Ink reviews and a New World of Colour

Private Reserve Colours

Who would have guessed ink reviews are a thing? I have used a fountain pen for going on 30 years now; even back in school, in the days of the disposable Bics with their masticated tips, I could never get my head around ballpoint pens. My cursive writing with its long looping letters just wouldn’t play nicely with fine-nibbed and scratchy roller ball pens and I never, ever, saw them as superior in any way.

Currently my go-to pens are by Lamy and Montblanc and though I love the pens of the latter, I don’t care much for the Montblanc ink (packaging aside – the bottles are amazing!). I currently have a rather plain Montblanc black in my Lamy and find that it is slow to dry, somewhat watery, tends to smudge, and is prone to bleeding through the paper of my journal. It was quite by chance that I stumbled into a colourful and vibrant world that had somehow, up till now, eluded my notice.

I was reading one of Neil Gaiman’s blog posts where a fan was asking him about his favourite fountain pens and the conversation went naturally to the inks he likes best. Neil mentioned he wasn’t a fan of the Montblanc inks either preferring others like Private Reserve. One quick Google search later and I was hooked. I had no idea that reviewing inks was a thing … how bad is that? I’ve always just bought brand inks without realising there is this whole other world of colourful possibility. The reviewers assess characteristics of inks, breaking them down into their component characteristics like a connoisseur of fine wines. They talk about shading, shimmer, feathering, bleed, and reactivity to water and other solvents. The penmanship and artistic sketches highlight the vibrant hues in all their macro-lens enhanced glory. Websites like Inkophile and Inkdependence gave me an insight into a world of possibility hitherto unknown. Websites like Notemaker, LarryPost, and Massdrop thereafter did a fine job of divesting me of my hard-earned cash.

Perhaps gone are the days of washed out blacks and faded blues. My notebooks will now sport more Machiavellian options like American Blue, Copper Burst, Sherwood Green, and Rouge Hematite. Bold vibrant strokes filling page after page. After a few bottles of ink and three new pens I think it’s time to quit. The hour is exceedingly late, the single malt is drunk, and there is work in the morning (well today to be precise).

Dear Santa, if you’re reading this, please leave a Lamy 2000 in my stocking. Like potato chips, and cats apparently, you can never have too many fountain pens.

Stop Nitpicking about Sci-Fi Movies!

I may be a bit of science nerd but I couldn’t agree with the below linked article more. Science Fiction has always looked further than the science fact of the time. Greats like Wells, Asimov, Heinlein, and Verne all wrote about things that were technologically impossible at the time they wrote them; concepts that had few (or no) workable scientific theories, and hence paved the way for the science to follow. I won’t go into detail but how the foresight of the likes of Clarke and the Roddenberry paved the way for the science and technology of today, but I am not entirely comfortable with the current trend that requires science fiction movies to be pulled apart and dissected by science buffs (no disrespect to Mr deGrasse Tyson whom I respect very much). There seems to be a very fine line between gracefully informing the public of where the boundaries between science fact and fiction lie and a form of intellectual ego stroking.

Science fiction has always been about what could be possible, has always been about the story and humanity’s need to reach out and explore the boundaries of what COULD be. The human story has always come first so I always forgive a couple of grey areas to move the plot along. That being said, clearly lazy storytelling laced with BAD or WRONG science ruins it for everyone. There is a big difference.

Link to the article that prompted this post.

Dreams. Day One Entry: 16 Aug 2014

One of the annoying consequences of getting older is the transition of your dreams from the fascinating to the mundane. I recall dreams in my teens and early twenties where I visited strange other worlds, saw in colours I could not describe on waking, wandered the airy interiors of giant organic helical alien towers and had the ability to fly. These were but a few of the fantastic memories I have of what filled my thoughts during those long deep slumbers.

These days the dreams seem pedestrian by comparison. Last night I awoke in a cold sweat having dreamed of someone emptying my wallet of all my cards just prior to me having to go on a business trip. I mean how awfully mundane!

