Gene Wolfe (1931– 2019)

UpdatesPosted by C. John Thu, April 18, 2019 21:28:32

Around a year ago I lamented the loss of one of my favourite authors, Ursula Le Guin. However, the loss of Gene Wolfe is a greater blow as I have listed him as my favourite writer on several occasions. That he died on Palm Sunday and the advent of Holy Week is fitting for somebody whose faith was important to him on both a personal level, as well as a strong but subtle influence on his writing and perhaps most prominently seen in his most famous work: The Book of the New Sun. Though Wolfe himself described less as an allegorical reference to Christ but more “a person achieving Sainthood”. I first discovered Wolfe (as I have said elsewhere) through his short fiction, and “The Eye Flash Miracles” was the first story of his I read—to be found in one of Damon Knight’s Orbit anthologies. Ursula Le Guin pointed to In the Shadow of the Torturer (the first volume in the book of the New Sun), and the rest is history. Many fine obituaries are being written, but as I did with Le Guin, mine will be a personal reflection.

Exactly 32 years to this day I met Gene for the first and last time. It was my very first Science Fiction convention, the annual British event held that year in Birmingham again at Easter. Wolfe wasn’t a guest of honour he was simply just there. A year or so earlier I had written a perspective on both the last book of the New Sun Quartet and the books leading up to it, for which I had won 2nd prize in a BSFA competition (an enthusiastic but somewhat naïve account of somebody in his early 20s). When I realized Gene Wolfe was at the con, I brought my recent copy of his latest book, Soldier of the Mist for him to sign (see below). I joined the long signing queue, but when I got to the front I froze and spluttered when he asked me how he should dedicate the book. I muttered something about having reviewed his book. Hence that’s what he put underneath his signature.

His books were never bestsellers in the traditional sense: he was very much a writer’s writer, but as was said on the cover of one of his books he brought “that literary rarity, wisdom” and I believe, truth. I may write more later, but given the week we are now entering maybe look up his short story “Easter Sunday” which is available on the net and published back in 1951 http://www.revolutionsf.com/fiction/eastersunday/01.html

Creative Writers’ Toolbelt Extras

UpdatesPosted by C. John Tue, November 06, 2018 21:45:06

If you’re new to this blog and have come as a result of my interview with Andy Chamberlain on Creative Writers Podcast, welcome. As the result of both my nervousness and the ensuing slips of memory, several helpful things I wanted to say remained unsaid, particularly some practical tips—the hallmark of the podcast. Therefore, I decided that I should use my blog to try and rectify this and add value to the broadcast.

First, it’s important to point out you cannot leave messages here. The blog is a side offering of my web hotel and not set up for this. So if you wish to comment to me directly or get in touch for other reasons please use the following email: cj@cjohnarthur.com. Thanks.

A few extra tips and tricks…

Book circle: Another element that has helped me on my writing journey is a Science Fiction book circle. We meet once a month and discuss a chosen SF or, less commonly, a fantasy novel. This has been useful in two ways. In general, the process of reading and writing go together. I’m not a quick reader and once I started writing, a book a month is all I could manage. More particularly, since most of the time it’s not necessarily my choice, we’ve read a diverse selection of different writers. Left to my own devices, I would probably just follow my favourite authors. This venue has given me an appreciation of the current SF scene. Especially when you are writing genre fiction, it’s important to know what’s current as always what you write is a conversation with an existing body of work. During recent years writers of literary fiction have produced genre tinged works that seem to ignore this kind of dialogue.

The consultation of experts: I realised early on that I would need to talk to some professionals in the areas the book touches. First and foremost, of course, a policeman. Before I started to write the book seriously, I met a couple of times with a Stockholm police inspector, firstly over lunch—always a good ploy when somebody’s doing you a big favour. I outlined the basic plot of the first section and heard from him more about how the Swedish police work in practice. This is different from the UK, though the overall legal structure has some similarities with the Scottish system and that from the US. Especially new to me was the relationship between the prosecutor and the police. I can also draw on a Swedish prosecutor who is an established member of SF fandom. However, as she has said, even Swedish police procedurals struggle to portray the relationship between the prosecutors and police correctly. Fortunately, my police inspector thought there was some flexibility as the story was set sometime in the future! As a result of my first meeting with him, I got invited for a tour of the central police station where both he and my fictional inspector are based. Regarding the issue of prostitution, I’ve had my friend who works helping people trapped in sex-trafficking look through the drafts and make comments.

Grammarly: As I noted in the podcast, my meticulous English teacher was replaced by a hippy with a much more relaxed attitude to grammar. Grammarly is an online application that helps keep me right in this area. There’s a free version (which is worth trying out) and a paid for version that gives a lot more features and can be incorporated into MS Word. It’s not foolproof grammar checking, and occasionally I disagree with it and go to grammar books, but as a first-line resource, I find it valuable.

Scrivener and E-books: I referred to the writing program Scrivener several times during the podcast often commenting that I would get back to it—but I never did. At the recommendation of British writer Ian McDonald, I use this cheap writing program ($45) for all my work, both short and long. It’s available for both Mac and PC here: https://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener/overview. In my short fiction what I liked about it is that you write your text and then the program exports it in standard manuscript format, ready for submission. It comes into its own though when planning and executing a longer work like a novel. You can easily break things down into Chapters and scenes; there’s a cork board display which enables you to organise Chapters/scenes at a glance. There’s also a separate section where you can put research material including pictures. All this information is kept together in one file.

There is one other way I use Scrivener in the process of writing a novel which I think could be a generally useful tip. Scrivener exports to standard ebook format, epub, and also Kindle Mobi format (but Kindle export requires an additional program KindleGen which you can download for free from Amazon—see more information in Appendix below). This export function I use in two ways.

1. When I have written a few chapters, I export to an ebook format (usually Kindle, i.e. Mobi format). You’ll be amazed how much you can spot regarding errors when reading your manuscript like a traditional book. Several Ebook readers are free as is the Kindle app. The best reading device is some kind of pad or an actual Kindle, but with the screen size of modern mobile phones, these are also now widely available reading devices, and readers exist for both iPhone, Android and of course Windows.

2. The ebook exports I can send to my beta readers, and it’s possible for them to introduce comments and markup. This is how my both my wife and daughter have read my book and given feedback. I use an Android pad, my wife uses her iPad, and my daughter uses her iPhone 6.

Miscellaneous resources

I used writing resources available in book form or online, to stop me making fundamental mistakes with POV, show vs tell etc. as well as to hone my craft.

Creative writers toolbelt Podcast (https://ajc-cwt-001.podomatic.com) and book

Writing Excuses Podcast: www.writingexcuses.com


Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Renni Browne and Dave King –it has been said that if you can only buy one book on writing, this is it.

Readers Digest books by Nancy Kress, Orson Scott Card, Jeff Gerke- the Card book is SF and fantasy orientated the other two writers have produced works suitable for all genres but have SF and Fantasy in their backgrounds.

Appendix: Exporting to Kindle Mobi format using Scrivener.

The first thing you need to do is go to the Amazon website (I used Amazon.com, I don’t know if it's also there on amazon.co.uk.). Search for KindleGen, download the file, unzip it into a subdirectory where you can easily find it when selecting it from within Scrivener. If you are in Scrivener, you can go to the compile selection found at the bottom of the File tab. Since I seem to have KindleGen installed on all the computers that I use Scrivener on, I can’t quite remember how I set it up, but I seem to recall that if you select Mobi (Kindle) to compile to, it prompts you to find KindleGen. For this reason, I Googled it and found this helpful webpage with illustrations.


There are also several tutorials on YouTube if you search KindleGen and Scrivner there.

NOTE I always get an error message when exporting to Kindle format due to the fact I don’t have a cover! And in terms of my experience level, I have never tried to make a ‘proper ebook’ for public release. Looking at what comes out in either epub or Mobi (Kindle format) suggest that I need to do further optimisation for a completely clean layout…;-)

P.S. And finally…

On the podcast, I forgot to mention some important influences, most notably the father of Cyberspace, William Gibson and also, because my focus was on SF and not Fantasy, C.S. Lewis. Compiled in several different anthologies is a transcript of a recording made by SF author Brian Aldiss featuring himself, Lewis and Kingsley Amis. This discussion took place in C.S. Lewis’s study towards the end of his life. It's worth reading if you have interest in SF and/or any of the three authors mentioned.

