A is for Alien

Here’s one of those list thingies I did . . . a long time ago. No idea who I did it for.

A is for Alien, not because it was the best film of the series, but because it was the first. Here at last SF film lost the rubber head syndrome and on screen we saw something difficult to laugh at. Not only that, space lost its 2001 polish what with the Nostromo bearing more of a resemblance to a working JCB than many of the shiny toys we’d grown used to, and you could just about smell the hydraulic oil, and the BO.

B is for Blade Runner, because it has to be.

C is for Cicada Scream, the title I’ve chosen for a book I’ll one day write about Crete. On hot still days whilst driving down from Papagianades to Magrigialos the sound these insects make blends into one long loud scream. It sounds like madness which, considering our experiences there, seems to perfectly sum up the place.

D is for Dexter, the TV Dexter and not the books. I love the series, can watch it again and again and, I have to say, the character appeals to my inner psycho.

E is for Essex. Well, you can’t be more of an Essex boy than being born in Billericay and I have to support my home county since it comes in for so much stick from elsewhere in Britain. White stilettos? Yes, I’ve seen them, usually on some slightly inebriated female lying on the pavement of some inner city elsewhere. Thick Essex girls? If you say so, though oddly most of them seem to work for a living.  Rich builder boys and scrap merchants, wealthy oiks with no taste? Very true … Essex is a county where the class system has been badly injured.

F is for Frappe which is now, amidst those drinks with no alcohol in them, my favourite. It took me a while to get used to this drink because I had to lose the idea that I was drinking a coffee that I’d left out too long and really needed to put in the microwave. I also have to add that Greeks drinking hot small cups of bitter coffee is an impression that’s a generation out of date. They drink frappes, lots of them.

G is for Germany for a couple of reasons. We took a short break in Berlin some years ago and there found some of the most polite and helpful strangers we’d ever met. Also, Baste Lubbe, my German publisher, has bought every book I’ve ever written, some of them even before they were anything more than an idea, and maybe a title.

H is for Hornet. My stuff about hornets being intelligent you might think a product of all my previous SF reading, and I guess the hivemind aspect is. But let me tell you a story. Before I could earn money from writing I once repointed a three-storey Victorian house. Whilst I was poised precariously atop two roped-together scaffold towers I glanced to one side and thought I saw a helicopter in the distance. It took me a moment to process that it was actually a large hornet rapidly approaching. I had nowhere to run. The thing flew over, hovered over my bucket of mortar, dipping to inspect it. It then flew up to inspect the work I was doing on the wall. At this point I did something akin to abseiling without a rope, finally diving in through a window my workmate was repairing. The damned thing followed us, not angrily. It just followed. We had to leave that room and close the door between, checking every now and again until the thing went away. It did, but then returned many more times that day. The thing that stuck with me was its seeming intelligence – no bumbling about like a wasp or a bee. The hornet hivemind germinated then.

I is for Iain M Banks with his talking guns, crazy AIs, and spaceships so large just a glimpse of one might crash a civilization. His books were the first I ever bought new, having acquired my SF fixes from a second-hand book shop until I read a story of his in Interzone. His books weren’t in that bookshop, so I bought Consider Phlebas. I’m very glad I did.

J is for Jacaranda. Damn, the name has been in my head for years and I’ve been seeing those beautiful blue flowering trees for years too. Only in recent years have I managed to connect the two. Well, I’ve always said that when I feel I’ve got nothing to learn it’s time hang up my keyboard. It’s certainly not that time yet.

K is for Karate. In days of yore it made me the fittest I’d ever been and is the only sport that ever appealed to me. Because I didn’t take all the tests I should have done, I only reached the level of green belt, about which I’ve over-used a joke concerning people being unable to build houses on me.

I once fought in a competition at Crystal Palace, left in a state of euphoria until the bruises started to come up on my ribs and I discovered I’d broken my toe.