To be fair, there was a brief modicum of redemption. I did dream about being at a work conference where we were attempting a live link up with a machine intelligence that had lain undiscovered because of our need to anthropomorphise the criteria of what it means to be intelligent. In other words we just didn’t have the frame of reference to understand that an artificial intelligence would likely arise to be very different to what we’d recognise as intelligence. Anyway, fascinating look at this link up with these machine avatars that looked like pale reflections of something ultimately albino Geigeresque. Unfortunately a work salesman stepped up and tried to do the corporate pitch as the first human hello. Completely killed the mood and I woke in abject horror.

In any event, I think there’s a short story in there … albeit without the salesman!

Farewell Iain.

Iain M. Banks

I’ve just learned that Iain Banks is dead.

Dead because the cells in his body went haywire and we couldn’t fix it. We can spend trillions of dollars killing one another in the name of all sorts of causes but we can’t fix those little building blocks of life that we’re all constructed from. I knew he was sick, I knew it was an inevitability but the insidious nature of cancer means the hope that there is still time. The slap in the face, the shock and tears, those came from reading Neil Gaiman’s tribute.

Those who knew him described him as funny, exuberant, full of life, fiercy intelligent. I hadn’t met him in person; I was never that fortunate. I did however travel the galaxy of the far flung future on immense sentient starships with outrageous names and intellects and met all sorts of wonderful characters doing all sorts of unbelievable things.

Iain M. Banks opened my mind in ways few authors ever have – his books are remarkable and he will not write another. An important part of the human collective has passed away; a man whose work will continue to inspire and have us reaching for a future I desperately want to live in.

I am surprised by how hard I’m taking this. How disappointed I am in our species which channels orders of magnitude more into death than life. In cancer as an inevitable end for so many great people. Into the fact there will never be another quirky GSV to ferry me away across the galaxy.

So long Iain, in the world I choose to live in the only, and inevitable, outcome was that you were whisked away by the Quietly Confident before the end. Happy travels.

Lord of the Flies, ch1

Have just finished chapter one of a re-read of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. This was a set work in school many years ago but it was, without doubt, one of the books that had the most influence on me and one which, years later, continues to resonate. The idea that men are little more than animals covered with a thin veneer of civility is one which has formed the basis for many a tale, one which continues to both entertain and disquiet.

Chapter one introduces us to three of the primary characters: Ralph, Jack and Piggy. Until they come upon the trapped pig toward the end of the chapter the tone is optimistic. Golding uses light in an incredible way to paint the backdrop of a tropical canvas. Even the news that there has been an atomic blast and they’re all dead seems a disconnected whisper against the verdant foliage, the luxurious pools of glittering fish, the bright palm fringed sands.

We are left somewhat disquieted by the glimpses of what is to come. when Jack, Ralph and Simon climb to the top of the mountain to survey their island home they proclaim excitedly “This belongs to us,” and later triumphantly, they savoured the right of domination. They were lifted up: were friends. we had already witness the faux democracy and the election of Ralph as chief. Already the children are playing with the building blocks of adults without fully understanding them.

On their way back down the mountain, returning to the other children, the three come across a trapped and terrified piglet. Jack raises the knife to kill it but pauses. We see how easily the savagery comes to him. This is not how civilised people behave and so he stays his hand. The three are embarrassed but still defend the act to one another. Is this the pivotal moment, the seed planted that violence would have been justified, the stepping stone to moving towards that dark place, the group acceptance? Next time there would be no mercy.

I can’t help but draw some parallels to religious fundamentalism finding safe harbour within the confines of more benign belief. There has to be some tacit acceptance that acts of savagery are somewhat justifiable. At this point we cannot envision Piggy or Ralph killing the pig but they accept Jacks action and so we cannot be surprised by what will surface later.

DRM

Set me free said the word
Let me rise, let me soar
Joy touching your heart
Hear you begging for more
Let me open your mind,
Stroke the tears from your eyes
Set me free, let me soar
In Imagination’s own skies

And the greedy mouths drool
As they bind you with fetter
re-written, reduced
To gagged-crippled debtor
Then restrained they will rent you
No changing your mind.
They will pimp out your body
As resistance is fined.

Set me free said the word
Let me rise in the night
Set me free to take wing
Above campfires bright
Since the dawn of mankind
With the freedom to roam
To minds who loves stories
Who will give me a home.

