Onward and upward

Being a parent changes you. My wife recently gave birth to twin boys and, thankfully, we have been fortunate in that they’ve had no health problems or anything of the sort. The worst we’ve had is a spell when one of them had night and day confused and we’re currently going through a bout of colic with the other fellow.

But all that’s fine, as it happens. It’s a bit stressful at times – more so for my wife as I’m at work for a large part of every day – but rewarding in a way I didn’t fully comprehend beforehand. It’s not just that you have a new set of responsibilities that arrive fully formed and without any grace period, It’s that you’re entire outlook on life changes. Priorities shift, attitudes change, you have different things to look forward to.



My deputy, Sam, described it as being in a bubble that nobody else can get into. And he’s right. Non-parents won’t quite understand, parents probably will. I’m enjoying it all, even the late night (or early morning) screaming fits.

I now understand all those people on Facebook and elsewhere who publish loads of pics and updates concerning their children. They’re a huge and permanent part of their lives – why wouldn’t they be? I’ve tried to restrain myself somewhat, but they’re too cute.

This isn’t going to become a daddy blog. At least, that’s what I say now anyway…

Take that in your archive and smoke it

It is risen from the dead! Or from the bowels of an XML file, anyway. I’ve been able to get my archive online again, though I’ve lost all the images and attachments. They were only slowing me down anyway. But at least I’ve managed to salvage the posts, which is the main thing. And that one success has me back on the blogging track again.

Why haven’t we rioted in the streets?

Every now and then I ask myself why the Irish people haven’t been in greater uproar over the devastating cutbacks in public services, teaching, and welfare benefits that have had to be made over the past few years. There have been some mass protests, but not the sort of turmoil one might find in Greece. Tom O’Connor, in today’s Irish Examiner, has a good take that’s worth reading:

What else stirs the Irish indifference to protest and uprising? The historical evidence argues that the ‘gombeen’-type ‘cute hoorism’ of Irish people has become part of the cultural makeup of many. During the Famine, the emerging middle class were more than happy to have three million starve or perish by 1870; it left more land for them.

They, along with the merchants and food producers, were not going to share during the Famine. This same class of people, the erstwhile Irish rural-landed class were and are the Irish movers and shakers.

They moved in to government and in Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil were never going to allow the class-based politics of the ‘haves and have-nots’ break out..

The sayings ‘cover your ass’ and ‘don’t rock the boat’ became national mantras.! That this is anathema to protest is obvious.

A not-so-bright future


V for Vendetta is set in a bleak future

I have a special liking for dystopian and apocalyptic fiction. I always have. I think in part it’s down to the fact that it involves a radical transformation of a whole world, often our world. It’s hard to get grander a scale than the destruction/transformation of the whole planet (unless you want to think universally, like James Blish‘s Cities In Flight). It’s a darker side of science fiction, the complete opposite of the overwhelming hope and optimism of the likes of Star Trek, in which Earth is a utopian paradise.


Big Brother has his eye and moustache on you.

A dystopia doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom and the aftermath of a global collapse. It can be a depiction of a polluted world, a world where technology and machinery intrude on life as opposed to making it better, or can be a place where civil liberties are massively curtailed in a bleak future. Perhaps the best example of this is George Orwell’s 1984, where the whole of society is controlled down to the individual under the guise that Big Brother is both watching and looking out for you.


Blade Runner is one of the paramount examples. Here, technology highly advanced and everywhere, and yet the world is cramped and massively polluted. People are clearly miserable for the most part, and technology is often something to replace reality (think the artificial animals) rather than to enhance it.


Milla Jovovich in the first Resident Evil (I haven’t played the games)

Some of my favourite examples of the genre are Alien and Aliens, for example. Technologically, those universes are far ahead of our own – and yet it’s not quite perfect. That’s not to say the world is necessarily horrible, because we don’t see Earth in either film, but the quarters are cramped and personal liberties are reduced, not least because most things are under the control of a single corporation. In Alien, the ship’s computer is called Mother but it and the android Ash are used by the company to ensure the crew serve the company’s purpose, which isn’t apparent to the human staff at first.  Resident Evil would continue this trend with the Umbrella Corporation, which is seemingly all-powerful and has influence in all fields.

