Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Review

A nice review of Escape from Hell! over at a new review blog, Roland's Codex:

...The characters are likable with all their flaws, and even though the story is short, I truly cared for them by the end. If you are into intentionally campy entertainment, this one is a must. Even if you aren't though, it still offers a lot more than many other "serious" books out there.


Cool!

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Monday, June 28, 2010

Brent Corrigan & Judas Kiss

Given that I've been yammering over recent months about gay cinema, mainstream and indie, and suchlike, and given that I'm a strange fiction writer by trade, with y'all being presumably of similar tastes, I thought it made sense to point up this gay spec fic movie currently looking for funding on Kickstarter. Behind it are J.T. Tepnapa and Carlos Pedraza, who've worked on various short films and a whole lot of Star Trek fan movies (the latter of which I won't hold against them, heh, in my role as hater of pretty much all things Trek -- post the original series, that is.) I can't really speak for the quality of that work, but the premise of Judas Kiss looks pretty cool. Not sure if I'm doing it justice, but as I understand it, a gay film-maker returns to his alma mater and ends up furled in some sort of weird time-bending malarky with a student.

Wait! What's that you say? A gay movie that's not a) a drearily earnest coming-of-age / coming-out drama, or b) an appallingly puerile "comedy" that makes American Pie look sophisticated? Ye gods!

The cast is interesting too, to say the least: there's Charlie David, one of the stars of Dante's Cove (a guilty pleasure of mine,) and one of the few on that show who actually looks able to act if given a decent script and direction (cause as much as Dante's Cove is a guilty pleasure, it's in the Sunset Beach league of soap-operatic... um... excess, we'll say); then there's Timo Descamps, a Flemish actor who's voiced several roles in Flemish dubs of some major Hollywood flicks, and who came out publicly as gay just last year; there's Richard Harmon, who played the gamer Heracles in Caprica, (the kid Adama Sr. goes to in his attempt to track down his daughter's ghost AI); and last but not least, there's Brent Corrigan, best known for his gay porn performances, but now trying to break into the mainstream.

I'll happily confess to having got to know of Corrigan via the adult work (and in part via the controversy that erupted when he revealed he wasn't actually adult when some of it was filmed,) but as hot as he is in the porn, he's also a fascinating blogger, and someone worthy of more than a little respect for his candour about the industry and his own experiences within it, and for his commitment to safe sex. He's someone who learned the hard way about how naivety is exploited on that scene, with underage actors blithely cast in barebacking scenes by studio guys who pay little attention to age certification legislation. He blew the whistle and has weathered the backlash -- with court cases and all manner of vitriol thrown at him -- to come out the other end, it seems, wise beyond his years, an outspoken campaigner for condom use in gay porn and for gay rights in general. And when he writes about the intersections of celebrity and reality, there's an honesty and insight that makes his site way more interesting than you might expect, given that it is also a professional venture aimed at keeping food on the table -- i.e. a porn site offering subscriptions to cam shows and suchlike.

It was that blog actually where I saw the heads-up about Judas Kiss being on Kickstarter, in an entry about a recent gay bingo fundraiser that amusingly juxtaposes the supportive attitude of Jennifer Love Hewitt with the less-than-supportive attitude of some reality TV ligger (where the former happily threw her money into the cause, the latter was apparently scared of gay cooties tarnishing her rep or her relationship with ABC, or some bollocks like that.) If you're afraid of gay manflesh, by the way, that entry is relatively free of exposed body parts, but Corrigan's blog in general is, of course, not exactly work-safe. There's a lot of good entries on it though, so if you don't mind the occasional raunchy image (and I can't say as I mind them much at all, heh,) it's worth keeping an eye on. He's a smart guy, with much to say, and I'm watching with interest as he tries to make the transition from porn to mainstream. I wish him the best of luck.

Anyways, yeah, as a gay sf writer, I reckon the whole Judas Kiss project is well worthy of support, so I thought I'd give it a little pimpage on me blog, for what it's worth. They've got 11 days to reach their goal of five thousand bucks, and were about halfway there last time I looked, so if yer inclined to support indie cinema -- and gay indie cinema and sf indie cinema at that -- go on over and chuck a few dollars into the pot. It's a good cause, I'd say.

As you were.

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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Adventures of a Couch-Hopping Scribbler Part 3: Hail, Helsinki!

So I arrived in Helsinki for... a holiday. That was my cover story, at least, sworn to secrecy as I was, on the awesome news of the Tähtivaeltaja Award -- and thereby sworn to secrecy also on the further awesomeness of Toni Jerrman and Hanna Hakkarainen who'd connived to bring this poverty-stricken writer over and put me up for a week, bless em. I felt more than a tad guilty, in fact, spinning fabrications and misdirections in St. Urhos, on the Thursday evening immediately after my arrival, as I caught up with my friends in Finnish fandom. Yes, I would say, I just came over for a holiday! Cause Helsinki's great!

The thing is it's about as near to the truth as you can get; when Hanna first emailed me about it, it was just a vague enquiry if I fancied a sojourn in Suomi, and my response was kinda in the vein of "YES!!!" As splendid as it was to find out I was getting a prize -- cause prizes are cooooool (and this one's especially coooool, man, being the 25th year of an award that's gone to some pretty damn fine works, like, say, last year's winner, The Road) -- as much as that gave me a great excuse for the trip... man, it's not like I needed an excuse; I was in the moment the chance arose. But, still, it felt a tad furtive to present meself as being there off me own bat.

Not that this had much impact on my pleasure. I was in Helsinki! Crashing with Hanna and Joonas and Miiku and Lohi (the Smartest Cat in the World... *ahem*)! I was in Urhos -- or rather outside it, with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other! And when I got back to Hanna's, there were even presents for me from Moominworld! Presents! From Moominworld! I gots a t-shirt with Moominpapa and Stinky and their illicit still, hurrah! I gots a Snuffkin plushy, huzzay! (If you can say, "hurrah!" and "huzzah!" and "hurray!" clearly you ought to be able to say "huzzay!") The t-shirt did put me in a quandary at first, having sworn to wear my Fagsmoke t-shirt until it was a biohazard, but ultimately I decided that oath was probably best suspended while I was living under someone else's roof cause... yanno... stench is not a good repayment for hospitality.

Anyways, for a week, it went in a whirl, even when I was being laid-back. Like on the Friday, where I met up with my translator, Nina, and we wandered the city centre, had a drink at the top of a really tall building what's name I can't recall but the view from which I most definitely remember. The afternoon flew by and it wasn't long before we were bumping into Juha in a bookstore having gone there to check exactly how Nina had translated The Ballad of Seamus Finnan. There was tapas in that Spanish place what's name I also can't recall, but the food in which I again most definitely remember. Then there was Bruuveri, and a big meet-up with Helsinki fandom, beer, beer and more beer. You may have heard a scurrilous rumour that Hanna drank me under the table after we ended up back at hers. I blame jet-lag! I blame the fact that I started earlier... by at least one glass of red wine! And - and - sitting on a fold-down bed that just demanded to be used as a chaise longue! And - and - I stopped drinking, I say, because other people's glasses were empty and I thought it would be bad form! And - and - stuff! I blame stuff!

