Book Reviews from Albedo One # 5, 1994

I had not realised it was possible to be seduced by the physical appearance of a book until I picked up TOLKIEN’S RING (HARPER COLLINS, HARD­BACK, £17.99 STG, 183 pp) written by DAVID DAY and illustrated by ALAN LEE. The cover painting is fierily evoca­tive of Mordor’s volcanic oppressiveness -par for the ‘Tolkien industry’ course. But it is the internal artwork that sets it apart from the general run-of-the-mill of coffee table books. Inside it is crammed with both full-page colour plates and black and white line drawings which perfectly com­pliment the text.

Intrigued by the illustrations I flipped to the blurb on the flap inside the front cover: ‘TOLKIEN’S RING is a lit­erary detective work about JRR Tolkien’s inspiration and sources.’ And that was good enough for me. I tucked it posses­sively under my arm and headed for home where I devoured it in the shortest time possible – given the severe handicaps of family and work to undertakings of this nature.

But does it deliver? Well, yes and no. It is certainly an exhaustive investiga­tion of the sources which Tolkien may have called on and it probably contains as much information on Ring legends in gen­eral as the average reader (and the average Tolkien fan) would ever want. But David Day’s work has one minor flaw and unfor­tunately it is a flaw that would be inherent in any discourse on the nature of ring legends: just about every one of them seems to have been based upon the same source material. It’s like browsing through a book of photographs of people of the world and discovering half way through that only one model has been used, all that changes from picture to picture is the attire.

Having said that, I must admit that some of the shortcomings were a product of my own eagerness. This is not a book to be devoured, rather one to be picked through in a leisurely fashion over a period of weeks; one to be appreciated slowly like a fine port rather than dashed back like a can of Tennants. My apologies to David Day and Alan Lee. I would hope to control myself in future.

THE STAINLESS STEEL RAT SINGS THE BLUES (BANTAM PRESS, HARDBACK, £14.99 STG, 229 pp) by HARRY HARRISON is at least the eighth in the series according to a count of the titles featured on the inside covers of other works by him in my collection. I do feel a bit miffed that because some of the RAT books were published by other imprints Bantam have not seen fit to provide a full list of the rest of the series.

However, this is a minor quibble and an unimportant one, as reference to the previous stories is not required. TSSRSTBLUES stands alone though I’m sure that legions of H. Harrison fans will advise you to rush out and get the lot. I like Mr. Harrison’s work, don’t get me wrong, and I have a great respect for it, but I could not recommend his entire RAT series on the basis of TSSRST BLUES.

Not that it’s a bad book. It’s not, it merely shows all the signs of being number umpteen in the series. There is a minimum of characterization. Really, all you’ve got to do is take a look at the loveable rogue’s smile on the front cover then turn the page and check the (sorry folks, it’s that word again) blurb to find out – if you didn’t already know – ‘He is incorrigible. He is conniving. And he is the greatest antihero ever to go rip-roaring through the future. He is Slippery Jim diGriz, thief, conman… the Stainless Steel Rat.’

Is there any more you need to know? Oh yeah! I almost forgot. He is captured in the commission of a daring robbery, the sort of thing other, less adventurous, less audacious criminals would not even con­sider. Then he’s sentenced to death. But the forces of law and order need his unique talents. He is the one person in the galaxy (get the idea yet?) capable of recovering from a prison planet, the only evidence of alien life forms ever found. And to ensure his co-operation they give him (guessed it yet?)… a slow acting poison to which he will be given the antidote only if he suc­ceeds in his mission.

But what the hey, he’s got a whole thirty days. So what does he decide to do? He invents a rock band from a list of commando-types that play musical instru­ments and hypes them into mega-stardom then has them arrested and sent to the prison planet where they will sing their way into the hearts of the locals while Jim steals back the artifact. And all this is accomplished in only eight days leaving him a comparatively enormous twenty-two days before the poison kills him.

Am I a killjoy or what? (Are there too many questions being asked in this review?) I could not help think that given his effortless success in the rock world -superstardom with a pickup band in under eight days – surely Jim will now give up crime and go into showbusiness.

For some years now I have been studiously avoiding the novels of STORM CONSTANTINE. When I ask myself why the reason is always one of those dismiss­ive waves of the hand and a nondescript mumble about it not looking like the sort of thing I’m into, or about it feeling too much like hard work. Was it the covers, which all have a similar look to them, or could it even have been something as irra­tional as an unwillingness to take anything seriously from a person called Storm?

Who can tell? All I know is that having read her latest, CALENTURE (HEADLINE, HARDBACK, £16.99, 340 pp), I feel like kicking myself. What have I been missing all this time?

CALENTURE is a timeless fan­tasy, a novel of ideas, a weird investiga­tion of the human condition as viewed from an obscure angle. It is gothic horror, literary science fiction and quest novel seamlessly interlinked. It is a jewel of so many facets that it dazzles even upon re­flection.

Casmeer is the only living human left in the city of Thermidore. The rest of the population have succumbed to a sick­ness which turned them into strange, opaque statues called roches, whose blood can still be seen within if one looks closely enough. Casmeer is also possibly immor­tal; it is hundreds of years since the last of his fellow citizens calcified and he has yet to age even a day. But he is trapped within the city by creeping agoraphobia.

To entertain himself, Casmeer be­gins to write a speculative novel about the world beyond the mountains in which he lives. It is this novel, which features vast moving cities guided across the vast wastes of desert and plain by lines of pilot stones laid by the enigmatic terranauts, that pro­vides the bulk of the narrative of CALENTURE.

Few people in this world of moving cities have any interest in exploring be­yond the bounds of their homes and those that do are judged to be at least partially insane by their peers. But Casmeer creates two characters, a priest from the flying city of Min and a terranaut youth who are forced to leave their societies and travel through the untracked vastness of their homeland.

Inevitably their quests must lead them to Thermidore and a confrontation with their creator whose interfering hand is felt directly by the protagonists of his book. At one stage he even changes one of them into a woman for a single night so that the fictional Casmeer can experience sex with him (or her as it were).

CALENTURE is a startling achievement. Not since Geoff Ryman’s WAS have I been so overwhelmed by a piece of fiction. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Storm Constantine may be the natural successor to Mervyn Peake. Now, wouldn’t that be nice.

It seems to me in the cart-and-horse department of adult comics the word Graphic comes before Novel. So it’s one helluva disappointment when a graphic novel is found wanting in the art and design area. Repackaging comics with adult themes or content has become popular and, one must therefore conclude, lucra­tive of late. I suppose that it is the publish­er’s (Boxtree) desire to give an overall look to their graphic novel line – no matter who the original publisher – that is the problem here. Let’s face it guys the cover design, while establishing the look, is ter­minally boring. (Editor’s note – the original covers for this series cannot be found so the pictures attached are more recent versions. Apologies)

The examples to hand are Marvel Comics’ X-MEN: WOLVERINE by CHRIS CLAREMONT and FRANK MILLER (BOXTREE, GRAPHIC NOVEL, £6.99 STG) and X-MEN & GHOST RIDER: BROOD TROUBLE IN THE BIG EASY (BOXTREE, GRAPHIC NOVEL, £5.25 STG). In the great tradition of beauty contests the world over let’s consider them in reverse order.

BROOD TROUBLE is quite simply three issues of the comic packaged together which make up a single story. As such it has all the problems associated with dipping into a comic at random in the middle of its run. Although you are guar­anteed a complete story none of the char­acters are introduced and there is a lot of background that needs to be deduced, so unless you are an X-Men fan the early stages of this one may be difficult to fol­low. Then there’s the story itself which is unfortunately standard comics fare and I can see little justification in novelizing it. Sure the interior artwork is excellent and delivers an action-packed story with pace and verve, but I feel the graphic novel form needs to provide just a little more.

WOLVERINE on the other hand is quite a different proposition. Written by Chris Claremont and drawn by Frank Miller – two of the biggest names of the past decade in comics – this may always have been intended as a graphic novel and con­sequently works beautifully in the format.

There is a complete introduction to the character and his background woven around a simple story of love and loss, vengeance and honour. The woman Wol­verine loves is Japanese, from a wealthy family. At the behest of her long-lost fa­ther she dumps Wolverine without even a word and returns home. For the honour of her family she has been promised in mar­riage to a business partner of her father’s and willing or not, marry him she must.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, when Wolverine tracks her down he discovers that her father and his business acquaint­ance are pivotal figures in organised crime. Before you can say Ninja Death Squads he’s been peppered with poisoned shuriken, beaten to a near-pulp and left to die in an alley. From there on it’s mostly downhill for Wolverine as he is nursed back to a semblance of health by a mysteri­ous woman, hunted by innumerable assas­sins and kept on the edge of extinction by an implacable enemy.

Not quite in the Premier League of Graphic Novels, WOLVERINE is defi­nitely First Division. Don’t allow yourself to be put off by the crappy cover.

One of the biggest events in comics over the last decade must have been the death of Superman at the hands of Dooms­day- it was even reported in the newspa­pers. Now, with TV’s New Adventures of Superman rapidly growing in popularity on this side of the Atlantic at least, it would seem to be the perfect time for the novel THE DEATH AND LIFE OF SU­PERMAN (BANTAM BOOKS, PAPER­BACK, £4.99 STG, 478 pp) by ROGER STERN.

