Conspicuous Acts of Cultural Consumption

Where I talk about books, movies, television, art, pro-wrestling and other forms of culture and pop-culture

Old School

I am still one of those people who follows blogs through an RSS reader, setting aside a portion of my day to process a whacking great chunk of data from around the internet. My feeds are pretty carefully curated and sorted into categories, so I can narrow my focus down to writing advice, say, or SF Authors, or weird science stories that are likely to inspire stories. I still lament the loss of google reader and the google dashboard homepage which used to kick off every day with my email, feed, and project notepad laid out before me.

My feee contains approximately 200 post a day. On average, I read about twenty of them in detail, or open them up and save them in a file to process later when I’ve got the time. Some of those links find their way into social media feeds, some of them prompt discussion here or in my new email newsletter where I bang on about behind-the-scenes stuff, and some are just things that look interesting.

It is the nearest thing to sitting down and opening a newspaper every morning that I can think of in this day and age, and its already an archaic habit.

I didn’t even realise RSS feeds were a thing until my late thirties.

Watching Deep Space Nine

I never really jelled with Star Trek. The SF of my childhood was always Star Wars and Buck Rodgers and Baker-era Dr Who, which eschewed the exploration narrative neatly captured in Trek’s boldly go approach to narrative. They were narratives that seemed faster-paced, so Trek always seemed slow, and I lived in places where SF fans were rare, so I never found a community to get me over the initial reluctance to dive in to Trek.

When you start off with a reluctance to engage with Star Trek, it’s hard to get over it because Star Trek is omnipresent. In the same way that Tolkien’s fingerprints are prominently smudged over all forms of fantasy, Star Trek is the runaway cultural phenomenon that identifies SF in television land. For decades, “more like Trek” was regarded as a strength in a TV show, even when it wasn’t dramatically appropriate.

If you made your show more like Trek, the SF fans would show up. Market-share without any effort. Throw in an analogue to Star Fleet, Vulcans, Holodecks, and Klingons, and you could focus on getting the elusive casual fans without thinking about how to do anything new that would excite the SF faithful. It became rare that I’d find shows that really spoke to me, for a while. Even the shows I came to watch regularly, like Babylon 5, had more to do with friends pitching it as “they’re doing something interesting with the writing” than “it’s great SF.”

The one exception to my Trek-aversion was Deep Space Nine. I watched the final two seasons years ago, when I was ill and bedridden and there was a video store next to the doctor’s surgery. I hired out every episode they have on video cassette to fill the hours when I was going to be on the couch and unable to move. I was won over by by the episode Far Beyond the Stars, and the fact that I’d finished watching all the Babylon 5 videos the store had in stock.

I enjoyed those seasons, but I never felt the need to go back and fill in the seasons before it. First, because the store didn’t stock those videos. Second, because I had the feeling it would be more like Star Trek than I wanted.

Earlier this week I started watching DS9 from the beginning. Watching Benjamin Sisko with hair, and without a beard. All the flashes of the things I’ll eventually like in the series, mixed in with the Trek tropes I’m not that big a fan of. It’s an interesting look at how a series evolves, which is giving me thoughts when it comes to the thesis.

Places You Should Be: Angela Slatter’s Corpselight Launch on July 14

Angela Slatter’s second novel, Corpselight, is on my table alongside a fresh cup of coffee. I get to read this week, ahead of it’s official launch on July 14, because one of the perks of being writer is befriending other writers who give you advanced copies of their books.

If you’re in Brisbane on July 14 at 6:00 PM and interested in good speculative fiction, you should totally be at that launch BTW. There will be books and smart writers talking to smart writers, and a considerable amount of cupcakes.

If you’re not in Brisbane on that date, at that time, you should hie yourself off to a bookshop and pick up a copy of Corpselight as soon as humanly possible. ‘Cause it’s a great book, by a great writer, and we need more visions of a supernatural Brisbane out there in the world.

