The Blogging Life – My Experiences With WordPress, Part Two

In Part One, I recounted the rise and demise of my first blog, SFreaders.com, between 2007 and 2009. I made the first post to that blog on May 3rd, 2007, and the final post on October 29th, 2007, so I was actually only posting for a few days short of six months. The blog itself lasted for almost two years before being taken permanently offline by the collapse of the webhost, Centrica Hosting, in early 2009. So, for the last year and a half of its life, it was actually inactive, with no posts being made to it at all.

In stark contrast to SFreaders.com, I’d set up this blog (originally titled the GrumpyOldGeek blog – it’s had a couple of different names over the years before settling finally on its current title Tales of Time & Space back in 2012) on WordPress.com at the exact same time as SFreaders.com, but solely for the purpose of getting the API key for the self-hosted blog. Once that was done, the WordPress.com blog became pretty much irrelevant, as I was focusing on my much more powerful, more flexible SFreaders.com blog, my only real (blogging) concern at that time. So I walked off and left the WordPress.com blog without so much as making a post.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. I did make a couple of posts to the blog, the first one on June 3rd, 2007, exactly a month after my first post to SFreaders.com, and a second six days later, on June 9th. But these posts were insubstantial, silly, lame, half-assed, basically just ANY old rubbish to get something up on this blog. Then I walked off again, and didn’t come back to my WordPress.com blog for nearly three years.

When I did come back to blogging again, it had been almost exactly four years since my son had died, and I thought that I’d take another crack at it. However, I was unwilling (luckily, as it turned out) to go down the self-hosted route again. But I had this old blog sitting there on WordPress.com, totally unused for almost three years. Why not make use of it? So I made one post in February 2010, two posts in March and one in April, the last three all part of the lengthy “It’s A Geek’s Life” trilogy, and certainly far more substantial and interesting efforts than the two pieces of fluff that I’d posted back in June 2007. Certainly the fact that those three posts were far superior to the first two indicated favourable things about my improving state of mind. But I was still suffering badly from depression, and having major problems focusing and committing myself to anything. It was obvious that I was still deep in the bereavement phase (still am today, more than nine years after his death – I just handle it much better these days), and it was still too soon after the death of my son to commit myself to something like this.

So I disappeared AGAIN, this time not returning to my WordPress.com blog until more than two and a half years later, in December 2012. This time I was stronger, I was ready for it, and I was back to stay. I renamed and refocused the blog, and started posting regularly (I haven’t missed posting at least once a month since December 2012), and effectively turned Tales of Time & Space into my main blog, despite running a number of other blogs “on the side”. I have one other blog on WordPress.com, three on Blogger, and my second self-hosted WordPress blog, SF Universe, which I started around the same time as I relaunched this one, back at the end of 2012.

Tales of Time & Space and SF Universe are multitopic blogs, and all posts made to one are also made to the other, essentially providing a back-up of the blog posts. The other four blogs are all single-topic blogs. I STILL don’t trust self-hosted blogs, after what happened to SFreaders.com back in 2009, so I regard this one to be my main blog, rather than SF Universe, which I can experiment with at my leisure. That’s quite a change from the rather dismissive way that I used to regard this blog, but I’ve learned from my past mistakes, and I won’t repeat them again. This blog is now my main blog because it provides security, and will always be here, even if the unthinkable happens again, and history repeats itself with my second self-hosted blog also vanishing without warning. A blog on a big platform like WordPress.com is highly unlikely to just up and disappear on me someday, the way some self-hosted blogs do, although Dreamhost, the ISP with whom I have my hosting plan, is a reputable company who have been around a few years. No more cowboy resellers for me! I’ve learned a LOT over the past few years.

All of which now brings me back full circle, to the first paragraph of Part One, where I said that I had found all the back-up files and databases from my old SFreaders.com blog. Well, the good news is that I’ve decided to import all of the posts from SFreaders.com, rather than leaving them to gather cobwebs on my hard drive. These posts really should see the light of day again, despite the fact that they are quite different in look and feel to the other posts on this blog – the posts to SFreaders.com during those early days tended to be short, snappy, single subject posts, often just casual throwaway observations and comments, and totally unlike the much longer, more detailed posts that I tend to make these days. It’ll be interesting to compare them.

I’ve already tried importing the database, but that didn’t work – those old WordPress databases are .sql format, and incompatible with the modern .xml databases – so the only way now is to import all of the posts, one at a time (there’s only forty-two of them), and altering the dates so they are archived with the same dates that they originally appeared on SFreaders.com (I’ve already started on this). If this works, I might even start digging out posts from other defunct blogs that I’ve had over the years, and import those as well. Tales of Time & Space will become the “One Blog to Rule Them All”. ๐Ÿ™‚

After all these years, it’ll be extremely gratifying to see the posts from SFreaders.com resurrected and integrated as part of Tales of Time & Space. And one thing’s for sure – the archives for 2007 will definitely become a lot more interesting and overcrowded than they are at present. ๐Ÿ™‚

The Blogging Life – My Experiences With WordPress, Part One

I was rooting through the archives the other night, looking at stuff I have squirrelled away in old folders on my hard drive, and I came upon some long-forgotten, but very interesting bits ‘n’ bobs. One folder in particular stood out, a big one, with multiple sub-folders, containing all the back-up material that I’d saved from my very first, original, self-hosted WordPress blog, SFreaders.com.

These brought back lots of memories of my initial stuttering beginnings with blogging, and as it’s been a long time since I’ve done any kind of personal history posts, I thought I’d cook up a lengthy two-parter about my experiences with blogging on the WordPress platform, both on my self-hosted sites and here on WordPress.com. Here we go with Part One of Two…

Once upon a time, way back in the Jurassic era (beginning of May 2007), I started up SFreaders.com, my first blog. It was the first time I’d ever had a proper presence online that wasn’t merely a collection of three or four naff web pages on a free webhosting service. I’d had a couple of those in the previous five years or so, but they never went anywhere, certainly never more than a tiny website with a handful of drab, linked pages. The lack of webspace and options on those sites didn’t allow for very much more.

So, I decided to go looking for something a bit more serious, not that I had the slightest clue what I was supposed to be looking for or what to do with it when I found it. All I knew was that I needed something a lot more substantial, one of those paid hosting plans with all the bells and whistles. Purely by chance, during April 2006, I managed to buy a ridiculously cheap hosting plan on Ebay.co.uk, from some outfit called Centrica Hosting, who were resellers leasing server space from Heart Internet, one of the UK’s bigger ISPs. This was to lead to the very start of my first blogging experience.

Unlike the previous free ISPs I’d been with, which only gave you a tiny amount of webspace, to which you could ftp a few web pages and pictures, this new, paid hosting plan delivered the full range of services that these packages usually offer. To say that I was a bit overwhelmed would be a complete understatement. At that time, I only knew a smattering of basic HTML and CSS, picked up almost accidentally over several years of pottering around on the free websites. All of this new-fangled stuff about PHP, MySQL databases and dynamic webpages was total greek to me.

My initial intention had been to ignore all of that stuff altogether and just continue as before, sticking up a few static webpages and making use only of the unlimited webspace and unlimited bandwidth, which would allow the static website to expand and develop slowly, growing over a long period of time, without fear of running out of space. But I was no expert at HTML or CSS, just a competent beginner, learning as I went along, and coding all those pages by hand was pretty darned slow. It was taking me forever to get even a relatively small website together on my hard drive, to upload to the webhost’s server.