One thing this novel achieves is to clear up the current background to Super­man which, as far as I can see, has been extensively revised since the days when I used to read the comic which was, let’s face it, not today or yesterday. But neither is the background consistent with the Movies or the TV series (neither of which are themselves consistent with the other).

Roger Stern is one of the regular writing team on the Superman comic so he should know the correct background if anyone does. And as he was directly in­volved in the Doomsday scenario he would appear to be perfect for the novelization. Unfortunately the major pluses in his cre­dentials are mainly why THE DEATH AND LIFE fails to work as a novel. At least a third of the story is taken up with Superman or any number of other DC Comics superheroes fighting one baddie or another. The life and death struggle with Doomsday alone takes in excess of fifty pages.

Now this might be acceptable in a comic, necessary even, but in novel form the action sequences become repetitive and, dare I say it, boring. This is a book that could use some judicious editing. In fact it could do with being about a hundred pages shorter. Had I not had to plough my way through repeated, and interminable, fight scenes this could have been a highly entertaining light read. As it stands it is too much like hard work for my tastes.

In 1992 the Hugo went to BARRAYAR by LOIS McMASTER BUJOLD. It is now 1994 and PAN have only just got around to publishing it (PA­PERBACK, £4.99, 386 pp) in these is­lands. Why have we been denied it for so long? The book was first published in the States in 1991 so why the delay?

Well, at least it was worth waiting for. BARRAYAR is the latest in Bujold’s series about Miles Naismith (Vorkosigan) and the Dendarii Free Mercenaries. Though that’s a bit misleading as it is a prequel and all the action takes place before Miles is even born.

BARRAYARis the story of Miles’ mother, Cordelia Naismith, who defeated Aral Vorkosigan in battle, then married him and accompanied him back to his home on the relatively backward planet Barrayar – Cordelia’s background is intergalactic high-tech whereas Barrayar’s society is almost feudal.

This is the story of an outsider, of extreme culture-clash, of political intrigue and of insurrection. Each strand of the story is perfectly weighted and as with all the best novels it is the people here who are important, the action which serves merely as a backdrop to their lives and desires. But what a backdrop. Murder, intrigue, attempted assassination, at­tempted infanticide and a planetary revo­lution jostle for position beside love, hon­our and duty in a mixture that adds up to unbeatable entertainment. To miss out on Lois McMaster Bujold would be little short of criminal. Be a good citizen, buy this book, or anything else that bears her name.

THEBES OF THE HUNDRED GATES (HARPER COLLINS, PAPER­BACK, £3.99 STG, 120 pp) by ROBERT SILVERBERG feels like it’s missing something. The problem is that what’s missing is about an extra hundred pages to make it worth the price and an ending. It’s sort of like being on a mystery tour and then, without ever getting anywhere in particular, the bus does an about-turn and heads home. There is a terrible sensation of having travelled without ever arriving.

Robert Silverberg’s name over the title has always guaranteed an intelligent and well written work but since he aban­doned SF almost entirely in favour of Fan­tasy, I feel his work has lost its edge. THEBES has the trappings of SF: it is about a time traveller who is sent into the distant past in order to track down fellow time travellers who disappeared whilst on a mission. He is sent to ancient Thebes where he stumbles onto one of them in the first few pages.

So what’s the point, I ask myself. Maybe it’s the first part in a series. I can see no other justification for it. Either way it’s lousy value. Save your money. Wait for it to turn up as part of a short story collection.

If you have not read part one of THE BOOK OF THE LONG SUN by GENE WOLFE you should do so now. Otherwise, apart from missing a treat, you will find it takes a while to work out what’s going on in part two of the series LAKE OF THE LONG SUN (HODDER & STOUGHTON, HARDBACK, £16.99, 352 pp) and nothing should be allowed to do that.

THE BOOK OF THE LONG SUN is simply the best multi-volume se­ries doing the rounds at present, if the first two in the series are anything to judge by. Wolfe has effortlessly created a totally believable society, while telling us the minimum we need to know, and treated us to that fundamental of science fiction which is all to often missing from novels by the modern exponents – sense of wonder. There are too few novelists currently working in the genre who seem capable of it, perhaps they feel their audience is too jaundiced or have seen it all before at the movies. Perhaps they have merely lost their own sense of wonder at what can be achieved in SF.

Take a leisurely trip through Gene Wolfe’s world of the Long Sun – a genera­tion ship whose destination we do not know and whose origins are only vaguely hinted at. We know it comes from the Urth of the New Sun but why and how are yet to come. Somehow, Patera Silk, who in the first novel began the struggle to save his manteion (part monastery, part church) from the developers. Towards the end of that novel there is a suggestion that Silk may end up as something more than a humble priest, that he is destined for power. In volume two he moves inexorably to­wards the position of Calde which, though obviously a high office, was never fully explained in the first volume.

In LAKE Wolfe reveals just how integral the role of Calde is to life in the world of the Long Sun and how the rulers of Silk’s city have done away with the position in order to usurp its power for themselves. But the people want a Calde and if the Silk for Calde graffiti on the walls is anything to go by Silk seems to have the popular vote. After all he has seen one of the Long Sun’s gods, spoken to her in fact. Who else could fill the post?

Of course not everyone is in agree­ment with the graffiti. The government, for instance, whose power would be in­stantly diminished and who are likely to kill those who stand in their way. It’s a good job that Silk is a man of destiny and has the protection of the gods. To a degree.

I do have one gripe which I must aim directly at Hodder & Stoughton. Vol­ume two is not of the same physical dimensions as volume one. What is the point of this? It’s bad enough with all the varying paperback formats and hardback designs to maintain any regularity on the bookshelves without two books in a series, from the same pub­lisher, coming out totally mismatched. I would have thought hardback customers were important enough that details such as this would be given some sort of attention.

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First and Last

For one reason or another (mainly financial) just about every piece of music I gathered during the years 1978 to 1980 was recorded on cassette tape. For me, these were the Punk/New Wave years and I ended up with about eighty albums on tape. I got a job which entailed a lot of driving and the tapes all migrated to my car. All of them. Then my car was stolen. I got the car back but no tapes. Stick with me, this is going somewhere, just not where you expect.

A good decade later I had a long conversation with a friend – one I had not known  at the time – and the subject of punk rock came up. We talked about the music and the great singles and albums and it turned out our tastes had been similar. He had owned a lot of the stuff that had been on the tapes that were stolen. He offered to loan them to me so I could re-claim my past. But… Of course there’s a but. No decent story goes by without one.  And the but was: But he had, like many young Irish men during the eighties, emigrated. And while he was away his siter had ‘borrowed’ his bedroom. She used his desk to study. His LPs had been stacked under the desk. She moved them – up against a radiator. The LPs warped. Just about every track one side one and two was unplayable. And, as he remarked, unfortunatley most of the tracks that could not be played were the tracks that had turned up as singles – the real soundtrack to ’78 – ’80.

The other day I was reading a review in Uncut magazine – an august music journal that I can wholeheartedly recommend – of the fortieth anniversary re-release of David Bowie’s classic Ziggy Stardust album. The reviewer stated baldly that it started slowly with Five Years and Soul Love – an argument with which I could not argue. And it got me thinking about classic albums and singles and track one, side one. And naturally my mind also jumped to final tracks – because for me some of the greatest rock songs ever turned up last on the album – another reason I hate CD releases that contain ‘bonus’ tracks. You get a perfect album that brilliantly encapsulates a band’s message and captures a moment in time. You get to the last track – the original last track – perhaps something  transcendental like Won’t Get Fooled Again on Who’s Next – and then you get some shite that wasn’t good enough to go on the original tacked on the end as your added value? In the case of Who’s Next it begins with a song called Pure and Easy previously unreleased (4.19). That’s four minutes and nineteen seconds of unmitigated, average muck that should have remained unreleased forever. I bought The Who Live At Leeds on CD. I got additional tracks, ten minute versions of second-rate offal that missed the cut first time around. They didn’t miss the cut because there was no room on the vinly LP. Live At Leeds is a short album, the vinyl could have stood a couple of extra tracks. But whoever made the decision decided to release what amounts to one of the best live rock albums with just the right number of ***king great tracks. No padding, no filler. I played the reconstructed edition about five times and gave it away. The album was ruined for me and I doubt it sold well on CD – I bought it for €4.99 before it was a year old. I can still listen to Who’s Next on my Ipod because I have excised he ‘bonus material’ and I know when I hear the opening chords to Won’t Get Fooled Again that I have eight minutes of heaven before meet the new boss, same as the old boss and a fitting crescendo to one of my favourite albums.

So I took a look at Bowie’s early albums – the good ones – and discovered he pretty much never topped the finisher on Ziggy – the wonderful Rock ‘n Roll Suicide. Hunky Dory kicked off with an all-time great in Changes and Station To Station began with the masterful title track. The return of the Thin White Duke can still bring chills. But most of his best songs are tucked away in the middle – Heroes track 3 and Life on Mars track 4.

