittings so you just go in and set up the rain-guns when you want to irrigate a plot.”

Bartan said, “I’ve moved rain-guns in my time. I assume that those down there have their own solar panel to power their pumps.”
“They do.” Padro smiled as he reminisced. “I used to move and service rain-guns before I made enough money to start my first night club.”

“Jarado B14 Masticators in line to keep things chopped up fine and moving, stop the nozzles blocking?” Bartan asked.

“No, we use the big B145, but you only need one every twenty miles.”

Bartan nodded to Haldar. “Ever seen a Jarado Masticator working?”

Haldar sounded a little bemused. “Unless they’ve taken to fitting them to warships, it’s a branch of technology that’s passed me by.”

“They’re impressive. They break things down so completely that they’ll rupture cell membranes. They’ll even break up waste wood that gets into the system.”

“I suppose that’s impressive.”

”It is.” Bartan glanced at Padro. “On New Charity, we reckon they’ll break down a human body in a couple of minutes, and ten minutes later the murder victim is spread over a hundred acres of wheat.”

“Look,” Padro said, “Haldar has a nasty, suspicious mind and doesn’t need encouraging. How about we go down to ground level and take in the dawn?”

Bartan gave a broad smile, “now you’re spoiling me. It might even keep Haldar from mentally running through his missing persons file to see how many have been recycled as fertiliser.”

Padro brought the flitter down and landed it on a dirt road. He switched off the engines, and as they slowly stopped spinning, silence returned to the area. The three men sat quietly for some minutes, watching the first red glow appear on the underside of the clouds. The glow spread, reds, orange, even a hint of purple, and then there was the first rays of the sun. Day had broken.
Suddenly there came the sound of a score of little motors starting up. Bartan tapped Haldar on the shoulder and pointed. On the nearest rain-gun the solar panel was slowly rotating to face the east. Along both edges of the plot a score or more of other rain-guns mimicked the action. As they watched, the sound of the motors grew louder, and then as Star MM43-62 showed her full face, all the rain-guns blasted a ruby laden coruscating fan of water into the air. The rain-guns of Akin saluted the dawn.”

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