R is for Ray

As many of you will know, a few weeks ago saw the death of a seminal figure in science fiction, horror and fantasy - and perhaps the best short story writer of all time - Ray Bradbury. A few years ago I was honoured to be asked to write an introduction for a prestige re-issue of one of Bradbury’s best-known collections, courtesy of Peter Crowther at PS Publishing, another lifelong Bradbury fan. Both the opportunity and the kind note I received from Mr Bradbury after publication represent banner moments in my working life. As a tiny personal tribute to one of the most inspirational figures in the history of genre fiction, I’m reproducing the introduction below.  



‘I dedicate these stories to all boys who wonder about the Past, 

run swiftly in the Present, and have high hopes for our Future.’

Ray Bradbury, 

Los Angeles

March 28, 1962




There are three authors without whom I would not have wound up writing fiction for a living. One of those, the earliest and perhaps most significant, is Ray Bradbury.

Okay, you might be thinking — so Bradbury shoulders a third of the blame. Big deal. What’s your point?

Well, for a start — don’t be so rude. It’s not becoming. Secondly, my purpose is not to be self-indulgent, more to recognize the fact that when considering Bradbury, I find it impossible not to be personal. I suspect anyone would feel the same. You don’t just mutter ‘Yeah, I read Bradbury as a kid’ in the offhand way you say ‘I played football on most Wednesday afternoons’. Bradbury was a formative experience. Bradbury was news. He isn’t a writer to be referenced with cool appraisal and judicious appreciation, but someone you absorbed, a teller of stories which seeped into your pores until they coated the inside of your bones. Bradbury is the first time you see a tiger, or sense that girls are some day going to become extremely interesting. Bradbury is ice cream.

I started to read science fiction around the age of twelve. I can’t recall how or why it happened — my parents didn’t and hadn’t, and my friends weren’t — but it did. I read Asimov and Clarke first, tried a little Van Vogt after that, a Ben Bova or two, and at least one Philip K. Dick.

But then... I sang the body electric.

I think that was the first, anyway. It could equally have been The Golden Apples of the Sun, or The Silver Locusts. I read the collections in such quick succession that they blurred together, and I was blown away.

I’d no idea you could write that kind of thing, or use language this way, or that the quiet, echoing melancholy which charges so many of these stories existed in real life. It does, of course, as one comes to learn with age. Instead of growing out of the Bradbury stories I loved in my early teens, I find I’m still growing into some of them. His fiction touches the child which lives in every adult, to be sure, but it also awakens the adult in the child.

I have about ten different volumes of Bradbury from that early period, 1970s editions. All are well-read and look and smell like old books should — dusty, a little browned and worn, as if they have been gripped for periods in the hands of a smallish boy.

Not one of them, strangely, is R is for Rocket.


Soon after I met the woman who would become my wife, I remember her being stuck by seeing me deleting the first paragraph of a story I had just finished, on the grounds it would be better that way. It had not occurred to her that fiction went through this process, that stories were fluid and slippery things which you had to capture with a big net and then trick into being trapped in a box.

This is understandable. When you are confronted with a novel, printed up in a standard typeface and on novel-type paper, bound within the kind of covers novels have, and perhaps in its fourth or fifth (or fifty first) printing, it is hard to remember there was a time when it was provisional, an editable series of words on screen, or annotated pages of typescript — or even just an idea rolling around in someone’s head while they made lunch or went for a stroll or waited impatiently for coffee to perk: that a sentence, passage or character could have been excised or added. That, in fact, it might never have been written at all.

I know all this from the inside, yet Bradbury’s stories have become so much part of the bedrock of my imagination that I find it impossible to imagine they too might not have existed. Or have turned out differently. Or even, given the beauty and clarity and correctness of Bradbury’s lyric prose, that a single word might have been different. One might as well try to imagine that a Brandenburg Concerto had originally been written as a bossanova for trumpet and kazoo, or that Mickey Mouse had originally been a baboon. It will be otherwise for Bradbury himself, of course, but for the rest of us his work is the deep strata geology of fantastic fiction. His stories are its basic laws and axioms, and the doors he unlocked are the ones we now always find open in our minds. They are the apple which fell on Newton’s head.

