All this fuss over The Martian…

The-Martian… and the world has forgotten a similarly (completely different) novel that is totally scientifically accurate (if there were sparrows on Mars or time-travelling assassins) set on the Red Planet. While Andy Weir’s excellent book and Ridley Scott’s excellent movie are being read and watched by millions, the plight of the Paranoid Androids in their fight for justice goes cruelly unignored. After all, this book has lesbian vampire robot prostitutes from space! Need I say more? Apparently. There’s also a creepy subplot that may or may not have definitely been inspired by stories about Michael Jackson (some parts could use an update). But mostly it’s about a couple of pop stars fighting for justice, as they do. Here’s an excerpt that is scientifically accurate (as far as I know).


Blood, being thicker than water, refused to ask for directions as it slowly pooled on the floor. Declining to follow gravity’s logical path through the cracks between the tiles and into the drain, it gathered in a blob near the body. There the blood mourned, until it shivered and congealed. Then the boot stood on it.

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Electrical storms brewed on opposite sides of the equator. Lightning blazed and thunder cracked as the twins cackled simultaneously in antipodean symmetry about two thousand kilometres from each other. Each had white and grey streaky hair, thick black glasses and stereotypical lab coats on. The lightning and shadows flickered across their faces as they laughed maniacally, the whole mad scientist routine. Imagine a talented Ed Wood directing the scene, if you can.

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab came up with this. Pretty cool, no?

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab came up with this. Pretty cool, no?

The rock in question was nothing special, but had been blessed, or cursed, with its cool sci-fi name because it was the twenty-fourth of twenty-six small lumps of iron orbiting around the medium-sized star. Some genius in a crazed fit of inventiveness had decided they could, should and would all be named after letters of the alphabet. His wife eventually forgave him for not naming the prettiest and skinniest of the planets after her after he argued they were mostly uninspiring round lumps, and redeemed himself by naming a star for her which, like the marriage, ended five years later in a fiery explosion.

Planet X became, briefly, a tourist destination for science fiction freaks, and was the location of numerous tacky movies and comic book conventions before everyone realised it was just about the most boring planet in the galaxy. Cold and boring, even the microbes who called it home led tedious lives.

Thaddeus, centre right in the photo if not politically, surrounded by his family and close friends last Christmas.

Thaddeus, centre right in the photo if not politically, surrounded by his family and close friends last Christmas.

As an example of just how jaw-droppingly, stupefyingly banal the planet was, here are the edited highlights of one of the more exciting happenings on Planet X: Thaddeus was a microbe who had risen to the rank of premier of his bacterial colony. In the morning he showered, shaved, and dressed for a day of political intrigue, drama and controversy. Yes, it was the day of the big vote about whether cells under the age of eighteen hours should be allowed to undergo mitosis. Of course, none of them were able to vote on the issue, so Thaddeus expected the idea to be rejected by the masses. Being bacteria, their idea of a mass rally was to gather together in a little clump and wiggle ever so slightly. Being the premier of the colony meant rather more paperwork than political point scoring, so by 5.40pm he was home, undoing his tie and asking his other half how his day was. (The two had been part of the one cell before their mitosis some three weeks ago, Thaddeus having made the decision essentially to keep up with the ironing. This was the cause of much friction in the family, with one of the Thaddeuses complaining of being relegated to a second-class citizen, the other constantly tired from the stress of work and bickering at home. Even single-celled organisms can find it hard to live with themselves.)

But more about the microbes later. Suffice to say, Planet X was boring. Until the twins turned up.

As mad scientists go, Zooka and Kazoo were up there with the maddest. Mirror images of each other, they parted their on opposite sides and each wrote with a different hand. They also shared an appetite for destruction. On this day they were hell-bent on destroying Planet X and were standing in purpose-built evil genius laboratories on opposite sides of the planet to fulfil their mission, hoping to harness gravity and storms and electromagnetic energies in ways neither I nor they could fully understand. But you get the picture, I’m sure. If all went well, all would go boom. The chance they may blow themselves up in the process was of secondary importance.

Zooka, the lefthander who was on the part of the planet about to go into dawn, twisted some giant dials on a panel and looked up at the flickering black and white screen. Kazoo, looking distracted, smiled a wicked smile at his brother just as his side of the planet was entering nightfall.

“Five minutes to go, my brother, and if my calculations are correct we will be known and feared throughout the universe from this day forward,” Zooka grinned.

“Indeed, and if my calculations are correct, we will survive this explosion and take our invention across the galaxy, spreading fear and reaping rewards,” Kazoo chortled.