A Lament for Tyre: The Novel

UpdatesPosted by C. John Sun, November 04, 2018 19:20:52

In my writing journal here I’ve written about the short story progress I’ve made and whilst I published my 3rd paid for short story at the end of last year, the process from writing to print took quite some time. Meanwhile, I’ve been beavering away at something at a much bigger scale: a book.

The reason I’m flagging it now is that it almost exists (in draft form) and I just recorded an interview with Andy Chamberlain (who runs the excellent Creative Writer’s Toolbox Podcast) about both it and the process of bringing it to life. So I can no longer hide its existence on this blog!

I had often thought of writing a novel, but in contrast to my short fiction, I expected this would wait until retirement. The pensionable age creeps ever upwards (now 67 in Sweden for a full pension and still many years in my future). My dream was receding out of my grasp and I was starting to get the ‘now or never’ feeling in my bones. My published fiction is very diverse in both time, place and sub-genre, so what could I draw on for a work of novel length? I wanted to set it in a future Stockholm and that directly related to two stories that occupied my head even before I returned to writing fiction. The outline of these stories is now crystallized in my novel’s Scrivener file and they form the back story of my book. Whilst SF is my main literary interest, on TV my main staple is detective shows and in both literature and TV I love a good mystery. The second of these unwritten stories introduced a detective and I latched on to him as my main viewpoint character.

Before ever putting pen to paper (or, in fact, a finger to a keyboard—my preferred writing technique) I wrote the back cover copy of the projected novel for a writing exercise. Here it is:

As Stockholm detective Inspector Dan Hallberg prepares for the increasingly outré performance art produced by the city’s graduating art students, he is confronted with a harrowing truth by a woman recently resuscitated from death. Until this encounter murder was the worst crime Hallberg had to contend with.

There is a human drama being played out in a secret wing of a private hospital where people are losing their identities--an attempt to cover an even greater conspiracy. To solve this mystery, Hallberg needs to find the victims and try to piece together their lives both in and out of the virtual worlds they have lived and died in. They, in turn, are relentlessly hunted by a very real assassin anxious to complete his mission: a task entrusted to him by employers whose nature remains hidden, even from him. He has never failed.

New SF writer C John Arthur—a dual British/Swedish citizen--takes us to a future Stockholm where he blends the underlying concerns of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium books with the virtual worlds of William Gibson to confront us with some unpalatable truths of our modern life and those that pay the highest price to maintain it.

Perhaps you immediately think of Scandi Noir? I suspect the agent I mention below probably did. Whilst the territory is necessarily dark, I felt I could bring a fresh take by setting it about 30 years in the future and bringing some hope into the mix and of course some other interesting elements.

I took this summary with me as I attended the writers’ workshop held at the London World Science Fiction convention 4 years ago. We were visited by an agent, and I pitched the novel. He seemed to like it and we had some correspondence following the convention. Once I had a few chapters under my belt he suggested sending them to him to look at. Since most agents these days won’t look at something before a full draft is completed, it was an enormous encouragement, and an incentive to start writing the book. This happy beginning was thwarted by two major obstacles. 1. The next stage in the agent process—if they like the first few chapters—is an outline of the whole book. I didn’t have one and I felt I really needed one, I couldn’t pants it—writers’ slang for making it up as you go along. So I felt there was no point getting the agent’s interest only to fall at the next stage. 2. I have always prioritized my day job and that suddenly swallowed both my time and more importantly my emotional wherewithal to write. If you listen to the podcast you’ll much more about the whole process of bring the novel to life.

It is dangerous to boldly declare a title when title choices are one of the more fluid aspects of publishing fiction—unless you are planning to self-publish. In this case, however, the whole novel springs out of this title, and it also part of the mystery. It is a metaphor, in the virtual worlds of the novel, for the future form of today’s internet, cyberspace. So it’s a lament for what the future internet may become. Interestingly, Tim Berners-Lee, the originator of the current World Wide Web has also lamented what has happened to his creation..