Actually, I'm told I was, at one point, bought a non-alcoholic beer in Bruuveri because I seemed awfully drunk. I blame that beer! It broke my stride, god damn it. That clearly dropped my alcohol levels below the optimum point of inebriation where I can just keep going indefinitely, and what with my high metabolism, clearly I slipped into the "have a nice little sleep on this cosy sofa bed" stage. Damn you, Moominhanna! Don't you know that non-alcoholic beverages are poison to my system?

Also, I was pacing myself (excuses? husht!) for Saturday which involved a leisurely afternoon joining Hanna and Joonas as they watched this strange ritual on television -- the World Mug? The Global Cup? something to do with men in shorts being tooted at by people with loud horns -- then Juha's birthday party, where I got to meet some of his mates, who were all lovely. This also got me my requisite drink in a bar in Kallio (cause it's not a trip to Helsinki without a drink in Kallio.) Hell, it was even in a really nice bar in Kallio. I mean, the spit-and-sawdust dive-bar ambience in most bars is kind of a big part of what's cool about Kallio, but it was neat to end up in a pub with some very nice beers and a cosy little snug, hidden away among streets that sort of run: Thai Massage, Thai Massage, Peep Show, Thai Massage, Peep Show, Peep Show, Thai Massage, Thai Massage.

And then on Sunday -- finally, third time lucky in terms of my trips to Finland -- I got to experience a proper sauna. I am deeply deeply jealous of Taimi (I hope that's the right spelling) of having a sauna in her flat. I totally want one now cause, man, you just can't beat getting nekkid and sweaty with beer -- which gives off a lovely bready smell, it was revealed to me, if ye put just the tiniest splash of it on the hot rocks. Of course, I couldn't resist the Kukke beer, with the cockerel on the can, so's I could say I had some tasty cock in the sauna. With Hanna's purportedly scared-of-everything cat Mikku having taken a shine to me, I was after all, getting adept at stroking pussy, as Hanna pointed out, and there's only so far oe can go without losing one's reputation as THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!! Oh, and as well as the yummy barbecue beforehand, there was drunken karaoke afterward too! "Light My Fire" and "Born to be Wild" and "Total Eclipse of the Heart!" And yes, I was really really bad. With gusto! It was awesome!

Monday, Hanna and I had hatched a plan for upon my arrival. Cause she'd told me sadly -- on the Thursday, I think -- that Tero had to send his apologies, not being able to make it through from Turku for the gathering that night or Friday. Why then, says I, we must go to Turku! With Chicago and London now dubbed Halcon 2.1 and Halcon 2.2 respectively (the first Halcon having taken place in the ferry bar, on the way to Åcon) and the Helsinki trip officially Halcon 2.3, it seemed only right to add another stop to this convention-cum-road-trip. Turku for Halcon 2.4 it was then! Did they bid for it? Hell, they didn't get a choice.

So, Hanna and I took the train through, met up with Tero and had a cool hour or so in a local museum where you can walk through the excavated streets of the earliest stone-built settlement. It's a really well put-together museum experience, I gotta say. Some of the signage is a bit strangely done, with grey lettering on beige cloth that's virtually impossible to read, but other than that it's crammed to the gills with rich information, cunningly narrativized and soundscaped by audio artists. Admittedly, some of the pleasure lay in the somewhat eery atmosphere of some of the audio experience, with disembodied children's voices singing, and the occasional, "Anna!" just close enough to "Hanna" to... well, creep her the fuck out, heh. From there it was off to a riverboat for some food (mmmm, snails!) and thence to the Cosmic Comic Cafe for some beers and introductions to a few of the members of Turku fandom who came out to say hi. Twas brill. So brill, in fact, we missed our last train back to Helsinki and had no choice but to bus it.

And then it was Tuesday Tuesday Tuesday! And we were off to the new Like offices, which are really fucking swanky, I gotta say -- in an old printer's, with the floor gorgeously, psychedelically ink-stained. And there was a press conference and a prize ceremony and presents and everything! Man, I gots a prize with an actual certificate! And I gots a bag with awesome artwork of me on it! (What? I'm vain.) And I gots a mug with more awesome artwork of me on it! (Yes, I'm very vain.) And a rose! And there is, I do believe, an actual award thingy winging its way towards me as we speak, the Finnish post having not managed to get it to Toni in time for the actual prizegiving. I did a live radio interview which went pretty well, I thought, with the interviewer coming out with well-researched questions about growing up gay under Thatcher rather than, you know, "So what is this sci-fi stuff?" Did a TV interview too, but curse it, a bestselling Finnish author did have to go and get herself dropped by her publisher that very afternoon, just so she could bump me from the six o'clock news, didn't she? Damn that woman. Or damn her publisher, more to the point. Is it a coincidence that one of the other works shortlisted for the Tåhtivaeltaja was theirs? Is it a coincidence that they, having lost this award, just happened to steal my spotlight by choosing this moment to ditch this major writer? Is it? Is it really?

Well, OK, it is. Hey ho, and so it goes.

Still, if I didn't make the news, the day was still swell -- lunch with Nora and the Like folks an afternoon of... well, recovering from the early morning start mostly (Hanna actually napped, which I say makes up for any purported "drinking under the table" earlier in the week) and then it was off to Teerenpeli for some lovely smokey-flavoured beer and laid back banter in celebration of the award. Got a chance to chat with Jussi Ahlroth properly, which was well cool; and came away with a copy of his appropriately monster-sized book on those Finnish monsters of rock, Lordi. Sure, it's in Finnish, so I can't actually read his words, but the pictures are pure gold. Trolltastic! With a brief stop on the way home for some sauteed reindeer at Manala, sadly it was over all too soon.

And then it was Wednesday, my last full day. Hanna and I grabbed some breakfast then headed into the centre with Nina for lunch -- pizza in a very nice Italian place. Picked up some copies of the papers with my mugshot in it from the press conference. Picked up a Jukka on the way too, heh, and had coffee in the swanky Strindberg's. And then it was off to the picuresque town of Porvoo. Hanna was going through to get her nails done and while I had an offer from Juha to check out a proper wood-fired public sauna, I'd been told a couple of times that Porvoo was a nice place just to wander around, so I figured I'd tag along and do the tourist thing while she was busy getting stars on the ends of her fingers. I had done a sauna after all, and if it wasn't wood-fired, well, that just gives me another excuse to go back to Helsinki. Cause I haven't had a proper wood-fired sauna yet, see. Besides, with Chicago, London, Reading, Helsinki and Turku under my belt, why, the idea of adding yet another town to my Grand Tour tickled my fancy.

I was totally glad I went, as it turned out. The weather was gorgeous and the town even more so. I think somebody said it was used in one of the Bourne movies, and I can quite believe it. Picking up a map from the tourist office, following the walking tour laid out through the tiny winding cobbled streets, among the beautiful old wooden houses, I couldn't help thinking that this old town's tranquility was, like, the perfect setting for a roaring car chase and gunfight to the max! But seriously, with the cathedral, the Devil's Staircase, the river and the architecture, it was really kinda idyllic -- a perfect way to unwind from a hectic fortnight of giddy traveling, and capped by a winding route home through the scenic small towns of the area, home to a bloody steak in plate-lickingly good port wine sauce courtesy of the culnary skills of Joonas. Twas a quiet evening, with but a glass or two of red wine, a pint or two of Guinness and a wee wander to the roof of the Rock Church, to chill out as the sun slowly lowered, for the next day, alas, I was to be up at stupid o'clock and away, with a sad goodbye to Hanna et al., to the airport and home.

