I found an old notebook on the shelf.

It’s not dated, but judging from the handwriting and some of the things that are referenced, I’d say it starts around sixth form (that’s age 17) and goes up to some time after I went to university.

It’s a fun read – it begins with what I think was my first real attempt at properly planning a story – character maps and notes on the world government and all.  There are even some notes on architecture and little drawings – to scale – of some of the physics involved.

The story plan concerns the (highly probable) situation in which the moon’s orbit has started to decay.  Scientists managed to find a way to prop it up on giant struts, but clearly in the process some damage was done to the Earth’s atmosphere.  Now, everyone has to live in the shadow of the moon, otherwise they die of radiation poisoning.

Shadowland plot

The radiation has caused strange mutations in the twilight lands, where people get a reduced dose of the sun’s rays.  They don’t die outright, but they have mutations in the genes which cause features such as white fur to reflect the rays, dampeners in their eyes to reduce glare, etc.  These twilight people feel bitter because they are thought of as freaks, when in fact they are better suited to life now.  They grow crops which have also mutated, and try to sell them to the shadowlanders.

My main character was called Tim, and he was an “ordinary person” in his late teens/early twenties, who was claustrophobic – a problem since the moon hangs so low in the sky and everyone lives in a tightly packed space with lots of tunnels.  Apparently his parents were accountants!

For entertainment’s sake, I thought it would be interesting to take some of what I wrote then and compare it with what I would do now.  I reproduce it complete with spelling errors, amendments and so on.

Then:

Tim stepped out into the clear night air.  A slight breeze stirred his short brown hair.  Involuntarily, he glanced upwards, and shuddered.  His sad blue eyes closed, and he swallowed.  He could see the moon’s craters with his naked eyes.  It was too close, too close.

He looked out across the city, taking in the skyscrapers which rose tall as far as he could see.  Some of them were so tall you could almost reach out and touch the moon from the top of them.

Walking briskly down through the concrete jungle, Tim wrinkled his nose at the all-pervading stench of moon dust.

I bet they first men on the moon didn’t realise how bad it smells when the first put man on the moon, 2 centuaries ago, he thought bitterly.

And now:

Tim stepped out of the airlock and listened to the door swish closed behind him.  Within moments he was covered in a fine layer of moon-dust.  He cast a glance over his shoulder to check that the green ‘ready’ light had come on, confirming that he could re-enter the complex whenever he wanted.  It shone brightly, cutting through the gloom like a beacon welcoming him home.  With a slight pang he thought of his sister, left behind for now.  I will come back for her, he vowed, once I’ve found them.  We will be together again.

He settled his dust-mask more firmly on his face and squinted at the world.  Around him, towers rose high into the sky, packed tightly together.  Windows were few and far between, especially at ground level.  There was nothing to look at, after all, apart from dust and more towers.  He deliberately didn’t look up.  Tim had heard that from the highest towers you could see amazing views, even as far as the edge of the Shadow.  He’d heard that from the very tallest towers you could reach out and touch the moon.  He’d never been that high, of course.  Only the richest citizens were able to afford to live above the dust.

The gully he was in now was one of several that ran throughout the complex.  They were designed to give access to the outside of the massive building, for the maintenance crews.  In reality they were hardly used.  The complex was given the minimum maintenance possible to keep it standing.  There was no money for anything else, and no spare materials to do it with.  All of the dwindling resources of the planet were focused on one thing: the Struts.

He moved forward to the first cross-gully and looked to the left.  In the distance he could just make out Strut Three.  There were eight Struts in all, spaced evenly around the edge of the complex.  Each one was a couple of miles wide at the base, able to support massive weights on its own.  It still took eight of them to hold up the moon.  He shuddered as he considered what would happen if (when!) the Struts failed.  With the ozone layer and most of the upper atmosphere stripped away when the moon descended, the entire human race was packed tightly in the shadow lands.  If even one Strut gave way they would all be destroyed.

Tim smiled grimly.  Not all, not if the stories were true.  He hoped, needed the stories to be true.

Making sure his rucksack was firmly settled on his back, he set out towards the distant structure.  Soon he was breathing heavily.  Each breath in caused more dust to settle on his mask, clogging the filter.  Every time he breathed out he tried to dislodge some of it, only to have it settle again moments later.  He forced himself to carry on.  There would be less dust further out.  Everyone said so.  He tried not to think about how “everyone” knew such a fact when “no-one” went outside.