L is for Lachrymal. I once read an old dictionary from cover to cover and this was one of the words I found there. It’s a noun and one you won’t find in a more modern dictionary. A lachrymal is a small vessel made to contain the tears of the bereaved, and is buried with the dead. I used it quite a lot in a fantasy trilogy still sitting on my hard drive – this was before I lost the neophyte writer’s attraction to baffling the reader with an obscure vocabulary.

M is for Mundon, where I spent a quarter century of my life

N is for Nautilus, no, not Verne’s submarine, but the creature it was named after. Like someone else writing here, I too have an attraction to and an admiration of molluscs. The damned things are fascinating. Did you know that some snails manufacture a barbed calcite spear inside themselves to harpoon their mate? The nautilus, as well as being an odd creature of this nature, is also quite beautiful and strange, which is probably why Sniper ended up in a drone shell of that shape.

O is for Occam’s Razor, which is absolutely right, and a great name for a spaceship.

P is for Parasite. I’ve always been fascinated by biology (all sciences really) and when, maybe fifteen years ago, a vet acquaintance offered to loan me a book on helminthology (the study of parasitic worms) I accepted. So, the brain worm, whilst in that stage of its life cycle when it occupies an ant, will make the ant climb to the top of a stalk of grass and cling there, awaiting a grazing sheep, which is the worm’s next host. Another parasite, occupying a snail, will make the snail grow a thicker shell to thus offer more protection to both parasite and snail, but kill the snail’s ability to reproduce. Well, all of this resulted in numerous short stories. It’s also to blame for the Spatterjay leech.

Q is for Quantum because in science fiction we don’t use abracadabra.

R is for Raki. Ouzo is the drink usually associated with Greece but raki is the one you should associate with Crete. Every village here has numerous stills, kazanis, and during October and November the roads are occupied by pick-up trucks carting about crates of grapes and large brown plastic barrels. I’m told that like grappa, raki is made from the leavings from a wine press, but I’ve yet to see that. At the kazani right next to our house on Crete they mince up grapes in barrel, allow the mix to ferment for a few weeks, then stick this lot straight into a still. Nothing quite like raki warm from the still, drunk in good company, to wash down barbecued pork, garlic bread, raw cabbage with salt and lemon juice, and pomegranates. And the stuff is cheap on Crete. Three Euros will buy you a litre, if someone hasn’t already given you gifts of more of the stuff than you can drink. It’ll be the death of me.

S is for Scorpion. I was writing Scorpion Memory during our first time on Crete. When I finished it, Night Shade Books felt the title too obscure and wanted it changed to Shadow of the Scorpion. By the time Macmillan took it on I’d already shared a house with the creatures, and had the pleasant experience of hearing one thud down on my pillow beside my face. The word seems almost precognitive, but it’s just coincidence.

T is for Terminator because the Golem owe him a lot.

U is for Unseen University where wizards eat and drink too much and smoke roll-ups, so are very familiar to me. It’s a place sitting at the centre of Ankh Morpork, which seems to sit at the centre of Discworld, at least in my mind. Thank you Terry Pratchett for endless hours of excellent reading, for the wisdom, and for slyly being ‘guilty of literature’. Collect your accolades and laugh.

V is for Volkhavaar by Tanith Lee. Never read a bad one from her but this one is my favourite. Here worship creates the god, long before Pratchett’s Small gods. I feel she single-handedly created the gothic fantasy genre, and few have written it so well.

W is for Waylander, one of David Gemmel’s many heroes. Here’s another writer all of whose books I’ve enjoyed. Being unashamed to entertain seems a very good survival trait in the publishing world, and a path I always seek to follow.

X is a bastard. Open a dictionary and words beginning with X only occupy one page. I won’t go for

X-files, because I didn’t really enjoy that silliness, and I’d rather hit myself in the face with a frozen kipper than watch The X-factor. How about xenophobia – the stick with which xenophobes beat others.

Y is for Yamas. Cheers!

Z is for Zelazny, for books I read until they were falling apart and had to put away because I had nearly memorized them.

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