It is progress they cry
And we’re saving the trees
Reinventing an industry
That’s down on its knees
Avast there be pirates
Scurvy dogs that do steal
So we bind our poor tales
With commercial-born zeal

Set me free said the word
Never meant to be bound
Discovered, yes. Shared, yes
through touch, sight and sound
Let me spread far and wide
Knowledge brilliantly plumed
For if stories are rented
The future is doomed.

~ Stuart Forsyth (2012)

That defining moment

Farenheit 451

I’ve just finished Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451. Finished is too weak an adjective; perhaps devoured, annihilated, consumed by the same ferocious energy imparted by the word themselves. There are so many take-outs, so many hidden truths and simple gems pertaining to the hedonistic glut that characterises our daily lives and fills out short attention spans. I am amazed this book was written in the fifties and I can only say that it is perhaps more relevant in this age than in any other so far.

That moment in the story when the lady decides to stay and burn with her precious books while the firemen rationalise their decision as merely part of their job. That single moment in time, As Montag pours liquid fire from the nozzle of his fire hose and it becomes NOT OKAY to be doing what he was doing. When he could no longer rationalise, when he could no longer make excuses, that moment stood out as a shining ember amidst so many terrible flames.

I have touched that moment myself and it is carved in fire in the branching synapses of my brain. That moment I stood in that lounge in Craighall Park, Johannesburg looking at the streaks of fresh blood splashed with liberal abandon on the walls after the home invasion. That was the moment when something in me broke, when it became not okay and I could no longer justify the cycle of violence and crime; when I could no longer wait passively by for the people I loved to become yet another statistic. After that things looked broken because rightly or wrongly I saw things differently and, like Montag, I needed to pursue a course of action to its end. Mine thankfully has had a far happier ending.

Farenheit 451 goes into the esteemed collection of a small handful of books joining others like Orwell’s 1984; books which get inside you, get under your skin, which change the way you think forever. And that, I believe, is the point all along.

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Horny were-panthers, four foot zombies, and having fun writing.

Feed

I started on a fun new post-apocalyptic novel Feed yesterday based on a positive write-up on Tor.com. it’s about a teenage brother and sister growing up in a zombie infested world trying to live as normal a life as their situation permits. They are members of a live-blogging trio who go out into areas of varying danger to report back on the state of the viral infestation. Apparently after the first wave of zombie horror, traditional media lost a lot of credibility due to its scepticism and slow dissemination of information and social media and blogging became the most reliable way to transmit information about how to survive when your neighbour suddenly wants you for supper. The writing style is simple and fluid and the characters are interesting and quirky. In short it’s a good read and, as much as I want to put a positive spin on the future in my own fiction, there’s something about the “it’s all going to shit” future that makes for very good storytelling. Teenage bloggers in Zombieland, what a neat idea.

I think I miss a more exploratory style of writing, of putting interesting characters into dangerous and often terrifying situations and then seeing what happen to them. The danger, of course, is that the plot can end up weak and full of holes and your characters lack depth until you come to know them but all this can be fixed in your second pass. This is how I write Terra in five months; fantastic story elements IMHO but in need of a second pass to fix a couple of things. I’m struggling more with a new novel, working title: Time Rip. I’ve tried to approach this one more from a plot and character up front design methodology. Anyone who is familiar with the Snowflake Method will understand how much work goes into the story before you write your first word. So I have a story with a brilliant dystopian setting and interesting, flawed characters all fully fleshed out … but … the skeleton of the story is finished, I know how it’s going to end, and I don’t like knowing that; it takes the fun out of the journey somehow.

I look around at the slew of popular pulp fiction out there and wonder if I’m trying too hard. Zombies, vampires, 50 shades of erotic cliche’ – but people are lapping them up. They love them even if it is a story about a virus gone haywire providing a germ of plausibility until the whole idea of reanimated dead flesh throws the science out with the bathwater.