He wished he could have made this part of the journey inside.  The complex was interconnected all the way to the twilight lands, and even the broken-down air conditioning units and recycled oxygen would be better than this.  Ever since the corn riots last year the towers had been segregated, though, and coming up with good enough reasons to cross further and further from his home would be difficult.  He did not want to get arrested for travelling without permits or whatever made-up crime the government had come up with this month.

He plodded on, trying not to think.  After what seemed like hours he was jolted out of his half-doze by a sudden increase in the light.  He flinched, cowering towards the walls.  How had they found him so quickly?  He thought he had hidden his departure well enough that nobody would even be looking yet.

When nothing happened he looked around and laughed.  Along the walls of the gully lights were flickering on, illuminating everything.  It was night, and the lights were on a timer.  Almost every other bulb had blown, but the light was still brighter than the dust-filtered sunlight available during the day.  Why the outside lights were on when nobody worked out here he didn’t know.

Now that he had stopped he realised how tired he was.  Sinking down against the side wall he leant his arms on his knees and rested his head on them.  The movement knocked his dust mask sideways, and he breathed in a face full of moon-dust.

So there we go!  Leaving aside the totally plausible science behind the situation, I think my writing has improved. What do you think?

The daily prompt a few days ago asked us to look at our stats – which posts are our most popular?  What connects those posts?

My top three posts of all time are:

The first one, technically, is a page, not a post.  I’ll ignore that.  The link between the second two is clear – posts which link to other people’s blogs, so that their followers come to see who is giving them an award.  There’s only so many times you can do that before other bloggers start getting annoyed at you, so I chose to look a little further down the list.

Again, the link here is clear.  I obviously need to talk about superheroes more!

I have no problem with that.  I’m a pretty big fan of superheroes.  Especially ones with secret identities, and today I’m going to talk a little about why.

Growing Up Super

I was brought up on a diet of Superman – specifically, Lois and Clark, the New Adventures of Superman.  That’s the one with Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher, for those of you who don’t know all of the incarnations off the top of your head. I admit I became a little obsessed by it – I recorded every episode so that I could watch them again and again, and I was heavily into fanfiction from quite an early age.

Of course, there was also the fact that he was… quite pleasant on the eyes.

Later in life I discovered that Dean Cain caused a lot of controversy with the hard-core Super-fans, because (Shock! Horror!) he has brown eyes.  But growing up I have to admit that I didn’t even notice.  In fact, since it was the first version of the hero I had encountered, it seemed odd to me when I found out that all of the others have blue eyes.

What I loved about Dean Cain’s portrayal of Superman was that, primarily, he wasn’t Superman.  He was Clark Kent.  In fact, at the start of the first episode, Superman didn’t even exist.  He only came into existence because Lois spotted Clark just after he had rescued someone and told him he was dirty and should bring a change of clothes to work.

The show focused more on his daily life and his struggle to be both halves of his personality than it did on fighting super-villains (although there were a fair few of those).  Hiding often creates as many problems as it solves.

The point here, if I can drag myself back to it, is that Clark invented Superman as a way to hide who he was.  However, even before that he was hiding behind a pair of glasses and a loud tie, trying to pretend that he was normal.

It’s a great relief to a young girl to realise that even people who have the power to lift spaceships into orbit sometimes feel the need to hide.

Masks vs Hiding in Plain Sight

Later, I discovered other heroes.  Batman (Adam West version, of course!) was, in some ways, the complete opposite of Superman.  He spent more time as Batman than as Bruce Wayne – indeed it sometimes seemed that Bruce only existed to fund the fancy toys, and occasionally to be kidnapped.

Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb.

And he hid behind a mask.  The mask made it obvious that he was someone else.  He had something to hide.

Clark got away with a simple pair of glasses because everyone thought “hey, he’s not hiding his face, he clearly isn’t hiding anything else; he must spend all of his time as Superman.”  Everyone knew that Batman was really someone else, and some of the best plots revolved around people who were determined to discover who he was.

Is it somehow more honest to hide behind a mask?

If people think they are getting to know the real you, when in fact they are learning the mask, is that more deceitful than openly acknowledging that you are holding people at arms’ length?

