I’ve just re-read James Herbet’s 1975 novel ‘The Fog’…

from my original blog on 20/8/19:
35 years ago I would have been about 16 years old when I first read this story. I’d wanted to read it again for some time, it had stuck in my mind as something worth re-visiting. Unfortunately I found that, for me, the story has not stood up well to the test of time.

The novel has a reliance on third-person narration that I found irritating after a while. The story felt slow as a result, and I found myself skipping long sections in order to find the next piece of ‘action’.

More critically perhaps for a horror genre writer, the ‘horror’ in this story seemed to have been confused with occasional horrific events combined with rather adolescent perceptions of sex. That style may have appealed to a 16 year old male in circa 1983, but it does not appeal today. Modern writing has progressed to be more immediate, fast-paced and driven by action. In genre fiction we’ve rather moved away from the slower style used in ‘The Fog’, and I think our stories are better for it.

Having picked up a 3-novel edition, I decided to try ‘The Spear’ as well. I’m afraid I only read the first twenty or so pages before getting so bored that I simply closed the book.

I hate to give poor reviews of books, but unfortunately for me these 2 neither lived up to nostalgia or modern expectations.

I had a real “boy’s own” moment while on holiday and sat in the cockpit of a Vulcan bomber!

from my original blog on 7/7/19:
This summer I achieved the dream of sitting inside the cockpit of a Vulcan bomber… and wow, what an experience!

Let’s be clear, the Vulcan’s initial purpose was to deliver the Blue Danube fission bomb (yield 10-12 kt, similar to the Hiroshima bomb) against targets in the Soviet Union. The Vulcan is a solid, tangible expression of Cold War readiness for nuclear annihilation.

It was designed in response to Air Ministry Specification B.35/46 from 1947, which called for a nuclear-capable aircraft with an exceptional range for flight from British and allied airfields, able to operate out of the reach of enemy air defences. Initially this meant being able to carry the 10,000lb Blue Danube device at high altitude (circa 50,000 feet) for 2,800 km.

Blue Danube quickly became obsolete with the development of fusion bombs, and Vulcans were later armed with Blue Steel stand-off missiles, carrying 1.1 Mt warheads. Blue Steel itself was fairly obsolete with improvements in Soviet SAM technology. The British intention had been to replace Blue Steel with the American Skybolt missile, but that system was cancelled by President John F. Kennedy in 1962.

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In the short term Blue Steel was retained during the “Skybolt Crisis” until the main nuclear deterrent role was taken up by Royal Navy Polaris submarines. The Vulcan’s nuclear deterrent tactics evolved into a new low-level mission profile, flying high during ‘clear transit’, dropping low on approach to the target before popping up to deploy a WE.177B parachute-retarded bomb.

There is a comment in Wikipedia that “… since the aircraft had been designed for high-altitude flight, at low altitudes it could not exceed 350 knots [400 mph]…”, and quotes RAF Air Vice Marshal Ron Dick, a former Vulcan pilot, to have said that “… it is [thus] questionable whether it could have been effective flying at low level in a war against … the Soviet Union…” – HOWEVER, during my cockpit tour at Solway Aviation Museum, my guide was sharing stories about actual flying of the Vulcan and asked us what it would have felt like to be piloting this huge aircraft, at a height of fifty feet, at 600 miles per hour?… it seems that the actual operational practice may have been different to the ‘rule book’!

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This all sounds very clinical and straight forward, but the Cold War realities were quite different…

A megaton-sized bomb is of the order of 80 times more powerful than the bomb detonated over Hiroshima.

Close to the centre of the blast, temperatures will reach circa 300,000 degrees Celcius, reducing most victims’ bodies to a handful of basic minerals. Within 4 miles of the blast, the sudden change in air pressure will produce winds of around 160 mph, exerting 180 tonnes of force on the walls of all two-storey buildings. This over-pressure will cause most buildings to collapse. Third degree burns will occur for people up to 5 miles from the blast site. These burns are likely to be fatal unless the victims receive immediate treatment. First degree burns will occur up to 7 miles away. On a clear day, people up to 13 miles from the blast will experience flash blindness.

