Monday, October 31, 2022

Put the "Hell" back into Halloween

Growing up in Australia, Halloween was never really a thing. We might have drawn pictures at school, or a spooky party at Scouts. We may even have dressed up for that evening. But I don't recall anyone decorating their house or any other special events.

To us, Halloween was a very American thing. We saw it on TV, usually in dramas and comedy shows. We saw people dressing up, kids going Trick-or-Treating, and so on. I never even knew there was a potential "trick" element to the event - simply people gave candy to kids. We certainly never did this.

But like so many other things - language, slang, proms - Halloween has now taken root in Australia, and here in the UK. Supermarkets are filled with plastic pumpkins and ghosts, local retailers have real pumpkins, houses decorate, and lanterns are made. And then, of course, kids start to arrive to collect sweets (or candy, or lollies).

This doesn't affect us too much. We live in an older part of the village, and so last year, despite purchasing sweets, we had no knocks on the door.

I don't really begrudge this infiltration. If kids have fun, then I'm all for it. But the one thing that surprises me is that it's no longer a "spooky" event.  On the few occasions we did dress up for a Halloween party as kids, there was usually some scary element to the costume. A ghost, for example. or a vampire. But these days the costumes can be anything at all. And I don't really get that. If you're going to have a spooky event, at least make it spooky.

This year, maybe I'll dress upas a grumpy old man and sit out on my lawn.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Who's the Artist?

Some AI generated art recently won an art competition at the Colorado State Fair. The winner has defended this, and claimed that he made no secret of using an AI. Other entrants have responded with anger. The art was entered in a Digital Art category, and the organisers and judges had no problem with it being included or winning.

There have been controversies in the at world before. There was some backlash against photography many years ago, as it was deemed as not requiring the skill and experience of a "true" artist. And then it happened again more recently when digital tools were becoming more commonplace.

I suppose the difference this time is that anyone can type a few words into an AI generator and achieve reasonably impressive results in a few seconds. Hit re-enter, with the same words, and you receive a different result. And again, and again, and again. And in a very short time, it's very easy to produce literally hundreds of artworks. And by changing the words and parameters, you can change style, lighting, setting and so on.

Out of all those hundreds of pieces, several will be special - a cut above the rest. All by typing a few words and hitting the enter key.

I tried this myself the other day, and was thrilled by some of the artwork I generated. And this was only using a general, free online version. I can only imagine the potential of some of the higher-end generators.

I also saw someone post a picture they had generated. They were asked if they'd drawn it. They responded that it was complicated, that there was some controversy, and they'd used some software.

I don't think it's complicated, or controversial.

I'm not going to pretend that my efforts using the AI in anyway requires any artistic skill, talent or ability except, perhaps, in having some critical artistic eye in determining the merit of the resultant piece. The real skill is practice in determining the words to use, how to phrase them, the order and so on. In the few days I've played with the generator, I have improved my results dramatically by playing with these variables. There is some skill needed there. I notice the winner of the above competition did not reveal the words he used. 

And we can control the styles. I found the words to create art in the style of one of my favourite artists.

We can enjoy and appreciate this art. Perhaps we just need to be more open about how it was created. Competitions and the like need to be clear and specific in whether AI art can be entered, and in which categories.

It's here. We can't go backwards. And it won't be long before we have AI generated novels, movies and music. I, for one, look forward to hearing new "Beatles" songs.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

A Right Royal Event.

Although it wasn't officially announced until the evening, we knew the Queen had passed by the early afternoon. There had been a vague announcement about doctors somewhere around lunchtime, and nothing more. Then we noticed the BBC announcers were wearing black, which they surely wouldn't do were she still with us. One BBC reporter tweeted she had passed, then retracted it with an apology, stating there hadn't yet been an official announcement.

But then it was announced, right in the middle of a late thunderstorm here in Lincoln, which somehow seemed appropriate, while there were two rainbows over Buckingham Palace at the same time. Serendipitous. (After the reign?) And then we had a week of little else but Royal programming on TV. And then we had a day of ceremny and funeral, which was full of pomp and very moving indeed.

Being a Scottish Australian, I'm not a monarchist by any stretch of the imagination.But that doesn't mean I'm against the Royal Family. I attended an event during the last year which made me uncomfortable for jingoistic, colonialist reasons. I mentioned this tome someone, and from later comments I had they feeling they think I am anti Royals.

I think they need to evolve, I think they are basically ceremonial and part of the tourist industry, I don't like much of their behaviours, but I see their importance to the economy of the UK. So maybe a few should be fired, others should be forced to get jobs which pay the rent, but for the most part, with modernisation, I think they are good for the UK.

When we were leading into the Jubilee, someone in a meeting said that whether you were a Royalist or not, everyone is pretty pleased that Queen Elizabeth had lived so long. I pointed out that it was not everyone. Perhaps Prince Charles didn't feel that way. Which was meant as a joke, and perhaps held an element of truth, but in return I received some quiet glares. Personally, I think the Queen would have chuckled at that one.

I know public opinion of Charles has softened over the past few years - I'm still not sure where I stand on him. Perhaps he'd be quite a charming fellow with a pint in hand and a good natter. I think William will make a good King, although I suspect that won't be for a few more years.

RIP, your Majesty. And good luck, King Charles. And if you ever want a quiet evening with a pint and a natter, I'm sure your security team can find me easily enough.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Home Is Where The Stomach Is?