What would the first human on Mars say?  The words chosen will echo through history in the same way that Neil Armstrong’s famous line has.  That’s a lot of pressure for whomever is chosen to be the first person on the planet.  They’d better pick something profound!

The BBC has been asking people to contribute on Twitter, using the hashtag #BBCMARS, and in the comments of this article.  Here are some of the best (serious and otherwise):

hum “Mars, the Bringer of War” by Gustav Holst (@oz_penguin)

It was once said ‘a small step for man’ but today we make that giant leap 4 mankind (@welsh_steve25)

once again my dear friends we take a step into the unknown (@SirPhil1983)

‘Well, for this night we will repose us here: /To-morrow toward London back again’ Shakespeare 2H6 II.i. (@Shakes_Today)

Where’s the Mars bar? (@JohnnyReaction)

‘we step beyond the capability of man kind, yet again.’ (@caitlin_ent)

“It’s land, Jim, but not as we know it.” (@eridanus)

Here are my suggestions.  Bonus points for people who recognise the source of inspiration for the first few.

“Quick!  Get the Easy Listening music!”

“Dark is the suede that mows like the harvest.”

“Yesterday, the moon.  Today, Mars.  Tomorrow, the universe!  Mwa-ha-ha-ha-haaaa!”

“Hey, what are all these dead cats doing here?”

And, more seriously,

“That’s just one more step in mankind’s journey to the stars.”

What would you like the first person on Mars to say?  What would you say if it were you?

Man, her last work, who seem’d so fair,
Such splendid purpose in his eyes,
Who roll’d the psalm to wintry skies,
Who built him fanes of fruitless prayer,

Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law–
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed–

Who loved, who suffer’d countless ills,
Who battled for the True, the Just,
Be blown about the desert dust,
Or seal’d within the iron hills?

No more? A monster then, a dream,
A discord. Dragons of the prime,
That tare each other in their slime,
Were mellow music match’d with him.

– Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Tooth and Claw, by Jo Walton, has been described as “Pride and Prejudice of the dragon world”, but I think this does the book a disservice.

Pride and Prejudice, in my opinion, dragged a little.  Tooth and Claw does not.  At all.  From the very first scene, I was dying to find out what happened next, and how the various intricacies of the plots would work themselves out.

The book does share some similarity of style with the classics, but it lacks the thing that irritates me most about those books.  Jane Austen, along with most of the other famous authors of the period, writes assuming a level of basic knowledge about the society in which the characters live.  That’s fair enough – and modern authors do it too – but now that society has changed, I can’t help but feel there are little nuances of meaning which escape me.  Little jokes, which, if only I knew more about the society they lived in, I would find hilarious.

Tooth and Claw is set in another world.  Jo Walton goes through the world-building process that readers of fantasy and science fiction will be familiar with.  Her dragon society is not just human society with dragon characters, but involves new rules for what is “normal” – such as eating the remains of your parents after they die, culling the weak, and so on.  Sure, there are some things which stay the same – like the distinction between the gentry and the poor folk – but it’s all explained.

One of the interesting things was the effect that biology has on their marriage practices.  Maiden dragons are gold.  If they get too close to an unmarried male dragon who loves them, then they blush pink (later to turn red when they’ve laid their first clutch of eggs).  This means that everyone can tell if you’ve been alone with a male.  A maiden who blushes before she has become betrothed is considered spoiled.  It leads to some fine predicaments for two of the characters.  If you wanted to, you could read all sorts of political messages into that.

Tooth and Claw doesn’t take itself too seriously.  It has a kind of dry wit spread throughout which made it very good reading.  For example, the scenes have headings, and throughout the book there are a great number which are called “A confession”, “A proposal”, “A second confession”, “Two deaths and a third proposal” and so on.  Near the end there is one which is titled “The narrator is forced to confess to having lost count of both proposals and confessions”.

I would recommend this book for people who like the style of classic novels, people who like dry wit, people who like dragons, and people who are any combination of the above.

Kickstarter is a good place to find new technology (and rubbish, but that’s a different matter).  This one was actually reported on by the BBC (in passing at the end of this article), which is how I found it.

Imagine powering your phone just from walking around.  The developers reckon they can charge an iPhone from the amount of walking the average person does in a day.  In today’s sedentary world, that’s quite impressive!