And so the Adventures of a Couch-Hopping Scribbler came to an end... for now.

I'm just hoping the sequel comes real soon meself.

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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Another Mad Project

So, in my continued quest to find the most impractical project in the world, I came up with an idea for an experimental movie. I blame it on too much Jodorowsky myself; I recently watched El Topo, Fando Y Lis and Sante Sangre in quick succession, with a little Bruce La Bruce (Raspberry Reich) thrown in for good measure, and a sprinkling of John Waters's Cecil B. Demented just for fun. They brewed in my head, and suddenly I found myself thinking of a sort of... metafictional mockumentary, I guess you could call it.

The idea: OK, so this auteur of a documentary director decides to make a contemporary retelling of the Gospels, starring himself as Jesus... but not in the traditional manner, with actors and sets and shit. No, instead he's going to basically re-enact/reconstruct the various scenes in modern settings, filming without permission on cameraphones and suchlike, and see what happens as it goes along. Like, the whole thing should be constructed as much from faux YouTube and news footage as from anything; it's sort of a documentary about the making of itself.

I mean, he's out on the streets preaching; he's interrupting church services to denounce the latter-day Pharisees; he's using video editing techniques to perform miracles -- and, as the narrative presents them, they are miracles. As in some crazy William Burroughs book, he's "editing reality." Film a withered hand, pan up to jacket sleeve, cut; switch the person in the jacket, action; pan down to normal hand, cut. Playback. Cut to cameraphone footage of crowd reacting to the healed hand, as in some David Blaine street magic malarky. Shit like that. Camera tricks and an unreliable narrative? Maybe, but it's presented as actual miracles. And this latter-day miracle-worker has the same effect on the authorities, natch, as young Yeshua did in his day. Cause you know he would, man. Shit, I reckon he'd put Pullman, Dawkins and Hitchens to shame in his attacks on the religious establishments.

So think Cecil B. Demented only done for real, by someone who's slowly getting sucked into his own messianic role. Think Kenneth Anger taking his message out onto the streets, making cinema as an occult ritual. Think Derek Jarman doing Christ as a queer. (Cause hey, "Beloved Disciple," man. Not to mention that bit cut out of the Gospel of Mark.) Think of this film-maker gaining the notoriety of Marilyn Manson, as the Christian Right gets up in arms about the "false prophet." Think of the Sermon on the Mount as a talk show interview. Think of the man who preached poverty and threw the moneylenders out of the Temple, how he might react to a televangelist telathon, say. Think of the protagonist in a face-to-face confrontation with Christian Right protesters outraged at his queering of Christ, challenging them to "stone the sin, not the sinner."

(Cause that's a scene I want to write at some point, somewhere, a line I want to use. Hate the sin, not the sinner, eh? Well, fucking stone the sin, not the sinner. Come on then! Can you do that, you self-righteous motherfuckers? Can you? Can you throw a stone at the "sin" you hate, and not break the skin and bone of the "sinner"? No? But you think you can hurl words as weapons without the same harm, words with all the weight and force of your pious contempt? Here's the fucking stone, ya bastard. Do it, if you can: stone the sin, not the sinner, motherfucker.)

Of course, to do the film properly, you'd have to have a film-maker who was actually willing to play into the metafiction by acting as the director character himself. (With a cameo for yours truly as the writer of the script he's working off, the John Baptist to his Jesus in the narrative, heh.) And you'd want to do as much of it as possible in that guerrilla cinema mode. Like, go out there and get in the faces of some Westboro Baptist fucks, and see if you can get the footage you need. So throw in some Werner Herzog while you're at it, in terms of obliviousness to personal safety.

You see what I mean by "impractical," yeah?

Anyways, as I was scribbling down some notes, trying to organise the source texts into potential act structures and scenes, it occurred to me that a fair whack of the gospels consisted of the parables, which aren't exactly cinematic. I can't think of any Jesus films -- The Last Temptation of Christ, The Passion of the Christ, The Greatest Story Ever Told, etc. -- that actually make use of them. But, well, a somewhat cracked idea kinda occurred to me, as I read a couple of them, that what might work is doing them in voice-over as a stand-up routine -- like you might get in a documentary on the life of Bill Hicks or suchlike, dig? Hell, the Parable of the Rich Man and the Beggar already reads like a joke. All it takes is a little twist this way or that... and a bit of canned laughter, the more artificial the better.

Cause I'd want it to be vaguely creepy, you know, like that faux sitcom bit in Natural Born Killers. I mean, some of those parables are all lovely and Jesusy, and some you can actually play with a bit of wry humour, but there's some that are, well, big on the "weeping and gnashing of teeth" that sinners are in for. And frankly some are just plain fucked up. Like that one about the vineyard workers who work all day and get paid the same as the ones who worked for an hour. Dude, how anyone can read that and not see the owner -- i.e. God -- as a complete fucking cunt, I have no idea. Yeah, some of that stuff is just messed-up.

"... and tortured the shit out of him!"

HA HA HA HA HA HA HA.

"But without letting him die!"

HA HA HA HA HA HA HA.

"Forever"

HA HA HA HA HA HA HA.

So, yeah, long story short, I ended up with a forty minute... well, monologue, I guess, which is currently called "The Parables of Jesus Motherfucking Christ, Live at the Palladium." It's not a text story I can flog to a magazine; with the laugh track a major ingredient, it's something that, I reckon, really has to be heard rather than read. And in the absence of a film-maker bugfuck crazy enough to use it in the context intended, I have fuck all idea what to do with it. So I thought I might as well post up the first part for your... entertainment? edification? whatever. Don't know that it's that funny, but hey, it's not actually a stand-up routine, more a... work of twisted experimental audio art. There are four parts and an encore in total, so if bizarro blasphemy is of interest to you, by all means let me know and I can maybes make it another direct sales thingy. Otherwise... enjoy?

The Parables of Jesus Motherfucking Christ - 1. Seeds & Weeds

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Friday, June 25, 2010

Icarus Issue 5

Yes, the fifth issue of Icarus, the Magazine of Gay Speculative Fiction is now available in print or, indeed, as an e-publication. And it has a story by yours truly in it, as ye'll can see from the cover and the rather cool preview function at the first link. Flick to page 38 on that preview, by the way, and ye'll see that Icarus is also running a short fiction competition, looking for stories inspired by the illustration on that page. And a rather cool illustration it is too. So, yeah, what are you waiting for? Get ordering!

UPDATE 25/06: Link fixed.

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Adventures of a Couch-Hopping Scribbler Part 3: Brighton Go Boom

So, after the awesome experience of Chicago, I arrived back at Heathrow with the strike still going on. No flights back to Glasgow, but what the fuck -- my Helsinki flight was via Heathrow only three days later, so I'd been furiously scheming about how I could stay down south for the intervening period, hopping from couch to sofa bed to couch. There was that nice young queer punk anarchist in Brighton to visit. There were my friends in Reading, whose 13 month old wee yin I was yet to even see. And there were a fistful of London mates I was determined to catch up with if possible. So, plans were afoot.