“Indeed. The gyroscope is aligned with the flux inverter to sustain a consistent flow of electrons between our locations. If my calculations are correct.”

“Indeed they are brother. And if my calculations are correct, this will begin a chain reaction inside the core of this dead rock.”

“And then,” Zooka’s smile widened. “If our calculations are correct…”

“Yes, our calculations are correct.”

“Then we will rule the galaxy!”

They laughed maniacally as the lightning bolted outside, splashing flashes across their faces as if they were clones of Bela Lugosi’s zombie, revelling in their evil plot. While they boasted to each other about their calculations, in truth the idea was a one borrowed from a dozen movies and a thousand pulpy paperbacks. A rare syzygy would soon occur, and with all twenty-six of the bite-sized planets in alignment the gravity would drag an unusually intense amount of radiation their way. Because a solar flare was also predicted, you see, as the system’s star resembled a teenager with a giant pus-filled pimple on the tip of his nose. This of course was set to burst at the same time, the universe being designed this way. The radiation, combined with the planetary electrical storms the twins had created, would be channelled to the core of the planet. Explosions ensue, yadda yadda. Quite how Kazoo and Zooka would use this technique to extort other planets the geniuses in question had not yet shared with the world, even after a revealing and provocative Annie Leibovitz photo shoot that accompanied their Reddit AMA.

For this particular morning and evening, the twins needed to be at opposite sides of the planet, with equal exposure to the sun. So, while Zooka was about to experience dawn, Kazoo was watching the sunset.

“One minute to syzygy!” Kazoo yelped. “Prepare the gyro-gravitonium device!”

“Gyro-gravitonium device hooked up and spinning,” Zooka reported. “Fifty seconds. Initiating decompression of anti-compression molecules.”

“Molecules anti-decompartmentalised. Hydro-electro thingy generator ready.”

“And I’m pressing record on the VCR. Thirty seconds.”

They grinned at each other insanely on their respective view screens. It was all ready, their meticulous plan. And sure enough, twenty-nine point eight seconds later the planets fell into alignment. But something strange happened, something unforeseen. Instead of the gravities combining to pop the pimple of the solar flare, there was a gravitational reverberation, like feedback through an amplifier, and all twenty-six of the planets faltered in their orbits. And like derailed trains, there was no getting them back on track.



With only point two of a second to realise, there was no time for the twins to stop their project. The lightning surged down both devices on time, but without the impact of the radiation it did little but charge the iron ore, making it a magnet for the nearby planets W and Y. Knocked from their orbits, they were soon attracted to Planet X, like two divorced middle-aged men chasing a young single mother. Thanks to the syzygy they were as close as possible, and both slammed into the side of Planet X at the same time.

“Kazoo, our calculations were not correct,” Zooka said. “Suggest we escape.”

“Yes, if my calculations are correct we have achieved minus 100 per cent of our goal in that the planet will be destroyed but replaced by one double in size. Initiating escape pod procedure alpha one.”

The two shot to safety as Planet X became the pickle in the hamburger, the third wheel on a date, the loner at an orgy, squeezed out by and crushed in a faulty Newton’s cradle that left behind the hybrid Planet WY. All of this took a lot longer than the Hollywood adaptation made it seem, and for a planetary destruction it was fairly tame crunching of rocks with no one in any real mortal danger. The population of the planet was just two, after all, plus the microbes. For Thaddeus it was a very bad day, after a four-hour meeting he was thrown out of office and shunned by his entire colony. Apparently he was supposed to have seen it coming. His other half, who had divided again so someone could help with the cleaning, wasn’t thrilled about him being out of a job with an extra mouth to feed. Life, it seemed, was getting too complex.

A version of this first appeared in Apocalypse: the trilogy in a million pieces, available now on Amazon for those who dare. There is also a Kindle version, which is shorter, cheaper and called Apocalypse Revisited.

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A Game Of Clones: A pitch to publishers everywhere.

Looking for the next Song of Ice and Fire? Well, fret not, you’ve found it. Here are the forthcoming dozen violent, sexy and confusing time-travel thrillers starring the Tempus Fugitive himself, Justin Thyme. They’ll be written as soon as a publisher gets in touch and waves a massive advance my way.

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Apocalypse Revisited: Out now

The not worst book of all time, Apocalypse: the trilogy in a million pieces, has been re-released to an unsuspecting pubic in the form of a better (and shorter) Kindle version. It is called Apocalypse Revisited, and can be found here.

