Archive | fiction RSS for this section

gnu diction — find wordy and commonly misused phrases in texts

The gnu program diction searches text files for known poor constructions, based on a database. (See also gnu style.)

I installed it from GetGnuWin32.

For example:

$ diction -s makeemf.txt 
makeemf.txt:5: I have all the poppler stuff installed, [so -> (do not use as intensifier)]:

makeemf.txt:13: I use pdfcrop from TeXLive pdfcrop --margins "-52 -250 -20 -25" page4.pdf page4-crop.pdf [So -> (do not use as intensifier)] now I have my PDF.

makeemf.txt:17: [Can -> (do not confuse with "may")] I import it into Word?

3 phrases in 14 sentences found.

The things to be checked are enclosed in square brackets. The -s causes diction to provide suggestions.

Tools to be used along with it might include unrtf, unhtml, libreoffice command line, and other tools that convert marked-up and formatted files to plain text.

Look here for interesting examples of how to make a custom style to find things in your documents:

The diction databases are, in my case, stored in:


I imagine on a Linux system they’d be in /usr/share, but I have not checked. Anyway, typically a file look like this:

$ head /cygdrive/c/Users/darren/installs/getgnuwin32/GetGnuWin32/gnuwin32/share/diction/en
 a considerable amount of much
 a large number of many
 a lot of Often obsolete, should sometimes be replaced by "many"
 a majority of most
 a man who
 a matter of concern (cliche, avoid)
 a need for need
 a number of many, several
 a particular preference for
 a small number of few
(and so on)

Note that the left is the phrase to check for — including any leading spaces — and then after a tab (must be a tab to distinguish it from spaces within the phrase) comes the suggestion, if there is one. Very simple!

Could easily make up a diction file to look for your pet hates or common errors.


Wherever you go, there you are.

A portrait of the artist as a young dog: a few uneducated remarks

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog

Dylan Thomas

Dent 1958; 254 pages

Ten semi-autobiographical stories about Thomas’s life in Wales before heading off to London to become famous, Just how semi they may be, I cannot say.

Cover of hard back

Both sides

The stories aim at … well, not at thrilling with endless action or suspense, They are about capturing moments in a life, moments that either show a stage or show a transition, or, in the last one (‘One warm Saturday’), a might-have-been.

Free of the need for a through-plot, the author can focus on evoking places and memories, feelings. At this, the book is successful. A poet’s eye for a telling detail, arresting metaphor or image; these are the book’s main strengths. The likeability of young Dylan is not — not that he is especially unpleasant. Indeed, he often simply is, which is to the book’s credit; it seems free of axes being ground or morals being propounded,

Thomas writes a nice sentence, His characters are drawn effectively and economically. Howsoever that may be, the end of each vignette is an opportunity to put the book down and not pick it up again. Unless the little details of Thomas’s life and the puzzle of working out what in the book is a real detail are of interest, the book is not compelling in the commercial fiction sense. It is easy to read, striking in places, and interesting enough. I did not rush through it, but read another story when I felt like dipping into the book’s placid, ‘black & white photo of my grandparents’ kind of world.

Most definitely worth reading. I guess I ought to check out his poems; after all, he’s probably more famous as a poet and as the author of Under Milk Wood than as a writer of prose fiction.

Note on the edition: This is the 1958 printing of the 1940 first edition. It is a time-softened, well-thumbed hard-cover, ex-library, and somehow seems completely suitable to this text, which is more redolent of hard covers and newspapers than mass-market paperbacks and airports. I wonder if the format being suited to the feel of the content is really important; I suspect for a book like this, that trades in memories and evocations (and of a time now becoming quite long ago), it is quite important.


Of course, what would I know.

CSFG Anthology – Unnatural Order

The Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild (CSFG) has just announced its 2019 anthology theme: Unnatural Order.

Here is the vital link:

Maws, paws, jaws, and claws! Fin and fur and fang. Tentacles, scales, steel. The weirder the protagonist, the more alien, the less recognizable, the better!

Thanks to Dave for the notification.

Is this a typecast?

