Category: Writing

The Cat is a Harsh Mister – A Review

With scincere apologies to the legacy of Robert A Heinlein.

[Scene: the south drawing room, Felapton Towers]

[Camestros Felapton] I think the decorators took the theme too literally…
[Timothy the Talking Cat] You mean the paper floor and walls and the rough pencil sketches of furniture and windows?
[CF] Yeahhhh
[Timothy] You have to admit they did a fine job of the billiard room though.
[CF] Well a room shaped like a giant billiard ball with nothing but billiard balls inside it, is in essence, just a very big ball pit.
[Timothy] Exactly! It’s not like either of us would ever play billiards.
[CF] I can’t fault your reasoning there Tim. But enough critiquing of eccentric interior design, were we not intent on reviewing some work of science fiction?
[Timothy] Yes indeed! One of my favourites ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress‘ by Robert Heinlein.
[CF] I thought you and he didn’t get on?
[Timothy] We had our artistic differences but I admire his work. In particular, the political insights of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress have been very influential on my ideological development.
[CF] Well confession time! I haven’t read it.
[Timothy] WHATTTT???? You call yourself an official-a-now-doll of science fiction and yet you haven’t read one of the greatest works of the twentieth century by one of the most versatile writers of speculative fiction that ever lived?
[CF] Did you just say ‘an official-a-now-doll’?
[Timothy] It’s a fancy term for somebody who knows a lot about a thing – like he is a doll that is officially now. See? That’s ate-him-ology.
[CF] I…no never mind…how about we do this as an interview? I’ll ask you questions about the book and you can tell me things about it.
[Timothy] No, that’ll never work. I haven’t read the book.
[Timothy] Oh! How about I ask YOU questions about the book! That way I’ll find out all about it.
[CF] No but…
[Timothy] Hmm, no that won’t work you’ll just say stupid leftist stuff.
[CF] No I won’t!
[Timothy] Oh, well, in that case, we can go ahead with my plan.
[Timothy] Well then you shouldn’t have agreed to be interviewed about it. No, no, we’ll just have to carry on – that way you’ll learn a valuable lesson about doing your homework before agreeing to an interview.
Ahem…Question one. So what’s the book about then?
[CF] [peering at his phone and obviously reading:]

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress is a 1966 science-fiction novel by American writer Robert A. Heinlein, about a lunar colony’s revolt against rule from Earth. The novel expresses and discusses libertarian ideals. It is respected for its credible presentation of a comprehensively imagined future human society on both the Earth and the moon.”*

[Timothy] Oh, you cheat! You are just reading out the Wikipedia page!
[CF] The irony is that was the only thing I knew about the book.
[Timothy] Put that phone away! Next question. Who are the main characters?
[CF] I’ve no idea? Bob? Frank?
[Timothy] Hmmm, sounds interesting. Which one is the good guy?
[CF] (sigh) Frank and he lives on the moon and Bob is the bad guy and he lives on Earth.
[Timothy] Motivation?
[CF] Well Frank just wants to be left alone on the moon but Bob keeps asking him annoying questions.
[Timothy] That no good statists Earther scum! What’s he look like?
[CF] Bob well he’s about your hight, purple and has whiskers.
[Timothy] So quite handsome for a villain? See, that’s Heinlein working his magic – instead of an ugly bad guy he picks somebody who looks quite debonair.
[CF] Yup, quite the master craftsman.
[Timothy] Then what happens?
[CF] OK, I’ll act it out. Can you play Bob for a moment and I’ll be Frank?
[Timothy] OK – OH! Can I twirl my whiskers villainously?
[CF] By all means!
[Timothy] Ho ho! I’m the evil Earther villain Bob! You’ve got to do as I say!
[CF] No way! I’m Frank and as an independent moon living man, I just want to do my own thing!
[Timothy] You dare defy the might of world government of EARTH!
[CF] Yes! [Walks over to Timothy, picks him up by the scruff of the neck, opens a badly drawn window and drops the cat outside.}
[Timothy] oofff!
[CF] I can’t believe that worked! Time for some peace and quiet for once!

[A horrific tearing noise breaks the silence. Camestros turns to see razor-sharp claws shredding the walls of the south drawing room from the outside. Timothy’s head pushes through one of the tears.]

