September 1, 2014
"Don’t live the same year 75 times and call it a life."

— Robin Sharma (via theohpioneer)

(Source: pureblyss, via theohpioneer)

August 30, 2014
Story: Correct Amounts Of Love And Protein

I am now one week into being a pescetarian, and I think the below story (written ages ago) reflects my lack of culinary potency going into this. If anyone has any decent recipe suggestions, please please hit me up @jamescmitchell.

-

It was that Billy Bear ham that started it. That ham where chemicals are used to make the red-pink flesh turn various shades so that a happy bear-face is impressed on each slice. Meat with feelings.

They market it to kids, you know, as if kids need any help eating this kind of shit. As if potato needs to be shaped like a letter. I’m no censor, but that’s asking for trouble; you serve a four year-old those Alphabite things and in seconds they’ll be spelling out ‘POO’ in processed carbohydrates across their plate. Or, knowing Eloise, ‘UNCONSCIONABLE’.

She waved the piece of ham at me, held it so close that I could only hear her and see it.

            “Daddy, it’s un-conshible.”

            “What’s unconscionable?”

Billy Bear’s dumb meat-face grinned at mine.

            “Eating animals!” Eloise whipped the slice away, threw it at the window, where it stuck like a warning label for all the Saturday shoppers to see.

            “But honey, you never felt that way before.”

            “I DIDN’T KNOOOOOW!” She screamed. She’s only mastered two volumes so far. She huffed, tears erupting to flow down her cheeks, and then returned to her inside voice.

            “I didn’t know they were animals,” she murmured like a penitent thief, “but then I saw the face…”

            I glared at the slice. Billy sodding Bear, I thought, you have ruined my weekend visits.

            “Is that all, honey-bundle?”

            “Well, mummy said-“

            Her words merged into a high-pitched whine. Of course mummy said. Mummy and well-meaning, lovely Kevin, vegan Kevin with five days in every week to fill her head with ideas, her stomach with delicious, locally-sourced lentils and dahl. None of which I would stoop to compete with. When I handed her back to Kevin on Sunday night, she was irritable and hungry. He did the only thing worse than blaming me, which was forgiving me.

-

Each time he forgave me, every week for a month, it cut me deeper. Each time Eloise ran to him, I hoped it was only hunger that quickened her pace. It hurt to watch her each weekend, 48 hours of poking grimly at a can of baked beans, a peace offering. Every time she rebuffed my efforts with cheese, with pizza - even, goddammit, when I suggested we buy a pet rabbit - I was torn between hating her stubbornness and loving her principles. I gnawed on cocktail sticks until they broke, as though I could somehow eat for her. As Kevin’s Prius crunched away up the road one more time, carry Eloise away from me, I considered my only remaining option. It terrified me.

My bookshelf is a cardboard box, heavy with John Grisham novels, with the word ‘bookshelf’ written in black Sharpie, but it has never failed to deliver what I ask of it, like a magic lamp for a mid-thirties new bachelor. I opened my copy of Delia’s Meals In Minutes for the first time, sat down on the couch with a beer, and started to read.

-

"Uhm, I think it’s just a name," said the attendant. She squinted once more at the beef tomato and I reminded myself that the badge on her blouse said ‘Cecile: here to help’, rather than ‘able to help’.

            “I’m sure it’s okay. I’ll take two, thanks.” A part of me hoped that there was something sustaining, something beefy about them. Their blood-redness made them look vital, like little multi-chambered vegetable hearts. The young woman gave the shining organs the gentlest squeeze and I caught myself thinking, another time, Cecile, another place, and maybe-

            “So, can you cook?”

            “I cook.” I tried to sound nonchalant. Here to cook, not able to cook.

            “That’s awesome,” she beamed. “Not many people do any more, you know?”

            I told her I did know, and wondered when Eloise would let me rejoin the wisdom of the masses.

-

Mary - not babe, not love, Mary - was carrying a tupperware box and a sheepish expression as she dropped our daughter off.

            “…just in case?” She smiled, weakly.

I looked at the tub of risotto. A starchy trojan horse, about to enter my gates.

            “I’m sure I won’t need it,” I said. I took it.

Inside, Delia’s instructions merged and mixed on the page; chop this, stir that, mash your dessicated other; a twisting puzzle. Meals in minutes? Verbs for days, more like. A sliced something to my left started spitting, then blackening. I swore, then swore at myself for swearing in presence of Eloise, but she was watching TV. I turned back as a huge column of smoke erupted into the air, making the fire alarm sing.

