Monthly Archives: January 2013

A break from the normal… (part two)

Lovely response from the MIC hotel, which was the subject of my previous post:


Dear Keith

This has been forwarded to me by our reservations manager because in her judgement I ought to be the one responding to you. I can understand why!

What can I say really to your night of alarm torture in our hotel? Apologies would seem to be insufficient especially under the circumstances you found yourself in. And yet this is what I offer, our deepest apologies. It was one of those nights when technology which is supposed to protect us just goes berserk. Now as a recompense we give you the option of refund for whatever you paid for the night or a night free when you return to us next week and hope you to an alarm-free night. Not that this pays for the lack of sleep etc but it is hopefully some tonic.

Allow me to say, and this is not the usual gibberish from hotel owners, that what you experienced has never happened to us before. We have since invited the fire alarm specialist and they could not figure it out. What we have decided though is although the fire alarm control does work, we would rather get the whole of it changed rather than risk it ever acting in as a temperamental manner as it did. So there you have it Keith, as an ethical hotel, your sleep is personal to us.

I get your point about once bitten twice shy so the getcha point while ticklish is painful. But I promise you we are what it says on the tin and more and we continue to strive to live by those standards.

Can I also offer my deepest sympathies with your wife’s condition and hope that she will have a positive outcome in it all.

A break from the normal…

It’s been a long couple of weeks – far worse for my wife, Debbie, than for me. But anyhow… I’ve just written a rather long complaint to the really rather good hotel I stayed at last night (the MIC, currently being relaunched as the Wesley), and thought I’d share it here.


For the longest time yesterday, I thought I’d found a new favourite London hotel. For the past two weeks I’ve been staying in a number of hotels in the Euston area, first for a few days and then extending my stay day by day as circumstances dictated. I stayed in modern chain hotels, town house hotels, budget hotels, and all had their quirks.

(Those circumstances are that my wife has been in hospital at UCLH, first for an operation and then with her stay extended due to complications. Not that that’s entirely relevant to this message, but hey.)

So, where were we?

Ah yes, yesterday. When my wife took a turn for the worse, I decided to stay another night, and so, sitting at her bedside, I used my lovely new iPhone (a pre-hospital gift from my wife, not that that’s relevant either, but she’s very nice) to search for hotels nearby. Funnily enough, one of the first to catch my eye was the Wesley, but TripAdvisor didn’t have any further details. So I looked further: MIC was interesting, affordable, and was only a couple of streets away. What’s more, it’s run on ethical principles which is important to me (I once stood for election for the Green Party; not that that’s entirely relevant either, come to think of it). Perfect.

I booked a room, and checked in an hour or so later.

The room was easily the best I’ve stayed in recently. Beautifully fitted out, clean, spacious, lots of nice touches. The staff were very friendly, as was the midnight vacuum-cleaner man (we’ll come to him in due course). And, thank goodness, it was quiet! London hotels are rarely peaceful – I get that; I’ve stayed in lots. Usually you have to be about nine storeys up and at the back of the building for a chance of a peaceful night. The previous night I’d been along the road at the Euston Travelodge, with traffic and sirens making a din outside the window at all hours. In delightful contrast, my room at MIC/Wesley was tucked away at the back, with a window overlooking the Atrium. After two stressful weeks at the hospital, and living out of a suitcase, I was more than ready for a good night’s sleep. If anything, I felt guilty: two streets away my wife was having an awful time of it, and here I was, feeling like I was spoiling myself.

After taking my bag to my room (and sneaking a brief lie down in the peace and quiet: my guilt clearly had limits – the bed was very comfortable, after all), I returned to the hospital for the evening, staying on until about 11pm.

By the time I returned to my room, I was more than ready for a quiet night. I settled down in bed, texting my wife and watching a bit of TV (Embarrassing Bodies, I think – there was a man having a very uncomfortable operation, as I recall; you’d think I’d had enough hospitals for the day, but apparently not).

I was just starting to think about going to sleep when… remember I mentioned all the sirens the night before? At least they were outside the hotel. This time, it was inside my room: the fire alarm siren and flashing light.