Plans that are afoot can sometimes trip over those afeet, right enough, so as it was the first stop on the itinerary -- Brighton -- fell through, with a text message on my arrival at Paddington, talking of dreaded lurgies and quarantine situations. OK, I exaggerate, but my mate down there was under the weather, so it didn't seem terribly good form to inflict my jetlagged, mindfucked blethering on him. And as he pointed out himself, probably not a wise move to expose yerself to the dreaded lurgy a few days before the Helsinki holiday. Cause arriving in Finland only to spend a week wallowing in diseased misery, with said lurgy probably being passed on to one's gracious hosts... yeah, not good. So, it was London or Reading, Reading or London, cause, uh-oh, Brighton go boom. I had crash space lined up in London for the next night, and the overnight stay in Reading organised after that, but where I was staying tonight was pretty much going to depend on what was easiest for whoever could put me up. Time to start texting!

This was, naturally enough, the point where I realised my phone was now on one bar of power. A few unanswered calls to my friends in Reading (to a mobile phone that, I was later to learn, had been lost during crowdsurfing shenanigans at a Rage Against the Machine gig) and even that bar was looking faint. Never mind. As I discovered, there's a rather nice park just outside Paddington, surrounded by little hotels; and not all of those hotels have security on their wifi, heh. So, with my trusty MacBook still carrying a decent charge, it was just a matter of firing out some emails via Hotmail and hoping things would work out for the best. It was a warm sunny day, barely even lunch time yet, so I wasn't exactly under any pressure. Besides, the ever-wonderful Al Robertson and Heather Lindsley had offered to put me up that night before the plans were concretised with Brighton first on the agenda. So as long as I had power for a couple of texts and/or access to wifi, I was probably sorted. Probably.

I'm not very good at that worrying thing, I think. I'm pretty much a binary creature when it comes to fretting, flicking between raw panic in one set of circumstances ("They canceled my flight to London?! FUUUUUUUCK!!!!!!") and bodhistavan serenity in another ("Hey, I'm in London with nowhere to stay arranged, fuck all money for a hotel, and no power on my mobile phone. It'll be fiiiiine.") This isn't always a good thing when it comes to finances, *ahem*, but the ability to click into a state of Ed Woodian optimism does seem to work to my benefit on occasion. Unfazed by my potential vagrancy, I just sent out some hellos through the aether and rolled me up another cigarette.

It would make a much better story if something went horribly wrong here, but sadly, no. I'd barely sparked up my nicotine fix before Al answered back, bless him, and before I knew it, I had blow-by-blow detailed instructions on how to get to Al and Heather's place in Hackney, with alternative routes for simplicity versus scenery, and even a sneaky wee way of getting me into their flat in their absence. If ever a man was a gent, tis Mr Robertson. As it was, I decided to fortify myself with some lunch first (an all day breakfast and good Italian coffee in a wee greasy-spoonish cafe... mmmmm) and take the scenic route, by way of the new overground line to Dalston Junction, so Al was already home by the time I arrived, but the thoughtfulness was seriously appreciated, given I was just off a transatlantic flight through the night, a flight that had begun on the Sunday after that somewhat inebriated cast party for the musical. Hangover and jetlag... come to think of it, I may have just been too whacked to worry.

Anyway, in the end it was fortunate that Brighton fell through, as otherwise I wouldn't have had the chance to catch up with Heather -- who wasn't going to be about the next night. Being in London a day earlier than aniticipated, I actually got to see her -- hurrah! And we had a veritable feast of a barbecue on the roof of the converted hospital their flat sits in (and, man, the view from the roof is fucking incredible.) And we had monstrous artichoke hearts the size of a baby's head, one of which I had fun turning into a strange dissection experiment. And there was wine, wine and more wine! But most of all there was some great conversation on all manner of things, with Heather giving me a whole nother perspective on The Oresteia -- me having, I'm ashamed to say, never really thought of it from a particularly feminist perspective. And hey, I got a sneaky peek at, and the lowdown on, Heather's novel... which sounds very cool indeed, I gotta say. For all the jetlag, I found myself feeling perfectly alert with the splendid company and all, and we yammered away into the wee hours before finally crashing out fuck knows when.

The next day, with both Al and Heather having their actual lives to get on with, I headed out for a wander round the general vicinity, strolling through Hackney Downs and up Stoke Newington Road. Ended up grabbing a sandwich and discovering that Abney Park was quite a nice place to munch it down. Quite a nice place just for a general wander, actually. I didn't realise the thickly wooded park with its little winding dirt paths was a cemetery until I was inside, among the gravestones, a few here and there relatively new, but most dating back a century or so, crumbling and faded, tumbled and broken, overgrown with ivy and brush. I discovered the derelict chapel at the heart of it -- a fucking excellent location for a story, I rather thought.

I also discovered the place was a serious cruising zone, twice managing to pick up rather persistent followers as I strolled the narrow trails, spectacularly failing to find the exit I was aiming for and instead ending up back where I started -- i.e. the derelict church. This, it should be noted, does not really help when you're trying to project a purpose other than... well, doing the circuit, so to speak, in the hope of finding some hot guy to suck your cock. No, when a rather metrosexually dressed young man has given you a long, long look at the derelict church, when he's set out after you as you wander off down a particularly overgrown path, when you've gradually realised what's going on, and you're now trying to project an air of certainty in your stride, a sense of destination, it really doesn't help when you end up back at that church, with nowhere to go except down another particularly overgrown path.

(You know, I'm really a rather rubbish gay at times. I had at least an hour to kill, and he wasn't bad-looking, so I probably should have just went for it. Damn it, one of these days I'm going to end up getting my Gay Card revoked. And they'll probably take the toaster too. Ah well.)

Anyways, having escaped the second follower I managed to pick up in shaking off the first (and it was a crap exchange, the second being old and fugly,) and finally found my way out of the park, after a little more wandering and a brief return to Al and Heather's place, it was time for the gathering of the clan what I'd been arranging over Twitter and email. Which is to say, a chance to catch up with Tim Jarvis and Sébastian Cevey, and to introduce them to Al and each other. Beers were had in the Rochester Castle. Then there was more meat feast action in a great little Turkish restaurant on Stoke Newington Road -- Teste. If you find that name suggestive, by the way, you're not just being infantile; it is in fact named after its signature dish of testicles... and delicious they are too. Hey, I had to try them. How often do you get to munch on -- no, don't answer that, and especially not with reference to previous escapades in Abney Park. Moving along...

So, yeah, a fine time was had by one and all, I think. It was great to catch up with me writer mates in London, and better still to see them all getting on. It was short but sweet, over all too soon, but a blast while it lasted, and I'll look forward to seeing em again. Here's hoping they make it up to Glasgow, so's I can take them round the haunts up here for some return hospitality.

The next day it was off to Reading, to a brief sojourn with me old mucker Dr Arturo and family. There was beer and blarney, needless to say, in the style of the Oakfield, in the scruffy rock ambience of the Purple Turtle and in a bona fide olde-fashioned snug of the Hobgoblin, but the blether ain't my business to be blogging about really, and wouldn't mean anything to yez anyways, so all I'll say is that it's kinda awesome to be there -- this would be the next day, I mean, in sobriety -- to be there when a kiddy takes his first more-than-a-few unsupported steps towards his dad, and even better when he then does the same to toddle to you.

It's neat to be reminded, when you're in the middle of some Grand Adventure, that some are just at the very start of theirs.

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Adventures of a Couch-Hopping Scribbler Part 2: That Toddlin Town

So I found myself in Chicago, crashing in the roomy apartment of Ben (the set designer on the show, and one half of the duo who got the ball rolling on it in the first place) and Stephen (drummer with Fagsmoke, the fictive band of which Jack Flash is the lead singer), on a very comfortable air mattress in a rather nicely fitted out sun room. When I say, I "nicely fitted out," I mean I couldn't help but appreciate the period detail floor tiles, clearly dating from a time before the swastika had... certain negative associations, heh. Most of the day was spent acclimatising -- a quick brunch with Stephen in a great little diner, then a wander through Promontory Point Park and along the shore of Lake Michigan. I'd been forewarned that I'd be pretty much on my tod for the trip, my hosts all being wondrously insane enough to be putting on the show immediately before finals week.

Yes, that's right. The show was running Thursday to Saturday before finals week. They'd decided to take this musical that existed only in the form of a libretto written by someone with no theatre experience, and a bunch of mp3s and GarageBand project files -- no written score, dig? -- and stage it right at the time when the stress of schoolwork was at its most intense. So everyone onboard was juggling essays and exams along with... well, trying to turn this crazy gay punk Orpheus musical into something performable in the two hours and ten minutes allotted, rather than the three hours plus that it was, apparently, clocking in at during the first rehearsals -- ahem. Now that's the kind of crazy I respect.

So, yeah, I was let loose on Chicago without a babysitter. But, hey, I actually kinda like to wander as a stranger round a strange city, and the Hyde Park area of Chicago is hardly daunting to a denizen of Glasgow. And if, when I get into what one might call convention mode, I do have a tendency to ask, "Is it beer o'clock yet?" as soon as there's a scent of afternoon in the air, I'm not entirely incapable of behaving as a civilised person during daylight hours. So I was well up for a relaxing stroll in the sun. Discovered a new shade of blue while I was at it, actually. Cause, you know how there's "royal blue" and "sky blue" and "navy blue" and suchlike? Well, Lake Michigan is, I discovered, fucking blue. Man, I don't think I've seen a blue that blue in all my life. Swear to God, I want to take David Hume to that shore and say, "Is that the Missing Shade of Blue you were talking about? Is it? Cause it's a pretty fucking good candidate for it, in my book. Never seen it before in all my life, and not quite sure I could have imagined it sight unseen."

It's funny. As serene as that not-really-cerulean was, as awestruck as I was by that other-than-azure, as I sat gazing out over it, the crash of waves on rock counting the moments of a peaceful afternoon, this was the point where I slowly felt the excitement kicking in. Of course I'd been looking forward to the trip ever since it started to come together -- a trip to the US for the first time in ages! to see the world premiere of my musical! to see this madcap project brought to fruition! -- but I don't think it felt quite real till that afternoon. Till I found myself sitting on the concrete of Chicago, looking out on a blue I doubt I ever even dreamed of, feeling my heart beat just a little faster as I thought about the evening ahead. My response to this, of course, was to roll a cigarette.

Only a few hours later, I was smoking another cigarette outside the ivy-covered grandeur of the Reynolds Club, the minutes counting down before doors opened, when Bill and Laura Shunn showed up. I'd tweeted of my trip and, knowing them from WFCs in the past, ended up arranging for beer and a blether on Friday, and to see the show together on Thursday. So they showed up as a blessed relief from opening night nerves -- friends to chat with, have a quick cup of tea with, before taking our seats in the small black box theatre. I know I blathered about my travel troubles, remember us laughing about coin-operated internet, but I have to confess I was probably a bit... distracted, watching the rest of the audience file in. Watching them fill the house.

On a little dias to the left of the stage, the band warmed up with some good old-fashioned punk rock. The actor playing Joey -- Adam -- stood drinking at the bar that ran across the back of the stage, or wandered between the little round tables set in a row front of stage. In a touch of brilliance, there were seats at these tables, facing the stage, that could be taken by audience members; other seats were to be left vacant for actors to use during the performance. And Joey... but we'll get to that. After a while, Joey gets up on stage, gives an apology for the late start on account of their lead singer being missing, and goes into a rousing rendition of "Blitzkrieg Bop." As the audience joins in on the "hey ho, let's go," it probably seems just like a cool warm-up to them. Or maybe they're not sure if the show has actually started. Me. I'm sitting there, loving the cunning scheme to prime them for the Prologue.

And then it starts. The lights go down. A fiddler begins. The actor playing Chorus -- Andres -- enters. I'm not sure about his baby-faced looks, I'll admit, given the Tom Waits / Alex Harvey aged haggardness the character is meant to have, but with the costume and make-up he sure fits the bill, and I feel a little shiver run down my spine: they're doing the overture. Then, as the rest of the band kicks in, the Regulars appear, start flyering the back wall of the set both sides of the bar, and the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It's an overture sensibly cut down from the stupidly long seven minutes of the mp3, but I was kinda thinking they might cut this completely for the sake of time, and here it is. Here's Guy on his cellphone, here's Joey, here's the Proprietor on a balcony stage-right, as ominous as she is elegant, here's Jack staggering onto the dias, and here's Puck coming on stage-right, being stopped in his tracks by the Fates. I don't know quite how it's playing to the audience unfamiliar with the tale, but it's sure as shit working for me. I can feel the tension building as the tableau does. Fuck, man, it's working.

When the overture ends, Chorus steps forward. I'm thrown for a second as, in a normal voice with a slight tone of wry amusement, he runs through a requisite drill: Welcome to the University of Chicago's production of Nowhere Town... This show will run with one intermission, etc., etc.. But then the lights change, his demeanour changes, the whole atmosphere changes, and with the glass of fake absinthe glowing green in one hand, a leatherbound tome in the other, Andres shatters any trace of a doubt I might have had about a Chorus who looks younger than any other actor on stage. With a voice ragged as a rusty sawblade, chanelling Waits and Harvey, he launches into the Aeschylus quote that starts the Prologue, and I'm sold. Abso-fucking-lutely sold.

Alone of all the gods, Death has o love for gifts...

I can't really do justice to the feeling of seeing it all made flesh, hearing the songs performed live -- as arranged by Tristan to whom I can but doff my hat, given what he was working with. Hell, I can't really describe the experience without describing the whole fucking musical itself, which would, yanno, take a while. And besides, if I'm going to tell you about the details of the show that really blew me away, well, I'll hold off until we get to the closing night, because that's when they really knocked it out of the ballpark. That first night what I mostly remember is just the sheer joy of seeing it made real, being so blown away by the experience as a whole that I didn't even notice the subtle little things like... well, we'll get to that. No, for now I'll just say that of the little nips and tucks that had been made, in this verse or that of a song here or there, nothing was changed that I didn't think was fair play. It might not have been "perfect" as a translation of what was in my head onto the stage, but it was fucking awesome. It was Nowhere Town. And it was a fucking splendid Nowhere Town.