            I flapped a scraggy tea-towel at the little unit and imagined Cecile and I laughing about it all, and deciding to get takeout instead, spontaneous and free. When the alarm stopped, Eloise was talking at the same volume, and pitch.

"-ilding blocks of life, Dad. Kevin says fruit and vegetables are the bricks that your body is built from. Isn’t that interesting?"

            I looked at the pile of nutritional rubble on the counter; shards and offcuts littered the marble, barely resembling the produce they’d come from. Juices and seeds mingled in the grouting. In the middle of it all, my two beef tomatoes sat, untouched and glistening. I started to gnaw on another cocktail stick, thinking of temper tantrums, another argument, Kevin’s pitying smile. The tupperware box of risotto sat on the counter, like a suicide pill. Then the stick fell out of my mouth, as the bricks of an idea came together.

-

            “Dinner, hun-bun!”

            Eloise trooped to the table, expectantly. My heart gave a little tug as I realised that this girl, for all her precociousness, never gave up on me. She saw what was on each plate, and grinned in imitation of it.

            “He just needs a name, love.”

            “Brian!” she said immediately. “Brian the, uh, tomato.”

            “Very well,” I said, and addressed the plate. “Nice to eat you, Brian.”

            Grinning back at me was a beef tomato, red grape eyes pinned on with cocktail sticks, above a green pepper smile.

            On a bed of risotto. 

-

After dinner, we watched The Princess And The Frog again. We rode bikes again, my heart crying for relief like it had been chopped and mashed. We sat on the old bench in the park again, tucked between our trees, watching mums pushing prams in the last fingers of orange light, and we guessed what each baby would be when they grew up. Eloise had fairly specific futures plotted for each of them.

            “And you?” I said. “What will you be?”

            “A bear.”

            I overestimate her sometimes.

10:47am  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/Z3B38y1PZZIGH
  
Filed under: story vegan ham 
August 27, 2014
The Next Time You Get Frustrated with Life Remember…

imbilldixon:

We’re in outer space right now.

We’re floating on a globe that isn’t attached to anything.

All of this is really fucking silly.

August 22, 2014
Build A Mindbed

This recruitment video for Microsoft is beautiful.

August 21, 2014
I Went To Loncon 3 On My Own, And Left It With Myself

First, a disclaimer for convention people: this is one guy’s narrow view of a very wide world. If a lot of things are misrepresented below, take it as the squinting innocence of well-meaning fool. For everyone else, trigger warning: graphic feels ahead.

-

In May of 2013, I bought my five-day ticket to my first convention. On my own. I did it quickly, before the other part of me had a chance to talk me out of blowing £150 quid on a foolish scheme. You see-

No, wait, it starts earlier than that.

In September of 2010, freshly broken up and wallowing in the too-much-time-to-yourself that comes with that stuff, I picked up a copy of Neuromancer. I’d decided to do NaNoWriMo, the challenge of writing a novel in a month, and figuring that SF would give me the widest palette of things I could invent and therefore the lowest chance of getting writer’s block, I grabbed a copy of William Gibson’s most famous work. Revision, I guess. Over the next three years, I went back through my shallow recollection of the classics: Heinlein, Asimov. And forward, with those newer writers who I’d had the luck to hear of: I became a citizen of Hannu Rajaniemi’s protean Oubliette, of China Mieville’s pulsating New Crobuzon. Searching for something to murmur to me over the gun-metal grey commute, I found the SF podcast Escape Pod: Norm Sherman’s Twilight-Zone-in-the-cochlear mutter, Mur Lafferty greeting you like an old friend she just had to share a story with. And I kept writing, trying to understand the world-of-worlds we call ‘genre’.

All on my own, you understand. We write alone, in any practical sense. And, tragically, past the age of about eight we read alone, the theatre of the mind putting on a play for an audience of one. But the voices on Escape Pod spoke with such familiarity, they spoke of a community. It was 2013. That community was preparing to gather again.

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You think you know conventions, don’t you? People dressed up as five different Doctors, sweatingly poring through racks of comics in dust jackets, or shuffling awkwardly along queues to meet equally awkward authors. Gallons of coke, arguments over canon, hundreds of dollars changing hands over pieces of card and a lock of Benedict Cumberbatch’s hair. When I look back at year’s worth of occasional uncertainties over going to Loncon, I can see the ugly simplicity of my thought process: if you go there, you’ll be one of them. Yeah, you read books and everything, but you’re not like… well, you’re not like that.

