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Thoughts on SF Conventions and Brexit

"Brilliant!" I thought -- this was three and a half years ago, you understand. These days I'm more likely to use the word "awesome". But I digress...

I had received an invite to a Science Fiction convention in Luxembourg. I was expecting a relaxing weekend, sitting in an empty room. You see, everybody knows Luxembourg is tiny, and since they never had a convention before this, the organisers were doomed to struggle for numbers. They might get twenty people, I thought. Thirty tops...

I've never been so wrong in my life. The place was swarming with people. In fact, it was the largest Con I had ever attended outside North America. But where the hell did they all come from?

Europe, of course.

My mistake was to think of Luxembourg as a country. Well, it is, but that's not what's important here. What's important, is that it no longer possesses any borders. People arrived from Paris and Brussels by trains that never even slowed down when they passed from one state to another. They drove by car from Germany and only realised they had crossed over from their own country when they started spotting road signs in French.

Then, they reached the Con -- thousands of them, overwhelmingly young, buying wonderful Belgian frites with the same currency they already had in their pockets.

I sat in the sunshine speaking to people, sometimes in French, but mostly in an English that many of them had honed by spending time studying or working in the UK. I admired their incredibly creative costumes, and more than one person sported a t-shirt with a Union Jack on it, because in the heart of our continent, among the youth, Britain was seen as cool; as forward looking; as open.

This was Europe as it was always meant to be. Friendly, vibrant, thriving. Made possible, not in spite of, but because of decades of regulations and the harmonisation of national laws. It's what the young see when they travel. It's their country now, the one they would "want back" if ever they were to lose it.

I get to experience a little of that here in Ireland too.

I remember the bad old days, growing up in Donegal, and having to pass over the border. I remember soldiers scarcely older than myself, armed with big guns, passing down the aisle of the bus while everybody stared at the back of the seat in front of them.

Yet now, when I attend my favourite convention -- TitanCon in Belfast -- I just hop into my car, and keep driving until I reach the hotel. Nobody says "boo" to me. I don't have to wait in a line of traffic while every fourth car is searched for contraband or terrorists. It's all so... frictionless. Sure, the road signs are in miles, rather than kilometres, but that's actually charming. The only thing I miss, really, is the Euro.

I'm heart-broken over the UK's vote to leave us. I'm terrified that the lovely European dream I experienced in Luxembourg might soon be at an end and I'm working hard to stave off bitterness and resentment. I want the future to be "brilliant" again, the way I thought it was, or at least, the way it might have been.

Reading, Watching, Playing


I rarely do videogames any more. But for some reason yesterday I started playing This War of Mine from 11 bit Studios. It's a simulation where you control a group of refugees trapped in a war torn city. They are constantly hungry and tired. They get injured and sick. Your job is simply to keep them alive and there's never a comfortable moment. Standing on guard every night. Scavenging for scraps and so on. At one point, a young boy knocks on the door of my group's shelter. His mother is sick, dying maybe. Do we have any medicine to share? We did. But my characters were sick too and I needed to keep it, so I clicked on "No". It was a moment of such genuine horror, I had to stop playing.


Well, some interesting reads came my way and I'd be a fool not to indulge...

First up, was Peter Newman's The Vagrant. You all know I'm a demon -- not literally -- for worldbuilding, and this world is pretty darn cool. It takes "grim" and "dark" to whole new depths that I didn't think were even possible. The main character too, doesn't speak, which is a pleasant change...

Then, from my friend Jeremy de Quidt, I got an ARC of The Wrong Train, his collection of YA ghost stories. I've only read the first story so far, but, by golly, if it's not the best ghost story I've read for YEARS. Both creepy and pitiful...


Tonight! Oh, tonight! I will start watching the new series of Orange is the New Black. I love that show. The characters are among the best I've ever seen.

I've also had my snout in the trough of The People Vs. OJ Simpson. I... really like it so far. Great drama, great acting and a whole palette of moods inside each episode. Can't wait for more.

And finally... Yes, episode 9 of GoT was mega. I hated one particular moment, maybe two... But overall, it had the most exciting battle scene I've witnessed for quite some time. Roll on the finale.


Watching, Reading, My New Web Site

I've been watching TV, God help me. Especially that Italian pit of bleak violence known as Gomorra. There is not a single character to like here, and nor is there supposed to be. Italians have to live with the Mafia every day and they won't risk us viewers falling in love with them the way we fell for the Sopranos.

Watching Gomorra can be a bit like seeing somebody play Grand Theft Auto. They don't kill people, they simply dispose of them with less emotion sometimes than flicking hair out of their eyes. But what makes the story satisfying is how the characters convince themselves of their own honour and likeability. "Sure, I strangled my wife in a fit of pique, but, you know, I'm not like that most of the time..." That sort of thing.

I can't look away.

Also, bereft of likeable characters so far, is Versailles 90210, or as the BBC call it, just Versailles. It's a sumptuous French costume drama, made entirely in English and full of beautiful, beautiful people getting it on. Episode 1 felt pretty vapid. Episode 2 showed more teeth, but Wolf Hall it ain't. If they want me to keep watching -- and I know they care very deeply about that -- then they'd better crank up the character development pronto!