The audience in general seemed pretty damn happy with it, if the whooping and cheering amid the loud applause were anything to go by. With Bill and Laura both expressing an enjoyment that, I heard the next day, continued on their drive home as they cast the movie version, heh, me, I came out on a total high. A student production? Shit, man, with the time and toil and sheer bloody talent that went into it, this put a fair few professional productions I've seen to shame. I still can't quite believe that this crazy little whim that began however many years ago -- this folly of scribbling a script for a story woven through with songs that existed only inside my skull -- actually made it to a goddamn motherfucking roaring success of an opening night. And I got to sit there in the audience and watch these college kids all clearly as crazy as me make it so.

There was more to Chicago than Nowhere Town, of course. After the celebratory cocktails round at Beth's and a good night's sleep, there was a lazy day of recovery before heading out with Bill and Laura for dinner. There was the fact that the lovely Liz Gorinsky just happened to be in town to see some other shows with friends, so we all hooked up for some damn fine Japanese food in the north of the city. There was the bar where Bill and I ended up watching the Stanley Cup match that was on that night, with Chicago's own Blackhawks playing (but sadly losing). There was excellent craic over excellent beers. There was Too Much Light Makes The Baby Grow Big, a performance of thirty plays in sixty minutes. If I tell you that the entry fee is nine dollars plus whatever you roll on a die, that the end of the show involves rolling another die to see how many of the plays are to be replaced by brand new ones in the next show, that the order of the plays is defined by audience members shouting out numbers, members of the cast leaping up to grab a shouted number from a line of suspended sheets of paper -- that might give you some idea of the sheer energy of the experience. As for the plays themselves, I won't say too much because really you've just got to see it for yourself. If you're in the Chicago area, just go. Trust me. You'll fucking love it.

There was also the requisite adventure of sorts, when the planned method of getting me back into Ben's apartment -- in the absence of a functioning door buzzer or network coverage on my mobile phone in the US -- went somewhat awry. So I did end up having an amusing few hours contemplating the possibility of sleep on a bench in the park outside the apartment building. I may have somewhat drunkenly shinnied up a fence to climb onto Ben's fire escape and spent a while rapping vainly on his back door. But it all turned out fine in the end, with Stephen arriving home from a party just at the point I'd fortuitously clambered back out of the back yard and headed round to the front again.

Anyway, the point is, it wasn't just about Nowhere Town.

But, yeah, it was mostly about Nowhere Town. Cause the Saturday shows... man, the Saturday shows...

With the matinee performance, something had just clicked. The band didn't just play well this time; they were tight. I grinned as the audience applauded the ends of songs. The actors were looser, relaxing and having fun with it, Ted and Adam fleshing out the outlines of Guy and Joey with some deliciously playful ad libs, perfectly in character. In a savvy improvisation, Khyle as Jack switched in a Lady Gaga reference for a Madonna reference, in a perfect updating of a joke in Act One. You could just about hear the lumps in throats being gulped down as Rudy, as Puck, sang "Another Day." When Chorus and the Proprietor are hectoring Jack and Puck respectively, in that simultaneous dialogue that sets up "The Battle of Jack's Love," man, it was incredible. Jack and Puck in unison, crying out "Because I can't just let him go" -- that was like a punch in the gut.

Something had to go wrong, of course. And it had to go wrong at the worst possible moment, the mics going on the fritz during the big romantic finale of all places, in "Love Lost and Found." (It's a reprise! It's a medley! It's a remedleprisey!) With sound cutting out and shrieking feedback, the actors soldiered on, and it didn't ruin the performance, but it was a right scunner, cause that matinee show was kicking arse up till that moment. The cast pulled it off, brought it home, and the show still kicked arse, but it was... a bastard bit of bad luck.

Didn't matter though, cause the evening show went like a fucking dream.

I sat at one of the tables down front for that final show. I'd wanted to see it from the audience first, not be too obvious a presence on the opening night. Cause, yanno, having the writer right up in yer face on opening night might not be the best thing to relax an actor. And that gave me the chance to see exactly where the sweetest spot was to watch all the action, at the table just right of the centre table where Jack and Chorus sit in Act Two. I'd marked out my seat and I snaffled it sharpish on Saturday night, got into the spirit of things by ordering a fake absinthe from the Bartender -- Ed. As the rest of the audience filed in, I saw Adam sit down at the table to my right, chatting to the audience members sat there. It was only when he came to my table that I realised the whole warm-up thing went further -- as he, or rather Joey, started chatting with me, asking if I was here to see the band. Which is to say, the entirely fictive band, Fagsmoke, that I invented oh so many years ago. Heh.

Hell, yeah, says I. I'm a huge fan. So he asks if I've seen em before, to which I respond that I saw them in Glasgow; and we go on like that, Adam totally in character as Joey, me relishing the game and, of course, being quite capable of playing along by throwing out my favourite numbers from their set. Shit, I can even chuck in the names of songs not referenced in the script -- like "The Boy With Green Hair" or "Punk Music Makes Me Feel Big." (Or is the latter in there somewhere? I don't recall now, and can't be arsed checking.) Anyways, this is a total blast, albeit kinda bizarre, to be interacting with your own creation made flesh. So I'm already in a most excellent mood when the show starts. And this time the band are not just tight but fucking rocking. And this time the actors fucking inhabit the characters. And this time the mics work fucking perfectly.

It's hard to pick out a favourite moment from it all. I was in the fucking perfect position for Chorus's monologues to the audience, to see the actor lit sublimely, the glow of absinthe in his hand a brilliant green, dust billowing in the spot as he slams the book closed. When Jack jumped off the dias during "The Shape of Things to Cum Again," having seen the show twice before I knew it was improvised, (with Ryan, the lighting designer having to respond equally impromptu,) but even if I hadn't known that... man, as the actor paced the stage like a fucking caged panther, he fucking was Jack Flash. When Puck tells Jack that he'll be with him fucking forever, but not here in this illusory afterlife but "here, in this," it was... just fucking exquisite. And then there's the fact that as the Fates moved from table to table in Act Two -- one with measuring tape, one with thread and one with scissors -- the one with measuring tape would measure hand spans and thigh lengths of the audience members at that table. Heh.

There's so many moments I just wish I could go through again. I was so busy being utterly captivated by it I didn't even have the nous to think then, at that moment: man, if only this play was running for a month, because this is it; they've fucking nailed it. That came later. Mostly, right then, I was just plain immersed. There was so much of it that was just awesome.

But I think if there's one thing that stands out for me, it was this moment in the second act, a point where Chorus is seated at the centre table and the Proprietor is standing up on the balcony, and their eyes are locked on each other. Later in that act, the tension was fucking electric, as these two vie for Jack's raging soul, but there, in that look between them... it was as solid and sharp and cold and bloody as the switchblade that runs through the whole play. In the frozen hatred of that moment... for me, that was the thing you just can't get in a script, the point where a whole relationship is being revealed wordlessly, where even silence and stillness are invested with meaning by the actors. I don't know that it's the favourite moment per se, because there's too much competition, but I guess somehow it stands as a symbol of it all for me. The words are mine. The songs are in my head. But the drama lives in moments like that look, and that's what I traveled however many thousand miles for. And fuck but it was worth it!