Still following the adventures of Dark Chocolate and Anyway around the galaxy, Apocalypse Revisited also follows the alien Withnoname and the evil twins Kazoo and Zooka, but dispenses with a heap of unnecessary plot lines and boring bits. A few spelling mistakes are also fixed.

It is  better, and at US$3.99 much cheaper, than the paperback, and yours for only US$3.99 plus the cost of whatever device you can read it on. (I’m going to download it to my iPad so I can get some royalties. Er, maybe not.)

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Robot lesbian vampire army from space! On your Kindle!

Metalmorphosis: or how i learned to stop worrying and love the paranoid androids is now available for download to your Kindle, or whatever device with a Kindle reader.

As the blurb says:

This book has an army of robot lesbian vampire prostitutes from space. Do you need to know more? A pair of pop stars from Mars lead a revolution while a trained time-travelling killer runs amok. Will this ruin the comeback of an ageing and controversial pop star better known lately for his court cases than his career? Featuring 100% more Iranian sex toy jokes than the next leading competitor.

So what are you waiting for?

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A few uncensored thoughts about Dorian Gray…

Dorian Gray was blond with blue eyes, not that you would know from this book cover.

The Picture of Dorian Gray has always been, for me, a disappointing novel. Oscar Wilde is one of my favourites, and his importance should not be under-estimated, but there is a distinct dearth of great works from the man. (There are reasons or excuses for this, and he did die young, I know, I know. Still, what has he left behind for us to enjoy? The equivalent of a few tweets compared to PG Wodehouse, Henry James, Tara Moss.) Dorian Gray was the one novel, and there were gems of brilliance set in a flawed, malleable ring of barbed wire. For every glorious page or passage there was an equal and opposite piece of shit elsewhere. Exaggeration? Maybe, but for years I haven’t been able to look at the book on the shelf without that mixed, bitter and slightly heartbroken feeling usually reserved for love letters from old girlfriends. Yes we had some good times, but it ended badly and you took too much time out of my life reading you twice when I could have been reading other, younger, books or just hooking up for yet another one night stand with the Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy.

But that feeling of disappointment is no more. Thanks to Nicholas Frankel, who has brought us an “uncensored” version of Wilde’s original manuscript, it’s an enjoyable and cohesive read. It’s a lot shorter, at 13 chapters instead of 20. The crap’s been left out, frankly.

Me just lying around the apartment in Bangkok, dressed for the weather, thinking about writing and shit.

Much has been made of the inclusions and the restoration of the romance between Dorian, Basil and Lord Henry. But for me what makes it work is the absence of extraneous chapters involving James Vane, opium dens and whatnot, not to mention a few tedious social set pieces. I’m the first to bitch about Wilde not having written enough great works to deserve his overblown reputation, but in the case of Dorian Gray, less is more. It’s a better read for the exclusions. And, yes, having the romance more explicit and excised passages restored does add to the enjoyment.

So I can stop bitching. At least a little bit. Thanks to Frankel, finally, 120 years later, Oscar Wilde has published a decent novel.

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This is a review and it’s ending one word at a time …

I am Joe’s book cover.

Today I finished reading Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club. I’d review it, except the first rule of Fight Club is … you know.

I also recently (three days ago) finished P.G. Wodehouse’s Money For Nothing. It is a lot like the Dire Straits song except set before the MTV era. Okay, it’s really nothing at all like the Dire Straits song. Set in the English countryside during the war (The Great War, I’m guessing) it’s all about how the landed gentry have problems when one conspires to defraud his insurance company and double-cross some American (of course) swindlers. The plot is all rather boring, but it is full of lovely, light and fluffy prose, and lush descriptions right from the first paragraph with flies “doing deep-breathing exercises on the hot window-sills”. Compared to this, Fight Club is a punch in the face. Mind you, compared to The Soul Of A Butterfly: Reflections on Life’s Journey by Muhammad Ali and daughter, Fight Club is a punch in the face.

There I go again, not talking about Fight Club.

Also recently finished was Victor Cha’s The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future, which was, er, heavy going. It was a kind of reaction to this policy, politically and physically heavy tome that I opted for Wodehousian light and sunshine. Cha’s account/history/argument suffers a bit from being rushed, and a bit of repetition, and possibly being rushed to get out quickly after the death of Kim Jong-il, and also a bit of repetition. There is a good, broad account of North Korean political history, an interesting insider’s perspective of the Six-Party Talks and what went on from an American perspective, but it does suffer from occasionally being too partisan. Thoroughly researched and with an academic’s eye for detail and sources, Cha adds personal encounters and interesting observations. But it’s a bit of a slog and one can’t finish it without thinking it could have done with a better edit. Not for beginners, for that try The Aquariums of Pyongyang, Nothing to Envy (okay, I haven’t finished that one myself) or Michael Breen’s most-definitely-unauthorised biography of Kim Jong-il. Or this.