And here’s the OCR’d text.

This a very careful sample of typing on my Remington 17. A couple of keys remain sticky, mainly ‘a’ and ‘1’, but others play up now and again too.

It means that it is not the fastest typer in my range, although I think you can see that if I don’t go too fast for it, it produces a nice line of type.

I think I might need to tighten up the main spring to help it pull the carriage a bit faster, since even when I type with the not-sticky keys, sometimes the letters can run together a bit, as if the thing does not have time to move the carriage.

Conversely, the type is clear, well-aligned and easy to read; the bell is clear but not too loud and all the functions seem to work — tabs, ribbon colour selection, all that sort of stuff.

Given what it was like when I got it, it is pretty good. I doubt it will ever be a great, smooth, easy machine to use, but on balance I have to be happy with the performance.

For reference, this is direct from the OCR program, completely unedited, using the script noted above, which is also pasted in below.

This a very careful sample of typing on my Remington 17.
A couple of keys remain sticky, mainly ‘a’ fi.and ‘1’, but others – play up now and again too.

It means that it is not the fastest typer in my range, although
I think you can see that if I don’t go too fast for it, it
prOduces a nice line of type.
I think I might need to tighten up the main spring to help it pull the carriage a bit faster, since ewen when I type with the not-sticky keys, sometimes the letters can run togethr
abit, as if the thing does not have time to move the carriage.
ConverSely, the type is clear, well-aligned and easy to read; the bell is clear but not too loud and all the functions seem A
to work — tabs, ribbon colourselection, all that sort of stuff. Giveanhat it was like when I got it, it is pretty good.
I doubt it will ever be a great, smooth, easy machine to use,
but on balance I have to be happy with the performance.

Not too bad, really.

Here is the script:

$ cat ~/bin/
# /bin/bash
# v. 1.0
# Script to scan, ocr, process and concatenate pages, e.g. from a
# typewriter.
# D.J.Goossens, 14 July 2016.
# Start at 1001 so we can be (pretty!) sure all filenames have 4 digit
# numbers
# Create the output file.
echo This is v. 1.0
echo Make sure you give it the output filename as a command line argument.
echo Ctrl-D escapes from the scanning, Ctrl-C elsewhere.
echo The resulting images and text files are not deleted.
echo They are of the form outXXXX.pnm and outXXXX.pnm.txt and
echo may be quite big.
echo If sane/xsane is running, exit it now.
echo Hit Ctrl-C to exit now or Enter to continue.
read Response
echo 'Text file from v. 1.0' > $1
echo Processed `date` to $1 >> $1
echo 'Note: When it says "document 1001", treat it as document (page) 1'
scanimage --batch --batch-prompt --batch-start 1001 -p --mode=Gray --resolution=600
# Outputs are of the form out????.pnm. Loop over them
for f in out????.pnm;
tesseract $f $f
# The above produces out????.pnm.txt, which we can process,
# where first we replace double occurrences of newline with a placeholder
# string, then replace single occurrences with a space, then replace the
# placeholder with a return character (it is a trick of regular
# expressions that we search for \n (newline) but write \r (return) when
# we mess with the file).
vim -c "%s/\n\n/pLaCeHoLdErStRiNg/g" -c "wq" $f.txt
vim -c "%s/\n/ /g" -c "wq" $f.txt
vim -c "%s/pLaCeHoLdErStRiNg/\r/g" -c "wq" $f.txt
cat $f.txt >> $1
echo Try typing libreoffice $1 to see what you have got.
echo Setting paragraph formatting to indented and one and a
echo half space is a good start.
echo Compressing pnm files to $1.tar.gz then deleting
echo tar c -vzf $1.tar.gz out????.pnm
tar c -vzf $1.tar.gz out????.pnm
rm out????.pnm

A bit verbose, eh? But works pretty well when the copy is reasonably clean.

Typecast out.

sf Impulse: A random review of nothing you’ll read

sf Impulse Vol 1 No 7

Roberts & Vinter, 1966

160 pages

This is the seventh issue of Impulse/sf Impulse, the successor magazine to Science Fantasy. It’s the last issue edited by Kyril Bonfiglioli, and in that way possibly marks the beginning of the end — not many more were to come.