And yet somehow, despite their familiarity, they retain the otherworldliness which first made them so striking on first reading. R is For Rocket was published in 1962, when the author was forty two years old. Or, put in more self-indulgent fashion, only three years older than I am now. In fewer than five years I’ll be older than the author of this collection. That freaks me out — in the same way I believe it must be extremely odd, the year one attains a greater age than one’s father did before he died. Fathers manifest oldness. They are older than you, by definition. That there may come a time when you are seventy four, though your father never got past seventy one, is strange pure and simple. You’re older now than your old man ever was. If you saw him in the street, he’d be younger than you. If you both had sixty years stripped off your age now, you’d be fourteen when he was eleven. You could beat him up, if it came to it. Which hopefully it wouldn’t. It’s paradoxical. And not polite.

Imagine your father as a small boy.

As you get older you come to believe that you have the measure of the world, for better and for worse, that it holds few surprises and nothing to quicken the breath. If we wonder, we do so very specifically. We wonder when we’ll get the corner office. We wonder if our loved one is having an affair. We wonder what that burning smell is. We find it hard to just wonder, generally, or to find the wonder within something: we become practised at wondering as verb, but cease to experience ‘wonder’ as a noun. Unless, perhaps, one is lucky enough to read Bradbury at the right age — where he can act as an inoculation against the commonplace, a lifetime vaccination against cheap cynicism and easy doubt.

When I re-read R Is For Rocket recently I was delighted — though not much surprised — to discover that wonder was still stored there, musking the smell of the pages, flitting up from them like a butterfly trapped and now released once again.

One of the ways Bradbury’s stories make this mockery of time is by speaking so directly to the emotions — like the overheard snatch of song which zaps you straight back to an afternoon when you were sixteen. He encapsulates the many by writing about the one, by writing about you — the version of you that is still young and optimistic, who yet runs swiftly and whose hopes will always be high. There is an thrilling openness in the way his prose goes to the heart of what people feel, an ebullient freshness which does not stale. There is a lyric perfection, too, in the less-is-moreness of the storytelling, the obliqueness which ensures something is always left to be gleaned from a return visit.

This is another way in which they resemble music: somewhere between the atmosphere and his voice and the dialogue and the events is something intangible but momentous, rather like the combination of the elements in a truly great song. If you get a few Bradbury fans together, it’s likely that sooner or later someone will say ‘Oh, and what about that one where...’ And the bones of the story will be told, a few plot points sketched with a line or scene quoted to nail the atmosphere, and the people listening will shiver and say: ‘Oh, yes, I remember that one’.

I can’t think of another author of whom people do this. Whose stories can almost be hummed.


I can’t believe I’m taking up your time like this, when I know what’s just over the page. Luckily, I’m nearly done.

There are famous stories in this collection. Stories which would make anyone’s Greatest Hits compilation. There are less well-known ones, too, the neglected B-sides. All are tales with the power to make boys and girls of us once more, and wonder is cheap at any price. Take my advice and turn the page quickly, because something else Bradbury teaches you is this:

The world will not always be the same. Not everything lasts, and people do die, and things change and the river will not always run. So love this life while it lasts.

Be here while you can. And enjoy.








Michael Marshall Smith


February 2004



Launch of ememess.com

Loath though I am to steal the thunder of whatever trivial piece of news Apple has for us later in the week, I'm delighted to announce the launch of Ememess Press, a site dedicated to the short fiction of, well... me. The site comes courtesy of the web wizardry of Fictitious Bob and his coding elves, and the idea is to make my short stories available — for the first time — in e-format. Every fortnight, three short stories will be published. (For now, ememess press is focussing on Kindle format. In the fullness of time iBooks and others may be brought into the fold. Imagine it as being a bit like when The Beatles finally hit iTunes. I certainly do.) The site is also optimised for use with iPhone, iPad and Kindle Fire.

The stories will range from alleged classics to lesser-known rarities and B-sides. Issue One, out today, features British fantasy Award-winning MORE TOMORROW, optioned-for-film HELL HATH ENLARGED HERSELF, and a lighter piece DIET HELL. You can buy the stories individually, or in Issue format — in which case, the third one comes free.

