2018: Branching out and all that

2018: Branching out and all that

2018 has been another great year for me, at least compared with Theresa May’s.  I started the year writing for a new client (ITPro), as well as becoming a full member of the National Union of Journalists.

I continued to write for the BBC and Computer Weekly, and started appearing on radio.  In January, my BBC article about weather control satellites – inspired by the film GeoStorm – gained me an invitation to BBC Radio’s Weather programme to discuss with Paul Hudson the findings of my article.

The Summer saw me invited onto the BBC Radio 5 Live‘s Game On radio show by Adam Rosser to talk about the release of the Battletech videogame.  Apparently, I have become something of an expert on the topic, having interviewed the creator Jordan Weisman, reviewed the game, and having writen an article for BBC about the technical feasibility of mechs.

My first article for ITPro was about site security for data protection and how companies should stop storing their servers in the boiler room – and yes, I have found this once.  I also returned to Kotaku – and my gothic roots – to write about the impact that Vampire: The Masquerade has had upon our culture.

I continued to write Will We Ever articles for BBC Future, where I discuss the technical feasibility of various science-fiction tropes.  Looking back today, I see that the top three “Will We Ever” articles were all written by me.

Unfortunately, 2018 was also the year that GamesTM announced their final issue.  GamesTM gave me my first paid commission back in 2013; a six-page exclusive feature about a forthcoming videogame.  Although I never wrote for GamesTM again, the loss of such a great magazine was a sad moment for me.

The summer saw me invited by Computer Weekly to interview Venafi CEO Jeff Hudson about the threats to encryption, at this year’s InfoSec.  I took advantage of my time there to explore the event and learn about the latest in security vulnerabilities (which is not recommended anyone with a nervous disposition).

My comprehensive coverage of the various aspects of data protection legislation gained me an invitation to London in December for a festive roundtable discussion about the effects of GDPR.  Six Months of GDPR was the chance for journalists and commentators to discuss the effects of data protection with technologists and legal experts.

As well as my usual tech and security journalism, I also continued to cover sci-fi events for Geek Pride.  At the UK Games Expo I interviewed Games Workshop co-founder and Fighting Fantasy co-creator Ian Livingstone CBE about his career in gaming and how he turned his passion into an empire.  Ian is a true gentleman, who has remained a gamer at heart and has never compromised his values.

I also interviewed Sylvester McCoy for SFX magazine at SFW in the City.  Sadly, I never got to have my photo taken with Sylvester (my photographer, Peter Gatehouse, had been distracted by some cosplayers), but the event itself was great.

Disappointingly, I was unable to make either of the Birmingham Comic Cons this year. The first I had to cancel due to snow and the second I decided not to go to (despite the lovely Virginia Hey being there) as I was already attending Sledge-Lit that weekend.

Sledge-Lit is the festive edition of the science-fiction, fantasy and horror literary convention Edge-Lit, both of which are held in Derby.  Edge-Lit is always the highlight of my convention calendar, where writers from across the country gather to talk shop, discuss writing… and, for most, drink a lot.  The fact that these conventions are only ten minutes down the road from me means that it would be simply rude not to go.

Watched, read and recommended

As always, the presence of children precluded the chance for Caelia and I to see films together, but I did get to see Solo: A Star Wars Story at the cinema with friends.  It was definitely a fun film.  Alden Ehrenreich was an okay Han Solo and the final twist felt contrived, but Donald Glover was perfect as Lando Calrissian.  I would not be surprised if there was a Lando movie in the near future.

I am no longer that interested in horror, especially since the explosion of torture porn.  However, The Purge films have a distinctly political tone and it is the setting that is the scariest part, rather than the antagonists.  I am not surprised that the excellent spin-off television has been renewed for a second season and I hope that they take the 24 lead and present in a real-time format.

I finally watched Stranger Things.  Having lived through the decay of the eighties, I am normally not interested in retro-utopianism, but there is a distinct charm to Stranger Things.  It also helped that the series was essentially a cross between ET and The Thing.

Altered Carbon was an amazing adaptation of the Richard Morgan novel of the same name.  Whist it remained true to the core themes of the novel, the TV series built upon the ideas of the novel in new and interesting ways.  The cover of White Zombie’s More Human Than Human in one particular scene was the icing on the cake for me.

The Expanse has quickly become one of my favourite science-fiction series on air at the moment.  A lot of this is due to the writers’ research, which enabled the creation of a believable vision of the future.  The fourth episode presented one of the few realistic examples of combat in space.