Scan of the cover showing a giant lily attacking an oil well.

The cover of sf Impulse volume 1 number 7. Quite a good cover, I think.

If this is anything to go by, it’s not hard to see why.

It contains 70 pages of Make Room, Make Room!, Harry Harrison’s overpopulation novel, the one that led to the movie Soylent Green, and that is far and away the best thing in it. Most of the rest is taken up by ‘The Rig’, a vaguely interesting but very silly story by Chris Boyce. The rest is better left unnamed. It’s not even an interesting cultural artefact, because there aren’t any funky old adverts or naff but nifty examples of internal art. The cover is probably the second best thing about it.

You’ll never see a copy of it anyway, but this is really only for the completist collector or someone who weirdly has the other parts of the serial. It cost me 50¢ as a curiosity many years ago. I finally got around to reading it and I should have waited longer.

Strange highways.

Hurrah! A delightful reading experience at last!

A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah!

by Harry Harrison

NEL 1976, 192 pages.

Considered logically, this book has many flaws. Read closely, it shows a lot of proofreading errors, and at least one glaring copyediting error — the presence of ‘Brabbage‘ mechanical calculators, rather than ’Babbage’. Yet I think it’s a good book and happily recommend it.

Harrison posits that, through a single small event coming out differently, Spain remains Muslim in the 20th century. As a result, North America was not colonised by the Spanish. The English therefore gained a stronger toehold, with the result that it remains part of the empire, and indeed is not yet even independent.

The cover of a A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah! by Harry Harrison, showing an underwater digging machine rather like a walking oil rig.

Cover of 1976 NEL edition of the book.

Harrison lays out the consequences of the events clearly enough. For some reason Germany remains a confederation of minor states. The French are the great enemy, and George Washington, whose heir is the story’s protagonist, is a reviled traitor. Harrison seems to suggest that, because the aeroplane was invented in America and the steam train in Britain, the aeroplane is a large slow device but the train is a nuclear powered miracle. This of course does not hold up to the most cursory inspection. Wasn’t the nuclear reactor just as much an American invention as the aeroplane? And, if we consider the development of nuclear science as accelerated by WWII, would it exist in any form in an alternative world where Fermi and the like were not gathered in the US but scattered across Europe (because here they were not fleeing the Nazis — who do not exist). And Europe was not that far behind the Wright brothers in developing planes, and by 1910 most of the development was happening in Europe.

There are other, similarly unconvincing repercussions, but to pick at them misses the charm of the book. Yes, tunnelling thousands of miles across the Abyssal Plane is … unlikely to say the least. Yes, the stiff Victorian-ness of key characters seems unlikely — just because the empire persisted, does not mean it stood still. But Augustus Washington’s journey by giant lumbering gas-powered helicopter, his battles with the forces of sabotage, privilege and misunderstanding, the races against time, the rescues and cliff-hangers, these things make this a fun read. Perhaps not a scholarly one, even the author admits!

These days, we would consider the book as steampunk And it is. I can’t say I’ve read a lot of steampunk, so I hesitate to recommend this to the modern connoisseur; but it would certainly be worth a look. Harrison wrote a lot of pretty ordinary SF. While his work was popular and widely available, no one considers him as the genre at its most literary. The books he is most well known for are fast actioners like the Stainless Steel Rat books, and another parallel universe series, the West of Eden books, which are in many ways his most major achievement.

This book deserves to be ranked up there with his most highly regarded books. It is still mostly about fast action, but it places it in an interesting time and place. Though there are some pretty cardboard characters, Harrison does not play them false and maintains excellent control of tone. Harrison’ s grip on the required terminology and appropriate technology is solid and never takes you out of the story — as long as the preposterous tunnel of the title doesn’t bother you too much.

I believe this is also known by the inferior title Tunnel through the deeps. By either name, it’s what I would call ‘a good read‘. Perhaps find it in a different, more carefully edited edition, though. While Harrison’s prose and characters never jerked me out of the story, the errors certainly did!