Feed embraces what it is and seems to do it in style. We have newly animated zombies that are faster, more dangerous, more able to pass on their viral load. As they approach their second and final death, they become the slow shuffling stupid things we are accustomed to in more traditional accounts of zombies; the book even opens with an amusing account of one of the characters holding an old shambler at bay with a hockey stick. Maybe I should embrace the trend and come up with my own cliche’ riddled money spinner:

Orphaned nymphomaniac teen were-panther at a university for halfling magical zombies – I thought that covered all the bases until a friend on Twitter suggested I’d left out the vampires. So we’ll throw in a kindly old vampire headmaster with a forbidden hankering for zombie flesh Oh, the internal conflicts ….

Zyla was horny. It went beyond a feeling. it was a physical need, like an itch, that needed scratching every time the moon pulled her world and self-control to pieces. Problem was the only people in her classroom, apart from the lecturers, were about 4 foot tall and were prone to lose their body parts with increasing regularity. She hated this school, she hated she relied on the protection of the vampire patriarchy that ran it, but she carried the mark and with the mark she would never be safe.

hahaha, oh I do amuse myself.

Curiosity

Constellations

Had a bit of a wobbly today. How unlike me, Mr. keep all your emotions in check – Mr. Vulcan – Mr. emotions are illogical and apply all your will power to keep the oceanic currents that surge through your mind under control. And a wobbly from a completely unexpected direction too.

I’ve been excited about the Mars Curiosity landing for years, more so in current months as the noise leading up to today’s landing has intensified. I’ve followed most of the commentary about the complexity and engineering magic required to put an SUV sized scientific laboratory on Mars. About the 7 minute dance from orbit where nobody will know if the lander made it. I’ve listened to the discussions about the most sophisticated parachute in the known universe, about the impossible manoeuvres of the sky-crane as it deploys the lander and then flies off, blind, to crash as far from the landing site as possible. The incredible set of mechanical dependancies, a thousand unbroken links required to see the mission through to a successful outcome.

Now we are on the brink of this mighty endeavour. Men and woman are congregating from around the world to bear witness of this triumph of the very best the human spirit and our quest for exploration has to offer. In celebration I’ve booked out half an hour in my diary to watch the live stream, to see history at its finest in the making.

With joy in my heart I donned my constellation cufflinks this morning and headed off to work where … nobody knew about Curiosity but worse, so much worse … nobody seemed to care. I am surrounded on all sides by people who can tell me, in excruciating detail, what happened in any number of horrific reality TV shows. I tried explaining the landing to a few people and got a slightly incredulous “why is this strange person telling me this” look. I looked around me and suddenly wondered how it come to this. How did I manage to squander a lifetime’s love of science for this. Where did that thirteen year old boy go who used to voraciously read his way through the astronomy and science section of the public library? The teenager who was accepted into quite a prestigious astrophysics program and then listened to his teachers and family to do something else because nobody would be able to sustain a family on what a scientist made? My engineering grandfather thought engineering would be a good profession, as did my aptitude tests, and so I muddled through a year of chemical engineering before realising that – although I loved the maths and the science, I couldn’t work for the rest of my life watching fluids flow through pipes or in the bowels of some big smelly refinery. Medicine. That was a noble profession, who didnt like helping people they said – and it would be intellectually stimulating; You could make a real go of that with your academic honours and the doors to any university wide open. And so I did … until 4 years in I realised I wouldn’t be able to externalise the sickness and the suffering; I wouldn’t be able to walk away at the end of the day and go home to my family with a clear mind. I finished my degree, my poor long suffering father would have wept had I changed careers again, and while I was ticking that particular life box I started a computer company to make money … because I was sick of waitering jobs I was good at computers and programming.

One thing led to another, I met a girl, she got pregnant, we had a beautiful son, got married, and suddenly we had bills and medical aid to pay for. I stuck with computers because I could help pay those bills and buy formula and nappies and toys and the odd cheap self-catering family holiday. Now I’m twenty years out of school, have two beautiful boys, am still stuck in computers because they pay the bills and the rent and the school fees and the medical aid. in my spare time I escape into my head and create worlds there. Science fiction is my poison and my passion; I love writing and I know enough hard science to get a pass from the critics – and somehow, inspiring my readers feels like I’m repaying what I’ve squandered in poor life choices.

But today was hard. Today I’m both celebrating life and the human spirit and privately chocking back the tears because it is such an amazingly important day, and nobody cared, and I’m trying to figure out how I got from there to here.