[Timothy] HERES BOBBBYYYY!!!!!
[CF] Eeep!
[Timothy] Ha! Foolish Frank – you underestimated the power, determination and claw sharpness of Earth’s government. I’m here to subjugate THE MOON!
[CF] Yeah well I’m guessing you didn’t bet on me asserting my god given right to bear arms with this GIANT ROLL OF DRAWING PAPER!
[Timothy] You vandal! That was the lounge!
[CF] Yeah well now it is my sovereign right to self-defence! CHARGGGGEEEE!!!!!
[Timothy] Eeeep!
[Chaos briefly ensues]

[Enter: Mr Atomic]
[Mr Atomic] Stop this chaos! I HOLMES IV, the moon’s sentient computer otherwise known as Mike, aka Adam Selene ersatz leader of the lunar rebellion command you to stop making all this mess!
[CF] Who?
[Mr Atomic] Mike Holmes – it’s a character from ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress’.
[Timothy] Wait? You’ve actually read it?
[Mr Atomic] Obviously – it is one of the finest works of science fiction from the twentieth century!
[Timothy – turning toward Camestros] See – I told you so.
[CF] Earther scum.

[Timothy] OK final ratings:
[Camestros] I give it 10 out of 10 for actually existing as a book and not just a fake title we made up.
[Mr Atomic] I found the themes of artificial intelligence are under-appreciated in this science fiction masterwork: 9 out of 10. I’d give it more but it has too many fleshy humans in it.
[Camestros] No offence taken.
[Mr Atomic]  None intended.
[Timothy] I give it 11 out of 10 because I got to twirl my whiskers. Also we don’t seem to have a south drawing room any more.

*[ ]


Star Trek Discovery Season 2 Scripts Scoop! A Felapton Towers exclusive!

Where next for Star Trek Discovery? The hit and miss Trek prequel has been greenlit for a second season but with major characters either dead or traitors of one kind or another, it is hard to see where the show can go in season 2.

As people now know, I am secretly the husband of many, many famous people including Vladimir Putin, Chuck Tingle and some top Hollywood scriptwriters. Using my manifold connections I have secured the Season 2 Episode 1 script! Yes, golly gosh and wow!

Major news! A beloved character from a previous Trek spin-off will be a regular character. You’ll never guess who!

Obviously, spoiler aplenty below the fold.

Continue reading

7. Ask a Triceratops


This week – genre beets!

“Dear Susan,
I was told that every genre has particular story beats and that reader will be angry if they don’t see them in your story?
Is this true and what are they are?

Capt. Trope Dope”

Wow, beets. What a revelation.
Sure, we had root vegetables back in the day but these days? Amazing! I know I can be mean and unfair towards human ingenuity but you will never hear anything but praise form me about the human domestication of beta vulgarisms into a myriad of frankly delicious comestibles.

Let us run through some of the highlights:

  • Chard: be it red or green or every colour of Italy, this leafy ambrosia is both colourful and tasty. Sometimes it is called ‘perpetual spinach’ – doesn’t that sound like heaven! Put away that kale you paleo hipsters and get your mouths around the genetically modified wonder that is CHARD!
  • Sugar beet: You want a heavy sucrose hit? Well put away your sugarcane or your corn, this root has them all beet! Packed with sugar like its halloween but underground, it is the sugar source that you can grow in temperate countries!
  • Beetroot: Not only tasty raw, it is delicious baked AND you can use it to stain your hide when preparing for battle. Your enemies will cower in fear when they see the beetroot juice dripping from your mouth like you are some kind of vampire triceratops.
  • Mangel-wurzels: I can’t – I just can’t describe just how AMAZING the mangel-wurzel is. Why don’t humans build statues to them? You, as a species, literally systematically took one plant species and selectively bred them into a food item that is frankly one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted.

If you can’t beet them then eat them!

6. Ask A Triceratops


This week I take a look at choosing a program to write with:

“Dear Susan,
Top five writing programs?

Mrs. Type Cast”

I just use Notepad because I eschew formatting. I asked around to see what everybody else uses:

  • Camestros: First choice is Excel, then Word, then Pages (Mac), then Text Wrangler, then Notepad++ (he was unwilling to accept that Excel is not a writing program)
  • Timothy: Libre Office, Word
  • Straw Puppy: Scrivener
  • Mr Atomic: internal OS text editor
  • Random squirrel teasing Timothy: Microsoft Publisher
  • Nice Lady from the Post Office: Adobe In-Design (Creative Cloud)
  • Bortsworth Drycleaners: GNU emacs
  • Shadowy figure spotted in the abandoned Woolworths: astral projection of blood that seeps through the plaster of your walls

There are so many choices! Pick one that has the features you need for the writing you want to do. The only one I’d advise against is the one based on an ancient eldritch evil that may consume your soul i.e Microsoft Publisher.


5. Ask A Triceratops


This week I take a look at the erotic arts:

“Dear Susan,
Any suggestions for writing erotic yet tasteful sex scenes?