In addition, it did seem to be an awful waste not to use at least some of the multitude of extras included in the new hosting plan. So I began exploring the options on the webhost, although I really didn’t understand too much at first. But a bit of searching around the web and reading up of various computer magazines, and I was starting to get up to speed on things. Just by coincidence, at the very same time, I was reading an article in a computer magazine about something called “blogging” and something else called “WordPress”, which was supposed to be easy to install and maintain, and apparently a much easier and more automatic way of getting online and maintaining a site than coding by hand. This article changed everything for me.

Up until that point, I had settled firmly on starting up a static website. I was literally only minutes away from doing so when I read this article. I was actually on my webhost, looking at all the options, getting ready to start setting up the file structure and ftp the HTML pages and images to the site, when I spotted something that was pretty much what we now call “One-Click Installs”, or, at least, the 2007 equivalent. And one of the options was to install this WordPress thingy that I’d just been reading about. So right out of the blue, at the very last minute, I changed my mind and decided to try this instead.

Following all the (admittedly simple) instructions, in a mere few minutes, I had a shiny new blog installed and up-and-running. This was the evening of May 3rd, 2007, and within the following half hour, I had my first post and an About page up on SFreaders.com. I was well chuffed, and totally gobsmacked at how easy it was. During the next few days, I set up a few more Pages on my blog, and I began posting frequently and regularly from that point onwards. Over the next six months, from May 2007 up until October 2007, I put up a total of forty-two posts and a bunch of pages. I had my first serious and (relatively) long-lasting online presence at last.

Why did I make the last minute switch to a blog, when I had been for so long set on having a static website? Aside from the obvious fact, of course, that I hadn’t known anything about blogging or WordPress right up until I read that article? Well, I wanted a site up online fast and easily, and the article had convinced me that I could do just that with WordPress, which proved to be definitely true. It would’ve taken me months to get up a decent static site, at the snail’s pace that I was handcoding pages. Likewise, the article had convinced me that I could post content and maintain my blog much more easily than I could a static website. Again, this was (sorta) true, at least on the posting side of things. Thirdly, I wanted something a bit more interactive than a static site, so the idea of comments also attracted me, and they seemed to be a major plus, at least in theory, but didn’t exactly work out that way in reality.

It wasn’t all plain sailing. Firstly, my big hopes for comments and interactivity ended up a huge disappointment. Despite a half-dozen replies to posts over the six months, there was virtually zero interactivity with others on my blog. The comments thing proved to have been a complete waste of time. The blog might as well have been a static site. A secondary drawback was that I simply could not resist the obsessive urge to tinker with the appearance of my blog – the themes, the CSS, everything – and I often spent far more time tinkering than I did actually posting content. In many cases, I just could not leave well enough alone, and ended up making a mess of things on quite a few occasions. I knew just enough to be dangerous.

Thirdly, and most seriously, once I started blogging, I simply stopped learning about web design. Back when I was hand-coding web pages, I was constantly learning more about HTML and CSS, picking up something new with each new page that I coded. But I’m essentially a lazy git, and once I started using WordPress, with the exception of occasionally fiddling with the CSS of a theme, my hand-coding experience came to a grinding halt. Why bother with all that learning code carry-on when WordPress did everything for me pretty much automatically? Seemed like a great idea at the time, but in the long run, it was extremely detrimental to my learning web design, as I’ve advanced very little in all the years I’ve been blogging. I often think of how far along I’d be now if I’d stuck with designing static webpages instead of switching to WordPress.

Overall, however, installing WordPress had proven to be a positive experience, and had kick-started my first serious, regular, online presence. As I’ve already said, for six months I posted regularly, very regularly at first, sometimes five or six times a week. But the frequency decreased as time went on, down to once or twice a week, until, at almost forty posts, I hit a brick wall. I didn’t make a single post for three weeks, just seemed to lose interest, run out of juice. I came back after the three week break and made three more posts and then gave up on blogging completely.

Why? Well, I think the main reason for this happening was simply bad timing. I simply should not have started a blog when I did. I could not have chosen a worse time. My teenage son had died in April 2006, slightly more than a year before I started my self-hosted blog. I really was in no fit state to run a blog or anything else at that time in my life, and it was remarkable that I was even able to get one started at all, let alone keep it running for six months. It was completely the wrong time to attempt such a venture. My mental state was very fragile indeed, and I was completely numb with grief after the death of my son. I was almost a zombie, totally at sea and basically existing day-to-day on autopilot. Everything that I did during that period was pretty much automatic, and I was in a permanent daze, as though I was seeing everything through a dense fog. I really don’t remember very clearly much of what happened in the first year or so after my son’s death.

But as the months went on, the nature of my grief and mental state changed. Instead of being numb and in a permanent daze, my head began to clear, and the pain flooded in. The raw grief was indescribable. The waves of severe depression began to hit me, one after another after another, and I felt as though I was drowning. My mental health crumbled, and with it my physical health also deteriorated markedly. I had stopped looking after myself, and I lost interest in pretty much everything, both offline and online, including blogging. It was a truly dark time in my life, and it was during these months that I drifted away from blogging, at first gradually, and then totally.

So I backed away from the blog, fully intending the break to be temporary, with the intention of returning to it when my mental and physical health had improved. For the next year or more, I did absolutely nothing with it, aside from coming online occasionally to check for any new comments. Then, one day early in 2009, I came online and SFreaders.com was gone, disappeared completely. The reseller that I had bought my hosting package from had gone bust (I should’ve guessed that it was too good to be true), and taken my blog (and I dare say quite a few others) with it. All gone, disappeared, kaput, without so much as an email or any kind of prior warning.

I was gutted that my lovely blog and all that hard work had just disappeared into the aether without warning, but was fortunate that I’d had the foresight to backup the database files and pretty much everything else on my hard drive several months before. Still, it left a thoroughly unpleasant taste in my mouth regarding self-hosted blogs, a distrust that persists to this very day.

So ended SFreaders.com, and my very first experience with blogging or running any kind of online site for a prolonged period. Next time out, my return to blogging on WordPress.com…

To Be Continued…

EMPIRE by H. Beam Piper

TITLE: EMPIRE
AUTHOR: H. Beam Piper
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Collection
FORMAT: Paperback
PUBLISHER: Ace Books, New York, 1981 (ISBN: 0-441-20557-7-250)

CONTENTS:

  • Terro-Human Future History Chronology
  • Introduction, by John F. Carr
  • The Edge of the Knife
  • A Slave is a Slave
  • Ministry of Disturbance
  • The Return (with John J. McGuire)
  • The Keeper

Last time out, I featured FEDERATION, the first of two collections gathering together the short fiction of H. Beam Piper’s classic Terro-Human Future History cycle. This time it’s the turn of EMPIRE, the second collection of stories set in that future history.

The book starts with an excellent three-page chronology of Piper’s Terro-Human Future History, put together from dates, events and other data spread over all of Piper’s short fiction and novels. This is followed by yet another fascinating and detailed ten-page Introduction by Piper scholar John F. Carr, which gives a lot of useful additional details on the future history as related in the five stories in this collection.

The five stories in the FEDERATION collection are from the earlier phase of Piper’s Future History, whereas the five stories in EMPIRE cover the later stages of that Future History, with the exception of The Edge of the Knife, which is unique in that it is set in the more contemporary timeframe of the early 1970s, pre-dating the formation of the Federation, and thus placing the story effectively outside of the future history itself.