Rory Gallagher was a man who liked to front load his early albums with winners – take his two albums with Taste. The first one, Taste, begins with Blister on the Moon. My mate Dave Murphy will tell you the album track’s not a patch on the single, but the album’s all I’ve got to go by and that version is one of the most feral blues tunes ever to come out of Ireland. On The Boards, the second Taste album, begins with What’s Going On, two minutes and forty-four seconds of breathless attack. His first solo album starts with a personal favourite, Laundromat, that for me defines the commercial potential he avoided over the years.

Simon and Garfunkel’s two stone-cold classics, Bridge Over Troubled Water and Sounds of Silence both feature the title tracks up front. They probably had little choice in the matter. Look at The Beatles early releases – three of their first four albums began and ended with – I hesitate to use the word in such contest – filler. Album three – A Hard Day’s Night begins with the (number one hit single) title track, as does album five Help! But it’s only with Sgt. Pepper that they deliver a truly killer finisher – A Day in the Life, often cited as the best pop song ever written. And the last album they ever recorded, Abbey Road, ends with what might just be their true masterpiece a sixteen minute medley beginning with You Never Give Me Your Money and finishing with The End. I have a personal hankering for the last track on their last release – The Long and Winding Road, but I’m not going to argue classis status for it, though it would have set me up nicely for MY finale.

If ever final tracks defined albums that defined a career it has to be The Doors. Their eponymous first album climaxes with The End which, forty-six years later, is still an astonishing achievemnet. And consider the bravery of putting a song like this on your first album. It couldn’t happen today – they would never be allowed to play it in the final of American Idol, so it would never get onto the album. Their second LP, Strange Days, contained the eleven minute opus When the Music’s Over to complete proceedings. And that leaves us with the last track on the last Doors album, L. A. Woman, the mystical and atmospheric Riders on the Storm. If Jim Morrison had known this was to be his final statment he wouldn’t have changed a note of it. And when you think of this particular track in the context of an album, what could you have followed it with? I’m not claiming that it’s the best song in the world or even the best song ever to be placed last on an album, but I’d hate to try and justify putting anything else after it on any album that contained this song. And why would you? I can’t think of any better way to leave a record.

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Artist Nouveau – The Stylish Mr Kemp

My name is Chaz and I’m an Art Nouveau illustrator from Denver. I trained at the Art Institute of Colorado and I’ve been a freelance artist for a number of years now. As to my medium, I primarily use a program called CorelDraw.  This allows me to create my work utilizing a vexel style while giving my art a look that is quite different than most of the other painted, photo-realistic work made popular today.  My main influences are Alphonse Mucha, Ivan Bilibin and American comics. I am also inspired by music, history, literature and all things steampunk.

Tell me one little-known fact about Chaz Kemp.

I have the crappiest sense of direction in the history of all mankind.  I have the floor plan of my apartment tattooed on my hand so I can find my way around.

Let’s work through your influences and inspiration starting with American Comics. Give me an idea of the type of titles that you got into first and what titles, if any, you read now?

When I was a kid, I got into X-Men, Justice League and Teen Titans.  While reading those books often made me wish to be a superhero, (complete with a bath towel for a cape) comics really made me want to draw more than anything else.  I spent huge amounts of time drawing and creating my own superheroes.

When I got older I started to find that the reason I liked some books more than others was because I liked the art better.  Soon I started collecting books based on the artist more so than the story and I worked really hard to emulate my favorites.  I fell in love with the art of Arthur Adams (For his fantastic line work), George Perez (He was brilliant at making every character look unique), Joe Quesada (for his intense style and brilliant shading) and later, Joe Madureira (he successfully blended the anime and American-styles.)  They really inspired me to create my own look and approach to illustration.

As to the titles I read now – I just got back into comics after several years away and I’m really grooving on the DC Universe relaunch.  I think it’s brilliant.  I love the Justice League, Flash Aquaman and the Teen Titans.  Over at Marvel I started reading Unlimited Spider-man and I’m loving it.  I’m also reading Avenging Spider-man but mostly because Joe Madureira’s penciling it.  I wish I could get back into reading the X-Men again but they have 20 different X-titles and they each feature Wolverine, which is very silly.

What led you to adopt an Art Nouveau style?

I’ve been a fan of the style from the time I was a very little kid.  I had a lot of old, 1800s children’s books with art nouveau illustrations and I just loved them.  I had no idea that the style was called art nouveau until I took an Art History class in college.  Later on I started studying artists like Alphonse Mucha, Ivan Bilibin, Aubrey Beardsley, Walter Crane and Jim Fitzpatrick.

When I became a freelance illustrator a few years ago, I wanted to do art that stood apart from what everyone else was doing.  I wanted to develop a style that really spoke to me and made me happy.  Art Nouveau was the answer for me and I started carefully examining Mucha and Bilibin.  Those two artists seem to have the ability to draw me into their stories like no one else can and I feel at home in every piece that they’ve created.

I still feel as though I have a long way to go in terms of perfecting my own Art Nouveau style, but at least now, I’m really enjoying the journey.

Tell me about your job history – the journey from college to here.

I’ll try to make this concise because the path is kind of twisty.  lol  Well, after attending Art Institute I got my first big break working for a small publishing company that made phone directories.  (In fact, my first day at the job was 9/10/2001 – the day before 9/11.)  From there I worked for a company that did military contracts and then to a place that made belt buckles.

In each of these corporate-type jobs, they saw me as a necessary evil, even going so far as to tell me that they didn’t need to pay me a decent wage because there were a lot of artists who wanted my job.  My morale was pretty crushed.  At Art Institute I was near the very top of my class, but here I was considered a clip-art generating art monkey.

Doing the 9-5 gig clearly wasn’t for me.  I was unhappy on several levels and the stress was just killing me.  So I turned to freelancing and I’m much happier because my future success rests completely in my hands.  If I work very hard and continue to improve as an artist, I’ll not only be successful, I’ll be much, much happier.  So even though the money isn’t quite there yet, I know I’m on the right path.

Where does that path lead to if all goes well?

If all goes well I will hopefully become a well-known artist who’s in demand!  I want to do book covers, posters, video games, etc.  I want to be a rock star in the art world complete with my own theme music.  (laughs)

Seriously though, I feel as though I’m on the right path.  I have a fairly unique style, I’m getting a little more recognition, I’m winning awards and I’m finally starting to get some consistent work.  I’ve just picked up a gig with Cerulean Games doing some video game art, I did an inside illustration for Steampunk Magazine, just finished a cover for Dark Quest Publishing for an anthology called, “Clockwork Chaos” and I just got involved with Fairy Punk Stories.  (A creation by author Peter J. Wacks.) They do wonderful steampunk fairy tales and nursery rhymes and my first project with them will be “Rumpelstiltskin” written by the very talented Quincy Allen!

Rock star? Are you already involved with music? Tell me about it.

In fact I am!  lol  I’m in a band called Pandora Celtica.  We’re a dark, faerie, Celtic Acappella band.  We do a lot of original songs and even add tribal Middle Eastern drumming to a few pieces.  You can find us on Facebook and at our site (www.PandoraCeltica.com) as well as I-Tunes, Amazon, CD Baby, Spotify, etc.  We’re currently in the studio recording our 5th album called “Faerie Rebel” and we have a Kickstarter to help fund it because recording costs aren’t cheap.  🙂

Pandora Celtica is a great way for me to step away from drawing and get into a different creative head space.  I was taking the bus yesterday and a guy sat down with me and we just got to chatting.  He was there in New Orleans when Katrina hit and he was telling me how he lost everything he had spent years building and how the news didn’t even come close to telling everything that happened there.   I was so moved that I started writing a new song.  Writing the song brought forth a ton of images in my head so that when I got home I started drawing.  For me, creativity is all connected.

Celtic Acappella? So, what sort of music do you listen to?

Doing Celtic music was a pretty natural step for me.  I love bands like Clannad and Old Blind Dogs plus I was an actor at the Colorado Ren Faire so I was surrounded by it.  When my friend Traveler Hawk & I decided to form a band, we both loved Celtic music and we didn’t know a lot of other musicians so we decided to make the band Acappella.  Add to that our tendency to sing dark music and we had a band that was pretty unique.

As far as the music I listen to – I still very much love Celtic music but I also adore Sting and Level 42.  Sting is my musical idol and I’ve been a fan of his ever since his days with the Police.  Lately, I’ve been really, really grooving on the music from Cirque du Soleil, Emilie Autumn and Celtic Woman.

From what’s gone before it looks like Steampunk and Celtic fantasy(?) are central influences. Do you read this sort of genre fiction?

Steampunk has absolutely crept its way into my art over the last couple of years.  Most of it takes place in and around the Victorian era which is when Art Nouveau really started coming to the forefront so, once again, I found a perfect niche for my illustration style.

I’ve been reading a ton of steampunk lately.  Right now I’m reading “Penny Dread Tales” which is a very good steampunk anthology filled with well-written short stories.  I’ve had a great time with George Mann’s “Affinity Bridge” and Mike Resnick’s “Buntline Special”.  The writing for steampunk is getting better and better as of late and I believe that it’s a genre that’s here to stay.  All they’re missing really, is having me do their covers for them…  lol.