I'm halfway through Joe Hill's The Fireman. So far, it's OK, but I haven't stopped reading, so, that's pretty good for me these days. I swear, I'm getting more crotchety by the minute.

I've also purchased Peter Newman's The Vagrant for the TBR pile on the basis of a sample chapter. The worldbuilding and the main character both look like they might be intriguing. So, that's probably next...


After my last website bit the dust due to a mix-up with a band of fridge salesmen, I now have a new place to call my own: peadar.org. Please give it a spin! It needs to be in good condition by the time The Call hits the book shelves of the world!


Thanks for all the birthday wishes yesterday. Much appreciated! And you'll be delighted to know that I did indeed have a a good one :)


It's all in the title, folks. The first four words of the review are "This intense riveting tale..."

I would dance, but that would be unseemly.

My dear British friends,

wherever you lie on the political spectrum, whatever way you plan to vote on June 23rd, I'm here now, representing nobody but myself, and pleading for you to stay with the rest of us in a messy, messed up, peaceful union.

We were your enemies once. Most of us other countries wanted you dead. Or to make you Catholic. Or to take away your trade. You were no better, to be fair. You wanted our land, or to make us protestant, or to rob our galleons of all the silver we had stolen from the poor sods in the New World. Bad times all round, and there isn't a field anywhere on the continent that we didn't soak in blood and hatred.

But how soon we forget! It was all so long ago, right? Most people I know have grown up entirely without the fear of war in their lives. They believe the biggest threat to them are neighbours who can't speak English. Others fret about Brussels, how it's planning to straighten all the bananas, or to ban Coronation Street or Cornish pasties or worse. Could *anything* be worse?

A history book will show you the answer is yes. You can see photos of London or Berlin at the end of WW2, but to be honest, our armies have far more destructive power at their disposal these days, so you'd have to use your imagination to make it all a LOT worse.

And yet, we haven't done that sort of thing in quite a while because after the last time we murdered each other in a big way, a few of the countries that suffered the most, got together and decided that enough was enough. And it worked! It really worked. Two generations -- count 'em! -- two generations of peace followed. And sometimes I can't help thinking, "Wow! Imagine if we'd had something like the EU in 1914?"

Oh, my British friends, your cenotaphs are lovely with their bowed headed soldiers and their floral wreaths. And when poppy day comes along, it's wonderful to see the tributes worn, to hear the bugles played and the incredible art works displayed all over. But I know you'd rather have the young men back. Hundreds of thousands of them! Their genius and love, their hard honest work, all denied to history. Never mind the children they never fathered. Never mind the survivors, torn in body or mind, and the lives that should have been theirs to lead.

It could all happen again, impossible as that might seem right now. It happens when people are pulling away from each other rather than pulling together. It happens when goals diverge and then, collide. When strong men appeal to nationalism to bolster themselves. And if it does happen, we'll all beg for the clock to turn back to those days when faceless bureaucrats tried to keep sewage off our beaches and save us money on roaming charges. Those monsters!

Oh, Britons -- do you mind if I call you, "Britons"? -- let's stay together. Please! We have so much in common. For example, here in Ireland we get to watch your TV. So I've seen the debates you're having. I've seen you fret over fisheries, and migrants and economics... And I can't help thinking how little any of it matters compared to the fact that we get to live in peace.

Let me put it this way: if you were to place all of Europe's flaws into a blender and multiply them by 1000, I'd drink the whole thing down rather than spend a single day at the Battle of the Bulge, or the Somme or Waterloo. I think most people would -- even most Brexiters would. Maybe all of them. I'm hoping that's the case. I'm hoping that the people voting to leave, wherever they lie on the political spectrum, are doing so because they think the alternative is Camelot, when in reality, every weakening of the bonds we share with our neighbours, is just another step closer to Mordor.

OK. I'll get up off my knees now. It's a lovely day for sitting in the sun. Why don't you join me?


Reading, Watching, Waiting

I'll make this quick so I can get back to staring stupified at the ceiling. Outside, the whole world boils in its own juices -- at least 17C! -- and there I cannot go.

So what will I get up to as I await the return of saner temperatures? Thanks for asking!


I finished up with a few good books over recent weeks. Devil's Blood, sequel to Prentice and Weil's excellent Black Arts kept the fun going, transferring the mayhem two hundred years into the story's future. There were devils, by the score, a sinister aristocrat, as well as a visit to Bedlam and other parts of 18th century London.

Right now, I'm reading the Preacher graphic novels by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon. These stories are... extreme. Not just in terms of sex and violence, but along several other axes as well. Constant blasphemy, obscenity, racism and gore spatter the pages, but also humour, friendship, love and loyalty. If you're easily offended... No, strike that! If you *can* be offended, this might not be your cup of tea at all. Personally, I love it. The more I read of Garth Ennis's work, the more talent I think he has. I'm not really qualified to judge the quality of the art, though.