A post shared by Peter M Ball (@petermball) on

The Flaw of “Not That”

I’m halfway through Glen Weldon’s The Caped Crusader, a book that traces the evolution of Batman and the rise of geek culture. It is, at alternating intervals, fascinating and smart and very, very funny, but it also loops back to a series of conceits and bits that irritate the fuck out of me.

Mostly, it comes down to one word: normals. It gets used quite often throughout the text, the distinguishing term that others non-fans in a meaningful way, and it gets used because it’s a thread that runs through fandom in so many ways. It is, at least, nowhere near as bad as the mundanes, but it matters so little to my tooth-grinding dislike of that artificial segregation that it barely helps.

It is incredibly easy to define an identity and a subculture based on your dislike of what you’re against. Pointing and saying NOT THAT is considerably clearer than saying, TOTALLY THIS (and yes, I’m totally aware that I’m totally falling back on Not That right now; I’m embracing the stupidity of this).

But Not That eliminates the possibility of nuance. It eliminates the possibility of having an AND. I am this AND this. I am for many many things.

And the reasons behind Not That invariably, rapidly become uninteresting to me. I am much more interested in listening to people talk about the things they love, and why they love it, than I am hearing about the things they dislike intensely.

The Bloody Chamber

In need of distraction, I started reading Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber aloud to fill the empty spaces in my flat. I’ve adored that book since it was recommended to me back in my early twenties, but I’ve never actually paid attention to the vocal components of the language. Reading aloud, you quickly recognise just how ornate and well-crafted the opening sentence of the titular story really is. Consider, and read aloud if you’re so inclined:

I remember how, that night, I lay awake in the wagon-lit in a tender, delicious ecstasy of excitement, my burning cheek pressed against the impeccable linen of the pillow and the pounding of my heart mimicking the great pistons ceaselessly thrusting the train that bore me through the night, away from Paris, away from girlhood, away from the white, enclosed quietude of my mother’s apartment, into the unguessable country of marriage

The Bloody Chamber, Angela Carter

There are rhythms to that sentence you don’t even recognise until you’re trying to manage your breathing the entire way through it. Hell, I didn’t even remember it being a single sentence until I got to the end.

I’ve got a mental list of stories I can re-read that are so damn good I’ll always want to write something new in an attempt to do something half as good. The Bloody Chamber is basically a collection full of them. 

Reading Inhabitat Again

I started reading the Inhabitat blog eight or nine years ago, maybe. Not long after I’d started writing fiction after a long spell in the trenches of other writing work. I stopped reading back in 2013, because Habitat publishes a lot of content and there simply wasn’t time to read it while working a part-time day-job. That space was taken up by blogs about time management and productivity and how to internet better.

I don’t work a part-time day-job anymore, and as as peeps who follow my twitter feed may have noticed, I’ve picked up the Inhabitat habit again. Their brief to sit at the intersections of architecture, design, and the environment is like crack if you’re interested in how the future may look, and they’ll occasionally bust out truly mind-blowing shit like plans these South Korean plans to build skyscrapers inside of Giant Sequoia’s to keep them from falling over.

But as impressive as that particular idea is, it’s stuff like the tin-shed renovations that actually appeal to me. My comfort reading, this week, is Aaron Bestky’s Architecture Matters where the dean of the Frank Wright School of Architecture traces how architecture interacts with our daily life and why it matters. One of the thing he notes, early on, is architectural design’s tendency to be noticeable when it’s also monumental. It’s a discipline built around going big or going home.

What’s noticeable in smaller places – homes, bars, restaurants, stores – is the province of designers, people who come into a functional shell and transform the interior while the architecture recedes into the background.

The spaces we move through every day shape us in ways we barely think about, simply because we pay more attention to the stuff that’s packed inside them.