Is it difficult to get work as a cover artist?

It’s looking hard to break in.  I’ve talked with several authors and they all say that they have no control over who does their covers.  I’ve sent promos out to several large publishing companies and have met with mostly silence.  I know that it’ll happen eventually – I just need to be more famous.

In the meantime, I’m doing a lot of work for smaller, independent publishers (like Fairy Punk Stories) who are a lot more receptive to me.  They operate outside of the huge publishing machine and so are more willing to give someone like me a chance.

All in all though, my time will come provided that I continue to work my butt off, do really good work and  above all else, stay positive.  The last couple of years have been really rough but things are beginning to turn around for me – which is awesome!

How do you network/self-publicize?

Self-promotion is a lot of work, let me tell you.  lol  First off, I scour the internet for Fantasy, Sci-Fi, gaming & Steampunk publishers.  Then I create a database and send them all promotional emails.  I also post a lot of my new illustrations on Facebook and I visit a lot of blogs when I have the time.

When I send out promos, they’re accompanied by humorous emails so that I can show off both my art and my personality.  I’ve been told by a couple of people that my promos are unprofessional but I’ve been told by a ton of Art Directors that they’re great because they stand out.  Which, to me, is kind of the point.

I’m actually to the point now where I love networking.  Whenever my band has a gig at a convention anywhere in the country, I usually make a trip to the dealers room and talk with various publishers in person.  This is a really good way to make a connection with them.  I give them my art cards, chat a bit about who I am and why they should hire me and try to score some work that way.  It’s fun and I’ve met some really wonderful people.

You have a very definite visual style. Do you find this limiting or is it a substantial plus factor?

Thank you!  I consider that a compliment.  🙂  I love the fact that my style is quite a bit different than most other artists and I’ve spent quite a few years getting to that point.  Eventually, my work will be popular enough that people who see will immediately know that it’s mine.  That’s exactly where I want to be.

It is limiting in the sense that the digital painter style and the anime style are all the rage at the moment. For now, artists who use those two styles tend to get the bulk of the work.  The problem with that is two-fold:  1) Since both of those styles are extremely popular, the final product no longer stands out.  Take a walk through the romance section of the bookstore and you’ll see that all the covers look exactly the same.  2)  There’s too much competition.  Let’s say the art director is looking to have an anime-styled book cover.  She has thousands of artists to choose from so she’ll use the one that can be had for the least amount of money.

This all works in my favor because eventually, the public will get tired of those two styles and they’ll start demanding something different.  When that happens, I’ll be there waiting to offer them just that.  🙂  It’s all part of my master plan.  (Insert evil laugh here.)

Tell me more about your band. Do you have a song up on utube I can link to for the interview?

-band mates

-recording history – is digital on-line availability (and piracy) a totally bad thing for you

– best gig

-band (other than your own) you would most like to be in and why?

Pandora Celtica is a 5-piece, dark, faerie, Celtic, A Cappella band.  We do some traditional songs and a ton of originals.  We have 4 albums currently, with a 5th album on the way entitled “Faerie Revel.”  One of the things we’re doing to help pay for it is going through Kickstarter.  http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/pandoraceltica/help-pandora-celtica-create-their-5th-cd-faerie-re?ref=live

I have some fantastic bandmates and we all have faerie personas that all the fans know us by.  There’s Nessa: She sings alto and does all of our booking.  Rubiee:  She sings soprano and handles all of our social media and merchandise.  Requiem:  He sings bass and he’s the band manager.  Discordia:  She sings soprano and she’s in charge of our costuming.  ShadowCat:  That’s me – I sing tenor, I’m the music director as well as the resident artist.

As I mentioned before, we do quite a few original pieces.  Requiem, Nessa and I do the majority of the writing for the band for now, but someday we may get to see a song or two from Rubiee and Discordia.  We’re hoping anyway.  🙂

You can find our first four albums (Dog Party in the Key of Swinging Cats, F’n Sharp, Out of the Box and On Thin Ice) on I-Tunes, Amazon, Cd Baby, CD Universe, etc.

As far as piracy and such, of course we would prefer to have our fans buy our music.  That would be fantastic and it would help us financially.  The more money we get, the more we can tour and then everyone gets to see us live in their hometowns.  That being said, there’s really no way we can stop people from stealing our music if they really want it.  I’m not entirely certain that we should do anything about it, to be honest.  We want fans to share our music with everyone they can so that we have the chance to gain more fans.  Then, hopefully, those new fans will groove on us enough to start buying our music.  We’re also looking into hooking our fans up with music drop cards so that they can download free songs as well as offering up a free song or two on our website.  (www.pandoraceltica.com)  Stay tuned.  🙂

Our best gig to date… Man, that’s a tough one.  We’ve had SO many wonderful gigs so far and our fans are so very amazing.  We just won the second round of the Irish Music Festival Battle of the Bands last night and that was pretty neat.  (One round to go!)  Recently we played at a place called the Mercury Cafe in Denver and that was a stellar gig.  We’d had a fairly poopy gig earlier in the day and this was the last performance out of 4 that we’d done that weekend.  The setting was incredibly magical, the place was packed and the sound equipment was behaving.  We were definitely on that night and everything came together to create a perfect evening for everyone!

If I could be in any band, other than my own – I’d probably have to say that I would LOVE to perform with Sting.  I know all of his songs, I could help sing harmonies to everything and I could play my doumbek without taking anything away from any of the other musicians he had in his band.  That would be a dream come true.  When we we weren’t onstage I would beg him incessantly to make me his apprentice so that I could learn how to write songs like him.  *Sigh*

On your site it looks like you don’t do the artwork for your CDs. Why not?

By the way – love your Plaid to the Bone T shirt. You a George Thorogood fan?

George Thorogood’s song was awesome.  I used to love that song.  My buddies and I would put that song on in the car as we drove to dance clubs.  That song was filled with SO much testosterone!  Lol.

Actually I do all of the art for our band (especially the CDs) and have since the beginning.  To date, the only piece of art I didn’t do was our website because Rubiee wanted to design it.  She did a fantastic job so no complaints there.  It’d be kind of weird letting someone else do our art for us…

Is there a reason why your cd covers are not in your trademark style?

I think I approached doing the album covers with the sense that it was more about the band than it was about my art.  So I tried to take a more minimalistic approach.  However, for our next album, the band wants my art front and center on the cover so that my art is more prominently displayed.

You are on death row, convicted of murder (wrongly) and you die tomorrow. What is your final meal?

I would ask for an elk steak, but that because my digestive system was so delicate, I would need to hunt it myself.  Since I don’t have a clue as to how to hunt, I’d need 2-3 years to learn how to do it properly.  In that time I could appeal my sentence and be set free!  If they don’t fall for that, I’ll ask for my mom’s famous goulash and ask her to include a star trek communicator in the bowl.  They could then lock onto my signal and beam me out of there.  (It’s always good to have a solid plan B)

And finally: If you were an artist (musician, writer, actor, film director etc.) in a discipline other than you currently operate, and you were going to be remembered for only one piece of work (a one-hit wonder), what would that piece (song, painting, movie) be? One single existing  piece of ‘art’ by someone else.

THAT is a fantastic question, Bob.  I would create a very groovy world that would be half high fantasy and half steampunk.  Maybe the steam-tech would be Atlantean in origin.  I’d create some really awesome characters, cultures and organizations to populate the world and then I’d invite all of my favorite writers, artists, directors, actors and musicians to create works based on my world.  To me, that would be heaven and hopefully something that would live on forever.

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Penny Dread Tales – Volume 2

I love getting books through the post – especially when they contain a story written by me. This morning the postman brought me copies of Penny Dread Tales Volume Two, from Rune Wright publishing in Colorado, edited by Christopher Ficco. This is a steampunk anthology weighing in at 385 printed pages. My story is called The Last Chinaman, a tale of high aventure set in British Columbia and The Yukon.

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The Cyberpunk Technofeminist – Pat Cadigan interviewed in Albedo One #5

This is an interview conducted by John Kenny and I for Albedo One #5, published in 1994. As I recall, all the really insightful questions were asked by John.

Ireland has become a more regular stopover for writers on publicity tours. Pat Cadigan was here recently to talk to one of the local fan groups and we managed to grab hold of her for a chat at her hotel afterwards. Just in case we’re ever famous enough to be invited to speak to a large gathering we began by picking her brain on the subject of this type of event:

Well mainly I just answer any ques­tions that anyone might have about my perspec­tive or my work or re­search that I’d done. This time someone asked me a very intel­ligent political ques­tion that I didn’t really feel equal to answer­ing because I don’t think of myself as a political writer. I’m more involved in the science end of science fiction more than forecasting politics or anything like that. I’m not actually well travelled at the mo­ment so I haven’t had the experience of seeing things from different cultural per­spectives. So it was an education for me as well as anyone who was asking questions and wanted to know something.

Writing’s a fairly private affair. To what extent do you feel the need to per­form when you’re at these public gather­ings?