Dystopianism goes hand in hand with science fiction, and one of the advantages for it as a genre is that it is endlessly recyclable and adaptable. Has reality caught up in time with the events of the film? Make it an alternate reality. Or the current trend – mix enough of the right now with the future and you have a decent bridge that reflects what modern audiences accept as the slower pace of development. When the original Star Trek was broadcast some were convinced we’d be living on Mars by now – instead we have caught up with and gone beyond the years referenced as ancient history in the programme, such as the Eugenics Wars of the 1990s that caused Khan Noonien Singh to be cast into space in a sleeper ship (this was side-stepped in Star Trek Into Darkness).

He is the law.

He is the law.

I decided to write this post after watching Dredd, the 2012 take on the Judge Dredd universe. I liked the first film, which had Sylvester Stallone in the main role, but the two are very different films. Stallone’s is cramped and overblown, with massively stylised concept cars among other things. The Karl Urban version is post-apocalyptic but much closer to our own world. People drive in petrol and diesel-fueled vehicles, and one guy even wanders buy with a pair of headphones (you might think the people of the future would have some other, more discreet way of listening to music). It’s an example of how the same world can be completely reimagined to suit a particular audience; contemporary audiences seem to respond to grittiness rather than overt sci-fi – think of the Battlestar Galactica reimagining compared with the original series.

The topic is of both personal and professional interest. My doctoral studies are in history but take in theology and eschatology. Eschatology – “last things” such as the end of time and the judgement of souls – looms large in the historical texts I’m studying. That doesn’t make me some sort of religious nut. I’ve always been intrigued by ideas of the end of the world and how people react to it. It’s psychology expressed through, in the case of Bede (the object of my study), the writing of history and religious commentary. Early Christian texts are actually positive about the end of time – don’t worry, it’s only the end of the world. For them it was a good thing, because it meant the sweeping away of the old guard.

I can’t say for certain that my research interests are an extension of my literary interests, but it’s more than likely as if I was pursuing a PhD in English it would be on apocalyptic fiction. Part of me wonders if I’ll do that one day.

Strangely, I’ve never written an apocalyptic piece of fiction, though I have written some stuff set in a dystopian world. I need to do more of that. Cheer up – it’s only the end of the world.

Writer’s block

I get writer’s block regularly enough. Every writer does. Sometimes you have an idea that you can’t quite put into words just yet, sometimes your brain is tired and doesn’t want to co-operate, sometimes a vital scene or passage is hard and you can’t quite figure out how to attack it.

You’d think that, as somebody who works with words for a living, I’d fare a bit better at this. However, I’ve found that the fact that I work with other people’s words for a living can sap me a bit. I love what I do and I love writing, but you can have too much of a good thing. The fact that I’m working on a PhD at the same time is also a factor, because my mind might be working on that even if I haven’t written a word.

There are ways around it, though. This blog and Chronica Minora are helping because they’re forcing me to think more concretely about all my different projects. The most effective way around writer’s block, I’ve found, is to write – but write about something different. If you’re struggling with a PhD chapter, start another one. If you can’t write a headline, tap away at a report or read something different. An enjoyable technique to break the block is handwriting; the process of actually tracing the words out makes you think differently, and soon enough you’re back on track.

Don’t believe me? Well writers like Stephen King and the late David Eddings have written novels by hand. It can be done. I wrote a good swathe of my MA thesis by hand and, even though it had to be substantially rewritten and edited, it got me from point B to C and brought the end within sight.

This post alone has given me ideas for a short story and the motivation to get cracking on the PhD again. Every little helps…

Music, eh?

Huffington Post has a playlist up of the top 50 No 1 singles in the UK over the past decade. A quick flick through it tells me that A) they’re for the most part crap and B) my taste in music is well outside the mainstream. It’s also put me in a wistful mood, so I’m going to have to go through the iPod and dig up some old favourites, like this one: