Advent

Before I get stuck into explaining the title… first of all, a very good review indeed over at Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review, which was followed up with an interview by said reviewer. The Gildar Rift is pretty much officially ‘out there’ now: I received a text from my dad last week that simply said ‘seen it in Waterstones‘. I presumed he meant my book. I think he was proud. Actually, so was I when I went into the Waterstones in Durham yesterday and there it was on the shelf.

Bless it.

Anyway, advent.

Not, as you might think, (given the time of year) a reference to advent calendars or the countdown to Christmas in general. Instead, it’s one of those words that always evokes great memories for me. ‘Advent’ was the command line on my dad’s ancient TRS-80 to run ‘Adventureland’, the text-based adventure game written by Scott Adams about a bajillion years ago.

>load “Advent”

I loved those games and would devour them. I would oust my dad from the computer (bear in mind I was probably seven years old or something at the time) and would work my way through them with an intensity bordering on insanity. Imagine the thrill of this:-

Forest
You’re in a forest.

Obvious exits: North, South, East, West, Up.

You can also see: trees

There was such undiluted charm to those text-based adventure games. And you had to map your own version of it. And you had to struggle desperately with your computer to get it to understand what you wanted it to do. LIGHT LAMP. UNLIGHT LAMP. You wouldn’t believe how damn long it took me to get the latter one.

Here’s an utter joy, then. You can play all the Scott Adams adventures via Java online now. I’ve had so much fun and STILL struggle on occasion to find the right phrasing!

Then, a few years later, along came Prestel. And with Prestel came Micronet. And with Micronet came Shades, the first MUG/MUD I ever played. There I was, playing a text-based adventure game all over again, but this time, there were ACTUAL PEOPLE. People to whom I could speak. People with whom I could fight, win, lose, steal treasure… have quiz nights on a Thursday, throw snowballs at over the Christmas period…

It was a constant race to get from Novice to Witch/Wizard (depending upon your chosen gender… this was also my first slow discovery that men-played-women-and-vice-versa-on-online-games) in as fast a time as possible. This was before the days of anything remotely resembling broadband. Most people connected to Shades on a 1200/75 baud modem. Then there were the REALLY IT-savvy folks who had Atari ST’s and a piece of custom software called Ripper, which allowed you to create macros which essentially played Shades for you. And they all connected at twice the speed of everyone else.

Everyone hated those poeple.

And then there were the opportunities to meet up with these folks in Real Life at Shades meets… These things frequently took place at a pub on the top end of the Tottenham Court Road – The Sol’s Arms. I have no idea if it’s still even there, but I bet it heaved a sigh of relief when Micronet folded. Most of those people are still my friends today.

>w, w, w, s, grab girl, turn, n, w, n, e, dr t

Guess what? Yep. You can still play Shades online, too. Some things just never die. Despite my best efforts.

So from the humble beginnings of Scott Adams and his text-based adventure games, I’ve played a lot of these things. The Hobbit on the Amstrad CPC-464 had, y’know, GRAPHICS. This was amazing to a pleb like me. Can you believe it? Yes. You can still play all these games online now, too!

(An aside… Dearly Beloved recently invested in ‘The Ultimate Sega Megadrive Collection’. For his PS3. Seriously. A few hundred quid’s worth of equipment to be nostalgic on? Mind, I bought Lemmings for the PC not so long ago).

I graduated from the text-based school of adventure into graphic RPGs with games like Zak McKraken and the Alien Mindbenders. And then the Monkey Island series. And Sam & Max. And Grim Fandango. And all the other Lucasarts point-and-click wonders that will never, ever be beaten. Then… then, along came Myst. Which plain creeped me out with its ambient sound effects and the sense that ANY MOMENT NOW something was going to  leap out of a bush and eat your face. I had many, many sleepless nights around that game and it wasn’t all because of staying up until stupid o’clock playing it.

So in time, it was almost inevitable that I would fall to the charms of World of Warcrack… craft. It’s been particularly fun for me because I enjoy the roleplaying element of it. It’s only a mediocre game to play in many ways… after all, you can only kill so many wolves in the woods (none of whom EVER appear to have nostrils, or whatever random body part you’ve agreed to find), but the RP element and the various Extra Things That Happen when you reach level 85 kind of make up for it. Kind of. My lingering problem with WoW is that my time is sort of limited really and so I ‘ve never actually learned the more intense element of the game. I hate going into random dungeons with Unknown People, because if you don’t respond to the barked ‘buff  now noob’ command that is suddenly issued within 0.4 milliseconds, you’re kicked out of the dungeon.