I haven’t read this collection for years, but I have fond memories of The Keeper, Ministry of Disturbance, and The Edge of the Knife, although I remember very little about either A Slave is a Slave or The Return (which are lined up for a much-needed re-read in the not-too-distant future). If they turn out to be even half as good as the other stories, that will be the cream on top of the cake, as far as I’m concerned.

The Keeper, in particular, is very moody and atmospheric, and is one of my favourite Piper stories, in my opinion bettered by only Omnilingual (I’ve always found it funny that my two favourite stories in Piper’s Future History chronology are, by their positions in that future history, the very first, Omnilingual, and the very last, The Keeper). The Keeper allows us the only available brief and tantalizing glimpses into the mysterious far future of the Fifth Empire, and is also the only known story written by Piper which is set beyond the end of the First Empire. The rest of the existing Terro-Human Future History Chronology doesn’t go beyond the First Empire, which makes The Keeper seem strange and out of place compared to the other stories, until we accept that it is the only surviving proof that Piper intended to write other stories extending his future history far into the distant future.

Aside from the few snippets of background information contained in The Keeper, we know absolutely nothing about Piper’s plans for developing the details of these distant far-future eras of his chronology. According to Jerry Pournelle, who had a lot of contact with Piper back in the day, he had certainly planned something much bigger. Pournelle has always asserted that he had seen Piper’s folders full of extensive notes and details of a much longer and more complex future history chronology. Tragically, those notes were lost after Piper’s suicide, and all that we’re left with is a big bunch of “maybes” and “what-might-have-beens”, only too aware that the future history material which (fortunately) still exists in print, as good as it is, gives us only a tiny portion of the greatness that might have been.

As it stands, EMPIRE is a strong collection, and already contains at least three of my favourite Piper stories, plus the excellent chronology and introduction. And as such, it’s definitely well worth adding to any aspiring SF reader’s bookshelf.

Yet another very good H. Beam Piper collection.

CLASSIC TUNES: “Tighten Up” by Archie Bell & the Drells

I’ve been sitting back on a quiet Saturday evening, chillin’ out and listening to some good music. Playing right now, all the way from 1968, it’s one of the great funk classics, “Tighten Up”, by another of my favourite groups, Archie Bell & the Drells.

This is one of the early true funk masterpieces, with some great grooves and incredible dance rhythms. Aside from Bell’s voice, the one thing that really stands out for me in the tune is the fantastic bass rhythm, followed closely by the funky lead. Everything that makes funk great is present in this song. I defy anybody with an ounce of rhythm in their body not to start tapping their feet or shaking their booty when “Tighten Up” comes on the radio.

I usually associate the emergence of funk with the early-1970s, but there was a period in the late 1960s where the soul music of the earlier era was beginning to give rise to a more up-tempo funky sound, epitomised my the likes of Archie and his Drells, James Brown and others. The end of the Sixties and start of the Seventies saw the evolution of soul into funk, and then into a funky disco sound that was to be the vanguard for the coming disco movement of the next decade. It was an incredible era for music.

The version that I am listening to now is the LP version, which is just over three minutes long. There are two different versions of the song, Parts 1 and 2, which are the first and last tracks respectively on the album that I’m listening to now, ARCHIE BELL & THE DRELLS: THE PLATINUM COLLECTION. This one features twenty of the Drell’s best tracks, and “Tighten Up” is by no means the only good track on it. The album can be found here on Amazon.com, and here on Amazon.uk.

Here also is a link to a YouTube video of a combined version of Archie Bell & the Drells – “Tighten Up” Parts 1 & 2. At about six minutes long, it’s well worth listening to.

CLASSIC TUNES: “Tighten Up” by Archie Bell & the Drells

I’ve been sitting back on a quiet Saturday evening, chillin’ out and listening to some good music. Playing right now, all the way from 1968, it’s one of the great funk classics, “Tighten Up”, by another of my favourite groups, Archie Bell & the Drells.

This is one of the early true funk masterpieces, with some great grooves and incredible dance rhythms. Aside from Bell’s voice, the one thing that really stands out for me in the tune is the fantastic bass rhythm, followed closely by the funky lead. Everything that makes funk great is present in this song. I defy anybody with an ounce of rhythm in their body not to start tapping their feet or shaking their booty when “Tighten Up” comes on the radio.

I usually associate the emergence of funk with the early-1970s, but there was a period in the late 1960s where the soul music of the earlier era was beginning to give rise to a more up-tempo funky sound, epitomised my the likes of Archie and his Drells, James Brown and others. The end of the Sixties and start of the Seventies saw the evolution of soul into funk, and then into a funky disco sound that was to be the vanguard for the coming disco movement of the next decade. It was an incredible era for music.

The version that I am listening to now is the LP version, which is just over three minutes long. There are two different versions of the song, Parts 1 and 2, which are the first and last tracks respectively on the album that I’m listening to now, ARCHIE BELL & THE DRELLS: THE PLATINUM COLLECTION. This one features twenty of the Drell’s best tracks, and “Tighten Up” is by no means the only good track on it. The album can be found here on Amazon.com, and here on Amazon.uk.

Here also is a link to a YouTube video of a combined version of Archie Bell & the Drells – “Tighten Up” Parts 1 & 2. At about six minutes long, it’s well worth listening to.

Classic Tunes: “Separate Ways” by Journey

I’m sitting back at the moment, relaxing, and listening to one of the greatest arena rock albums of all time, the classic 1983 six-times platinum masterpiece, FRONTIERS, by US band Journey, which came out on the Columbia Records label.

This is one of my all-time favourite rock albums, and is, in my opinion, Journey’s strongest album, surpassing even their previous album, the 1981 classic nine-times platinum ESCAPE.

There isn’t a single bad song on FRONTIERS (even the “weaker” songs are good), but one of the best is the song that is currently playing, the first track on the album, “Separate Ways”. This is a truly powerful rock song, pounding drums, driving keyboards and guitars, and above it all, Steve Perry’s gorgeous, soaring vocals. Sheer bliss!

This is an excellent, strong intro to a fantastic rock album. It’s also gratifying to know that it ISN’T all downhill from here, and that the rest of the album is just as good.

FEDERATION by H. Beam Piper

TITLE: FEDERATION
AUTHOR: H. Beam Piper
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Collection
FORMAT: Paperback
PUBLISHER: Ace Books, New York, 1981, ISBN: 0-441-23189-6-295)

Contents:

  • Preface, by Jerry Pournelle
  • Introduction, by John F. Carr
  • Omnilingual
  • Naudsonce
  • Oomphel in the Sky
  • Graveyard of Dreams
  • When in the Course-

The book starts with the brief Preface by Jerry Pournelle, a short but fitting tribute to Piper and his writing. This is followed by the lengthy twenty-page Introduction by John Carr, which is a much more detailed and even more fascinating essay on the life and writings of Piper.

The five stories themselves are from H. Beam Piper’s acclaimed TerroHuman Future History cycle, one of the most complex and detailed future histories in science fiction literature. This collection, Federation, is made up of stories from the earlier stages of that Future History, and a later collection, Empire, completes the stories from the later part of the cycle.

There are certainly some very good stories in this collection, but the stand-out for me is definitely Omnilingual, which I first read a long time ago, way back in my teens. Along with He Walked Around the Horses (which isn’t in this collection, and isn’t part of the Future History), this has always been one of my favourite pieces of SF short fiction, and I regard both Omnilingual and He Walked Around the Horses as his two best short stories.

As far as I’m concerned, the collection is worth buying just for Omnilingual alone. But the other four stories are nothing to turn your nose up at either. This is H. Beam Piper we’re talking about here, and he simply did not write bad SF stories.