Fair enough. I’d far rather hotels had fire alarms than didn’t, after all. So I leapt out of bed, threw on some clothes and opened the door. Interestingly, I’ve never been in that “what would you grab in the event of a fire?” situation, so I learned something that night: it was my new phone that I grabbed. (Was that a sentimental thing, as my wife had recently given it to me, or simply that I liked my new toy?) So, wearing most of my clothes and with my phone in hand, I stopped in the corridor and realised that it was only the alarm in my room going off: there was nobody else rushing out into the corridors, no other alarms going off.

I returned to bed.

This time, I turned the lights out and settled down to sleep. I might have mentioned that I was ready for it, after a difficult two weeks, and this – as I had thought – quiet room was perfect for my not unreasonable needs. You know that thing where you’re asleep almost as soon as your head hits the pillow. It’s a bit of a cliche, but, well, that night I did slide straight into the sleep of the exhausted.

Until, after only a few minutes, the alarm went off again. It’s even more dramatic when the lights are out, and the only illumination is the flashing fire alarm. I’m a little deaf, but I can assure you that the alarm was loud enough, as well as bright enough, to serve its purpose. I think we can safely say that your fire alarm would wake even someone in a very heavy sleep. Indeed, it did. And then it did again, and again.

When I went down to reception to ask what was happening, the lady behind the desk said that there was a problem with the system and they would have to call the engineers (I believe only a handful of rooms were affected). There was also a very nice man with a vacuum cleaner, who came up to my room to see if he could see anything wrong, but he couldn’t. It was very nice of him, though. (See? I told you we’d get to him.)

Assured that the staff were on the case, I retreated to my room, went back to bed, did that thing where your head hits the pillow and… I think you can guess what’s coming, can’t you? After only a few more minutes’ sleep, the alarm went again.

This could get tedious and even more long-winded if I were to recount the details of every time this happened. Suffice to say that it did this eight times, between 11pm and 1.30am. I’m reminded of a game of pool I had as a student. My opponent had me down as a bit of a hustler, and said he’d only play me if I’d give him two gertchas. I didn’t know what he meant, but went along with it anyway. When I went to play my first shot, he reached round from behind me and tickled me (far too hard – it hurt more than tickled), saying “Gertcha!” This threw me off my game quite considerably, particularly as I realised that it wasn’t the first gertcha that mattered, it was that every time you went to play another shot you were waiting for the second one. I won the game, regardless, but that’s not the point. The point is that, even when the fire alarm had stopped misbehaving after that eighth time at around 1.30 in the morning, I spent the rest of the night waiting for the ninth gertcha.

I’m still not sure if I’ve found a new favourite London hotel. I’ll be back in London next week and will need to stay in the Euston area, but I’m really not sure that, nice as the hotel is, I’ll fully trust that I can get a full night’s sleep there.

Which is a shame, really.

Best wishes, from a very tired,

Keith Brooke

Snapshots: David D Levine interviewed

Space Magic by David D LevineWhat are you working on now?
I’m currently writing a YA Regency Interplanetary Airship Adventure. (Yes, another one of those. Sorry.) It takes place during the English Regency in a world in which the solar system is full of air and it’s possible to travel to Mars and Venus by airship. Naturally both of those planets are inhabited. My main character, Arabella Ashby, is a young woman who was born and raised on Mars but was recently hauled back to Earth by her mother, who didn’t want her youngest daughters growing up surrounded by aliens and turning out as wild as Arabella. Arabella, child of the frontier, is a Patrick O’Brian girl in a Jane Austen world; she’s stifled by England’s gravity, climate, and culture and dearly misses her father and brother, who remain on Mars. When her father dies and she learns her evil cousin plans to travel to Mars to kill her brother and inherit the family fortune, she disguises herself as a boy and joins the crew of a fast merchant ship in hopes of beating him there. But pirates, mutiny, and rebellion intervene. Will she reach her brother in time?

This novel takes place in the same universe as my story “The Wreck of the Mars Adventure” in Old Mars, edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, which will be published in October.

What have you recently finished?
My most recently completed short story, titled “Goat Eyes,” is based on a question that has been kicking around the back of my head for years. Suppose you — the actual you, in the real world — discovered that vampires actually exist. How would this affect your life going forward? How would it change your behavior and worldview? This story is currently under consideration at an anthology.

What’s recently or soon out?
My short story collection Space Magic will be out on January 15 from Book View Café. This collection of 15 science fiction and fantasy stories won the Endeavour Award, for the best SF or Fantasy book by a Pacific Northwest writer, when it came out in paperback a few years ago, and now it’s available as an ebook from all the major ebook stores as well as directly from This is my first venture into e-publishing, and if it is successful there will be more.

In addition to the collection itself, $5.99 for all 15 stories, I’m also making the stories available for 99¢ each, following the iTunes singles-and-album model. It turns out that creating and uploading a single-story ebook is almost exactly as much work as a full novel ebook, so the work involved in doing it this way was much greater than I’d anticipated. I hope it pays off. If nothing else, I think, having 16 titles in the bookstores will make it more likely that people will find me than if there were just one.

Describe your typical writing day.
Lately I’ve been spending a lot more time on what my friend Jay Lake calls “writing-related program activities” such as e-publishing, promotion, and submission than I have on the actual writing. This kind of stuff can take up a surprising amount of time. For example, when a short story is rejected (and yes, I get rejections all the time) I often find that it takes an hour or more to decide where to send it next. Even though I have a spreadsheet with a list of markets to submit each story to, a lot of the time when I go to submit I discover that a market is temporarily or permanently closed or I already have a story in submission there. So then I need to research markets, see if there are any new ones, and determine which of the currently-available markets is the best fit for this story. So just at the moment my typical “writing” day doesn’t involve any writing at all! I hope to change this in the new year.

What would you draw attention to from your back-list?
Although “Tk’Tk’Tk” won the Hugo Award and has been translated into seven languages, the story I am proudest of is “The Tale of the Golden Eagle.” That’s the only story I’ve ever written that made me cry. Both of them are now available as ebooks, as part of Space Magic and as individual stories.

Which other authors or books do you think deserve a plug?
Tobias Buckell is a fine writer who is doing excellent work straddling the divide between self-publishing and traditional publishing; Mary Robinette Kowal is an inspiration to me with her broad range of long and short fiction and her selfless work with SFWA; and Jay Lake is a good friend and extremely talented writer who doesn’t let his serious health issues get in his way.

If you were to offer one snippet of writing advice what would it be?
Write. Finish what you write. Submit it to a paying market. Keep submitting until it sells.

In this modern world, “submit” may mean to self-publish and “until it sells” may mean “until it sells enough copies to make you happy,” but, at this point in the evolution of the industry, whether to self-publish or seek traditional publication is a personal decision. But the basic idea of continuing to write, finishing what you start, and putting it out there for people to buy has not changed.

So… the easy one: what’s the future of publishing? How will writers be making a living and publishing in five or ten years? What will readers be reading?
I anticipate that the current free-for-all will not last. We are in a period of chaos right now, with the former “Big Six” New York publishers losing control of the industry they used to dominate, and individual writers can make a big splash. But large corporations always win out in the end (look at the fate of small independent bookstores, video stores, coffee shops, and gas stations in the past decades). In five or ten years there will be a new Big Six of publishing, and I expect that four of them will be Amazon, Google, Apple, and Wal-Mart.

What will readers be reading? Same as today: most people will read bestsellers, based on recommendations from their friends and trusted media sources, but a significant minority will seek out quirky independent works that match their idiosyncratic tastes. The latter readers are the ones I’m writing for.

What are you most excited about?
I have been working on a video based on my story “Letter to the Editor” in the forthcoming anthology The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination, edited by John Joseph Adams. It will be going live on January 21 and I think people will like it a lot. I am also extremely excited by my new web page,, which looks fantastic.

Space Magic by David D Levine

David D. Levine is the author of over fifty published science fiction and fantasy stories. His work has appeared in markets including Asimov’s, Analog,F&SF, and Realms of Fantasy and has won or been nominated for awards including the Hugo, Nebula, Sturgeon, and Campbell. He lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife Kate Yule, with whom he co-edits the fanzine Bento. His web page is at

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Garry Kilworth: an extract from On My Way To Samarkand – memoirs of a travelling writer

On my way to Samarkand - memoirs of a travelling writer, by Garry Douglas KilworthHere’s a traveller’s tale set in Thailand. We wanted to journey by train from Bangkok to Chang Mai on an overnight sleeper train. Just obtaining the ticket turned the clock back to a time when Rudyard Kipling was in his youth. First we obtained a number at a kiosk. We took that number, just a simple figure like 8 or 9, to an office where a man wrote our names in a great ledger. We then went to another office where we were assigned seats and canvas bunk beds that unrolled from the side of the carriage. Finally, we went to the last office, where we were issued with tickets for the 6 pm train to Chang Mai.