It makes a good airport novel; read it while you fly over the Atlantic, and imagine spending half a day hurtling through an evacuated tunnel inside a sealed can towed by nuclear powered steam locomotive. It’s a glorious vision of a world that never was.


Announcement – A Hand of Knaves TOC — David Versace

The table of contents for CSFG’s upcoming anthology A Hand of Knaves has just been released. I am pleased to announced that my story “A Moment’s Peace” is in the mix. (It’s a fantasy-world burglary featuring a point man with an unusual condition). You can see the full list of authors and titles here. A…

via Announcement – A Hand of Knaves TOC — David Versace

The incomplete Pete: Tragically, I was an only Twin by Peter Cook

Why this is subtitled ‘The Complete Peter Cook’ I don’t know. Unless it’s like an epithet, as in ‘you’re a complete twit’; I mean, Peter Cook was clearly a complete Peter Cook, but this book is not the complete Peter Cook, not even close. It admits as much itself. Anyway. If you don’t know, Peter Cook was the funniest man alive until he died, after which he became the funniest man dead, an even greater achievement. By the age of 30 he had had successful reviews in the West End and on Broadway, had starred in movies, started a nightclub and was owner of Private Eye, the satirical newspaper. By the time he was 40 we was kind of over it, and seemed to only bother to exert his still-remarkable talents when there was a point to prove or some pompous public figure to deflate. That his powers remained undimmed until his untimely, alcohol-fuelled death in 1995 is apparent. Perhaps the flood slowed to a meander, but even a cursory look (for example here, at Alan Latchley) shows that the brilliance was still there. John Cleese has come in second on lists of (Brit) ‘comedians’ comedian’ type polls, always to Cook, and he said that whereas it took he and his contemporaries six hours to produce a three minute sketch, it took Cook precisely three minutes, or so it seemed. More than one person has said he seemed to turn on a tap, tune in to some amazing stream of logical absurdity, and just let it flow.

<i>Tragically I was an Only Twin</i> by Peter Cook.

Tragically I was an Only Twin by Peter Cook.

This book samples most of the more significant corners of Cook’s career. From before Beyond the Fringe (he was writing West End shows for Kenneth Williams while still an undergraduate, sharing the writing duties with Harold Pinter and others), through the Fringe, through Not Only…  But Also… and Private Eye, on to the depths of Derek and Clive and the last flashes of genius. The book is… amusing. Very funny in a few places. Would it have been as funny were I not familiar with his work? I don’t know. I’ve heard or seen quite a few of these pieces, especially the Pete and Dud and Beyond the Fringe stuff, so I hear the words in my mind’s version of his voice. Most of what he wrote was not written to be read. Indeed, there are often no ‘standard’ written versions at all. Some of the sketches reproduced here were taken from scripts but many were transcribed, because he would improvise and invent. He got bored with fixed material and would change it every night during a run on stage, though there were ‘bits’ that tended to stay.

The book is uneven, of course, because it is a book of bits, (though not bits of a book). Often the funniest stuff is the stuff that works least well on paper. Pete and Dud in the Art Gallery needs to be seen — or at least heard. Even though there are relatively few visual gags and the sketch is essentially a conversation, the gleam in Peter’s eye as he tries to make Dudley corpse, the little smile when he says, “you didn’t spit sandwich at him, did you?” or whatever it is; only when you can see those things does the relationship really come alive and then the lines come to life. The brilliance can be seen on the page, but not fully appreciated without the video. You tube, it’s all there these days.