Very good collection.

Classic Tunes: “Disorder” by Joy Division

I’m sitting here on New Year’s Eve, with barely ten minutes to go before 2014 is upon us, listening to some excellent music. At the moment, it’s Joy Division’s classic post-punk anthem 1979 debut album, Unknown Pleasures, released on the fledgling Factory Records indie label.

Playing right now is the first track, and one of my favourite tracks on the album, “Disorder”. This one sets the tone perfectly for the rest of the album. It’s fast and emotionally charged, with Bernard Sumner’s aggressive, distorted guitars assaulting us in powerful, short riffs, Peter Hook’s driving, pulsating base providing the rhythm, backed up by Stephen Morris’ rhythmic, almost robotic, pounding drums. And over everything, Ian Curtis’ powerful, monotone baratone voice driving the song forward.

This deliciously chaotic tune is a great way to begin such an innovative, classic album. Joy Division, despite their tragically short career (only two studio albums, a live album and a handful of singles), are one of my favourite groups of all time, true pioneers of the post-punk/proto-goth scene. I can listen to this song (and the whole album) over and over again without ever getting fed up with it.

I feel a review of Unknown Pleasures coming up!

VOYAGERS IN TIME edited by Robert Silverberg

In my last post I commented that I’d recently bought a couple of nice old SF anthologies from Amazon UK. I made a few comments about one of the anthologies, TRIPS IN TIME and gave a contents listing for it. Here’s the same routine for the other anthology, which was published ten years earlier, but can be considered a “companion” anthology, from a thematic viewpoint, since both books contain short stories about time travel. The second of the two anthologies is:

TITLE: VOYAGERS IN TIME – Twelve Stories of Science Fiction
EDITED BY: Robert Silverberg
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
PUBLISHER: Meredith Press, New York, 1967
FORMAT: Hardcover, 243 pages.

This anthology is a collection of more traditional (but still fun) time travel stories than those in TRIPS IN TIME. The stories in this one span a thirty year period, the earliest originally published in 1937, and the last in 1967. Here’s a listing of the contents:

  • The Sands of Time by P. Schuyler Miller (1937)
  • …And It Comes Out Here by Lester del Rey (1950)
  • Brooklyn Project by William Tenn (1948)
  • The Men Who Murdered Mohammed by Alfred Bester (1964)
  • Time Heals by Poul Anderson (1949)
  • Wrong-Way Street by Larry Niven (1965)
  • Flux by Michael Moorcock (1963)
  • Dominoes by C. M. Kornbluth (1953)
  • A Bulletin from the Trustees by Wilma Shore (1964)
  • Traveler’s Rest by David I. Masson (1965)
  • Absolutely Inflexible by Robert Silverberg (1956, revised version 1967)
  • THE TIME MACHINE [Chapter XI, XII – part] by H. G. Wells (1895)

This looks like another very interesting anthology of short fiction. Silverbob certainly does know how to put together a good anthology of stories. Again, some of them I remember well (Wells, Bester, Tenn, and Moorcock), others I vaguely remember (Miller, del Rey, Anderson, Niven, Kornbluth and Silverberg), and the last two I’m not familiar with at all (Shore, Masson).

As I’ve already said, this is a kinda/sorta “sister” anthology to the later TRIPS IN TIME (1977), which is a more unusual and quirky collection of time travel tales. I’ve already read several of the stories in TRIPS IN TIME, but now I’ve started reading some of the stories in VOYAGERS IN TIME as well. I’m dipping in and out of both books, and it will be nice to compare the two anthologies when I’ve finished both of them.

As usual, I’m working my way through the stories in both books slowly, as and when I get free time to do so, and not in any kind of order. I’ll just pick stories at random, usually with favourite authors first and working my way to least favourite or least familiar. Once I’ve finished I’ll start posting comments on individual stories (with the exception of the excerpts from The Time Machine, as I’ll be reviewing the novel at some point), and comments on the two anthologies as a whole.

Classic Tunes: “Damaged Goods” by Gang of Four

I’m listening to this one right now on a various artists double-CD compilation of indie music, FEAR OF MUSIC.

Damaged Goods is one of my absolute favourite Gang of Four tracks, from their first classic 1979 album ENTERTAINMENT, although it had actually appeared previously as the A-side of their legendary first single, the 1978 Damaged Goods EP, which was released on the Fast Product record label. This EP also featured the equally legendary tracks Love Like Anthrax and Armalite Rifle.

Gang of Four incorporated various other genres such as funk, reggae and dub into their stylistic repertoire, which gave a lot of added “oomph!” to their music. Damaged Goods is like all good punk and post-punk – angry, short, and to the point – but it is also more sophisticated than many of its punk predecessors. This track is undoubtedly one of the pivotal post-punk anthems, and had a huge impact and influence on everything that came afterwards. The sheer simplicity of the best punk and post-punk classics like this reminds me so much of the great three chord/sub three minute garage tracks of the mid-to-late 1960s, albeit with large added dollops of anger and social awareness.

My tastes in music are pretty wide-ranging and eclectic, and on occasion I like some overproduced rock, disco and dance music as much of the next guy. But there are times that I just want to have it short, raw and punchy, like Damaged Goods, New Rose, Public Image, Ever Fallen In Love or Pretty Vacant. Heady company, that, and Damaged Goods is deservedly up there among these other classic tracks.

The version I’m listening to right now is the later re-recorded version of Damaged Goods, and the purists would undoubtedly groan and roll their eyes, and assert that the original version, and only the original version on the EP is the real Damaged Goods. And when it comes to music, I have to admit that I’m almost always a purist myself. So I invariably hate most cover versions of classic tunes. But not on this occasion.

I actually prefer this re-recorded version, which is faster and snappier than the slower original EP version. It just seems to be that bit more angry and aggressive, a searing indictment of love and lust. And angry and aggressive is how I feel a good punk or post-punk song should be. Both versions are classic, but the newer one just edges it for me.

Like I said, the purists will surely disagree with me strongly (most of them probably foaming at the mouth), but I don’t care! ๐Ÿ™‚

Classic Tunes: “Dancing in Outer Space” by Atmosfear

The first few posts to this new blog were fairly long personal recollections of my early career as a DJ. Last time out, I posted my first full review of an album. And this time, in my ongoing efforts to add some variety to the blog, I’m trying something else. Here’s the first in what I hope will be a series of many ongoing random posts highlighting favourite “songs of the moment”.

There won’t be an album review in sight in these random posts, just a couple of paragraphs on any random, individual song that I happen to be listening to at any given time. It can be anything, old or new, but mostly will be older songs of various genres – alternative, rock, soul, funk, disco, reggae, ska – indeed ANY song that I happen to like or which holds a special significance for me.

Right now I’m listening to the glorious summer of 1979 dancefloor classic (on both sides of the Atlantic) Dancing in Outer Space (all 9 minutes 34 seconds of it) by the great jazz-funk group Atmosfear. This one is on a CD compilation, but is the same version as the original 1979 vinyl 12 inch single release, which I used to play at the clubs all those years ago.

This song, for me, epitomizes the best in hardcore jazz funk – an incredible ground-rumbling bass line, ethereal outer-space-ish keyboards, fat, hard drums and super-smooth funky guitars (and lets not forget the sizzlin’ saxophone). The ultimate in club dance music from that era, if you’re any kind of fan of jazz or funk music, this one just has to set you bopping.