And then it was over, and the audience was applauding pretty damn wildly, it seemed to me, and I was getting dragged up to take a curtain call with the cast -- and lapping it up, of course. Spirits were high. I think everyone there knew that this performance was bang-on, that the rough edges had been filed off, that the pieces had clicked into place, that everything had just come together and rocked like a motherfucker. I did my best to muck in with the breaking of the set, lugging things this way and that as directed, grabbing lighting equipment as it was deconstructed and lowered by more competent people on ladders, moving sharpish to be in the right place as they cried "Cable!" or "Instrument!" (or to not be in the wrong place as they cried "Swinging cable!") It was kinda weird as everything came apart -- as slowly, over the space of a few hours, the whole room was stripped back to its black shell. It was strange to see the fucking work of art that was the bar turned back into so many bits of wood. Or to cart out to the truck a panel of plyboard wall with "Nowhere: population zeroes" on it. I wouldn't have missed it for the world, of course; I sorta felt I owed a bit of elbow grease given the work put in by the crew, and in truth it was kinda wonderful being a dogsbody rather than... I dunno... playing a "dignitary," the author as visiting guest. It was sorta like participating in a ritual, a taste of the teamwork involved.

Actually, there was the proper ritual of the cast party afterward, in which presents are given in multiple permutations too intricate to keep track of but usually involving something cutely reflective of the recipient's character or deeds during the production... generally accompanied by something that comes in a bottle. I was well chuffed to come away with a poster signed by all involved which will shortly be adorning my wall in a frame, and with a Fagsmoke t-shirt as worn by all band members -- which is currently (still) adorning my own scrawny frame. (I took it off for a while in Helsinki, but it's not quite stinky enough yet that wearing it is just socially unacceptable. It's getting there, for sure, but it's not there yet. In my opinion. Which may be biased.)

And at that I shall leave it. Imagine my time in Chicago fading out, the lights slowly going down as I stagger round Tristan's apartment, drinking gin and tonic, buttonholing cast members to tell them how much I loved what they'd done with the roles, telling Khyle how the Gaga line is so going in the script, telling Andres and Markie how I loved the almost-incestuous subtext they'd given Chorus and the Proprietor (I seem to remember them being most chuffed at this because they'd worked out a whole backstory along those lines,) fawning over Rudy who was, it has to be said, a most puckish Puck even out of character, bless him. After that, to quote the play itself, "it's all a bit of a blur, cheers!" I hope I wasn't too... unseemly in my behaviour.

And exit Hal, stage-left, staggering down the street to Ben's apartment, singing "That Great Big Sanatorium in the Sky," as I recall.

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Adventures of a Couch-Hopping Scribbler Part 1: Chicago or Bust

So, yeah, as ye might have gathered from my Twitter feed and sporadic postings, for the last fortnight or so I've been having a wild ride of a world tour -- Chicago, London, Reading, Helsinki, Turku, Porvoo. It's a kind of strange set of scattered venues for what I'm calling Halcon 2 (the first Halcon having taken place on the ferry to Åcon,) but hey, it worked for me; I had a whale of a time. And as somebody on Twitter or Facebook pointed out, I believe, it's like a whole new concept in conventions, right? The con-goers stay at home and the con comes to them, hurrah!

And it very nearly all went tits-up on the first day, you know? Cause, yeah, there I was at one in the morning, my flight from Glasgow to Chicago via Heathrow not leaving till midday that day, watching the pilot of Lost to pass the time before going to bed. I'm not that tired yet, being a night owl, so I reckon this is a good way to wind down, ye see -- not to mention bone up on what happened in the opening for a horrendously delayed BSC Review column on the Lost finale which I'm hoping to get in... eventually. Anyways, I'm only fifteen minutes in when things go on the frizz and I switch off, muttering under my breath about the unwonders of modern technology. On a whim then, at a loose end, I fire up the interwebs for a gander at the Glasgow Airport site. I know my flight won't even be up as a departure yet, but hey... I'm figuring it's worth a look.

And holy shit, is it worth a look! Cause it just so happens that Unite, the union of British Airways cabin crew, is on strike, meaning all flights between Glasgow and London are canceled. My response to this is pretty simple: FUUUUUUCK!!!!!!!! After a bit of hyperventilation and heart palpitations though, I realise, OK, so I'm screwed on the Glasgow-London leg, but the London-Chicago flight is still on, so all I have to do is make it down to Heathrow for four in the afternoon. So: an express train from Glasgow Central to Euston early in the morning, the underground to Paddington, the Heathrow Express -- as long as I'm out the door for quarter to seven, I should make it with time to spare. Hell, if I want to be really panicky, I could go for the half four train, but I figure I'd rather at least try to get some sleep. It doesn't work, but at least I'm not completely bleary-eyed when I set out, laptop bag slung over one shoulder, suitcase trundling behind me.

Operation Orpheus has begun. My mission: to "go South," as they say, braving the depths of London, to journey to the underworld of my own imagining -- to the Hellhole of Nowhere Town, made real on a stage in Chicago -- and return with no more than my fond memories. Much like Jack in the musical. Actually, as it happened, I did bring some tangible cool shit back with me, but I was working on the principle that, yanno, like with Jack in the musical, it's the experience that matters. That sense of closure, of completion. The nomenclature seemed apt.

So, I grab the train and it whizzes its way down to London... except for when it's moving at a fucking crawl, held back by two separate flocks of sheep on the tracks. Two! Still, even these fluffy motherfuckers can't hold back THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!. I arrive in London fine. I cross the Stygian lake of the London underground without any huge hassle. Destination damnation, the Hades/Hell/Heathrow Express hurtles the short distance to Terminal 3 in a mere fifteen minutes, and then I'm there, at the airport -- and earlier than I would have been, in fact, if I'd flown down.

This, it transpires, is fortunate.

As I go to check in, you see, I find out I need an authorisation code for the ESTA Visa Waiver malarky. A what for the which for why and wherefore?! says I. Yeah, so now I find out that the Department of Homeland Security has brought in yet another level of hoop-jumping for those pesky auslanders who have the audacity to want to visit the Home of the Free. Yeah, apparently you have to fill in some form online, to get a code that says you've filled it in, bully for you, before you can even check in. Awesome!

So the woman at check-in gives me a note of the address of the site I'm looking for -- "esta.cbp.dhs.gov" -- and points me upstairs toward the pay-per-minute interwebs booth. I look at the tatty machines and their glaring advert-riddled interfaces with furrowed brow for a second, then head to the bar, hoping it'll be wifi enabled for customers. Hell, no. All we've got here, it seems, is some Boingo bollocks where you've got to subscribe for a stupid amount to a service I'm not likely to use again this year. Also, you gotta pay by credit card, which I don't have. So, back to the pay-per-minute interwebs booth. Which you can pay for by credit card -- which I don't have -- or by voucher -- available from the non-existent "staff" -- or by coins. I stick a pound coin into the slot. The slot eats it. No interwebs.

After a bit of muttering and stalking, I manage to find someone who can point me at another interwebs booth down the concourse, where -- hurrah! -- the machines actually take coins and give access to the interwebs, rather than just, yanno, take coins and blink at you with bafflement at your angry remonstrations. I feed in a couple of quid and get the in-built browser, a godawful monstrosity of an interface if ever I saw one, plastered with ads. I type in the address -- with the missing "http://" of course. Nada. Being blurry from lack of sleep and flustered from the hassle of it all, I don't think to try the "https://" that would take me there no problem. No. Instead I find myself alternating between address bar and search field, trying in vain to find the damn site I'm meant to be filling in.

This is where it gets seriously dodgy, cause when you type in "esta visa waiver" or suchlike -- I can't remember the various strings I tried -- the in-built search field of this advert-riddled browser doesn't give you the Department of Homeland Security site you're looking for. No, it gives you this shady-as-fuck scam site as the top hit... and without the warning I know I get if I look at it now via Firefox or Safari. Yep, this is the site panicking travellers are directed to by the browsers on Heathrow's coin-operated interwebs -- a site trying to rook them of fifty bucks for no more than an email with "application instructions." I'm sure there's some who'd clock these fuckers as phishing / grifting bastards straight off, but with the "www.esta.us" address, when yer kinda stressing that yer interwebs time is ticking away by the second... to be honest, the only reason I didn't fill it out was the fact that I don't have a frickin credit card.

Anyways, long story short, after more muttering and stalking, buying tobacco to get some change to buy more interwebs time, verifying with some airport security guy that the process was not meant to cost $49.25, eventually, by using the browser's search function to take me to fucking Google (cause I seem to recall the piece-of-shit browser didn't even like me typing "www.google.co.uk" in the address bar,) I managed to find the right fucking site, fill in my passport details and get the authorisation code. And so finally, Cerberus defeated, I got checked in and after a quick fag, I was through security. Then the gates of Hades were opening -- or at least, gate 30 was opening -- and Eurydyke was in sight. It was plain sailing from here on in. Nothing could go wrong now!

Of course, this feeling changed when I got to filling in the green visa waiver form on the plane, as we were descending towards O'Hare, and I found myself overwhelmed by a horrible certainty that, in all that online ESTA hassle, I'd filled in 05 for MAY instead of 03 for MAR. I could see myself looking at the recently renewed passport, typing the unfamiliar passport number in, taking great care to ensure it was right. I could see myself looking at the issue date, seeing "MAR." And typing in "05" as my brain short-circuited "MAR" and "MAY".

So it was with no small trepidation that I approached US Passport Control, half-convinced that the guard was going to call me on this fuck-up, that I was going to end up being carted off for the next plane home. Whether I didn't cock it up at all or whether the guard just didn't notice, I have no idea. I suspect I was just being paranoid and panicked. But thank fuck, either way, I got through, to be met by two of the kids from the theatre group -- David & Crayola -- there to meet me and huckle me of to a mountain of onion rings and a meeting with the crew. I'd made it. I was in Chicago, finally meeting Beth and Ben face-to-face, being introduced to the multitudinous crew of promptly forgotten names.

Eurydike achieved!

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Friday, June 18, 2010

Gig Tomorrow

It looks like I'll be spouting some spoken word tomorrow night at O'Henry's, on Drury Lane (just along from Stereo,) for anyone in the Glasgow area who fancies a brief performance of doom-laden poetry along with some very loud doom-laden music. See, just before I left Helsinki, I got a text from James of The Radiation Line, inviting me to gig with him (again) on Saturday, and needless to say, I'm well up for doing a bit of ranting. And there's no PA, it seems, so I'm just gonna have to be a fucking shouty motherfucker about it, heh.

So, most likely I'll be doing Canto 10 of The Lucifer Cantos, with some noise rock in the background, as an intro to their set. It worked pretty well when we did something similar, a wee while back at The Halt Hijack, with James and Euan coming in quiet at the start behind me, building up as the spoken word piece reached its climax, and then properly letting loose after I spat my last words at the audience and left them to their proper set. No idea how it'll work this time, since they haven't heard the poem, never mind rehearsed something to fit it. But with "doom," "drone" and "noise" being the operative words here, I'd say, I'm reckoning we'll do just fine.

So, yeah, if ye fancy it, head for O'Henry's on Drury Lane tomorrow night for 7.30. There's four bands in total, and it's a mere three quid on the door, so it's a veritable bargain! Don't know when we're on, but it could well be first, so get there early. And I don't know what the other bands are like, but I suspect, knowing James, it's gonna be all about the audio ass-kicking, aggressive and angry.

And anger is an energy, as a wise man once said.

Yeah hup!

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Wanderer Returned...

... but knackered figures he can buy some time to get a proper blog post about it all written, with this heads-up on some Finnish writers with work available in English, by way of Toni Jerrman, editor of Tähtivaeltaja. In Toni's words:

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Here's some links and such about new Finnish SF and fantasy in books and in the net - in English.

Hannu Rajaniemi, a Finnish writer who has been living in Scotland made a major three book deal with British Gollancz about a year and a half ago. The first book, "The Quantum Thief", will be out in September.

Charles Stross has already read the book and is hailing it as the best first SF novel he's read in many years and a prime contender for next year's Hugo-award! About Hannu's talent he has this to say: "If you dropped Greg Egan's hard physics chops into a rebooted Finnish version of Al Reynolds with the writing talent of a Ted Chiang you'd begin to get a rough approximation of the scale of his talent."

More from Stross about Hannu in there:
link

There's also an older short story by Rajaniemi on the net in English to give you a taste of his fiction.

The Tiptree-award winning Johanna Sinisalo has a short story called "Bear's Bride" in the anthology "The Beastly Bride" edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling.

More info here and there

Tiina Raevaara has published a novel and a short story collection which both have clear speculative fiction elements. If you want to check how she writers there's a translated short story on Books from Finland website.

J. Pekka Mäkelä has already published four SF books and translated a lot more (e.g. by Philip K. Dick and Sean Stewart). Link to his short story "Thirty More Years" in pdf-format can be found on Finnish Writers web page.

PS. Remember to also check this great episode of Tommi Musturi's comic Walking with Samuel.

***

So there you go. That ought to keep you busy while I write up the odyssean journey that was Halcon2.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Tähtivaeltaja Award...

... is mine! Mine, I say! Mine! Yes, in an act of typical wonderfulness, bless em, the Helsinki Science Fiction Society has given the 2010 Tähtivaeltaja Award to Vellum! As has been, I just this very moment discovered, reported on the front page of the Helsingin Sanomat online news site -- full story here. For those of you as don't read Finnish, here's Tero Ykspetäjä's English language version of the press release. Man, I even had a live radio interview and got filmed for the six o'clock news -- so I shall be on t' telly tonight, hurrah! Take that, World Cup!

So, yeah, I'm well chuffed, needless to say. You only need to look back over the past winners to see that it's damn fine company to be in! And now there's no need for the evasions and outright fibs of the last few days as to my "just being in Helsinki for a wee holiday." (Apologies to all of yez who've been subject to them. I was sworn to secrecy.) Cause, yeah, there was actually a wee bit of an extra reason to come. But, hey, given how awesome Finnish fandom is, that random holiday cover story is... kinda true on a thematic level, you could say. It's like a holiday plus, as far as I'm concerned, crashing with Hanna & Joonas, catching up with all my Finnish friends. I've been having way too good a time to actually get a chance to blog, so will have to recount all me adventures at a later date. But, yanno, obviously this had to have a Grand Announcement!

So, yeah... as the saying goes...

SQUEEEEE!!!!!!

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Behold of the Eye...

is live at Podcastle.

I'd tell you all about Chicago, but I'm in Helsinki right now, having way too much fun to blog properly. Suffice to say, Chicago was awesome.

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Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Not Long Now

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