We were excited. This was our first long rail trip in the Far East.

At quarter-to-six that evening we boarded a train which said ‘Bangkok to Chang Mai’ on the side in big letters. The platform from which it was leaving was registered on both our tickets. We stowed our luggage, sat in our seats and were delighted to be served curry from a man who had a portable paraffin stove set up in the linked bit between the next carriage and ours. We had especially opted for no air conditioning, because we like the climate of Thailand and don’t like to freeze.

The train pulled out at precisely 6 pm.

Once out in the countryside we would stop only at the odd station, but on the edge of Bangkok there were a number of suburban halts where people could board. At about 7 pm a Thai family entered our carriage. There was dad, mum and two children. The mild-looking man confronted us, inspected his own tickets, and said politely, ‘Madam and sir, you are in our seats.’

I took out our tickets, looked at the seat numbers, checked the carriage number, and shook my head.

‘I’m sorry, you’ve made a mistake. These are our seats.’

He shrugged and showed me his tickets. I showed him mine. They were identical. Damn railway clerks, I thought. They’ve either sold the seats twice, or made a stupid error. All those ledgers too! You would think the system infallible with so much bureaucracy.

‘I must fetch the ticket inspector,’ said the Thai gentleman. ‘He’ll know what to do.’

‘Good idea,’ I replied, safe in the knowledge that possession was nine tenths of the law. ‘He’ll sort it out.’

In the meantime I offered my seat to the man’s wife and Annette chatted to the two children.

The ticket inspector turned out to be a corpulent official covered in gold lanyards, medals and scrambled egg. He looked like an amiable general in Thailand’s army. However, he was accompanied by a lean narrow-eyed lieutenant who wore a gun at his hip. This one looked like an officer in the Vietcong, the one from the movie The Deerhunter who keeps yelling, ‘Wai! Wai! Wai!’ or some such word into the ear of Robert de Niro. This man’s hand never left his gun butt as he stared at me from beneath the slanted peak of his immaculate cap.

Neither of these rail officials spoke English.

The ticket inspector studied all the tickets on show and then spoke softly to the gentleman with the nice family.

‘He wants to know,’ said the gentleman, turning to me, ‘why you are on the wrong train?’

We were nonplussed. Stunned.

‘What wrong train?’ I argued. ‘This is the 6 pm from Bangkok to Chang Mai, isn’t it?’

‘No,’ came the calm reply, ‘this is the 3 pm from Bangkok to Chang Mai, running late as usual.’

‘What? You mean…’

‘All trains run late here, sir. The 6 pm will still be standing in the station. The ticket inspector says you will have to get off at the next station and wait for your right train.’

Annette and I stared out of the window at the blackness rushing by. The jungle stations we swept through had no lights whatsoever. They were deep pits of darkness in a world of slightly lesser darkness. I had visions of standing on one of those rickety wooden platforms trying to flag down an express. It was scary. Too scary to contemplate. I’m sure the people who lived near those stations were perfectly respectable citizens, but the night-time jungle does things with the imagination. There was no way we were going to get off our train, now that we were rattling towards Chang Mai.

Through our gentleman translator we managed to persuade the inspector to let us stay on the train. At first he wanted to sell us first class tickets to the air conditioned compartments. When that didn’t work – Annette digging in her heels – he found us similar seats to the ones we already had. It occurred to me he could have done that in the first place, but since all was well that ended well, I really didn’t care.

There is a post script to this short tale.

To avoid any repetition of this near horror story, we chose to return to Bangkok by a reliable bus. Annette and I boarded the coach to find our booked seats occupied by two young men in orange robes. Conscript monks. It seems that Thai men are expected to spend one year in the army and then one year as a Buddhist monk. During that latter year they are apparently entitled to all sorts of privileges, such as nicking booked seats with impunity. They are untouchable in that sense. These two refused even to make eye contact with us.

They wouldn’t budge. They knew their rights.

A fierce woman conductor intervened. She told Annette and me to ‘get off the bus’. We informed her we had tickets for the seats these two oranges were occupying. We were not going to leave. Other passengers began to get restless. The driver started looking panicky. Finally he came to us with his hands clasped as if in prayer and said, ‘Sir, Madam, I beseech you. I implore with you to understand my problem and leave the bus.’ We sighed, gave up and got off the vehicle. It’s a tough man who can withstand a Thai beseeching, I can tell you. Tougher than me, anyway. We collected our luggage from underneath the bus and waited for another coach. Hopefully Chang Mai had run out of monks and we could get back to Bangkok on the next one. And where do Thai bus drivers learn English words like ‘beseech’? I guarantee half the population of the English-speaking world doesn’t use that word. He had probably read Chaucer and Piers Ploughman, while all I know of the Thai language is ‘Good day’.

On My Way To Samarkand is available in ebook and print editions:

On my way to Samarkand - memoirs of a travelling writer, by Garry Douglas Kilworthebook:

Up for a Dick

Harmony by Keith BrookeLovely to wake up this morning to the news that alt.human/Harmony has been shortlisted for the Philip K Dick Award for best original paperback.

For an author who’s spent the last twenty-five years chugging along in the background it’s quite a shock, to say the least.

Result to be announced on Friday, March 29, 2013 at Norwescon 36 in Seattle.

Hell’s a Good Joke: Jason Erik Lundberg on the inspiration behind The Alchemy of Happiness

The Alchemy of Happiness, by Jason Erik LundbergIt all started with a sculpture.

In 1999, when I was still an unpublished newbie, I attended the World Horror Convention in Atlanta, where some of the notable writer guests included Neil Gaiman, John Shirley, Michael Bishop, Caitlín R. Kiernan, and Ramsey Campbell. At that point, I thought that I might still be a horror writer, even though my innate squeamishness for violence and terror was beginning to win the battle for my chosen subject matter, and I attended very much because of the writers there. However, on the second day of the convention, at the urging of several new friends, I made my way into the art show, and beheld the gloriously dark and whimsical sculpture work of Lisa Snellings, who was the Artist Guest-of-Honor. Her smaller pieces made me smile and her larger kinetic works (including the moving Ferris wheel that inspired the anthology Strange Attraction, edited by Edward E. Kramer) filled me with wonder, but it was her largest piece on display that literally stole the breath from my lungs.

Named “If Love’s a Fine Game, Hell’s a Good Joke,” the sculpture consisted of two life-sized harlequins, one balancing on the knees of the other; the expressions that Lisa had so painstakingly crafted on their faces were so devilish and sly that, right there on that spot, I conceived of the siblings Blue and Dane: immortals, manipulators, elementals.

When I got home from the convention, I immediately cast these two characters in a novelette called “Wicked Game” (which can be found in my ebook collection The Curragh of Kildaire). The story examined the shifting balance of control that comes with power both earned and taken; it also established the borstal plane, a dimension of existence that both acts as a prison and as the source of all the magic in the world, a locale I would visit again in my prose. I later returned to the siblings in a middle-grade story called “Watersnake, Firesnake,” but this time put them in a distinctly Asian setting, as the antagonists of a young boy who has found a phoenix egg.

Several years passed, and I grew as a writer, and Blue and Dane refused to go away, insisting that I hadn’t yet finished telling their story. It took time, but three substantial works of fiction came into existence that further explored the power dynamics of their relationship, and the consequences of their long-term meddling in human affairs.

The Alchemy of Happiness is the result, an interwoven tripartite narrative collecting “Reality, Interrupted,” “In Jurong,” and “Always a Risk” for the very first time.

Red Dot Irreal, by Jason Erik LundbergThe collection’s title riffs on that of the ancient Islamic text Kimiya-yi Sa’adat by the Sufi philosopher Abu ?amid Mu?ammad ibn Mu?ammad al-Ghazali, as well as the science of alchemy that sought to harness the four classical elements (two of which my characters physically embody). However, whereas al-Ghazali’s text was designed as a moral guide toward a more fulfilling spiritual life, mine is open-ended, a question rather than an answer. Through their constant searching, will Blue and Dane ever find that existential bliss toward which all of us are striving? Or will their millennia of manipulation and destruction leave them forever in a state of metaphysical suffering?

The Alchemy of Happiness is available now from infinity plus book. Also included in this ebook volume is a hybrid-essay called “Embracing the Strange,” which looks at my own personal journey for happiness and fulfillment through the lens of speculative fiction, as well as a wide-ranging interview by Singaporean author and editor Wei Fen Lee.

And as a special bonus, anyone who buys the ebook gets a link to download the expanded second edition of my collection Red Dot Irreal completely for free.

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