When I think of “dance” music, sure, I like some modern EDM, but as an old fogie I think primarily of the jazz/funk/soul/disco phenomenon of the 1970s and 80s, not all this modern hip-hop, rap and R&B (R&B? Muddy Waters and B.B. King are R&B, not the modern rubbish that has hijacked the name), although I do quite like a select few modern rave/house/trance/funk tunes. Maybe I’m just showing my age, but, in my opinion, the 70s and 80s gave us REAL dance music. And Dancing in Outer Space is one of the true giants among 70s jazz funk dancefloor smash hits.

There are a number of YouTube links to the original 12 inch monster hit version of Dancing in Outer Space. Here’s one of them.

Welcome to Science Fiction Reader

Welcome to the new Science Fiction Reader blog.

This blog is focused solely on science fiction literature, and is intended to be a review and recommendations showcase for the best SF stories that I’ve come across over the years, as well as any new material that I happen to read. As such, the nature of the blog posts will be very subjective, focused on what I like, rather than made up from lists of mainstream “Best-Sellers”.

I see this as a Very Good Thing. There are numerous blogs and websites “out there” reviewing the best of mainstream SF&F, and I intend this site to be something completely different. My own tastes in SF are heavily biased towards short fiction and older/classic SF, so those tastes will be reflected in the posts that I make here. I’m very widely read in older SF, and have an enormous collection of SF novels, individual author short story collections, and anthologies of short fiction by a range of authors, some of them very old and remembered only by a few of the “wrinklies” out there. So there will be no shortage of material to review.

I also have some truly eclectic and obscure tastes when it comes to older SF, so there will be quite a few posts spotlighting “forgotten” gems from the earlier days of the genre, as I attempt to bring them not only to the attention of the younger generation of SF readers who have never seen these stories before, but also to jog the memories of older readers who might have read some of these stories way back at the dawn of time.

As for more modern SF, I’m a huge fan of Hard SF, Classic Space Opera, and their modern offspring, New Space Opera. I absolutely LOVE New Space Opera! It’s easily my favourite sub-genre of modern SF. So there will be quite a few posts featuring some of the best new releases in New Space Opera novels and short fiction.

Okay, I’m off now to do some reading. I’ll not be making many reviews if I sit around here all day yapping. ๐Ÿ™‚

Classic Albums – Silk Degrees by Boz Scaggs (1976)

Original album 1976 (Columbia Records)

Remastered Audio CD (24 Feb 2007)

Three extra live tracks

Number of Discs: 1

Label: Sony Music CMG

 

 

 

Track listing:

  1. What Can I Say (3:02)
  2. Georgia (3:56)
  3. Jump Street (5:13)
  4. What Do You Want The Girl To Do (3:51)
  5. Harbor Lights (5:59)
  6. Lowdown (5:17)
  7. It’s Over (2:52)
  8. Love Me Tomorrow (3:17)
  9. Lido Shuffle (3:43)
  10. We’re All Alone (4:14)
  11. What Can I Say (Live Version) (3:29)
  12. Jump Street (Live Version) (5:08)
  13. It’s Over (Live Version) (3:37)

Two of the greatest feel-good, easy listening albums of all time are Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and Boz Scaggs’ Silk Degrees, both of which came out within a year or two of each other in the mid-1970’s, an era which was a fertile period for such music.

Boz Scaggs is a highly talented and versatile, but sadly very underrated guitarist and musician, who worked with the Steve Miller Band in the late-1960s. When he went solo in the early 70s, he made the switch from r’n’b to producing his own strand of smooth, silky jazz-funk, a genre which was enjoying some considerable commercial success at that time. He set up stall with a bunch of excellent session musicians (most of whom were to go on to later form the acclaimed band Toto), a combination which was to prove, along with his own undeniable talent, the main driving force behind the polished, classy quality of his albums.

Scaggs produced his first two solo albums back in the 60s (1965 and 1969), but both of these were commercially unsuccessful. He moved to Columbia records at the beginning of the 1970s, and his first four albums with them all entered the charts, but were not exactly raging smash hits, except for Slow Dancer (1974), which went Gold. It wasn’t until his fifth Columbia album, Silk Degrees, that his solo career went stratospheric.

The mid-to-late-1970s was by far his most successful period, during which he had no less than four hit albums, one Gold and three Platinum-selling smash hits. Down Two Then Left (1977) and Middle Man (1980) both went Platinum, and Hits! (1980) went Gold. But it was the 1976 smash-hit Silk Degrees that has proven to be the most enduring of all of them. This one went five times Multi-Platinum, reached #2 and spent 115 weeks on the US Billboard Charts, and was the album which skyrocketed Scaggs to the top of the “absolutely must listen to” musical league.

There are so many good tracks on this album, which produced no less than four successful chart singles over 1976-1977 – the sublime “What Can I Say?” (my personal favourite on the album), the sultry “Lowdown” (my third-favourite), the catchy floor-filler “Lido Shuffle” (my fourth-favourite) and the even more catchy “It’s Over” (my second-favourite). But I also rate “Georgia” pretty highly, as were a couple of excellent ballads, “Harbor Lights” and “We’re All Alone”, the second of which which was to be a massive US and UK hit cover single for Rita Coolidge in 1977.

“We’re All Alone” was also covered by Frankie Valli and The Walker Brothers during 1976, and Bruce Murray, The Three Degrees and country & western singer LaCosta in 1977, which means that there were at least half a dozen different cover versions of the song circulating the various charts in the US, UK and Europe during 1976-1977, and none of them were actually by original artist Boz Scaggs! Scaggs only released “We’re All Alone” as a B-Side to “Lido Shuffle” in 1977.

I originally bought Silk Degrees on vinyl way back in the early 1980’s, and more recently also bought the remastered 2007 CD edition (the one I’m reviewing now), which contains three extra bonus tracks, live versions of “What Can I Say?”, “Jump Street” and “It’s Over”, all of which are also excellent, and show just what a force Scaggs and his group must have been on tour.

I can listen to this amazing album over and over and over again, and I never get fed up with it. If you are a fan of soulful, silky-smooth jazz-funk, and you’ve never heard Silk Degrees, you are missing one of the true classics of the genre. Do yourself a huge favour, go out and buy this great album, pour yourself a cool drink, and just sit back and let the music flow over you.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…

Welcome to Science Fiction Reader

Welcome to the new Science Fiction Reader blog.

This blog is focused solely on science fiction literature, and is intended to review and recommend the best – in other words, my favourite ๐Ÿ™‚ – SF anthologies and single-author short fiction collections that I’ve come across over the years, as well as any new material that I happen to read along the way. There will, of course, be the occasional posting about individual short stories, novelettes and novellas (and the VERY occasional novel, although I tend to read very few of those these days).

As such, the nature of these blog posts will be very subjective, focused purely on what I like, rather than made up from lists of mainstream “Best-Sellers” (I read very few Best-Sellers, to be honest). There are numerous blogs and websites “out there” reviewing the best of current mainstream SF&F, and I don’t intend to reinvent the wheel. I want this site to be something different, an individual fan’s (that’s me) totally subjective views on the SF that he has read over the years.

My own tastes in SF are very heavily biased towards short fiction and older/classic SF, so those tastes will be reflected in the posts that I make here. I have a huge collection of SF novels, individual author short story collections, and anthologies of short fiction by a range of various authors, some of them very old and remembered only by a few of the “wrinklies” out there. So there will be no shortage of material to review.

I also have some pretty eclectic and obscure tastes when it comes to older SF, so there will be quite a few posts spotlighting “forgotten” gems from the earlier days of the genre, as I attempt to bring them not only to the attention of the younger generation of SF readers who have never seen these stories before, but also to jog the memories of older readers who might have read some of these stories way back at the dawn of time.