What I’m Reading: Dear Sweet Filthy World, Caitlin Kiernan

My copy of Caitlin Kiernan’s latest short story collection arrived in the mail last week. It’s a beautiful book full of beautiful, terrible stories in the old-school definition of terrible, meaning they are causing or likely to cause terror. The kind of stories that make Kant’s description of the sublime comprehensible, which is more than Kant manages to do when he writes on the subject.

There are very few writers who are on my yes-I-will-by-everything-you-release list. Even fewer on the list where I will buy everything in fancy, beautifully produced hardcovers and special editions. Basically, there is one name on that list, and it’s largely because Caitlin Kiernan is the best short-story writer working today, doing things with language and story that most writers can barely dream of doing.


I am the worst possible judge of what will actually be useful

Over the weekend I dropped three hundred bucks to pick up a Dell Inspiron that was on sale at my local JB HiFi. I’d been edging around the idea of getting a small netbook capable of running OneNote while I’m gaming for a few weeks, and I seriously thought that would be all I used it for – a small computer that weighted less than a hardcover, tucked into my gaming bag alongside the dice and session notes.

Not good for writing, I figured. 4 meg of ram. Ten inch screen. Itty bitty keyboard. Who in hell is going to use that for writing work?

Then I proceeded to take the damn thing everywhere for three straight days, because it’s about the same weight as packing a hardcover Moleskin into my bag. And the keyboard is surprisingly functional, after the first few attempts at typing on it. And because the Inspiron will actually handle Scrivener better than my desktop, which means I’ve got a computer on me that is actually usable while sitting at bus stops or train stations.

Me and the Inspiron, it may be a thing.

A post shared by Peter M Ball (@petermball) on

Two-Bear Mambo, Joe Lansdale

It would be wrong to say that I pitched a PhD topic about series just so I’d have a legitimate reason to read Joe Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard books and call it work, but I do not know that it would be 100% inaccurate.

It was cold as an Eskimo’s ass in an igloo outhouse, but it was clear and bright and the East Texas woods were dark and soothing. The pines, cold or not, held their green, except for the occasional streaks of rust-coloured needles, and the oaks, though leafless, were thick and intertwining, like the bones of some unknown species stacked into an elaborate art arrangement

Joe Lansdale, The Two-Bear Mambo.

It’s one thing to learn the big, macro-structures of narrative that will allow you to tell a decent story – and make no mistake, Lansdale’s got that shit down. But the thing that impresses me, over and over, is his control on the micro level, putting together an evocative image that’s rich in voice and strategically using contrast to generate powerful effect. Whether its the move from the colloquial metaphor to modern art, the personification of the trees (cold or not) that lends them a stronger presence in the scene, or the speed with which we go from leafless trees to thick and intertwining, the man has his shit together when it comes to writing a paragraph.

Friday is a collection of small things

For the first time in a long time, Fridays are a day where I’m primarily writing and researching. Here are some things that have been on my mind this week.

  • Angela Slatter launched a Patreon this morning. It’s full of shiny options for supporting her career and getting cool things in return. You know what to do.
  • Cat Rambo is doing a re-read of a whole bunch of Doc Savage novels and making notes about her thoughts as she goes along. The first of them covers Doc Savage: Quest of Qui, and I’m largely flagging this here for my friend Chris who is my designated person-I-talk-to-when-I-talk-about-pulps.
  • Bloomberg has a guide to making incredible nachos that makes me excessively hungry and glad there’s a Guzmon and Gomez on campus.
  • Chris Hemsworth continues to be an adorable Thor, who is,in turn, a terrible flatmate.
  • Kat Mayo did an incredible piece on lazy journalism about feminism and romance fiction, to which I basically find myself nodding and going, yes, all of this, over and over.
  • Sending off a story to beta readers about six seconds after I hit publish on this post. This is the first in a long time, but I’m quietly hoping I can finish a second story before next Friday.
  • This weeks writing has primarily been done to the funkiest horn section in Metropolis.