What we remember defines so much of our personalities, robbed of this gift our identities are distorted. The people robbed are on the margins of Swedish society and the story follows a red thread from pornography and sexual abuse to prostitution and sex trafficking. In the midst of this we meet a family broken by tragedy and yearning for answers.

This year marked the inaugural Stockholm Writers’ Festival. On the back of this they established a new, annual International literary competition for the first five pages of a long work of fiction or fact. To my surprise and encouragement, my novel’s first 5 pages made longlist. That is, I was in the last 30 of more than 250 entries from around the world. The judge, who had a strong literary fiction background, made the comment that he was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the writing coming from authors of genre fiction…

Of course, it needs to be finished and redrafted—with the help of my beta readers— but with the podcast soon to be released (links will follow shortly) I have nailed my colours to the mast as a novelist and not just short story writer. Watch this space.

Ursula K. Le Guin

UpdatesPosted by C. John Mon, March 19, 2018 21:53:44

With the haunting vocals of The Cranberries’ Dolores O’Riordan still echoing through my brain (due to her tragic early death at 46) I learnt of the passing at 88 of a true matriarch of science fiction and fantasy, Ursula K. LeGuin: one of my favourite authors. At least she had had a long and distinguished life rather than just a distinguished one. The week ended with the news of the departure another long-lived icon, Ingvar Kamprad (91), better known as the founder of the company that starts with his initials IKEA.

There are already many authoritative obituaries reviewing the life and work of Ursula Le Guin, and I take the wise path started by Alastair Reynolds of linking to them rather than attempting my own.



What I write now is purely a personal reflection. My path of reading SF started with E.E. (Doc) Smith purely on the basis of the Chris Foss covers. However, I soon discovered the grand old Triumvirate of Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein. During this time I was starting to appreciate the writing dimension of the work and recognising though I enjoyed the stories I was reading the writing and characterisation wasn’t in the same league as some of the mundane fiction I read. I was starting to appreciate the role of style in writing and had latched on to Roger Zelazny. I cannot remember the first thing I read of Ursula’s. It was probably one of her shorter works, perhaps The Word for World is Forest? It was also a process where my reading of SF was beginning to catch up with what was currently being written, (given the E.E. (Doc) Smith was first published in the I930’s) though most of what I read of Ursula’s had been written many years before I got to it.

During my undergraduate studies, I had little time to read science fiction. I was very focused on science itself. However, my final year research project happened after my final exams, and we were not allowed to work very late in the labs. So for the first time in several years, I had evenings free. I devoured The Left Hand of Darkness swiftly followed by The Dispossessed. While I admired both, I was more taken with The Dispossessed, perhaps because of the central scientist character. Nowadays it seems there is more focus on The Left Hand of Darkness because of its gender perspective. I read virtually all her published books after that. As another critic has commented, Earthsea is perhaps her most perfect work. Reading Ursula propelled me towards a number of other female authors, including Joan Vinge, Vonda McIntyre, Kate Willhelm, C.J. Cherryh, Mary Gentle and several more.

Although I had caught and admired several of Gene Wolfe’s short stories before this, it was Ursula’s quotation on the back of the Shadow of the Torturer “Wolfe is so good he leaves me speechless” that launched me fully into his work. The Book of the New Sun is probably my favourite piece of SF. Ursula had a unique position not only because of her excellent body of work but also because she was a pathfinder and promoter for many other great authors.


UpdatesPosted by C. John Sun, December 17, 2017 15:11:51

This isn't a reference to my demise, but the appearance of my latest short story “The Mask Maker of Venezia” it’s set in Venice, imagining that sea-going dinosaurs didn’t go extinct.

Several think this is my best story so farsmiley

Details of Extinct?

Edited by Dana Bell

The theme of the anthology is what would happen if something didn’t go extinct. How would the world be different? They are a mixture of fantasy and science fiction stories.

Paperback copy is Available from Amazon.co.uk


From Amazon.com


These links lead to both Paperback and Kindle versions

If you want a cheaper electronic version

Here is the code to download an Ebook copy of Extinct? With 25% discount at Smashwords:

Go to https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/757974 and use coupon code: FW94X

This offer ends 31st December 2017. You need to join Smashwords to do this, but it’s a free join up.