I’m a huge fan of Classic Space Opera, Hard SF, and their modern mutant offspring, New Space Opera. I absolutely LOVE New Space Opera! It’s easily my favourite sub-genre of modern SF. So there will obviously be a few posts featuring some of the best new releases in New Space Opera novels and short fiction.

Okay, I’m off now to do some reading. I’ll not be making many reviews if I sit around here all day yapping. ๐Ÿ™‚

DJ Phil, a Brief Career Introspective – The Early Years (Part Three)

Sometime around October-November 1986, the “Gay Disco” left the disastrous venue of the Union Hall and returned to its original home on the Magee College campus. A new Student’s Union had opened, a temporary portacabin structure known as “The Terrapin”, which was to house all the student entertainment facilities until the current permanent Student’s Union opened in September 1990.

As soon as the “Gay Disco” moved back to its original venue, the crowds came back and it returned to its former glory days again, with a packed house at every gig. The only fly in the ointment was that, from 1987-1990, until moving to the permanent Student’s Union building, the entertainment license available to the Student’s Union at that time only permitted the discos to play until 11.30pm. Admittedly, that was really irritating, but the solution was for the “Gay Disco” to begin earlier on Friday nights, and the revellers could then move onto another venue at 11.30 to continue the partying. Once the Student’s Union moved into the new, permanent building, the late license permitted the disco to stay open until 1am. The “Gay Disco” would continue its association with myself and Magee College right up until 1998, when it moved out of Magee altogether and onto another permanent venue.

But back to late 1986, and the return of the “Gay Disco” to Magee, where a whole new chapter in my DJ career was to begin. As a direct result of that move, I was to begin my long residency as in-house DJ for the students in Magee Student’s Union. After I’d performed at several Magee gigs for the local gays, all the time under the watchful eyes of members of the Student’s Union Bar Committee and a few students who attended the “Gay Disco” on Friday nights (still once a month), I was in for a really unexpected surprise. They must have really liked what they heard, because after only a couple of “Gay Discos”, I was approached by the Student’s Entertainments Officer and asked if I would like to start as in-house DJ for the Student’s Union, two nights a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays. I jumped at the offer, and thus began a very long residency as DJ at Magee Student’s Union, all twenty-seven years of it, lasting right up until the end of September 2013, when I eventually decided to call it a day.

As I said, the closing time for discos at Magee during this period was 11.30pm, but we were all able to move on to another local nightclub afterwards to continue having even more fun, so things weren’t so bad. For the first time since I’d started as a DJ, back in 1980-1981, I was now in regular work, two nights each week (along with live bands) for the students, one friday night per month for the gays, and almost every Saturday night and Fridays that I wasn’t in Magee, I was working random gigs outside of my regular workplace, mostly weddings, christenings and birthday parties. It was a good time during my DJ career, and this continued for over a decade, up until the end of the 1990s.

I detailed in my last post about the radically different nature of the music at the “Gay Disco” compared to my earlier gigs – mostly hi-energy dance, disco, funk, soul and pop. Well, the regular Student gig on Tuesdays and Thursdays added yet another dimension to my music. It had some music in common with the “Gay Disco”, mostly soul and late-1970s and early-1980s chart music, with lots of New Romantic tunes, which were very popular at that time. But there was also quite a bit of classic rock and glam rock music, such as Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, Cream, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Led Zepplin, T-Rex, The Sweet and Gary Glitter, and some hard rock favourites such as Thin Lizzy, AC/DC, Guns ‘n’ Roses and Black Sabbath.

But, aside from the above music, if I was to give a general description of the overall tone of the music that I was playing at the Student’s Union in those early days of 1986-1990, I’d have to say “alternative”. That’s how student music was back then. Lots of punk rock, post-punk, early goth, ska, reggae and general New Wave, and indie/alternative music. The Sex Pistols, the Damned, the Clash, the Buzzcocks, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Killing Joke, the Fall, early U2 and Simple Minds, Echo and the Bunnymen, the Teardrop Explodes, early B-52s, the Pixies, Bauhaus, Joy Division, early New Order, the Police, the Beat, Madness, the Specials, the list goes on and on. It was a classic era for music at the Student’s Union.

I played my final gig in the old (portacabin) “Terrapin” in June 1990, before it was finally demolished during the summer to make way for the new, permanent Student’s Union, where I was to play my first gigs at the start of October 1990. This was to be the start of yet another new era in my career as a DJ. But I’ll leave that story for another time.

To Be Continued…

DJ Phil, a Brief Career Introspective – The Early Years (Part Two)

Last time out, I made the comment that, if I was going to get regular work, I’d have to start gigging outside my comfort zone of the rock and alternative scene, sell my soul to the dark side and start playing at commercial discos.

Well, sometime in 1983 (I can’t remember the exact date), and after several years of random, one-off soul, Northern Soul, punk, alternative, and hard rock discos (which I continued to gig at, by the way – the random gigs didn’t just stop), I got my first regular gig. Actually, it was only one Friday night per month, but it was still my first “regular”. And the music certainly was different from anything that I’d ever played before. Radically different. But it was most definitely NOT your typical Top 30 chart disco…

I’d been asked by some close friends if I would start playing once a month at a regular disco for the local gay community, which I thought was quite amusing, as I’m a card-carrying heterosexual myself. I was delighted to say “yes”, and this was to begin a fifteen-year association between myself and the gay community, during which I was the official DJ, from 1983-1998, at what everyone in Derry almost universally referred to as the “Gay Disco”. For the first couple of years, the disco was held in Dill House, an old Victorian red brick building which served as the Student’s Union at the local University of Ulster campus, sited at Magee College, a nice, quiet spot on the outskirts of the town, well away from the city centre.

Back in the early-1980s, the local gay music scene (and gay society as a whole) was much more underground and progressive than it is today. Many younger gays might disagree with me, but I’d argue that, in taking huge strides towards becoming more accepted and assimilated into “normal” society, the gay scene (in my town, at least), AND its music have lost their edge and become not only extremely similar to the “mainstream”, but, dare I say it, bland and dull, at least in comparison to the underground heyday of the 1980s, when virtually “anything goes” was the norm on the local gay scene.

Back in those days, anyone of LGBT orientation usually tried not to display their true nature and behaviour too much in public, in fear of the rampant homophobia (gay-bashing was pretty common in our town) in mainstream local society. The “Gay Disco” and other similar venues were usually in less central (to city centres) venues, well out of sight of any hostile anti-gay groups, and were places where gays of all shades could feel safe, let their hair down, and have fun. And, boy, did those people know how to have fun!

Everything about the “Gay Disco” was, exhibitionist, loud, and Proud To Be Gay. From the patrons themselves, many in drag, all trying to outdo each other with the most outrageously camp behaviour and dancing, to the music, which was, with very few exceptions (maybe a very short “slow set”), relentlessly upbeat in tempo. Aside from a handful of the better dance songs from the charts, it was non-stop classic soul, disco, funk, eurodance, and gay club anthems, many of which I had never even heard before. At the very beginning, I didn’t know whether I was coming or going half the time, and I was certainly winging it for the first few gigs before I started to find my feet. ๐Ÿ™‚

Well, I had to learn the ropes pretty darned fast, I can tell you. So I went out and started hunting down some completely new (new to me, anyway) types of music, most of it unique to the gay music scene, just for this one monthly gig. As a guy who was accustomed to playing loud, heavy, guitar music to hairy rockers, or frenetic punk riffs and weird New Wave tunes to spikey-haired “fraggles”, punks and skinheads, this was like stepping into a completely different world. There wasn’t a hard rock or punk rock tune in sight. Absolutely NO guitar music at the “Gay Disco”.