At primary school, we’re told everyone is the same, everyone deserves to have friends, to be a friend. A fine ideal, but the pecking order asserts itself pretty quickly when you hit your teens. You don’t have to rule the rugby field or towel-whip the fat kid in the changing room to sense there is probably some ineffable hierarchy that you should do your best to fit into. And life, life is measured in progress, in a steady upward climb, right? The property ladder, the career ladder. So as I got on the train, heading to the Excel - and I’m ashamed even as I type this - I felt myself squeezed between two dreads: the fear of being rejected by this group, or worse, the fear of being embraced by them.

You already know this is all totally, joyously ridiculous.

image

I made friends before I’d even properly got in - 45 minutes of queueing passed in a flash of conversation with two writers behind me, Shay and Terri. They’ve both written novels - Terri, the lucky bugger, at only twenty - and had come to look for advice, and maybe even an agent. We swapped cards, and when I finish my novel I hope we’ll swap stories. Half an hour later I met an old uni friend, now in the process of writing up her book, the wonderful why-hasn’t-this-been-done-before Alphabet Britain (she’s the other one hanging with the Dalek above). That’s right, fact-fans: the first three people I met were all in the process of writing a book. People to whom I could say, “I’m writing a book,” and they would know exactly the pains and pleasures than entails, rather than me having to try and fail at explaining.

For conventions are, for one thing, places of understanding. I suppose I feared that I would not understand this world, or it would not understand me, or something equally high-minded. But there’s something wonderful about people brought together by common passion. We sat through the opening ceremony, stuffed full of in-jokes and genre references. I didn’t get half of them, but even that was fun. A sense of being welcomed into a 72-year-old family with its own customs. A dinner table with one extra place waiting.

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On Friday night, I realised how long that place had been reserved. I’d met heroes that day: Bryan Talbot, Hannu Rajaniemi, Jeff Vandermeer, Connie Willis… all of whom I’d gushed at, all of whom were willing to give me advice, a listening ear, and in Hannu’s case, a teaser of his next trilogy (keep going!). And, after a gloriously bootstrapped recording of Escape Pod, I met Mur Lafferty. I said something like, but not as well composed as, “in 2010, your podcast got me back into SF, after not reading it since…”

Since when? To her, I said, ‘a long time’ But as the Loncon Philharmonic tuned up in the Auditorium that night, I tried to pin it down. I’d stopped halfway through the Dune books (God Emperor Of-) when I was fourteen, when life, or something, or nothing, got in the way. Terrified of censure, of being outed as, well, as me, I’d put everything back on the shelf. I have a terrible memory but I reached back as early as I could: age six. Being sorted into classes for Big School by being asked questions. A teacher asked: James, what do you like to do?

As the orchestra played, I remembered what I said: I like to wonder what the future would be like. It was those exact weird words. I remembered them, and it felt as though they were reaching back from somewhere very old and very young, to reclaim me.

And as I thought about how I’d felt in those last two days, accepted by everyone, hugged by sixty year old american couples on their twentieth convention, given ribbons of every colour, happy to debate and banter with anyone I came across, happy even to just sit on the bean bags in the village green and do nothing at all but just be, I felt a dam break inside and an old me, buried under a cowl of aloofness, pour through. The violins whispered, Sarah Fox sang the first notes of Dvorak’s Song To The Moon, and for just a moment, I cried in the dark for the person I’d left behind for a decade.

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Anything we rediscover before it’s lost for all time is a blessing. When I heard Iain [M] Banks had died in 2013, I picked up my old copy of Consider Phlebas from under the stairs. I first read it when I was thirteen, and assumed at the time of rereading that I wouldn’t have remembered a sentence of it. Half-true… I definitely hadn’t realised what was going on first time, or what on earth a Mind was, but chapter after chapter, fully-painted images from another decade leapt back to me. The silvered God’s bracelet of doomed Vavatch orbital. Damage, the deadly and seductive card game that, I’m pretty sure, led me to pick up Magic for a couple of years. Images shouted across the years, yes, we’re still here.

Those childhood visions are indelible to our character, I think. And panel after panel, the smart and funny authors who discoursed on the politics of the Culture, the economics of Anime, the CG of The Hobbit, spoke directly to the child within me. Emma Newman (of Tea And Jeopardy) led a moving workshop on creativity and fear. When she got to the question of whether there’s a right mood to write, she let ancient words fall out: “mood’s a thing for cattle and loveplay.” I wanted to hug her right there, not just because it’s true, but because she’d used the immortal words of Gurney Halleck, the Atreides swordmaster who’d spoken out of a page to me at age eleven. I felt young again. Young enough to play.