I want one.  Or two, rather, one for each shoe.

Not only does it reduce our dependence on traditional means of generating electricity, but it also encourages people to get more exercise.  That’s win-win as far as I can see.  It’s no wonder they’ve already met their funding target.

I’m particularly amused by the fact that you also need a pair of glasses to make it work.

Today’s fiction is in honour of this

*

Emily stood at the top of the abseiling tower and peered over the edge.  She clutched at the rope running from her harness to the attachments in the roof and swallowed.  The ground seemed a long way down.  Why had she agreed to this?

She looked over at Susan.  The seven year old was grinning like a maniac, practically bouncing on her toes as she looked down at all of her friends.  Her harness, as tight and secure as Emily’s own, she was sure, was carefully arranged so that you could see her uniform beneath. 

“Are you ready?”

Emily and Susan looked at the instructors and then at each other.

“As I’ll ever be,” replied Emily.  She patted her pocket and winced as she pricked her finger on the open end of Susan’s new badge.  “Are you ready, Susan?”

“Yes!”

Together, they backed up to the edge of the tower, leaned back, and let the ropes take their weight.  Emily swallowed again, suddenly aware of how thin the rope looked.  She began to shuffle her feet, walking backwards down the side of the tower.  Beside her, Susan was bouncing, bending her legs and jumping in giant steps.  Emily shuddered.  Half way down, they stopped.

Emily glanced up at the instructors and saw that they were tieing off the ropes.  Satisfied that they wouldn’t be plummeting to their doom in the middle of a sentence, she turned her attention to the girl beside her.

“Susan,” she began, “you’ve been coming to Brownies for a while now, and you’ve decided that you’re ready to make your Promise.  Do you understand that once you’ve made this Promise, you must do your best to keep it, everywhere, every day, for the rest of your life?”

As she spoke the familiar words, she felt herself calming.  As long as she focused on what they were doing, and not where they were, she thought she could do this.

Susan nodded.

“Ok, then please make the Brownie sign, and make your Promise.  Nice and loud,” she added, “so everyone can hear you!”

Emily pried her right hand from the rope and held it by her head, three fingers raised towards the sky.  Susan did the same.  The child took a deep breath, and then recited loudly.

“I Promise that I will do my best,
To be true to myself and develop my beliefs,
To serve the Queen and my community,
To help other people,
And to keep the Brownie Guide Law.”

Emily smiled widely.  “Well done!”  She carefully switched her hands on the rope and held out her left hand to her newest Brownie.  Susan grabbed her hand and dragged herself closer, then held on to Emily’s harness while she fished out the Promise badge and pinned it on to her uniform.

Once they were done, they separated again and Emily shouted up at the instructors to let them down.

As the ropes began flowing again, Emily started to lower herself down the tower.  She glanced down at Susan, bouncing again and now far below her.  Feeling slightly silly, she took a deep breath and bent her knees before jumping out into space.  Just a little.

At the bottom, she placed her feet on solid ground and took a moment to enjoy the feeling.  Unscrewing her carabiner with trembling fingers she left the rope to dangle and helped Susan with hers.  Susan grinned up at her.

“You’re the best, Brown Owl.  I’m going to remember this for ever!

Oh right, thought Emily, that’s why.

 

I was a little (all right, a lot) worried before I went to see this film.  I had been looking forward to it for a long time, and had hyped it up so much in my mind that I was afraid that it would be a massive disappointment.

I’m happy to report that I was wrong.

From almost the very first moments I was on the metaphorical edge of my seat.

Kal-El

We open on the birth of Kal-El.  The room is clearly alien – the floating machines and the clothes give that away.  After the birth, Jor-El holds his new son in his hands – and we cut to one of those scenes which, once you’ve seen it you can’t un-see it.  An impressive alien vista is shown, with a large beast in the foreground.  It raises its head and bellows towards the sky.

You’re more likely to understand what I’m saying if you have children, or were a child yourself around 1994.  If you need a hint, click here.

I really love what they’ve done with Krypton’s architecture.  Not for them the overly traditional ice palace motif.  Instead we have a truly advanced race, with flying cities and technology that can change shape at need.  The development of their tech followed logical lines, too – their designers had clearly been influenced by the natural world that was around them, four-winged creatures and all.