Netflix has a series of documentaries about famous chefs called, Chef's Table. Series 2 is now available and the first episode of it, is absolutely outstanding. I have never seen such a pure expression of creativity in any field as this. Seriously, just watch the first 5 minutes of it if you get the chance. Hugely rewarding, in my opinion.

As with most cookery programs, my vegan friends may be put off by some of the food on offer here, but not in the first few minutes...


I have a draft of the next novel out with my beta readers right now, so I have a few days off to do absolutely nothing. However, I expect a LOT of work to come back my way in the next few weeks.

How're you all doing? Try not to get burnt out there!

Watching: The Future

I don't care about the flying car I was promised. You can stuff your hoverboard where the sun don't shine. This week I've been watching the future, the real future, and it's incredible.

Google I/O is on right now and the keynote address yesterday left me goggle-eyed and drooling. Basically, we're on the cusp of a personal AI in every pocket. Of an honest-to-God holodeck in every home. Or field. Or wherever you want one.

The video below is nauseatingly slick, for all that it'll rob you of less than three minutes of your life. But look out for the bit where the little boy is interacting with Google Assistant -- at about 1:06. It's mind-blowing. Anybody who says this is "just Siri" or "just Amazon Echo" is badly missing the point...

Absolutely everything in this video is possible right now.


I'm delighted to say that great reviews for The Call keep pouring in. Belfast's Culture Hub magazine compared my work to sources as diverse as Goya and The Manic Street Preachers. The verdict? "Highly Recommended".

Why, yes, since you ask. I am happy :)

Reading, Watching, Listening

Look at me reading. What a guy! I have books up to my eyeballs at the moment, and some of them seem set to fill my heart with delight. I'm particularly looking forward to Prentice and Weil's Devil's Blood. Yes, the cover. Yes, the title. But mainly because the first book was such a blast. That one's out only today, by the way! But I'd advise you read Black Arts first.

And of course, I'll have to read Joe Abercrombie's Sharp Ends. I haven't missed one of his yet. Cynical, snarky, brutal, selfish fantasy. There's a map this time. Who knew?

Finally, and a bit off the beaten track for me, is another YA from my publishers David Fickling Books. Liz Flanagan's Eden Summer has had reviewers foaming at the mouth, and I figured, why shouldn't I get to do a bit of drooling too?


I'm sorry Vinyl has come to an end. Devastated to see the back of Better Call Saul. Mildly discommoded by the end of The Knick. What has replaced them? Things. Or to be more precise: shows that may be defined as "Gentle Slacker Comedies", or what a friend of mine calls, "Loser Porn".

Netflix's Love brought enjoyment into my home, but I'm not quite sure how. I still can't explain why I liked it, so please don't ask. It's very explicit, by the way, if you were thinking of watching it in the company of your priest, pastor, immam or rabbi. Unless any of these also represent Aphrodite or better, Dionysus.

In a similar vein -- and excuse the pun -- is BBC's Scrotal Recall, also showing on Netflix. As with Love, it's a tale of gentle comedy, improbable couplings and mild heartbreak. No minds will be blown. No ribs will be broken due to explosive laughter, but, you know, fun. Ish.


As usual, I'm storming through the podcasts. New to my roster is the Revolutions history podcast with Mike Duncan. It's not as entertaining as HardCore History, but it follows a regular schedule. I learned a metric tonne of information about the English Civil War, and, in spite of being Irish, I even came away with respect for Oliver Cromwell.
Now, I'm up to the Haitian slave revolt and this one is amazing; shocking; fascinating.


Other than that? How're you?

A New Article Up on BlackGate

Some time ago, I wrote a post about meeting Michael Swanwick at Boskone. I gushed a little about his novel, "The Iron Dragon's Daughter".

For some, like John O'Neill of blackgate.com, that wasn't bloated, long-winded or gassy enough. He persuaded me to write a full review.

Well, it's up right now -- on the actual INTERNET!!!

Don't be too astounded!

Hopefully tomorrow, I'll have another Reading/Watching post...

LuxCon and Reading


LuxCon? I really have nothing to say that I haven't said in previous years. A lovely Con run by lovely people. They always have the coolest guests of honour. This year's English language GOH was Belfast's own Ian McDonald of whom you have seen me rave on this page more than once. It was great to hang out with him and Wolfgang. It was even better to eat frites and to star on the winning team of the table quiz -- take that Mancunicon!


I've just completed David Mitchell's Black Swan Green.

It's yet another one of those books about growing up in the '80s, with all the usual elements -- you know, the music, the video games; awkward discos; casual racism; dodgems. So, yeah, more of the same except that it is astonishingly well written with tremendous characterization. I loved it by the end and especially appreciated the slight aftertaste of magic realism that threw everything else into relief.

Whether you're a refugee from the '80s, or simply a wannabe, Black Swan Green carries Peadar's highest recommendation.

I also found time to reread Michael Swanwick's The Iron Dragon's Daughter. More of that another day...


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