Also fun lately was The Hunger Games. But you don’t need me to tell you that it’s a mishmash of everything from Lord of the Flies to Romeo and Juliet.

Caption for gratuitous Katniss Everdeen picture here please.

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Dear bloggers anonymous …

Hello my name is Michael and it has been 237 days since my last post …

The view from my balcony.

Okay, I’m not sure what the real number is, but it was last August. Some things have happened since then. I’m now living and working in Bangkok (fun) and have a lovely apartment with a dying rose, five stuffed animals, and some wheat facial mask (smoothing) and olive body lotion (firming) some of which are clear signs that a girl has been here. There is nothing in the fridge and little in the pantry, but the wi-fi works so what more does a human being need? (Do some shopping, Ruffles!)

Work so far is great. I clock off at the time I used to clock on, so I can be social and have life in the evenings. The challenge is being alert in the mornings, when for the past year I’ve been allowing myself to be dozy until about 3pm. There are other adjustments at work, but hey, it’s work. No complaints, though.

Next station … Terminal 21. Please mind the gap between train and platform.

I’m living a 10-minute walk or a 20-baht motorcycle ride from the nearest BTS (sky train) station, and from there it’s easy to get to massive malls, markets, and other centres of commerce and capitalist extravagance. I will admit to having spent a bit of time and money already at Terminal 21, but in my defence the money changer there had a better rate than the airport so I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to get an extra 1400 baht. (That’s a bullshit excuse, Ruffles, you just want to look at pretty things in shops and blow your money on coffee.) I have also visited Central World, Central Lad Phrao, Siam Discovery, Siam Paragon (three times), Major Ekkamai, and the Jatujak markets. Remarkably, I still have money and haven’t filled my place with crap. (I swear, the wheat facial mask is not mine. But I have tried it on.)

So far, still settling in, but so loving it.

No bookshelf is complete without an angry bird or two.

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A coupla quick book reviews …

I have been through a phase of reading books with pictures lately. Not that they’ve been The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Mao’s Great Famine – Frank Dikotter

By its very nature this examination of The Great Leap Forward and the unnecessary deaths of some 45 million people (conservative estimate) is not an easy read either in style or substance. The professor has delved into thousands of archive documents and laid out, almost blow by blow, the utter devastation Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party unleashed on the citizens of the world’s most populous nation between 1958 and 1962. There are boring but important chapters on trade, economics, and politics before Dikotter tells us just how people resorted to theft, abandoning children, prostitution and cannibalism. If one day Mao is mentioned in the same breath as Hitler and Stalin (and it’s quite probable that once archives from the Cultural Revolution become available we’ll find out his death toll will overshadow theirs) then this book will be partly responsible. While it is as engagingly and deftly written as it probably can be while still giving a mass of statistics and detailing complex political backgrounds, be warned that this is not a particularly easy to get through. It has won awards and wide-spread praise, but its true value lies in its scholarship and historical investigation. But it is worth persevering with. Parts of it are truly compelling and dispiriting, particularly where personal examples are used to illustrate the disaster. Parts of it are almost lists of how many million tonnes of grain or pork were taken by the state, and in those passages the numbers verge on the bamboozling. Overall the effect is a powerful deconstruction of the tragedy and Mao’s central role in it.

Hitch-22 – Christopher Hitchens

There may not be much to say about Hitch-22 or Hitchens that hasn’t already been said, but let’s say it anyway. The new edition has a fresh preface since his cancer diagnosis and the start of treatment, and is the one to get. Reading the early chapters (again, because I’d glanced at them in bookstores while hanging out for an updated/cheaper version before purchasing) is coloured by the news the controversial author/columnist/hack has advanced cancer and nearly died in January. That fresh piece of writing seems as lucid as ever, and he insists the experience has only confirmed his view rather than called them into question. Hitch-22 does seem to mirror its author authentically, it is by turns charming, cantankerous, witty, self-deprecating and a show-off to the point that it becomes a turn-off. But then, I wouldn’t have it be any other way. I think I still prefer god is not great, but only by a fraction.

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An announcement of no importance …

Draft two of metalmorphosis: or how i learned to stop worrying and love the paranoid androids is done. To celebrate, I am enjoying the sounds of this.


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