Generally people want people that they’re interested in, particularly readers who want their authors to be interesting and many people who are writers are also somewhat introverted and not particularly given to performing and if you are able to talk easily to groups of people, if you enjoy talking to groups of people then you’ve got it made and if you don’t you either stay away from these things or you get therapy or training or whatever it takes. But when I am asked to speak to a fan group or I’m asked to appear at a conven­tion I feel that everyone who wants to talk to me should be able to talk to me and I feel that I should make myself available to anyone who wants to ask me a question or introduce themselves to me or whatever because when I go to meet somebody, a writer I admire, I like being able to walk up to them and introduce myself and tell them the effect their work had on me.

Because when you think about it, read­ing is private and really somewhat inti­mate, you know, to take someone else’s words into your mind and think about them, so quite often people who have been effected by something that they’ve read, and very deeply effected by it, feel a need to tell the author that I was moved by this or I really liked this or, in some cases, I didn’t like this at all or I disagree with you and I want to know what you were thinking when you wrote this. And if somebody is going to go to the trouble to bring me in for that I’m going to go along with it.

These days there’s a lot more touring around. It seems it’s more required of an author that they really put them­selves across through the media: TV, radio, conventions.

For one thing it’s easier to get around now. But, also wherever you are, whether you’re an American or Irish or English or whatever, we are an experiential culture. That’s one thing that we all have in com­mon. We all have television, we’re visual, we’re experiential, we want to be there and conversely we want it to be here with us, So, it means more to people when they can have the experience of some kind of personal contact. This is why rock con­certs will never die out. People want to go hear the band in person, live, they want to have the live experience and then the re­corded experience keys the memory of having the live experience. No matter how good media gets in the future everyone’s still going to want to do it first hand.

Are you saying that in the long run virtual reality won’t become a huge multi-national, globe-spanning phenom­enon?

Oh I think it will, but I don’t think it’s going to replace anything. I think it’s go­ing to be extra reality. It’s going to be one more option, something else you can do to entertain yourself and you can do this for a while or until you get tired of it, you can do it ’til you run out of quarters, because TV, video games have not replaced board games. Video games have not replaced card games. You can play monopoly on a video game, but people still like to get together and have the board and have the pieces in their hands and move it around.

It’s just something else that you can do. It’s another way, and a different way, but one doesn’t replace the other. Virtual real­ity is one more reality you can have. You’ve got books, you’ve got audio books, you’ve got movies, you’ve got TV, you’ve got virtual reality. How can you say you’re bored?

I don’t think we’ve even thought of all the applications for virtual reality. Right now I’ve heard some talk of virtual reality serving as an anatomy lesson, like a walk through the body for doctors. And you could train for survival or to fight fires. There’s a thing the police do in America, and I think of this as virtual reality, where they train their officers to tell whether they should shoot or should not shoot a suspect

It’s basically a movie. They see a movie and they see a guy with a gun and at some point they’re cued to tell them to freeze and the suspect freezes and they have to learn to read body language; is he going to drop his gun or is he going to try to kill you. That’s a virtual reality experience. They don’t have all the gloves and the head mounted monitors but that is virtual real­ity.

It’s like, we’ve always had virtual real­ity, it’s right up here (points to head) so all we’ve done is externalise it. And I think that’s all that any artist of whatever type, a painter or a writer or a dancer or a musician tries to do. You bring it out of your head so that other people can have the experience that you’ve had of it. Where with Synners identifying two types of peo­ple in terms of virtual reality: there was one kind that wanted to externalise and there’s another kind that wanted to climb into it and close the door shut behind.

You’ve been described as a cyberpunk technofeminist. What do these labels signify and how do you feel about labels being applied to you and your work?

(Laughs) Labels serve their purpose in that everyone has a right to know what the contents are. Readers have a right when they pick up a book to know what kind of book they’re picking up, you know? It’s wrong to trick a romance reader into tak­ing home a near-future thriller. So that’s OK. But, eventually it can go too far. It’s like a tourniquet. A tourniquet serves its purpose but you can’t leave it on a limb indefinitely or the limb goes bad and has to be cut off. And that is what a label can dosometimes. Sometimes a label can con­strict or pigeonhole. People call it cyberpunk, they call it technofeminist or whatever and it’s just a desire to define it to their own satisfaction or to explain what they’re talking about to someone else.

I don’t mind the label technofeminist, that’s pretty inventive but that’s not all I am. It’s like cyberpunk; nobody likes the word but it seems to be the word that when you say it everyone knows what you’re talking about. 1 don’t mind it for that, but that’s not all I am anymore than – like you work on a magazine – well that’s not all you do: you’re somebody’s friend, you’re somebody’s lover, you’re somebody’s neighbour, you are a lot of other things and so am I. It’s like I’m not just one kind of writer and I’m not just a writer.

Your latest book Fools has quite a com­plex plot.

Oh boy! Sometimes people say to me how did you keep track and I have to be honest with them: I don’t know. Actually it wasn’t that hard to keep track. The only thing that 1 had to remember with Fools was to have the wrong person show up. It could never be the right person for the right situation or the story was over. Fools came out of my research in to Multiple Personality Disorder. I’m not saying that I was researching it for scholarly purposes. I was trawling for ideas.

It’s a very intriguing thing and it is a survival mechanism for people who have endured unspeakable things. In some ways we all utilise that; you go to the bank and you act one way and you go to a party and you act another way. And you treat your employer one way and who you work with another and we prepare a face for all the faces that we meet in a way. And Multiple Personality Disorder is this taken to its extreme.

It’ s like, if you could find a way to just use this for your own purposes, it has entertainment purposes but also, like, sooner or later law and enforcement would get involved. You could use it for deep undercover, you use it for espionage, you could use it for thousands of things. So I was thinking if you have trade in memo­ries, if you have trade in states of mind, every time you have commerce, you have crime and if you have crime you have law enforcement specific to that crime. Right now there’s the homicide department and there’s the robbery detail and there’s the bunko squad and the SWAT teams and all that.

So I was thinking that if you have commerce in mental states then you have crime and if you have crime you have law enforcement to deal with it. And I liked the idea of taking the idea of brain police, which is something I got off a Mothers of Invention album from Frank Zappa in a song ‘Who are the Brain Police?’, and I thought wouldn’t it be interesting if the brain police weren’t thought police but people who were actually trying to protect your brain. And one thing my mother al­ways said to me when I was growing up was, ‘whatever you do get a good educa­tion because they can’t take that away from you.’ I thought, ‘what if they could?’ What if they find a way to take the last thing that they can’t take from you away?

And then I was doing more research; you see, for me information is kind of a flea market. I take it home and I cobble it together and I make something out of it. And I was reading about things that can happen to you, kind of scaring myself I guess, and it occurred to me that in some ways people are what they remember, how they remember it. When I was in High School this guy who was a year ahead of me was in a terrible car accident and he suffered a very bad head injury and when he came back he really had almost no memory of his life as it had been lived up until then. He didn’t remember his friends in the same way, he didn’t remember his school in the same way. And it was like he was somebody else. He wasn’t the kid that we had all known. In some ways he was very much like that but he didn’t have all the information to be him anymore. He had to start over.

You think to yourself, ‘if I could do it all over again, I might do that differently or I might not do this or I might do more of this’, and that’s what happened to him. He had to do it all over again and it was all different this time. Some things he reacted to differently. He was fairly handicapped as well, there was that added thing. There have been cases of people who have suf­fered very mild strokes and there’s no clue they’ve suffered a stroke except they sud­denly undergo a change in personality.

There was a case, many years ago, of this woman whose husband became more and more reticent and more reclusive, and they weren’t going out at all, they were in their fifties or sixties, and finally she said, ‘How come we don’t go out anymore. We used to go to shows and we used to visit friends. And he said, ‘Because I happen to know that you’ve been sleeping with every man in town and I don’t want to run into all these men that you’ve been in bed with.’ And she was like, ‘Oh my God.’ There was no clue, there was nothing like this in their relationship. Well the man had suffered a mild stroke and he had this delusion and that was it. And that was the whole prob­lem. Once he was treated he was himself again. Himself? Which self are we talking about?

Now what all this has to do with Fools is all of this kind of congealed in my mind and I was intrigued with exploring that part of the future that I had created for Mindplayers. Fools and Mindplayers are set in the same future but they have abso­lutely nothing to do with each other. One is not a sequel or prequel or anything like that. Although there’s one character who makes a walk on in Fools and I just did that to have a private joke with myself.

But all of that intrigued me; I thought, well, let’s explore that: what would hap­pen if you were someone deep undercover and you didn’t know it? And you didn’t know that you had agreed to do this. And if you found out about it, without chang­ing, without having the personalities that are submerged, if you found out that you were actually law enforcement and you decided that you wanted to live the life that you were pretending to live, what could you do about it. And also, I wanted to write a future crime story with a future crime in it. I didn’t want to write about a bank robbery in the year 2050. 1 wanted to write about a crime that could only be committed if we had this particular capa­bility and level of technology.

Fools is published as a paperback origi­nal. What do you think the thinking was behind releasing it as such?

Who knows what a publisher is think­ing. (Laughs).

It’s notoriously difficult to get a paper­back original reviewed by the quality press. Apart from that are there any other disadvantages, or advantages, to having your book published in that for­mat?

My problem is that I’m not experienced enough as an author. I haven’t written that many books yet. I have three novels in print and two short story collections. I grew up very poor and I loved books but we couldn’t afford to buy books so I used to go and haunt the public library. And in those days the library wasn’t as well stocked as you’ll find public libraries now. There wasn’t a lot of the really current fiction. I’m one of those people who thinks that authors should be paid a fortune and books should be free. I haven’t figured out how to do this economically; it doesn’t make any economic sense at all but I wish that writ­ers could get paid a fortune and that any­one who wanted a book could have one.

I like paperbacks because they make work more available to people. And it makes it easier to take on an airplane, they’re lighter, easier to carry in your pocket. I just haven’t been at this as much as many other writers have. I’m happy to be generally available to people. It’s like, 1 like to be accessible, I want my work to be accessible to anyone who wants it. And it seems to me that paperbacks fit that description. I guess I’m just a paperback writer.

Looking back to the early eighties when Bill Gibson, Bruce Sterling, John Shirley, Lew Shiner, yourself and oth­ers were writing the stories that were to found the so-called cyberpunk move­ment, did you realise that this was hap­pening at the time, did you feel part of a movement or new wave?

Didn’t have a clue. I was real busy in the early eighties. That was right around the lime 1 got pregnant and I’ve got an eight year old son now. So I was working this full-time job and taking care of this baby, or’getting ready to take care of this baby and trying to find enough time to keep writing stories and everything. And one day I got this big brown envelope in the mail and the return address said Vince Omni Veritas, Texas and I thought, ‘What kind of weird fan mail am I getting now’ because the weird part is I’ ve always gotten fan mail, I mean, I don’t get big bags of it or anything but people have always writ­ten to me.

And I thought, ‘What weirdo is this and how did they get my home address?’ And inside was a bunch of fanzines of about maybe one or two pages each called Cheap Truth. And this was the cyberpunk mani­festo stuff. I didn’t know what it was. And I didn’t realise it was Bruce. I knew Bruce but didn’t know that Vince Omni Veritas was him and didn’t know that he was producing Cheap Truth. And there were all these articles in it by pseudonymous people, like Sue Denim, Pernella DeChollo and several other people. And all of a sudden they were talking about this new hard science sort of thing and inside was a letter saying great story in, there was an anthology called Light Years and Dark, edited by Michael Bishop, great story in that anthology, that was really terrific.

And that had come out in 1984 and the anthology itself had sort of disappeared and there was a lot of good stories in it, some were reprints and some were origi­nals, and that was where my story Rock On had appeared. And Rock On I had written in 1981 for Gardner Dozois because he was trying to sell an anthology of science fiction rock ‘n’ roll stories so I just wrote it on a lark and sent it to him and he said. This is an incredible story; you just took the next step.’ I was just a beginning writer then, I hadn’t sold that many sto­ries. So I went to the World Fantasy Con­vention in New Haven in 1982 and Gardner brought the story and said you’re sched­uled for a reading and I want you to read this story.

So I read the story. And then Ellen Datlow asked to take a look at it for Omni and said, ‘I really like it but I don’t think that the readers will find it comprehensi­ble.’ So I sent it to Shawna McCarthy who was editing Asimov’s Magazine then. She said, ‘It’s just too incomprehensible.’ And I sent it to Ed Ferman and he sent it back and said, ‘Not quite what we’re looking for.’

I just hung on to it and then I got a letter from Michael Bishop and he said, ‘Gardner told me that you’ve got this incredible story that you can’t sell and I’d like to read it.’ So I sent it to him and he bought it and then I thought, well, that’s probably the last I’ll hear of that story and then Gardner picked it up for his best of the year anthol­ogy, he never did sell the rock ‘n’ roll anthology, and then all of a sudden there’s Johnny Mnemonic and Burning Chrome by Bill Gibson and I went, ‘Aw yeah, go Bill go.’

I didn’t really know him then. I met him in 1983 at the World Science Fiction Con­vention in Baltimore. I sort of kept running in to John Shirley here and there, and then Bruce was there and Bill was there and John Shirley was there and Rudy Rucker was there and we had a great old time together but I didn’t get to spend a whole lot of time with them, you know running around at conventions you get really nuts at these things. So then the next I knew Bruce was putting together Mirrorshades and he asked me which story I wanted to go in it and I sent him Rock On and Pretty Boy Crossover which hadn’t been published then.

That’s one of the stories I wrote when I was pregnant and I’d been out dancing in a punk club, four and a half months preg­nant, dancing around with leather-clad punks, with Ellen, Ed Bryant was there and some other people, we had a wonder­ful time. And then I went home and I started Pretty Boy Crossover and I fin­ished it later that month and I sent both those stories to Bruce for it and said, ‘I kinda hope that you take Rock On because something tells me that you’re going to need more females in this book, more stories about females.’ I’d no idea I was the only female writer on the table of contents.

And I remember after I wrote Pretty Boy Crossover Bruce said, ‘I want you to see something’. He was down in Texas for another big convention; I had just had my baby and my husband and the baby were home, so I was out reorienting myself with respect to my other life, and Bruce said, ‘I want you to see this. It’s called Max Head­room.’ 1 said, ‘What’s Max Headroom?’ And he said, ‘It’s on cinemex.’ And I saw Max Headroom and I just fell over, it’s like amazing. I got a big kick out of that. And it was so similar to Pretty Boy Crosso­ver that I felt a little bit spooked too, but pleased also. So he took Rock On for Mirrorshades and I think, word for word, it’s probably the most profitable story I ever wrote. It has sold more often and to more different places because Mirrorshades has been reprinted all over the world. It’s like a landmark anthology.”

Rock On was used as part of an anthol­ogy on how to write science fiction.

Yes, someone took it up for that too. It was real funny; there was an introduction by Isaac Asimov, you know he gave these introductions to all these stories and then he gets to mine and he says, ‘I don’t like this.’

You know I loved Isaac Asimov, I re­ally did. I didn’t really know him person­ally, I met him a few times, but Isaac Asimov was the person who really helped me to understand science. It was like when I didn’t understand it in school, when my teachers didn’t make themselves clear, I knew that I could go to the library, pick out a book by Isaac Asimov on that science or almost anything else that you needed to know about and he would make it under­standable for me, so it was like, ‘He’s honest, there’s no bullshit here.’ It was like, ‘1 know where I stand with Isaac Asimov.’

Considering that you didn’t really know of Bill Gibson et al before you met them, the fact that you were all initially writ­ing in isolation from each other, do you believe that there’s some kind of pheromones in the air that infect writ­ers on the same wavelength or do you just think that the time is right for certain new ideas?

Well, I think it’s a little of both actu­ally, and I’m really not trying to cop out with an answer like that, but if Bill and Bruce and John and Rudy and I all sit down together and start talking we’ll find that there’s an awful lot of common ground in our interests. We’re all of the first genera­tion that grew up with TV. We’re all enthusiastic fans of rock ‘n roll. We all like much the same bands and the same kind of music. It’s like people with a lot in common seizing on the same elements to work into their science fiction. This is how you can tell it’s a genuine movement be­cause it arises spontaneously. People all kind of get the same sort of gestalt. And that’s really how it happened.

And it was more likely to happen in this culture because the media gets our ideas out there at the speed of light. We could all see the same thing at the same time on television. It didn’t take as long as it used to for ideas to get from one part of the country to the other. When I sit down at seven o’clock central time to watch televi­sion someone else on the east coast of America is watching it at eight o’clock East Coast Time and someone else in the Rockies is watching the same thing at six o’clock Mountain Time and someone on the west coast probably got it delayed because it’s five o’clock there and they’re all coming home from work.

But, if you see what I mean, you can beam the same idea, the same icon, the same ideogram, the same photograph around the world al the speed of light and everyone will get it almost immediately, simultaneously. I mean it would be so fast that you would not be able to perceive the delays. And that’s, I think, why we all seem to converge on the same thing be­cause ideas don’t take as long to travel anymore.”

On that point, the media seem to have just cottoned on to the whole idea of cyberpunk in the last two, three years, maybe four, whereas cyberpunk, in writ­ten form, started about ten years ago. A lot of the original cyberpunk writers are moving off in different directions now, and the media seem to be just exploring the idea. Do you think cyberpunk is passe?

I don’t think it’s so much passe as it’s just been absorbed into the mainstream now. It’s part of the culture and it’s going to stay part of the culture. It’s not going to be replaced by something; it’s just one more aspect of our culture. The way I see it is we sort of foreshadowed the cultural shift, we foresaw the cultural shift. Cyberpunk is a cultural shift, not a literary movement, really, and this has happened quite frequently with speculative fiction and science fiction writers. They have foreseen things, they’ve felt things com­ing. And if you see how things are now, they are not exactly as were predicted in many of our stories. Or if you look ahead from now you can see that things may not happen exactly as someone wrote them up in whatever story or novel.

But the cultural shift was on the way and cyberpunk as a cultural phenomenon was not possible until the desktop compu­ter. That completed the triad of the desk­top computer, the television and the tel­ephone. Now they’re all one. Some day they will all be one organism, one simple thing in your house and you’ll be able to access it from whatever room you’re in. The fact that they are not all one now is we just haven’t worked out the design of the cabinet and how to do that. But your per­sonal computer with the modem in it is TV you can read and phone out on. Very soon that will merge with your television so that you can maybe devote part of your screen to TV and part of your screen to whatever you need to do. You can keep your calendar there. And you can pick up the handset if you really need to talk to someone by voice.

You’re promoting Fools at the moment, but you probably have another book in your head. Do you find that a difficult thing to do, because you’re talking about a book that you’ve written quite a while ago?

Not really, because every so often I need to distance myself from whatever project I’m currently working on so that I can return to it with a freshened perspec­tive. And. you know, it’s my book so it still interests me. It’s one of my babies. I don’t mind taking it around and talking about it. I’m pleased that there is so much interest in it and, see, the thing about Fools is every book is different for you, it’s like every child is different, and when I wrote Fools there were times when I looked up fromFools and I said, ‘What am I doing. People are going to read this and they’re going to say what is she doing?” Like, regular readers are going to read this and they ‘re going to say. ‘Oh, she’s lost it now. What was in her mind, besides eve­rything.’

I thought, ‘This is either going to go over or it’s not. And if it doesn’t go over, it’s not going to go over in a big way. People are going to ask me if I was crazy.’ And so I was gratified by the response to it because the response to it has been more positive than I really expected. People have said, ‘You know, I’m going to read it again’.

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Science Fiction Musicals? Whatever Next – an interview with Laura Tisdall

Laura graduated from the University of Surrey with a First Class BMus (Hons) degree in Music. She has written the music for the Hugh Wooldridge/Bill Kenwright UK tour of The Haunting, starring Paul Nicholas, and her first musical Faerytale, was showcased by Guildford School of Acting at the Electric Theatre. Laura has recently finished writing her second musical, The In-Between, and recording a concept album for the show with nine of the West End’s leading stars, which can be heard in full at www.theinbetweenmusical.com.

As an arranger and orchestrator, Laura has been Musical Associate for The Night of 1000 Voices, Kerry Ellis and Brian May’s Anthems: The Concert and The Wonderful World of Captain Beaky, with Vanessa Redgrave, Joanna Lumley and Hugh Bonneville; all at the Royal Albert Hall. She was also arranger/orchestrator for the Cantabile Christmas Cracker (Prince of Wales Theatre).

Tell me one little-known fact about Laura Tisdall.

I don’t like chocolate! (Well, I like white chocolate, but that doesn’t really taste like chocolate, more like solid sugar.)

Tell me about Faerytale – where you got the inspiration and what it is about.

Faerytale was the first musical I wrote and I started writing it the day after I first saw Les Misérables in the West End.  Not to sound too cheesy, but it really was one of those lightening strike moments; I came out of the show having been so utterly moved that I just wanted to be part of that world and decided I had to write musicals!  The only other West End show I’d seen at the time was The Phantom of the Opera, so both productions were big influences on Faerytale.

In terms of the story being a fantasy, I’d been a big fan of the genre since I was ten and read the first Harry Potter.  It was a revelation to me; the first book that I couldn’t put down, and it led me to read a great deal of other fantasy and science fiction series, as well as watching many similar genre TV shows and films.  I love the idea of lots of the old fairytales (I really like Once Upon A Time on TV at the moment), like the stories Disney have frequently adapted, and I wanted to write something along those lines as I thought it could make a great dramatic story for a musical – but I also wanted to keep that darker gothic feel lots of the originals had.  So, the story of Faerytale is about a sorcerer who is cursed never to love again after causing the death of the Faery Princess to whom he had been betrothed.  It’s about his search to break the curse and ultimately find redemption.

How do you break into this business?

It’s very difficult.  Musicals are really expensive to put on, so producers are often wary of taking a risk on a new writer, particularly with an original story.  Part of the trouble is also that it’s very hard to ‘prove’ to someone that your show could be good, without because you can’t show someone even a near finished product without a whole load of other people helping you in the first place; singers, musicicans, etc.  So it is tough, although there are now a few organisations that help new musical writers, Perfect Pitch and Mercury Musicals Development being ones that spring to mind.

My own route to where I am now started really at university where we did a collaboration between our music department and Guildford School of Acting; myself and three other new writers from the department had pieces from our shows (for me it was Faerytale) performed by students from GSA at a local theatre.  GSA have a very good reputation and so a number of industry professionals we invited came along and from that I met a director, Hugh Wooldridge, who has since been very supportive of my career and gave me my first professional jobs arranging and composing.

The thing I’d say is that if you want to work in musicals, you really have to love what you’re doing because it’s often very hard work trying to make a go of it and you have to be so determined and self motivated to keep going.  Obviously it’s my dream for my shows to be professionally staged and I’ve been working hard for a long time to try and achieve that, but I write musicals because I love writing musicals; I almost feel like I’d have to write them and tell those stories that I have in my head, even if no-one ever listened.

So do you write the story, music, libretto, the lot?

Yes, although at first I think it was more necessity than choice, in that I needed a story, I knew the kind of genre story I wanted to use but didn’t know anything about getting rights for adapting existing ones.  I also didn’t know anyone else who wrote musical lyrics or really any part of musicals.  I think though I actually might find it difficult to do it differently now.  I’ve been writing stories since I was very small, even before I started writing music, and when I’m writing a show everything comes from the story.  What the characters say and do, and the tone of the music and it’s melody – all of it comes from the emotion of that scene, often together as one whole.  So when a melody comes into my head, lyrics often come too because what I feel the character would say comes from the same emotional place as the melody.  I think I’d find it very difficult to not have the freedom to work this way, so writing to pre-existing lyrics or not being able to change where a story goes would be a challenge.  This isn’t to say I wouldn’t like to try collaboration with the right project and people – the end product can often be much better with other people inputting, particularly in musical theatre, and I’m not precious about having to have written it all myself – if someone else comes up with a better way we could do something, then great, the end show will be better!  A number of times writing both Faerytale and The In-Between I got writer’s block and felt other viewpoints and ideas would be so valuable.  So it’s something I’d be open to, in the right situation, but I guess it would just take some getting used to!

Do you have a sample song/video I could link to in the interview that you could discuss with regard to how and why it came to be and its place in the musical?

Yes, here’s one of the songs off the concept album for The In-BetweenThe song is called ‘Beyond the Door’ and this recording is performed by Hadley Fraser.  In the show, it’s sung by one of the main characters called Calicus.  Calicus is a young Guide of the In-Between; the place that lies between parallel worlds.  Time doesn’t move in the In-Between and, for as long as Calicus can remember, he has led people who become trapped there, through the In-Between and on to new worlds in which they are destined to belong.  He has never questioned the Rules that he follows and never questioned where people are supposed to go.  Then he is assigned to guide Flick Wimple; a sarcastic nineteen-year-old misfit who questions everything and, unlike everyone else he has led, certainly does not want to go where he tells her she is meant to be.  At first completely out of his depth, Calicus finds himself drawn to Flick and ultimately does all in his power to help her – but after she is gone, unlike all the others, he finds himself unable to forget her and the way she challenged all he had just accepted before.  ‘Beyond the Door’ comes as Calicus is reaching a crisis point, unsure how to continue with his life as it once was.  The only way to leave the In-Between is through an exit door into one of the worlds, but Guides are not even permitted to look through them.  The ‘door’ of the song title refers to the exit door through which Flick left.

Strangely, ‘Beyond the Door’ was one of the quickest songs to write for The In-Between and is possibly my favourite from the show.  Some songs I’ll spend hours looking over and re-writing multiple times, while others just seem to click straight away – and are, ironically, usually better!  It sounds bizarre I guess, but I was thinking about the scene whilst waiting for a train at Richmond station and the opening words and tune just sort of popped into my head.  Once I had that idea, a lot of song followed quickly and I wrote the words down in my notepad right away (always essential to have with me!), but the real challenge was keeping the music going round in my head for the whole journey back, so I didn’t forget it before I got home and was able to record it!

When the musical goes into rehearsal for the first time are cast allowed or encouraged to contribut ideas that may change what you have written?

To be honest, I’ve not ever been in rehearsals for a full production of a brand new musical so am not entirely sure how it works in practice. It probably depends quite a lot on the time scale you have in which to rehearse (it’s harder to make lots of changes if you’re short on time for learning/perfecting what you’ve got already) and also on the director’s style of working.  What I’ve heard, though, is that the show that goes into the rehearsal room is often very different when it comes out!  It’s an important part of creating a show.  Some things that work well on paper or in your head, might not translate well to live action and the rehearsal room is often the easiest place to find these bits that need changing, because something might feel awkward for an actor to say, or a musical break be to long, etc.  Musical theatre is by default a collaboration; even if you write it yourself, that’s only one part of the team that puts it together for stage and everyone has ideas they bring to that.  The actors are a massively important part of that team; they are bringing your story to life and so I think my view is that if one comes up with an idea that improves a scene, then that all helps and is part of the process – let’s use it and make the best possible show we can at the end of it!