But I’ve lapsed. I’ve not been on WoW for a couple of weeks. That’s because I’ve been fortunate enough to be beta-testing Star Wars: The Old Republic. And oh, I’ve been enjoying it. In terms of gameplay, it’s a lot like WoW. But for me, the best thing so far has been the random groups I’ve joined to do various flashpoints with. Without fail they’ve all been pleasant, fun, cooperative and a damn good laugh. And that makes things so much more enjoyable.

The quests are more engaging because the storylines are ongoing and pull you in. I think the fact that it’s voice acting is better than being able to skip through the text. There are so many quests in WoW where I’ve only ever gone quick precis, please, and skipped to the end, as it were. And… well, it’s VERY pretty. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed beta-testing it and now that the testing phase is over, genuinely feel bereft.

Also, lightsabers.

LIGHTSABERS, MAN.

Well worth a play in my opinion, but in the meantime, go and play some of those fiendish Scott Adams adventures. Remember, kids. This was once the pinnacle of technology.

Now where did I put my bus pass?

The Great British Public… and other animals

Greetings, programmes!

So, I got to take a trip to the Games Workshop store in the Plaza on Oxford Street at the weekend. In London. All by myself. Well, I travelled all by myself. I was greeted at Kings Cross by my dad and brother who travelled up to meet me for lunch. Which was very pleasant indeed. It was about a gazillion degrees, which is slightly unnatural for the 1st October and three and a half hours on the train left me feeling decidedly warm.

I joined up with the very delightful Nick Kyme who was signing copies of his latest release, Nocturne. It’s the last book in his highly enjoyed Tome of Fire trilogy. I finished it on Saturday morning before I left for London and in response to his ‘how did you find it’ question, I gave him a lower lip sad look. I’ve enjoyed the series and am sad that it’s over.

It was a highly enjoyable afternoon of signing copies of The Gildar Rift and meeting more incredibly nice people – including fine folks from the Bolthole, the Overlords and one guy I’ve known for about 23 years and who I haven’t seen for over 10. He came into town just to see me, which was outstandingly decent of him. The mighty James Swallow rolled by to give us support (and to eat my Haribo) and it’s always a pleasure to see him.

Much fun was had; Nick and I were photographed shooting each other with plastic flint lock pistols… (the store had gone all piratical in honour of the release of Dread Fleet. Which is, by the way, utterly gorgeous and is sitting on the side waiting to be played).

This is what happens when an author turns in a late manuscript. No, really.

Finished the signing and crossed Very Hot London back to Kings Cross for my 17:30 train back home. Got onto the train with ten minutes to spare, found my seat and settled down with my copy of Hammer & Anvil (I’d finished Faith & Fire on the way up to London*) and got comfy.

17:35, the driver announced that there was a ‘problem on the train and that engineers were working on fixing it.’

17:55, the driver sheepishly announced that ‘the engineers couldn’t fix the problem, but THAT’S OK PEOPLE! If you cross the platform, that train next to you will take you where you need to be.

In the traditional scrum that ensues in these situations, I crammed everything back into my backpack and followed everyone else across the platform onto the other train. I re-settled and caught the eye of the lady sitting opposite.

‘Is this train going to Darlington?’

‘I hope so,’ I replied with a rueful smile. ‘If it does, then I’m going in the right general direction.’

‘Me too,’ piped up the fella opposite her. ‘I’m going to Newcastle.’

We chuckled about the confusion of it all and established, quite cheerfully, that OK, we were now 30 minutes late, but if we were on the wrong train, we would all have a Great Adventure together and wouldn’t be lonely. It was all lighthearted and a lot of fun.

18:00 (ish), the train pulls out of the station.

18:02, the woman sitting in front of me starts to complain. She complains that she’s late. She complains that she’s not in the seat she was reserved (note: the train was half-empty and was de-classified. She could have sat in First Fecking Class if she’d wanted to). She complains that it’s too hot on the train. She complains that the wi-fi is a bit rubbish. She complains about everything. She has a go at first the refreshment chap and then the ticket inspector. Then she has a go at the refreshment chap as he goes by a second time.

She complained.

And complained.

And COMPLAINED.

All the way to Doncaster. When she got off, about seven people in the carriage genuinely cheered. I wasn’t one of them, but I was joining in silently. Seriously. It was the most irritating thing I’ve ever heard on a train. It was the fact that she eventually started complaining about pathetic things. The coffee didn’t taste right. The sky was the wrong shade of blue.

When I was growing up, my dad worked for what was then British Rail. I always remember a little poem he told me about the communication cord, for which you get a fine if you pull it without good reason. It used to be £50. Do they even have them any more? Or would you just Tweet up to the driver and say ‘STOP THE TRAIN!’ ?

I digress.

The poem went:

If fifty pounds you can afford
Then try your strength upon this cord
If fifty pounds you do not own
Then leave the bloody thing alone.

I tell you what, I’d have paid £50 gladly to get this woman put off the train. I’d have paid £100 if she had been THROWN off.

And that’s just it, isn’t it? She was so typical of people in this country. Lightning fast to complain, but never comment when they receive good customer service. Once, in Sainsbury’s, there was a checkout lady who was just so, so nice. She saw I was struggling with a full load of shopping and a then-one year old baby and she helped me pack and even told off the person behind me when they tutted loudly about how slowly the queue was moving. I stopped at the customer service desk on the way out and asked for a form so I could leave a compliment and thank you note for the member of staff.

The two girls behind the counter blinked slowly and looked at each other.

‘I… think we have something like that…’

‘Hold on.’

The one disappeared behind the counter and then re-emerged with a sheaf of paper that had a layer of dust about seven inches thick on top of it. Spiders had lived and died for generations on that pile of paper. Archaeologists could have found evidence of tiny civilisations if they’d looked hard enough.

The vocal minority likes to complain far too much. Let’s start a new trend! Why not make it a focus, the next time you receive great customer service, to compliment the person behind the counter who smiles at you? Or to tell their manager on the way out the door? Or to phone their head office and say ‘so and so was great – thank you!’ My mother worked for years in a shop and she always got a huge kick out of people thanking her. She gave me many tips for life and one of those was ‘thank you costs nothing and means everything’.

With that in mind, thank you for listening to this brief rant.

And in my writing-related news roundup:

  • my latest short story, Bitter End – featuring Huron Blackheart being a back-stabby git – is now available in the latest ish of Hammer & Bolter (12).
  • Valkia the Bloody is now more than 85% complete and should probably hit first draft stage in the next couple of weeks.
  • I am swamping my poor editor with ideas. He may have drowned by now.
  • The Gildar Rift is due out on 5th December, but there are at least two more signing events planned – 12th November at Games Workshop in Durham and 19th November at Warhammer World in Nottingham. There may be more yet… watch this space!
  • Check out this pretty damn fine advance review (spoiler free!) of The Gildar Rift by the illustrious Shadowhawk.

Besame Mucho

Sad thing first. In terms of bad stuff, this made me very sad. I saw him play about 12 years ago and thought that he was outstanding. A real loss to the music world.

I managed a full week at work and didn’t kill anybody. I came close yesterday when I was perhaps unnecessarily snappish at one of the consultants. I was irritated, though. Seriously. Let me just scene-set for you:-

Every Thursday, I have to coordinate a meeting. This meeting is pencilled in to start at 2pm and finish at 4pm. Sometimes we’re done quickly, other times, we have a lot of patients to discuss and we run over. Yesterday, there were 30 patients to discuss on the list. This might not sound like a lot, but when you technically have 2 hours, that’s not a lot of time per patient. The list was sent out on Tuesday and again on Wednesday with updates so everyone who comes along knew that it was a big list. The consultant surgeons actually made a concerted effort to get there on time. But we couldn’t start the meeting without the pathologist.

Who breezed in at 2.15pm.

And it was 2.35pm before we’d even finished the FIRST PATIENT!

Consequently, the meeting didn’t finish until 5pm. At which point I still have at least another hour’s work afterwards, whilst everyone else in attendance at the meeting is free to go do whatever it is that they do. It’s seriously like herding cats. So I was ratty. And I snapped at one of them. I don’t think he really noticed, but I apologised anyway. I’m polite like that. Plus, he’s lovely.

In happier news, the Second Job is utterly brilliant fun. I had a long conversation with my editor earlier this evening with feedback for The Gildar Rift. There are a few edits and changes, but for the most part, it got a thumbs-up. I was chuffed to bits about this, I can tell you. I also completed Another Project [tm] which was emailed off today and once the edits for TGR are done, I can get back to Accursed Eternity.

It’s going well. I’ve seen a couple of reviews for Primary Instinct now that Victories of the Space Marines is out in the wild and that’s been nice, too. I might well crack up at the moment if I couldn’t vent my spleen on innocent Adeptus Astartes.

Anyway, nice reviews.

Bane of Kings over at Founding Fields had this to say and;

The very lovely Mr. Maxwell singled PI out for its own interview.

So the good stuff balances out the bad… yet again.