 

 

On Saturday, I wrote in my little blue book, there is so much play here. The day of the Masquerade, where dinosaurs do indeed walk the earth. And more besides: every variety of steampunk, cyberpunk, stormtroopers, R2D2s… every one as much as creator as the writers I’d met in the queue. The masqueraders displayed themselves on the auditorium stage, and we applauded. Every one of them there not to show off, but to share. The kind of generosity that had led to the little trail of colourful ribbons under my badge. I’d accumulated a few, though I still gazed at the chromatic scarves that braver conventioneers had accumulated. But each of the few I had meant something to me, a slender connection made. I’d made pacts to attend Titancon one day, joined the BSFA (and am eagerly looking forward to their next meetup, no way am I letting it all slide again after this), and thrown £20 behind Dublin’s bid for Worldcon 2019. Affiliation is the name of the game, the currency of the con, but not in a clubbish, in-or-out kind of way: everyone welcomed everyone. For five days, the Excel was a society that moved and pulsed as one fluid being.

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As I watched the Hugos be awarded on Sunday, I understood how much I wanted to be part of that society – not to win, and be the best, as I so often feel at work, as I think many of us feel in our working lives. No, I just wanted to contribute, to keep the great imagination machine churning. Now I understand how a con can run entirely on volunteer goodwill, how the newspaper could come out, made with love, twice a day every day like a tiny utopia running on speed. The joy for the nominees, whether story or fancast, editor or writer, was in pushing it all another inch forward. I was intimidated. But more than that, I was inspired. There is a slender magic, accreted on a foundation of a few good stories by a few passionate people, that winds through the world and breaks the surface once a year.

Everything ends. Or hibernates. On Monday, with much ceremony (my clapping muscles have gone), the convention was closed. Almost immediately, the spirit was rekindled, just as a spark: the organising committee of Sasquan marching forth to distribute candy, and in one worrying case, fight with a sasquatch. This gives some reassuring clue to the cycle of things. The readiness to play, the sense of hope and imagination never leaves, it only lies down. I’m just grateful I’ve finally seen its face. 

On the way out, I saw people tucking their badges away, the long, proud manes of ribbon hidden away under civilian clothing. I did too: there’s the me that has to rub against the cold, abrasive world, after all. But I kept the ribbon against my neck, only taking it off when I got home that night. I wonder if I’ll see another one.

That is the tragedy of good things: I left a little piece of me behind at the excel. But I have a feeling that should I get off the plane in Spokane next year, it’ll be there, waiting for me.

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?

10:57pm  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/Z3B38y1OsUsCg
  
Filed under: worldcon loncon3 sf life report 
August 21, 2014

Unofficial Trailer For Black Mirror S1

Really nice. Must watch these again. Apparently, there’s a feature-length Christmas Special coming…

August 20, 2014

Model Of Rama, 2009

August 17, 2014
STORY WEEK DAY 7: The Last Word.

It scratches the now-familiar symbol in Castilian dust for me alone: remains of city parted by its articulated limb into crude legs, arms, a bubble head. When I first saw its word for me traced in human ashes and powdered silicon I thought it mocked me. Now I watch its broken scalpel tell half a story. The men and machines still fight somewhere. But here in cremated Toledo there’s only the gift we give each other: I draw a circle around the figure to form the end of the ritual, the final stroke in our shared word for us.

…that’s it for Story Week! I hope you enjoyed it, and thanks if you stuck with it. Did you have a favourite?

August 16, 2014
STORY WEEK DAY 6: Abasi’s Gambit.

His first term at Alexandria over and Abasi is becoming a ruler. In the warmth he gives his mother I see the people’s love; in the way he taps his bishop against the table, the firmness our generals need. Abasi’s eyes are six, but he views the UN secretary’s chessboard like he was sixty. Abasi moves his ivory king into danger, I frown.

“Father,” he says, “why protect the king? The bishops give faith. The castles defend. The king sends them to die. Who would save a king who did that?”

This is why he must learn to play white.

August 15, 2014
STORY WEEK DAY 5: Unline.

It’s half-four in the basement when Keith decides it would be simpler not to exist. And with a sigh and a click, he’s unfriended six hundred ciphers. That girl he met and never spoke to again, whose life he monitors and who possibly monitors his, is set free from their contract. He swipes and newsletter subscriptions fall away, listicles leave his mailbox, companies webs of contact lose another node as Keith feels himself dissolve. He takes a sip of tea, and walks goes into the light. His family are sitting there and someone says Son, where have you been?

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