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Vulcan crews lived together, trained together, holidayed together – they were very close units. When on duty they would sleep in caravans close to their aircraft, ready to fly at any time of the day or night. In the UK we could expect at most a ‘4 minute warning’ of incoming Soviet ICBMs, and our Vulcans would need to be airborne before those warheads arrived. The aircraft were kept armed and ready to go, with just a single button needed to light all 4 engines and get them into the air. Apparently the average reaction time was just 2 minutes, with the record being 90 seconds – it took me around thirty seconds to climb the ladder, let alone everything else that would have been needed to get off the ground!

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With the scale of devastation expected from just 1 weapon (and the RAF airfield I live near was targetted by the Soviets with between 2-4 warheads), the Vulcan crews knew that their families, home towns and country, would have been destroyed in the event of a real “nuclear exchange”. In that case their advice was to find somewhere warm to live after they had dropped their bomb, since there would be nothing to come home to… a sobering thought… who among us could live with that hanging over them?

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This realisation of what the Cold War truly meant comes to life when you are sat inside one of the machines that was at the heart of nuclear deterrence. That is why it is so important to keep artefacts like XJ823 on display to the public. When you have touched it, seen the wear on the instruments, and smelt that particular used, oily smell, while someone who ‘was there’ tells you what it really meant… then you are ready to judge the rhetoric and sabre-rattling of politicians today.

I finally read William Gibson’s “Neuromancer”, and it’s awesome!

From my earlier blog on 7/7/19:

There are gaps in my sci-fi reading from about ’83-’85, when I was finishing sixth form studies and starting work, through 2002, when I finished my distance-learning BSc. I’m still making my way through that back-list and have just been BLOWN AWAY by William Gibson’s “Neuromancer” from 1984.

I’d read some other Gibson before, but for some reason had never taken the time to look at his most famous novel – now I have, and it is AWESOME!

‘Neuromancer’ is clearly one of those rare genre-defining works that creates a whole new realm of possibilities in fiction. It presents a beautiful collage of drugs, technology, society, crime, privilege and ‘gritty’ reality that screams MASTERPIECE from its opening words:

“… The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel…”

The setting of the BAMA, ‘the Sprawl‘ – the ‘Boston-Atlanta Metropolitan Axis, is exciting, dangerous and totally believable… a flawless creation.

The lead character, ‘Case’, is a very human, suffering protagonist, with the rare ability to surf cyberspace as a console cowboy, ‘… a rustler, one of the best in the Sprawl…’ – want to know where The Matrix came from? Read ‘Neuromancer’, it is the true parent of the CyberPunk genre!

After nearly forty years of trying, I have just finished reading Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”

From my earlier blog on 11/5/19:

Written in 1897, ‘Dracula’ is both a progressive piece of fiction as well as ‘a book of its time’.

When I was around 10 years old I was given a copy as part of a set of classics as a Christmas present. I’m not surprised that I gave up on my first attempt with it. The style of writing is somewhat laborious.

There are overly long sections where the characters are trying to work out what is happening or what to do, interspersed with repetitive motifs around the need for the men to protect the women, and all wrapped up in lagging dialogue. I am sure that many people have managed to read the book as children, but it is clearly not intended for such a young audience.

I found the character of Professor Van Helsing particularly annoying. Dr Seward tells us that he comes from Amsterdam and “… knows as much about obscure diseases as anyone in the world.” He is brought into the novel as ‘the expert’ that the other characters look up to. However, he obviously does not know what is happening to Lucy and Mina at first. He frequently disappears to Amsterdam (why there?) to learn things or gather supplies. The Van Helsing in Stoker’s novel is not the dynamic ‘vampire slayer’ of 2004 Hollywood fame. He is old and frequently given to making long-winded, eloquent soliloquies. How many of his acquaintances would have collapsed from boredom at yet another Van Helsing speech like this one:

“…my good friend John, let me caution you. You deal with the madmen. All men are mad in some way or the other; and inasmuch as you deal discreetly with your madmen, so deal with God’s madmen… You tell not your madmen what you do nor why you do it; you tell them not what you think. So you shall keep knowledge in its place, where it may rest-where it may gather its kind around it and breed. You and I shall keep as yet what we know… I have for myself thoughts at the present. Later I shall unfold to you.”    – all Van Helsing means is that he and John Seward should keep a secret, and that he has something else to reveal later on!

On the other hand, Van Helsing is determined and brave. He deals with Lucy’s undead body in the tomb, he travels with Mina back to Castle Dracula, and he butchers the 3 undead bodies of Dracula’s lady companions.