And y’know what? It was FUN! For a long time, the “Gay Disco” was the place to be for the best nightlife in Derry. Even the “straights” from the town (in the shape of crowds of gay-friendly punks and “fraggles”), looking for a late-night spot to hang out, would land up in large numbers at around 1.30am or 2am with their carry-outs (it was a “bring your own booze” gig), as the other pubs in the town would close around 1am, and the “Gay Disco” continued on sometimes until 3am or even 3.30am. For a couple of years, from 1983-1985, it was the best disco in the town.

But that all got put on hold for a year or two, as things temporarily took a turn for the worse on the gay social scene. The new, growing university campus at Magee College was being greatly expanded and redeveloped, with many of the older Victorian buildings demolished to make way for the brand spanking new modern university buildings. Unfortunately for the “Gay Disco”, venerable old Dill House was scheduled for demolition, and at some point during early 1985, the “Gay Disco” found itself without a home.

A quick relocation of venue was organized, but, unfortunately it was a very bad move, to the Union Hall, which was right bang smack in the centre of town, beside the city walls. This was very hostile territory for gays, with gangs of drunken “gay bashers” roaming the town and waiting outside at the end of each gig to give some unfortunate victims a beating. So very few gays actually ever went to this gig (there were rarely any more than a couple of dozen people at each disco), bar a handful of hardcore, brave, hardy souls. The “Gay Disco” limped along in limbo to near-empty halls for the best part of a year and a half.

Then, in late 1986, the “Gay Disco” returned to its original home on the Magee College campus, and a whole new chapter in my DJ career was to begin…

To Be Continued…

DJ Phil, a Brief Career Introspective – The Early Years (Part One)

Since I’m a DJ and (obviously) one of my greatest passions in life is music, I reckon that the time’s long overdue for me to start up a music blog, something covering both my thoughts and memories about music AND copious reviews of albums and specific music that I’m a fan of. Given that I’m a big fan of older music, I think that this rather retro, colourful theme suits the mood of my new blog perfectly. If it blinds anyone, just stick on the old sunglasses. ๐Ÿ™‚

But before I start posting any music reviews, I’m going to make a few introductory posts detailing my own personal music history, both as a fan and as a DJ. To set the ball rolling, here’s the first part of a short history of how I first started out as a DJ in my home town of Derry, Northern Ireland, and how my career has progressed (or not) up until the present day.

Well, I’ve been a DJ for a long, long time. Somewhere around thirty-two, maybe thirty-three years. I’m pretty sure that I started sometime in 1980, maybe early-1981 (I was nineteen or twenty years old at the time), although I can’t recall the exact date of my first gig, which is now lost somewhere in the mists of time. I know it was backing some local band or another. Most other young local DJs tended to start off helping out more experienced, more established DJs at discos, playing the start of shows before the main DJ took over. Me, I had to be different. I started off backing local alternative and rock bands at gigs.

Back in those days, I was heavily into the alternative and rock music (both hard and classic) scenes, a much bigger fan of those types of music than of more commercial pop music, and I had (still have) an enormous collection of that type of music on vinyl, both singles and LPs. In these early days, I always stayed the hell away from the safe option of playing any Top 30 chart hits at gigs, unless absolutely necessary (and I mean ABSOLUTELY necessary, like someone-has-a-gun-to-my-head necessary), and I very quickly started to gain a reputation for playing more adventurous, non-mainstream music at gigs, which of course began attracting those audiences with less commercial tastes in music. Pretty soon I had a nice little following.

Luckily for me the local alternative and rock scenes in my hometown were buzzing back in those days, and work was plentiful, if a bit sporadic. Within a few months, I was a regular feature, playing as backup DJ with local bands, almost always punk rock, New Wave and hard rock bands. This led me, shortly after that, to start spreading my wings a bit, breaking away from backing up groups on the band scene and playing my first solo discos.

All of these early solo gigs were one-off rock and alternative nights, most of them 21st birthday parties or something similar for friends who just happened to be rockers or punks, as those were the kind of people that I hung out with. It was a great thing being able to play only the kind of music that I really liked, for people in my own social circles, who liked exactly the same kind of music. ๐Ÿ™‚

But even back in those earliest days, I was starting to realize that if I wanted to actually get regular work, to become really successful as a DJ on the local scene, I’d have to start gigging outside of my comfort zones, at more commercial music discos. Which brings me to my first regular gig as a DJ…

To Be Continued…

In the Beginning… My Earliest Days on the Internet (Part Two)

When I first joined CompuServe UK, back in Christmas 1995, we were still in that antediluvial period when we had to pay by-the-hour for internet access, and it was a couple of years yet before Compuserve was to introduce monthly flat-rate payments (at the end of 1997), in response to an earlier similar move made by AOL. But, despite this, I quickly became an online junkie, with some pretty big quarterly phone bills to show for it. I learned very quickly (after the first phone bill, which was huge) that it would be very wise to start using an OLR (Off-Line Reader), a fantastic piece of software that automated the connection process with CompuServe, going online, downloading all my forum messages very quickly, and going offline as soon as that was done.

This helped cut my time online (and phone bills) down considerably from what they had been initially. I could now read and respond to all my forum messages offline, without running up huge bills, and all replies would be automatically uploaded and new messages downloaded the next time the OLR connected to CompuServe. I loved my OLR – actually, there were two – first I used NavCIS, then I moved on to OzWin, my favourite OLR, when NavCIS was discontinued. So much so that, even when CompuServe did away with the by-the-hour charges and introduced a monthly flat-rate of ยฃ19.99 in late 1997, I continued to use my OLR instead of the normal CompuServe online software (WinCIM), simply because it was a better piece of software, and much nicer to use.

By the end of the 1990’s, the state of the primitive web browsers had improved to a level where I started using them occasionally to venture out into the Web. But CompuServe remained my main base of operations for several years yet. AOL, CompuServe’s biggest rival, bought out the CIS branch of CompuServe in 1998, and CompuServe went into a slow and steady decline thereafter, with many members deserting it for other online enclaves or taking the big step of just booting up their web browsers (Mosaic and the earliest versions of Netscape were the most powerful at that time) and striking out into the web by themselves.

I hung on at CompuServe for a while yet, but, by 2002-2003, I followed the mass exodus out into the internet. By that time, I had another, cheaper ISP, which let me have browser-based internet access, and CompuServe had declined to such an extent that it was a mere shadow of its former self. I no longer saw any need to pay for two internet accounts, so I dropped CompuServe, ending an era which had encompassed my earliest, most happy days online.

Moving out into the wilds of the World Wide Web, I roamed all over the place for a couple of years like a crazy man, absorbing and downloading everything that I could. But once the novelty had worn off, I began to realize that I’d lost something very important, very special, that strong sense of belonging, of being a member of that classic, irreplaceable CompuServe community. In all the years since then, even with the advent of Facebook and other social media, I’ve never quite rediscovered the magical feeling that I felt during my first few years online with CompuServe, and I’ve never come across forums as active, exciting and fun to be a member of.