Once he’s been sent off into the void (and the story of how that happened was very exciting, with its high-speed chases, theft, treason, and attempted coups) we cut to 30-year-old Clark living on Earth.

His youth is told through flashbacks, but it doesn’t feel forced or out of place.  What I loved about his childhood was that he struggled.  He didn’t fit in, and he knew it.  From the terrified “what’s wrong with me?” to the plaintive “can’t I just keep pretending I’m your son?”, this was a child who was desperately afraid of being different.  He couldn’t fight back when he was bullied, not because he was afraid of being hurt, but because he was afraid that everyone would find out that he couldn’t get hurt.

When he learns how to fly you can see the pure joy on his face.  Here at last is something that makes it all worth it.

Lois Lane

Finally, a Lois Lane who is not the most unobservant reporter ever.  Bravo!

 am not an expert at drawing on the computer.

A normal Lois response to situations.

Dru-Zod & Friends

General Zod was very much a victim of his upbringing, and I liked that he wasn’t just evil without reason.  The one problem with his reasoning that I had was not at all the fault of the film.  It was this line:

“Everything I have done, I did for the Greater Good of my people.”

Which is fine unless, on the way to the cinema, you have had a conversation about Hot Fuzz.  If you’ve seen it, you will see what I mean.  If you haven’t, I pity you.  Go see it.  And then try to listen to that line with a straight face.

This is not a picture of General Zod.

Zod’s friends, however, had some interesting ideas about how nature works.  Evolution always wins, does it?  Hmmm, and all of those extinct species which evolved and then died out?  Still, one dud line in a film of that length is a pretty good ratio.

What next?

There were no major loose ends that screamed “insert sequel here”, but there were a number of avenues that could be explored in future films.

The first is, of course, Lex Luthor.  He wasn’t mentioned at all in the film, but there were several occasions where buildings and vehicles with “LexCorp” splashed all over them were seen (and often destroyed by the fighting).  Whether this was a taste of things to come or simply good background remains to be seen.  I for one wouldn’t say no to a film in which Lex was irritated at all the property damage.

The other idea I’d like explored is the question of Clark’s children.  For reasons which I won’t go into for fear of spoiling things, this would be very interesting.  And with his clear interest in Lois already demonstrated, we just need to discover whether Humans and Kryptonians are compatible in order for it to be a perfectly valid plot.

Conclusion

Five Stars.  If you haven’t already seen it, go as soon as you can.

Anyone who has spent any time on the internet will have come across the acronym “FAQ”.

Almost all websites (ones for companies anyway) have a FAQ section.  In theory, they list questions which have been (as the title suggests) frequently asked – so that people can easily find the answer to their question without bothering the admin staff with the same question as a hundred other people.

Fair enough so far.

However, I recently received a notification from a service I use that their process has been redesigned.  This is a new change, no public person has seen it – and yet I was provided with a list of FAQs.  My question is not answered in them, and is simply this:

Who has frequently been asking these questions?

Burble, verb.
Flow in an irregular current with a bubbling noise.

*

The brook burbled over the smooth stones, splitting and rejoining as it meandered towards the larger creek.  Anthony followed it with a heavy heart.  Occasionally he glanced back, hoping against hope that the sight would have changed, but each time he was disappointed.

The woman stood by the house, a shotgun in her hands.  A shotgun pointed directly at him.  Every time he paused to look, the figure scowled and gestured with the metal tube.  Behind her stood a small group: her neighbours and friends, come to support her in her time of need.

He wondered how it had come to this.  How had it gone so far, so that everyone had turned against him?  Would not a one of them help him?

Apparently not.

He turned back to the stream and trudged onwards.  It sounded so merry, running along without a care in the world.  Anthony envied that stream.  It knew where it was from, and it knew where it was going, and if something got in the way it just flowed on around it, not worrying.

He approached the edge of the property, where the brook entered the woods.  Turning back, he took one last look at the house he had grown up in, at the people he had known all his life.

At his mother.

He entered the woods, never to return.

The Author

Nicola Higgins is a 30-something martial artist who runs two Brownie packs and works full time. She somehow still finds time to write.

Her favourite genres are near-future and alternate world science fiction and fantasy.

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