The Private Eye stuff I did not much like. That and Derek and Clive are probably the low points. I know Cook and Moore busted boundaries and pushed back the borders of the possible with Derek and Clive. I know some people think it’s great. I don’t. The rudeness does not bother me, but the nastiness and the lack of actual humour does. This book does a decent job of selecting the few bits of Derek and Clive that are actually (mildly) witty. It always seems to me that if an artist is going to throw off strictures, if they are not going to be bound, then they need to be better than usual. Just busting limits is not funny of itself. Shocked people might titter nervously, but a good comic is, I think, not aiming for that laugh. Broaching topics and images that have been taboo is all well and good, but that needs to be a path to something. It needs to say something that is worth saying that could not be said otherwise, or at least make a joke that could not be made otherwise. It needs to be more than ‘aren’t we shocking! Tee hee hee!’ Derek and Clive fails as comedy for the simple reason that it is not funny; there were some jokes and as I said this does a decent job of picking them out. That work was the end of Cook’s partnership with Moore. He was relentlessly nasty to Moore during the taping of the last album, and drove him away. Moore was breaking into Hollywood at that time and was soon to star in 10 and Arthur, and he never worked with Cook again, apart from bringing out some old material for Galas and the like.

The work does noticeably thin out after 1980. Cook was only in his early 40s at that stage, but decided to slow down lest he fulfil his potential. You might know him as the ‘Impressive Clergyman’ in The Princess Bride, who talks endlessly about ‘twoo wuv’, as Nigel in Supergirl (unlikely — no one likes that movie. I’ve not seen it) or … no, he’s pretty much invisible these days if you don’t go looking for him.

This book is not the place to start. But for the Cook fan it’s a nice little compendium.


Inessential, but funny.

Productive For Whom? The Productivity Commission and Copyright in Australia.

So some months ago the Productivity Commission of the Australian Government released a draft report on ‘Intellectual Property Arrangements‘. The summary of recommendations can, as of October 2016 when I write this, at least, be found here:

It suggests that copyright should expire much sooner…

DRAFT FINDING 4.2 While hard to pinpoint an optimal copyright term, a more reasonable estimate would be closer to 15 to 25 years after creation; considerably less than 70 years after death.

Many books are still valuable properties of the authors at 15 years out. An author writes a book at 25 and loses their own rights to it when still only 40 years old? Under such a recommendation, once a book is 15 years old, the publisher (any publisher?) can make money from it, a bookseller, a wholesaler, Amazon (poor, living-on-the-breadline Amazon) can make money from it, but not the person who wrote it. Madness. At least let them own it until they die. I agree, 70 years past death is a bit generous (is that the Walt Disney provision?) but at least let an author own their own work while they’re alive.

How about this one:

DRAFT RECOMMENDATION 5.2 The Australian Government should repeal parallel import restrictions for books in order for the reform to take effect no later than the end of 2017.

So while the UK and the USA and nearly every other major market in the world has such restrictions, we should remove them, handicapping our own industry. This one does make sense in one perverse way; we have already killed off manufacturing in Australia, and are currently in the process of killing off agriculture, by opening up our market to other countries who do not open up to us. No, of course I am joking; this one does not make sense. It might make books a little cheaper (though I doubt it. I can’t see the handful of big publishers (who such a change would put in an even more powerful position) passing on any savings; I don’t think there is real competition), but it will mean that Australian stories are harder to find at any price. Now, a significant amount of what the report suggests is not unreasonable, but some things are untenable. I wrote a submission to the commission, on the draft report, which I discovered is available freely on the web Please ignore the typo in the second paragraph (winces). Since it is freely available, I reproduce it below, because I can.



May 23, 2016

To whom it may concern:

I’d like to address the issues of copyright and parallel imports, though I am not a commercial author, editor or publisher or working in the industry at all.

Lifting of parallel import restrictions will reduce the number of locally made, written and published books. The case of New Zealand makes this clear, where multinational publishers have closed NZ offices. Since major players like the USA have parallel import restrictions, it is not like we are even creating a level playing field. It may be time to open an international dialogue about PIR, it is not time for self-destructive unilateral action. Unless we like the idea of local voices being even more maginalised.

As to ‘DRAFT FINDING 4.2’, this is clearly a discouragement to create. It is also absurdly inequitable. It may be true that most works have a short commercial life, but this is far from universal. How can the commission simply assume that all books have the same pattern of sales? Many books go through multiple editions over twenty, thirty or more years, especially in technical fields. Successful books by living authors remain in print for decades. Why after 15 or even 25 years is it acceptable for a publisher to make money from a book but not the author? What gives the publisher more rights than the actual originator and creator of the work? This priorities are, well, backwards.