In an age where women were not treated as equals by men, all of Mina’s companions at times overcome the constraints of ‘polite society’ to listen to her wisdom, give her a weapon, and take her into danger.

The book does have some genuinely horrific moments. However, they are spaced out between reams of ‘to and fro’ that leads to little actual action. The final demise of Dracula in his coffin outside the castle was disappointing – I won’t spoiler zone it here, but I expected much more from the closing pages after such a long build-up.

In summary, a good read but with many flaws when viewed from the perspective of modern story-telling.

For me, ‘Dracula’ scores 6/10 on the ‘garlic & stake’ scale of horror.

More progress on my 2nd ‘Lissa Blackwood’ conspiracy-thriller…

From my earlier blog on 9/6/19:

I’m now ready to start writing the 2nd novel in my ‘Lissa Blackwood’ Conspiracy-Thriller series. The overall plot has been fully defined and now works within the 7-Step Story Structure.

Over the past month I have really enjoyed defining the 5 increasingly significant attacks that Lissa Blackwood will have to deal with. The final attack was great fun to work on, and it draws together several themes around terrorism and nukes that I have always been interested in.

I’m now at that happy stage of starting to paint my story on a well-prepared canvas, and I’m really looking forward to enjoying both the pre-defined set-piece plot elements and all the diversions that will arise… bring it on!

Change of style for showing inner thoughts in my writing…

‘PAIN’ – noun: that terrible feeling you get when you decide to abandon the method you were taught about 40 years ago for formatting inner voice in fiction!EndOfTunnel~shrink

I’ve just made the choice to adopt one of the modern styles: no quote marks, italicised text with a tag.

Heck – this means I’ve now got a circa 90k words wip manuscript to edit…

it’s a long way to the end of that tunnel… gulp.

“Jem” – Frederik Pohl

I’ve just enjoyed reading Frederik Pohl’s 1979 novel “Jem”.

Pohl was a prolific author- first published in 1937, with a final novel (‘All the Lives He Led’, 2011), and a collection of essays in 2012 – he died in 2013. I’ve been reading SF for about forty years and was aware of Pohl but never really go into his writing. I think I was simply too young when I first encountered his books because, as a winner of four Hugo and three Nebula awards, he clearly had a lot to say.  I returned to his writing a couple of years ago and enjoyed reading ‘Gateway’ (from 1977, the opening book in his ‘Heechee saga’), ‘Man Plus’ (1976) and his 1955 short-story called ‘The Tunnel Under the World’.


In ‘Jem’ Pohl presents a dystopian future world, set roughly around 2024 (based on the reference to Carl Sagan being a ‘… a spry octogenarian instead of whatever incredible age he really was…’). International politics has settled into three competing power blocs:

The Fuel Bloc – known as the ‘Greasies’, they have control of much of the world’s fossil fuel reserves and are leading lives of profligate energy consumption,

The Food Bloc – known as the ‘Fats’, they control much of the world’s food growing lands, and

The People Bloc – known as the ‘Peeps’, they represent the countries with large populations but much less access to Food and Fuels.

Competition for resources is fierce between the blocs. There has been a significant proliferation of nuclear weapons and the threat of a planet-destroying confrontation has become a daily norm. The discovery of a habitable planet called ‘Jem’ creates the opportunity for humanity to spread outwards. However, rather than cooperating, the three blocs compete for advantage and control of this new world. They draw in Jem’s three sentient species into their fight and create new rivalries that had not existed on the planet before – rivalries that will have terrible consequences for the Balloonists, the Krinpit and the Creepies.

In some respects ‘Jem’ has not aged well and its message can feel a bit naively obvious today. Read in the context of being a late Cold War era novel, it retains an entertaining contemporary relevance.

Approaches to writing Effectively and Efficiently…


In my latest vlog I talk about how to write Efficiently and Effectively using a combination of:

– Plotting (not “pantsing’)
– Mind-mapping in “FreeMind”
– The 7-Point Story Structure
– A writing tool like yWriter5
– Dictating a first draft using the “Dictanote” Chrome app
– Editing with SmartEdit, Hemingway and editMinion

Take a look at https://youtu.be/jr1fxXq9JFc

There’s more of my creative work at: http://www.russellweb.org.uk

#amwriting #WritingTip