Caelia and I finally watched Orphan Black and mainlined the entire series.  For us, as a pair of engineers, the science holds up fairly well (apart from perhaps the biotech bots).  The actress Tatiana Maslany, who played multiple versions of the clones, often in the same scene, was phenomenal.  As parents, however, we could not help noticing how the various children magically disappeared whenever they were not required in a particular storyline.

Preacher continued to be bloodily funny but yet utterly human.  It wonderfully blended the mythic with the mundane.  Whereas American Gods’ presentation of the mythic elements was over the top, Preacher used its smaller budget to be subtler in their presentation of the mystical aspects.

On the subject of comics, I finally read Force Majeure, the concluding graphic novel in Bryan Talbot’s Grandville series.  Bryan Talbot has always been a favourite writer/artist of mine and this five-volume graphic novel series has to be one his best to date.

The comic character Durham Red returned to the pages of 2000AD for a soft reboot of the series in Born Bad by Alec Worley.  Dispensing with the gothic space opera elements from Dan Abnett’s tenure as writer of the character, this new Durham Red returned to her bounty hunting roots in a great story about legacy and parents.

I continued to catch up on the Peter F. Hamilton novels I had missed (no easy thing as they are the size of encyclopaedias) with Temporal Void.  Needless to say, I loved this epic far-future tale, which never dragged despite its massive length.

Charles Stross has quickly become one of my favourite authors. Empire Games was Stross’s take on the Edward Snowden leaks, with a story about interdimensional espionage and surveillance.  Meanwhile, The Delirium Brief, a recent novel in his Laundry Files series, proved that Lovecraftian horrors from beyond the stars are no match for governmental bureaucracy.

BattleTech was a great turn-based squad-tactics game that saw you controlling a lance of mechs.  Despite some clipping and camera issues, BattleTech was a solidly-built game that streamlined the tabletop game and actually had a great story of political manoeuvring underpinning the game.

As part of my research for Kotaku on Vampire: The Masquerade, I started playing Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines and remembered just how great it was.  Way before the release of Skyrim and Mass Effect, Bloodlines presented the player with a small but incredibly complex world to explore, which was densely populated with interesting characters.

Rise of the Tomb Raider was a fantastic sequel to the Tomb Raider reboot.  With more tombs to explore and multiple ways to play the game, from sneaking and sniping to full-on frontal assault, Rise of the Tomb Raider was a joy to play.  The only downside was a by-the-numbers story with a double-cross that was obvious from the start.

Life, the Universe and Something

My eldest started her final year at primary school and we had the challenge of choosing preferences for secondary school.  My youngest also started nursery this year and went from bottom-shuffling everywhere to running around and getting into everything within weeks.  Meanwhile, my eldest son has become a budding astronomer, so much so that he is now spotting errors in books and indignantly reporting them – as only a child can – to the library.

As well continuing the Star Wars: Force and Destiny campaign with my Tuesday night gaming group, we started playing the Vampire: The Masquerade roleplaying game.  This was a game that – in many ways – defined the 1990s for me, as I regularly played the many games from the World of Darkness.  I even won a trophy in the National Student Gaming and Roleplaying Championships, for which I remain inordinately proud.

Escaped the Escape Room. Admittedly not like a boss…

As part of a friend’s 40th birthday celebrations, I finally had the chance to try an escape room at the Great Escape and it was a lot of fun.  This was despite the fire alarm going off for ten minutes at the start, without us realising what it actually was – we just assumed it was part of the game.

My daughter got the pet rabbits she had been asking for, after Caelia built them a large enclosure to run – or more accurately; burrow – around in.  We also took on some more rescue hens, who are repaying us with fresh eggs every day.  These are former commercial free-range hens, and – compared with our previous ex-caged hens – are much more able to get themselves into mischief.

Finally, during the Christmas break, over four years since I had first interviewed him for a BBC article, I met the Australian anthropologist Dr David Waldron.  Although I have interviewed hundreds of experts as research for my articles, David is the only one I have remained in regular contact with, due to our shared interests.

Meeting David Waldron in the village pub

Back to the future

A commission is due in mid-January, which requires me to watch Person of Interest as research (yes, I still call this work).  I am also in discussions with the BBC about another ‘Will We Ever’ story.

My novel is continuing to be developed (I know I keep saying this).  I am now in the editing stage; rewriting chunks and spotting plot-holes, such as sudden and unexplained time jumps, but it is slowly getting there.  How anybody can write an entire novel in a month – for NaNoWriMo – amazes me.

But, for now, it is the Christmas holidays, where I am able to put my pen (or more accurately, the keyboard) down for a little while. This is mostly because Caelia and I are far too busy running after the kiddies…

In this calm before the storm, my family and I would like to wish all of my readers a happy new and to thank you for taking the time to read my articles. I only hope you enjoyed reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.