And if an author does not want a book back in print, they need to keep that right, too. An author’s reputation is a major asset. Allowing publication of early, inferior works, or of works that the author no longer believes in, against the author’s wishes, has the potential to damage their reputation and hence livelihood. One can easily imagine a well-resourced publisher putting a non-copyright version of an early work up against a newer book by the same author, capitalising on the publication of the new book, but paying no royalties and possibly muddying the waters and reducing sales of the new book, which after all has to pay royalties where the out-of-copyright edition does not. That is not equitable. Maybe it is or is not a bad financial decision for an author to not allow a work back into print – but it must be their decision.

Just because it is easy to reproduce a work, especially in the electronic age, does not make it right. It is easy to slap a baby; that does not make it right. We download stuff for free all the time, legally and easily. We must guard against the attitude that we should get stuff for free just because it is easy.

Productivity includes ensuring that the creators have a position from which to create, otherwise there is no industry, no productivity. While it may be true that artists and writers are driven to express themselves, that does not mean laws should be changed to make them easier to exploit. If they cannot make a living from their work, they will do it part time or not at all, and we will all be the poorer.

Perhaps the pendulum needs to swing, but in this case it is swinging too far.

Best wishes

Darren Goossens



Shouting at the void.

In Your Face, a not-quite impartial review.

First, a statement of conflict of interest: I have a story in this book. Having said that, I can easily talk about the strongest stories without mentioning my own…

The front cover of <i>In Your Face</i>. Yes, it's ugly.

The front cover of In Your Face. Yes, it’s ugly.

The book sets itself to tackle potentially distressing subject matter, things that challenge what we think is ‘right‘ by showing the justification for the dark side, for example. Or just hideous mental images. It contains the long and somewhat contentious ‘Wives‘ by Paul Haines, and it and some of the other pieces (‘No Fat Chicks‘ by Cat Sparks, the story that triggered off the whole book, for example) ask us questions about the fundamental nature of human beings.

We are animals. For tens of thousands of years, might did make right. The ancient Greeks for all their civilisation kept boys for their pleasure — not something acceptable where I live. Mores change. What is universally ‘good’ or ‘bad’? The man who rapes a lot of women will ensure that his genes stay in circulation, and is thus anything but a perversity when viewed against the imperatives of survival and evolution.

We’ve been civilised for the blink of an eye. We have decided that some of these things are wrong only yesterday, in evolutionary terms. We have to try to control ourselves using our intellects, but should we be so surprised that it so often breaks down? No, not really. Should we think about this when we punish people – men – for crimes? Hard questions to look full in
the face.

Is tolerance really a virtue, or just the top of the slippery slope, asks Ian McHugh, in ‘Tolerance’, a story that opens ‘The paedophiles are protesting again’. ‘Home and Hearth’ by Angela Slatter is one of the most powerful pieces. It asks unflinchingly about the limits of parental love.

A clutch of stories look at the unseen implications of leaving our children a world in dire straits, when we are fighting the planet itself and there are no spaces left for niceties. And some, like Alan Baxter’s ‘Bodies of Evidence’, conjure up some gruesome scenes, enough to make me (not the toughest of mind’s eyes, I must admit) squirm.

I’m extremely pleased to be in this book. Not just because for me any story that sells is a minor miracle, but because the quality of the company is so high, the production values are so high, and the book aims to do something more than the already-tough-enough task of assembling some worthwhile reading material. Nearly every story worked for me (the strike-rate is very high), and every single one made me think about my assumptions, about maybe how I was, despite my best efforts, still a creature of the darkness as well as the light. We all think about doing wrong. We all act out of base motives sometimes. It’s hard to look that in the face.

The editor, who set out to confront, trigger off new, challenging thoughts, and at the same time to entertain, has succeeded, and succeeded comprehensively. Even if she was silly enough to buy one of my stories…

Available as ebook and large format paperback in most of the usual places, but here is the publisher page.

Born to be mild…