Do others arrange or orchestrate your music?

Yes.  In the same way that music and lyrics often come together when I’m writing a new song, the orchestration is usually part of what I hear in my head.  I can’t really separate it.  I think I’d find it difficult to write a new song, that is ultimately intended for a band/orchestra, down as just a piano/vocal arrangement from the outset.

So, your new musical , The In-Between is finally hitting Broadway. You’ve got an unlimited budget. Who do you cast and who directs?

Oh, this is such a hard question!  Okay, dream scenario; Tim Burton would direct it!  (Although I don’t know if he’s done any stage shows before!)  In terms of casting, Julie Atherton and Dianne Pilkington have been my dream cast for Alice right from when I was writing the show, so it was amazing to have them both play the part on the album.  Another person I’ve thought of for that part (if we’re talking Broadway people!) is Sutton Foster.  A number of people played Flick and Calicus on the recordings and I asked each of them because I’d seen or heard them perform and thought they were phenomenal and would be able to put across those songs really well, both vocally and in terms of character.  It’s difficult because I don’t really want to single anyone out at this stage; they were all fantastic to work with.  You also don’t know what new talent might come up in auditions, particularly when casting quite young roles; Flick is 19 and I see Calicus’ playing age as early/mid 20’s (no-one knows how old he actually is!).  The thing I’ll say is that all the three leads have to match each other well and whether the show works live will hinge a lot on who plays Flick, so I think it would be important to cast her early on and then cast the others in relation to her.

Have you started planning your next musical project yet?

Yes, I’ve actually had the idea for it in my head for several years, I think even before I had the idea for The In-Between.  After Faerytale, I had these two concepts in my head and had to decided which to go for first.  Writing a musical is a massive investment of time (both have taken me 2-3 years to write) so it was a big decision.  I really wanted to write both, so in the end it was a practical choice; The In-Between has a smaller cast and band, so would be more likely to be put on by a producer, given I’m a new writer.  I’m happy with how it’s turned out though.  I think that creatively, as well, that was the right one to do first.  For the new show, I originally had the concept and the main characters, and I knew how it would start – but there waere lots of bits that I wasn’t sure how to fill in (and a couple of possible endings to choose from!) and I would have spent ages poring over.  The great thing is that over the almost 3 years since I started writing The In-Between, my mind’s also been ticking over the story for the new show in the background and I’ve now got the full story pretty much straight in my head with hardly any agonisation over it!

In terms of what it’s about, I don’t really want to give too much away just yet… It’s another fantasy/sci-fi, but a very different kind from Faerytale or The In-Between; more futuristic I suppose!  It’s been nice to have a bit of a break from writing to record the album and launch The In-Between, but I’m excited about getting started again in earnest when I’ve got a bit more time.

What do you do for relaxation?

Music is my hobby as well as my job, so I do a lot even when I’m not working, whether that’s just singing or playing piano for the fun of it, or playing (drums or piano) and singing down at my local Church.  I also do lots of reading! If I have a day off and a good book I could easily sit reading it all day.  I recently read The Hunger Games trilogy for the first time and couldn’t put it down!  I also like watching films and TV shows in the evening – current favourites being Homeland, The Big Bang Theory and Once Upon A Time.  I love good box sets too and am looking forward to the new seasons of Fringe and Glee in September (I don’t have Sky TV to watch it live!).  A lot of this is still fantasy/sci-fi orientated – I guess it’s a good way to relax, that escaping to another world for an hour or so!  I also go to dance class regularly(ish) in some vague attempt to keep fit.  It’s good fun and no-one laughs at me for being rubbish at it, which is nice!

Obviously from your bio and career details you are multi-talented but, apart from dance, what are you rubbish at?

Lots of things!  Anyone who knows me would probably say punctuality.  I’m terrible at being on time and, if I do somehow manage it, it’s generally been an absurdly silly rush!  It’s really not intentional. I genuinely try to be on time, but then somehow it always ends up suddenly being 15 minutes after I should have left and I’m not ready.  Maybe the clocks are all secretly working against me.

Having said the things I do to relax (realised I forgot to put going to shows!!!), I have to admit I’m actually very bad at it.  I find it hard to just switch off.  Even when I’m doing something else, I’m often thinking through the various jobs I still have to do.

For a writer/producer/director of musicals, what is the ultimate career aim? Where are you when you are top of the heap?

Well, my dream is to sit in the stalls of a West End theatre watching a musical I’ve written!  I’d just be so excited to be a part of that whole process though, from workshopping to casting to rehearsing, all of it!  It would be wonderful to see something I’ve worked so hard on for so long really come to life and get better as other people become part of it.  When you write a show, it’s like you have a hunch it would work onstage; you can imagine the scenes playing out and you think they would work, but it’s something, like I said earlier, you can never know for certain by yourself.  The moment when you first see something you’ve written performed, and it works, is truly special.  I remember this specifically with Faerytale at the first rehearsal for the showcase version we did that was performed by Guildford School of Acting.  The first song they went through was a big ensemble number and I remember just sitting there feeling absolutely overwhelmed at hearing these amazing singers bringing that song to life.

Would you fancy taking a musical on tour? Do musicals do world tours?

I certainly wouldn’t be against it in principle.  I guess it would depend what a producer felt was best for the show.  They don’t often do world tours, as far as I’m aware, although sometimes you get European or North American tours, which cover a big areas.  In the UK, you mostly get internal national tours of musicals, as oppose to tours that have the UK as one of many destination countries.

Do you see yourself remaining in the UK or will it be necessary to move to the States at some point to further your career?

I’d love to remain in the UK because I’m a very homey (is that a word?) person, and most of my family and friends are here. I wouldn’t mind going away for short periods to the States (really want to see Broadway one day!), but I think I’ll probably always like my permenant home to be here.

You are on death row, convicted of murder (wrongly) and will be hanged int he morning – what’s your last meal?

Well here’s hoping that never happens… but probably roast chicken dinner with all the extras like stuffing and Yorkshire pudding, followed by banoffee pie, which is probably the most ingeniously awesome pudding ever invented.

And finally: If you were an artist (musician, painter, actor,film director etc.) in a discipline other than you currently operate, and youwere going to be remembered for only one piece of work (a one-hit wonder), whatwould that piece (song, painting, movie) be? One single existing  piece of’art’ by someone else.

Oh tough question… I’m going to say The Lord of the Rings film trilogy (I know that’s technically 3 movies but they were made as a set so I think it can count!).

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Do Androids Dream of Blade Runners – a kind of book film review

With the Alien prequel, Prometheus, due to hit our screens on June 1 (in Ireland) it seemed an apt time to turn my mind towards Sir Ridley Scott and his SF magnum opus, Blade Runner.  I saw it on its original cinema release back in the day and, as a long-time  fan of Philip K. Dick, was blown away by the fact that someone had found a way to put his vision of the future up on the big screen. Of course Scott;s version of Dick’s dystopian vision has become something of a cliche, but then does that diminish the originality of that Spartacus moment just because it influenced so many films that followed. (I sat my – at the time twelve year old – son in front of Spartacus, at the bit where everyone stands up saying, “I am Spartacus”, attempting to illustrate the power of originality, or some such rubbish. But all he saw was a hackneyed line copied from the likes of The Simpsons – Matt Groening spoilt The Shining for my kids as well, by the way.

But for me, Blade Runner set a high standard that few directors have even attempted to match in the intervening years. It wasn’t until a colleague mentioned that she was reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep that I actually returned to the source material after all these years. My recollection of Androids/Sheep was pretty hazy and I remember thinking that the main difference was that Deckard’s desire to own a real animal- central to the book – had been left out of the film almost completely.

On re-reading the book I was pleasantly surprised at how faithful (by cinematic standards) Scott had been to the book. Sure, the whole animals are virtually extinct and owning pets is the ultimate status symbol had been left out but that was okay. But the second omission – necessary to pacing and the fact that nobody ever got broke by underestimating the intelligence of his audience (Sm Goldwyn mis-quote, maybe?) – okay, let’s be frank, Hollywood believes we (moviegoers) are all stupid – kind of lets the sense of the novel get way from us. And I had forgotten this point. I had remembered Blade Runner as being a pretty fair adaptation of the book.

For much of his life Philip K. Dick was obsessed by religion. In Androids/Sheep the massses have been tamed by Mercerism, a religion in which adherents can meld with the mind of their godhead(?) and experience his feelings as he continuously pushes a stone uphill and is attacked by unseen assailants. and through Deckard’s fusion with Mercer towards the end of the novel we are once again dragged into Dick’s contemplation of what is real and what is only in the mind.

I realise that Hollywood cannot afford to ask its patrons to stick their brain in gear – that’s for those damned French and their Nouvelle Vague or that other arty crap that doesn’t put bums on seats. But I do think that every SF fan who has seen and loved Blade Runner – can yo be a SF fan if you haven’t and don’t? – should read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep if they haven’t already done so. It’s no hardship – the Gollancz Masterworks version is only 208 pages long – and it reveals another layer of the story that deserves wider consideration. After all, nobody’s going to say I don’t need to read Dickens I saw Oliver! in the West End.

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