Some week...

UpdatesPosted by C. John Fri, April 14, 2017 17:23:09

This is mostly a blog about SF and Science, I live in a sleepy suburb of Stockholm and nothing much happens around here. Last week, however, was something else.

It started last Friday with work colleagues getting strange texts from their loved ones and it ended this Friday (today) with sub-machine guns in the garden. Between times it was fairly quiet, though...

Last Friday was the end of one of our more dramatic domestic weeks. Things that can go wrong in a house were going wrong. The boiler cut out leading to cold showers and a blockage in the main drain caused a flood of things that normally go down the toilet visiting our basement bathroom. No danger of even a cold shower until it was fixed by 24 hour plumbing service that our house insurance didn’t cover. So it was TGI Friday until the aforementioned texts.

The texts started just after three o’clock with reassurances from family members that all was okay when, of course, everything should be okay. Social media and the internet were consulted and the enfolding drama of the lorry attack in central Stockholm reached us.

My wife was returning from abroad, so I tried to locate my daughters. No answer from their phones. I warned my wife and it transpired both girls were out and about in central Stockholm, but thankfully unharmed. One wisely heads out of town on a bus before all public transport is stopped. The second gets trapped in the Central railway station and needs to be rescued. A long walk for father and daughter ensues. Thinking we were at a safe distance from similar events in London a few weeks before, it was quite a shock to have it happen so close to home. Though if you track back a few years the same street was subject to a potential suicide bomber, who only succeeded in blowing themselves up, rather than their intended targets.

So today, Good Friday and a public holiday, we were hoping for relaxation. And then a police car appears. The number of police cars visiting our neighborhood in the last 20 years is less than the number of fingers on my hand –and they never have their sirens blazing or their lights flashing like this one did. It is soon joined by another, and then an unmarked police car arrives and blocks off our road.

We stare out of our front windows and observe a large police van loitering just round the corner. What is going on? We hear the helicopter above and thus almost miss the initial appearance of the police dog scampering unhindered through our garden/yard. It is immediately followed by a posse of police officers in and out of uniform but all armed with automatic rifles. They rendezvous outside our front gate, leaving it wide open. (This leads to a wild theory that we have now discovered why we often find the aforementioned gate open at the end of the day when it is closed in the morning smiley)

We try to attract the policemen’s attention but they are focused on the task in hand. Local media gossip reveals that a car that was involved in a robbery a mile kilometre or so up the road has crashed close by and the thieves have dispersed into our immediate neighbourhood. We are saying goodbye to an American friend from Chicago, so she leaves with a different impression of Sweden from the one she might have had. Though she is hardly fazed by the drama, given her home city.

Making Waves

UpdatesPosted by C. John Mon, February 15, 2016 22:16:22

This week, on Thursday, I shattered Swedish social conventions and started a conversation with a total stranger on a bus. Hence the title? Perhaps, but other waves were the focus of my attention and the attempted bus conversation.

My area of science is focused on the intricacies of small molecules in living cells, however, I sometimes look up to the “Big Science” going on around. And with my renewed interest in SF, I find myself drawn to important events especially in astronomy. Last week there was an announcement that some commentators (scientists not journalists!) have said is as big as the discovery of the Higgs Boson or DNA. The last statement shows it was a physicist rather than a biochemist speaking. Watson and Crick only discovered the structure of DNA, not its existence.

My newsfeed had alerted me to the fact that something big about the possible detection of gravitational waves was going to come on Thursday. But my story begins on the commuter bus on Wednesday.

When I get on the bus I usually have to stand. At the next stop most of the passengers disgorge and I go and find a seat for the rest of the journey. On Wednesday I sat behind somebody who is working hard on his laptop. Due to the positioning of the seats I was perched above him and could clearly see the screen. In contrast the usual Excel spread sheet or Word document that my fellow passengers wrestle with on the way to work, this was a Powerpoint presentation relating to aspects of astronomy. It looked really interesting—but of course, you would never break out of your own little world and cross the gulf greater than intergalactic space to another human being. So I didn’t.

Thursday was a repeat of the previous day. And again I found myself behind the astronomer. This time on the screen were slides relating to gravitational waves and I remembered the announcement that should come on this day. Something in my gut was telling me to use this announcement to open a conversation. Nonetheless, the journey was half completed before I launched forth in Swedish, excusing myself. He wasn’t comfortable in Swedish and we switched to English, which suited me fine.

I found myself in an enthusiastic conversation about the significance of the waves (the final proof of one of the predictions of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity) and the likely possibility that the announcement would be significant. My astronomer was working on gamma radiation from black holes and black holes—or the collision thereof—were the likely source of the gravitational waves. So a better person to talk to about this, I could not find. And he had insider hints that this really was going to be the big one and not the damp squib that happened last year with the gravitational waves and Big Bang (see postscript).

So on Thursday two momentous events occurred. The final observation of gravitational waves, sealing General Relativity and a conversation between two strangers on a Swedish bus.

P.S. I have long been mulling on a story tentatively titled “The Beginning of Everything” and now perhaps there is a validated method to take the steps back to the Big Bang via gravitational waves. This was a promise that had been made and broken in the previous year A story that metaphorically and literally had turned to dust when the observations were discovered to be an artifact of galactic dust and not gravitational waves from the Big Bang.

A view on Star Wars on the 14th of December 2015

UpdatesPosted by C. John Tue, December 15, 2015 08:41:26

The date is very significant. It is a view written before the general release of The Force Awakens. And it begins with a prediction: a predication about the reviews that will come following the release if the film. No spoilers here.

Whilst there will be some that say this is the best Star Wars yet, that the mythology has been fully restored, and JJ is destined for sainthood, there will be others wishing him to fall on his sword-and if he cannot provide his own they’ll willing help out, at least metaphorically.

But I suspect the majority will say it’s not as good as the originals, but at least a whole lot better than the prequels. I have some further comments to make on those demonized films later--but this prediction may seem blindingly obvious. Yes it is, but a more interesting question is why?

I think the mythos surrounding Star wars is about recovering childhood dreams. Or not.

Were the originals made for children (as has been suggested about the first of the prequels)? Well, I remember a quote taken from George Lucas (and I paraphrase) “I never expected to end up making films for children” So possibly. But the originals and the prequels too were a reflection back to the experience of Saturday Matinee cinema established for kids where we find Flash Gordon looming in shades of grey. An interesting aside relating to this comes from the blog of SF author, Peter F. Hamilton. He took his young son to the 3D version of the Phantom Menace. The son liked it, and when asked for a highlight the boy mentioned the funny guy, you know Binks. So what I am suggesting is that your view point will reflect the age you first experience the films. I was just out of school and experiencing my first attempt at living away from home when I saw the original film, so still a big kid at heart. It is clear nobody and nothing is going to be able to recapture that moment. So the prequels were destined to fail for the generation that grew up with the originals.

Now to a confession. I actually quite enjoyed them, and I might say though the first trilogy’s Empire Strikes Back is something of a high watermark (I saw it at the massive Leicester Square Odeon cinema in London - and it blew me away). The Return of the Jedi, with Ewoks.... Hum.

So what was it that appealed to me about the prequels? Well I actually thought that Ewan McGregor cut a dashing young Alec Guinness and then there was the art. Now my favourite game when I was younger was Myst and particularly its sequel, Riven. I thought those games should have been reclassified as a work of art. I love the realism that 3D computer art brought in to my dream worlds making them concrete. I remember Andy Serkis and Gollum here, not Jar Jar.

Visually, the original Star Wars used 2001 special effects to tell a story which my Dad (a westerns buff) reported back was “Cowboys in Space”. The space fantasies I had dreamed about as a child were there on the big screen and looked real. Though to the discerning eye they were limited by the technology of the day. By the time the prequels came along 3D computer art was reaching new heights and we saw this on the screen. So my appreciation here comes perhaps more for the artwork and less for the story telling. Nonetheless I really enjoyed “Attack of the Clones”.

As a post-script to these comments I just watched a rescreening of the original Star Wars on TV (part of the media hype to the Force Awakens). Maybe it was because it was on the small screen, maybe it’s because I have become old and jaded, but the magic wasn’t there any longer for me. Let’s see what this new film awakens

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