It has been three years since I was last in Australia. Generally I go back every 18 months or so, but the pandemic threw that timeline out of whack. Once airlines started flying again, flights were limited, rules and restrictions were tight, and prices were beyond ridiculous. In the end I figured I would wait until things were a bit more back to normal.

Sometimes I am asked if I miss Australia, and I suppose I do - not in any yearning, sit at home, homesick kind of way, but there are times when I feel like I would quite like to go somewhere or do something over there. Mostly I just miss my family and friends.

I belong to an expat group on Facebook. For the most part it's encouraging, supportive and fun and I quite enjoy it. People regularly share tips on like in the UK, including which shops currently have Tim Tams and other goodies for sale. Others share pictures of care packages sent from loved ones. Sometimes we just get to joke about things that make no sense if we say them to Brits. ("Lock it in, Eddie" was mentioned recently)

Personally, I'm don't yearn for Australian snacks and sweets in the same way others do, although occasionally I would love a dim sim or a Chiko roll. Just one, and then I'd be good to go for another year. But there are some on there who are in the UK because they married a Brit, and are desperately homesick. I feel for them. Homesickness can be a terrible thing.

I don't feel that personally. Maybe because I was born here, and to me this has always felt like home anyway. Maybe because I enjoy my job and have my wife's family close by, or maybe because my feelings just don't work that way.

I look forward to going back. When it happens, I'll relish the time spent there, in the company of friends and family. And expect me to return here with a couple of extra kilos round my waist.

Friday, August 26, 2022

Whoosh!

This year seems to be rushing past. It's already late August, and it shouldn't be!

I suppose in reflection, I can see a lot that I have achieved so far in 2022, and yet there was so much more I wanted to do.  Work has been busy, but then when isn't it? Projects around the house, renovating and maintenance. They never seem to end. At least there is great satisfaction when we see the finished product, something we've both worked hard to achieve.

I have a few things in my planner to look forward to in the latter part of this year. There are trips, visits, and even a convention in there. I'm rather excited about all of these.

A new story dues for publication early next year has lifted my spirits no end. I was also privileged to have the editor not only tell me how good the story was, but also that he was making it the featured story for that issue.  Always nice to have a cover. 

So there is more writing to be done. I must write more stories, but beyond that I am currently involved in four other secret writing projects. Lovely things which will bring me great joy. Two are quite labour intensive, but the rewards will be intense.

Winter is coming, and already the mornings are darker and evenings are drawing in. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as I quite enjoy the seasons. But it does mean there is more time suitable to not be sitting outside but inside and writing.
 
Sometimes we need to take the motivation where we can find it.


Sunday, August 7, 2022

Another Story On Its Way.

Way back in March, I submitted a story to a magazine - my first in a year or more.

And on the weekend it sold. The Leviathan Awakens will be publish in early 2023.

I'm pretty excited about this one. It's a story I really, really like, and it's going to a good home. The Martian Wave (Hiraeth Publications) is a new market for me, and I'm thrilled to have this story under their banner.

The Leviathan Awakens has its roots in a painting a friend did way back in the 80s. When he showed me the painting I had a tiny idea. I wasn't a writer then so nothing came of it. But that idea never went away, and kept niggling
and niggling. And then, a few years ago, I was at a writing workshop and I had to write an opening paragraph in a particular style. That opening paragraph became the opening to this story which started to develop in my mind.

The paragraph I wrote at that workshop was well received, but is now gone. In the context of the story, it confused things too much and so was completely rewritten. It's a shame, as that was a paragraph I really liked, and I thought worked really well. The readers, not so much.

And so, of course, I need to dive back in and get another story happening. Which is good, as I just had this little idea on the weekend.

Friday, July 29, 2022

Journey Through The Past

On holiday recently, and in a fairly isolated location with no TV, I read a lot. I brought four books with me, but they only lasted a couple of days. And so I went in search of more.

Fortunately, in a nearby town, I found a brilliant little second-hand bookshop. The owner was extremely knowledgeable on her stock. I asked her about a couple of titles/authors, and she was able to tell me yes or no, and exactly where. I told her, as I left, what a fantastic shop it was and she seemed genuinely pleased.

There were a few shelves of SF books, and I found a few old paperbacks I hadn't read and looked promising. In the middle of all these, however, was an old favourite I haven't read for many, many years. Downward to the Earth by Robert Silverberg. I picked it up, then put it back as I have a copy at home. But that cover! It wasn't the cover I had, and the artwork was beautiful, and so I grabbed it.

I posted way back in 2009 that Silverberg was one of the people I would love to meet one day. This has come true - not once, but twice. The first time I met him, in 2010, I thanked him for his work and told him what it meant to me. I told him that the first two SF novels I read as a teen were by PKD and Silverberg. He asked me what they were, and while I remembered PKD's novel, my mind went blank with his. And so I stood there looking like a fool and feeling embarrassed.

In 2014 I met him again, and we managed to have a longer and more coherent conversation. And Cat Sparks was on hand to capture the moment - a photograph which still brings me joy.

But back to the present. 

I absolutely tore through Downward to the Earth, and it was wonderful. The writing, the plot, the characters, the worldbuilding - all as brilliant as I remembered it. Since I last read it, (in the 90s, I think) I have been to University and studied Heart of Darkness, and so as I read Downward this time, I couldn't help but see the references to Conrad's work (and, in some ways, Apocalypse Now) Heck, there is even a character named Kurtz, a kind of dark reflection of the protagonist.

While firmly a product of its time (1970), there is a post-colonialist reading to this text which is, perhaps, more relevant than ever. 

Once again, I am reminded why Robert Silverberg is amongst our greatest writers.