Those days will always remain my happiest times online, when I was part of that huge, close-knit, vibrant CIS community. I’ve always retained a deep affection for my first online home, and I still go back regularly to the CompuServe forums (what’s left of them) to visit my old buddies in SFLIT. CompuServe Classic, the original service, is now gone, but CompuServe 2000 still exists, and a few of the old forums still survive, and will continue to exist as long as there are enough people still using them to make it worthwhile.

The forums are now, of course, a pathetic shadow of their former glory, and most of the thousands of forums that existed back in the good old days are long gone, disappearing as the original membership left CompuServe in droves. But a few small groups of die-hards in SFLIT, BOOKS AND WRITER’S COMMUNITY and a handful of other forums have refused to give up, and are still fighting the good fight. So those forums continue to keep on keeping on, although the overall number of forums is now a tiny fraction of what once existed. This number continues to shrink ever further as forums fold, one-by-one, due to declining membership and post activity.

SFMEDIA folded into SFLIT quite a while back, and, most recently it was the COMICS & ANIMATION forum which folded into the BOOKS AND WRITER’S COMMUNITY. Those were two of my Top Three forums to hang out in, back in the day, when I used to check in on SFLIT, SFMEDIA and COMICS & ANIMATION daily, downloading hundreds of messages and posting regularly. So it really saddened me a lot to see those two forums disappear.

There are still some good old friends in SFLIT, and it’s always nice to go back for a decent conversation. Some things about CompuServe will never change, even if it has gone downhill, compared to the glory days of the Nineties. But I really, really miss the sheer excitement and fun I had during my earliest days on the classic CompuServe forums. It’s a great pity that we’ll never see the likes of those days again. ๐Ÿ™

In the Beginning… My Earliest Days on the Internet (Part One)

I’ve been online for a long time now, almost twenty years, in fact. My love affair with the internet started when I first came online on Christmas morning, December 1995, and has continued ever since. I can now barely remember what life was like before the internet, and it’s so much part of my daily existence nowadays that I simply couldn’t picture how my life would be without it.

Back in those days, the internet had been up and running for a while, but the World Wide Web was still in its infancy, and only a relatively few people were brave enough to venture out into the “wilds” of the Web, using nothing but one of the primitive web browsers available at the time. Besides, that early on in the Web’s existence, there weren’t really very many good websites out there anyway. So most of the fledgling web denizens tended to hang out in the safe online enclaves provided by the large commercial online services such as AOL, CompuServe and GEnie, which dominated the internet during its first couple of decades. And it was on CompuServe, otherwise known as CIS (CompuServe Information Service) that I was to spend my first few years on the internet.

In the heyday of CompuServe and AOL, every UK household used to get AOL and CompuServe CDs regularly in the mail. They bred like rabbits! I had dozens of them lying around the house, so many that I was never short of beer mats. ๐Ÿ™‚ Early on Christmas morning, I unpacked my latest, most anticipated Christmas present, a shiny new US Robotics Sportster 28.8k modem, connected it to the computer, popped a CompuServe CD in the drive, and I was off and running. I was about to enter the online world for the very first time.

I was a huge Doctor Who, Babylon 5 and Star Trek fan at that time (I still am), so the very first thing I did after joining CompuServe was to become a member of the SFMEDIA forum, a busy, bustling community full of nice, friendly sci-fi geeks, who all just happened to love the same kind of television series and films that I did. After living my entire life in almost complete isolation from other sci-fi fans, I was now in geek heaven. I had literally thousands of like-minded geeks to converse with online every single day. I made my first posting in the Babylon 5 section of SFMEDIA at 4.55am on Christmas morning, and never looked back.

As I was also a big fan of written SF, I moved on to join the SFLIT forum a day or two later, and I liked that forum even better than SFMEDIA. Then, after a few weeks finding my feet in the two SF forums, and as I was also a comics fan, I joined the COMICS & ANIMATION forum, then the SCIENCE forum, the SPACE forum, the HISTORY forum, and quite a few others. But it was the SFMEDIA, SFLIT and COMICS & ANIMATION forums which always remained my main hang-outs, my central “base of operations”, so to speak. From 1995, up until about 2002, my entire online existence, both on CompuServe and elsewhere revolved around those three forums.

These were the days before everyone and their dog had their own webpage/website, when anyone who was anybody had a presence on CompuServe. Big companies like IBM, Microsoft, Lotus and Borland had their own communities there, and ran their online business from CompuServe. Many of the big SF authors and fandom figures hung out on SFLIT (Mike Resnick, Ray Feist, Catherine Asaro, David Gerrold, Jeff Carver, Gardner Dozois, Jon Stith, Dave Truesdale and many others come to mind), the likes of Joe Straczynski (yeah, JMS himself) hung out on SFMEDIA, and Neil Gaiman, Warren Ellis, Steve Gerber and many other big comics writers and artists hung out on COMICS & ANIMATION.

Having notable media figures like this all in one place, interacting directly with fans and other members in the forums every single day, made CompuServe an absolutely incredible place to be back in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

To Be Continued…

It’s a Geek’s Life… (Part Three)

This one has been a long time coming. But better late than never, I suppose…

The Barren Years – The Near-Death of Geekery During the Eighties

All throughout the first half of the 1970’s, I was in geek heaven, having seemingly unlimited time to spend on my obsessions with comics, sf literature, telefantasy and sci-fi films. But by 1977-78, things began to change considerably.

I began my A-Levels at college in September 1977, two years of brutal, non-stop studying, followed immediately by another four years of more of the same as I pursued an Honours degree at university. This intensive studying at college and university during the 1977-83 timeframe drastically curtailed my free time. Except for a few short weeks over the summer breaks, I had no free time at all.

Added to this, there was the rapidly declining health of my father and the ever-growing responsibilities that I had looking after both him and my disabled brother. My father was being increasingly crippled by severe rheumatoid arthritis and other debilitating health problems, and within a few short years, by the time I was in my first year at university, he was a wheelchair-bound invalid. I was now responsible not only for looking after two disabled adults, but for also somehow trying to miraculously find the time to study for an Honours degree as well.

The result of all this was that my geek hobbies pretty much died in the early Eighties, or were put on life support for quite a few years, at the very least. This prolonged period of sheer, relentless drudgery totally broke two out of three of my longest-standing geek hobbies – reading comics and SF literature. Only the sci-fi television and film obsession escaped relatively unscathed, and my sci-fi TV and film watching habit has remained relatively constant over the years.

It took me a long time to recover from those years, particularly when it came to reading SF. Sure, I still read a fair bit of SF today, but, even now, my SF reading habit hasn’t quite recovered to its former frequency, and is certainly nowhere near the obsessive marathon levels it had been at during my teens. Unlike back then, I rarely read novels at all these days, although I still read short fiction regularly.

As for comics, I actually gave up reading them altogether for a full decade, from 1982-1991. I came back to them sporadically from 1991-1997, but I only really became a serious comics collector again from about late-1997 onwards. However, the good news is that my comics reading habit has actually grown again in recent years to a level that surpasses even what it was back in my teens.

I’m still a hardcore geek, and always will be. But those dark years back at the end of the 1970’s and during most of the 1980’s almost totally ruined it for me on a permanent basis. Luckily I’ve now pretty much fully recovered most of my geek cred and activities. Mostly.

But as much fun as being a geek still is today, the one thing that I can regretfully never rediscover is that wide-eyed innocence, enthusiasm and sense of sheer joy that I experienced way back in my early teens, when I first became a serious geek. It’s like being a virgin. Once it’s gone, it’s gone for good. ๐Ÿ™‚

It’s all just not quite as wondrous and pure any more when you’re a middle-aged cynic. ๐Ÿ™‚