Mr. Sweet Sheets”

No, I’ve no suggestions. I don’t really understand mammal sex. Your obsession with including it in art puzzles me. Yes, it is natural and healthy but so is having a poop. Yes, I don’t understand the social importance of sex to mammals but think about poop. You, have all sorts of taboos and rituals around pooping. You have special rooms for pooping. You have a special machine in your special room that you use just for pooping into. In many places you wash away your poops with PURIFIED DRINKING WATER. You have special paper for wiping away poop remains. You have a whole subset of words just for pooping.

Now ask yourself: when is the last time a character in a book you read did a poop? Was it a nice satisfying poop or was it less than ideal? Was it loud? Was it soft? Was it moist?

Please do not misunderstand me. I don’t want to read about humans pooping. Yet your books and stories are all set in a fantasy world in which nobody poops. Poops are more universal than sex. More people poop than do sex things, and most people poop more often than they sex. This is where I suspect human fiction has skipped a step. Writing all the complex aspects of human sex things can’t be easy – I get that – yet you don’t practise writing more basic and more common activities like poops.

My simple writing tip for humans is this. Try writing poops before you write sex. If you can’t write poops (something you do most days) how are you going to write sex which is more complex and may involve more people?

4. Ask A Triceratops


This week I take a look at choosing your sub-genre:

“Dear Susan,
I’ve written an urban fantasy set in Victorian times. My boyfriend says that I can’t call it ’steampunk’ because it isn’t science-fiction but I don’t want to call it ‘gaslight’ because the whole story takes place outside in daytime. My mum says I should just call it urban fantasy but my Dad says paranormal romance will attract more readers.

Any advice for the right sub-genre?

Ms. Difference Engine”

Triceratopian literature also has many genres and sub-genres. A few examples:

  • A stupid t-rex tries to climb a tree and falls out and lands on somebody which hurts them [similar to the mammal notion of ‘tragedy’]
  • A drunken t-rex tries to climb a tree and everybody stands around laughing at them [similar to the mammal notion of ‘comedy’]
  • A drunken t-rex tries to climb a tree and falls out and lands on somebody which hurts them [tragi-comedy]
  • A drunken t-rex is too drunk to even try to climb the tree but not so drunk that they can’t explain to everybody how they are going to climb a tree but the only one who will listen is a triceratops who has misplaced their herd and really just wants advice on finding them [drama]
  • A t-rex gets drunk and eats a wizard [fantasy]
  • A t-rex invents a new way of getting drunk [science fiction]
  • An allosaurus gets drunk and tries to climb a tree and finds a wizard and eats it [historical fantasy]

Saying “my novel has a drunk t-rex and some trees” really isn’t enough to pick what genre it should be in! What story is not going to have a t-rex, some trees and some alcohol related incident?

One solution would be to add elements that make it clearly one genre rather than another. This can be quite forced and can make your story seem odd or unnatural.

A different solution is to clarify the genre-boundary in your book blurb e.g.:

“This novel is a cross between a t-rex gets drunk and eats a wizard stories and a drunken t-rex is too drunk to even try to climb the tree but not so drunk that they can’t explain to everybody how they are going to climb a tree but the only one who will listen is a triceratops who has misplaced their herd and really just wants advice on finding them stories.”

See? The reader knows what to expect now!

“Urban fantasy” will probably work just fine for your novel if you clarify some of the other features in your blurb. To help you along here is my suggestion:

“In Victorian London Elizabeth Hopsworthy finds herself lost in London’s majestic Hyde Park. Who are the strange figures she can see from the corners of her eyes? What kind of enchantment has befallen her? Did she drink one too many sherries? Maybe she could use her font limbs to climb a tree? Ooops! She has fallen out of the tree and landed on a triceratops injuring it. I bet that triceratops has quite the story to tell! Well I’m going to tell you about the time somebody told you the story that triceratops was going to tell!”

Or something like that. I should imagine that humans climbing trees does not have the same inherent dramatic tension as a t-rex trying to climb a tree, what with your longer fore-limbs and twiggy finger things and simian ancestory.

3. Ask A Triceratops


This week I take a look at e-book formats:

“Dear Susan,
MOBI or e-Pub? Which is best?

Sickof Peadeaeff”

Smart question. I find the best plan is to avoid making the choice at all! Use a tool like Calibre and you can move quickly and easily between formats. Alternatively you can consider using Smashword which will convert your book into multiple formats. The last thing you want to do is make life difficult for your readers.

Personally I write everything in plain text and the only concession I make to formatting is line breaks. When you’ve travelled through the eras as much as I have you learn one key fact: text formats keep changing! Who now uses the zqipo format beloved of the dinosapien civilisation of Nnnerrrrn? Nobody! When your only city and only online bookstore is little more than the eroded crater of a comet impact, you really can’t expect anybody to still be using your proprietary e-book file format!

And what of the far future? In fungus town people mainly stare at mould. Mould is a good choice because frankly there is always mould.