The site will also feature occasional special items, and they're kicking that off with the publication of my only novella so far, THE VACCINATOR. More of this kind of thing to come in the months ahead. It’s been fun getting the thing up and running, and I really hope that you enjoy the stories...



Location, location, location. And coffee.


As a break from ranting about copyright and Sprint (though, Sprint fans will want to know, I heard last week that The Carrier of Weeping Doom has grudgingly conceded that they can’t really keep five hundred of my bucks and not give me anything in return, and so the case is now closed) I thought I’d ask a cheerful, fun-loving question instead.

I love hotels. (Yes, I know that’s a statement, not a question, but stick with it.) As a result I get stressed when booking them in cities I don’t know, because the difference between the right hotel and the wrong one is a wide gulf indeed and I plummet into an opportunity cost vortex. There are innumerable little apps and sites out in the infospaces inviting people to catalogue and share (of course, we must always share) their favourite spots in the world, including hotels. These apps and sites are always beautifully-designed and mostly manage to avoid too obviously bellowing their true raison d’etre, which I assume boils down to “We glommed a little venture capital and hired some cool people off Dribblr and what we’re basically hoping is that we get enough traction in 18 months that Google or Facebook buy us and make us bazillionaires”. The problem is that I can’t be arsed to spend my life on these sites/apps, not least because I have no reason to trust the other people on there (in fact, if I’m honest, I have an automatic distrust of anyone who spends a lot of their time ranking things on the Internet, like a kind of grandstanding OCD). At the other end of the scale, while more popularist sites like TripAdviser can be very useful (and have saved me from making dire mistakes a couple of times), it’s tiresome to wade through all the ranting loonies venting about the fact that the staff wouldn’t change the direction of the earth’s spin to suit their specific needs, or that the weather wasn’t great AND IT’S THE HOTEL’S FAULT AND I HATE THEM ONE STAR ONE STAR ONE STAR.

So I’m going to ask you lovely people instead, as your presence here on my blog clearly declares you to be a person of immaculate taste. What are your favourite hotels? Specifically I’m looking for urban nooks, hotels which are good if you don’t already know the place like a native, and especially those which are remarkably well-situated: not merely nice to be in, but inspiring to walk out of. For example: 1. Hotel du Louvre, Paris

Situated on the Place Andres Malraux, this hotel has the clear initial advantage of living up to its name. You couldn’t be much closer to the Louvre without actually sleeping in it, which is frowned upon. There’s three good cafes very, very close by — one as part of the same building: you can get yourself upside a crème or a croque madame without having to open your sleepy eyes. There’s a cab rank (for ease of getting back to the Eurostar) a casual twenty seconds stroll away. There’s even an arty bookstore on the same block, for Pete’s sake. You’re at the start of the Rue Saint Honoré, site of many opportunities for retail incidents including the ineffably/irritatingly cool Colette (and also, until recently, one of my favourite restaurants, Le Dauphin, now sadly gone), and ten minutes’ walk will get put you in the Place de la Madeleine, home to foodie meccas Fauchon and Hédiard. Within the hotel there’s an excellent restaurant and the cosy and low-lit Bar Le Defender, which not only does great cocktails in an atmosphere of heady Chinoiserie, but is also air-conditioned — a rarity in Paris and one that saved our sanity during a weekend we stayed there when temperatures in France hit the 40s and quite a lot of people died of heat stroke. Then, yes, there’s the Louvre, and the Tuileries, plus you’re only about 10-15 minutes’ beautiful walk from St Germain and the Rue de Buci, and less than that to les Halles or the Marais... It’s not cheap, but it’s hard for me to imagine a better-placed hotel in the city — at least given my tastes and interests. The rooms are extremely nice, too, either modern or cosy depending whether you’re on a lower floor or up in the eaves, but — like all the cities on this short list, you’re missing the point if you’re spending much time in the room anyway.

2. The Muse Hotel, NYC

I’m sure I should want to stay down in Soho or in some engagingly off-beat hipster hangout in the East Village or Brooklyn or the arse-end of Queens, but the Muse in midtown suits me down to the ground — or actually, up to the 15th floor. It’s there that the best rooms in the hotel are found, because they have... balconies. Big ones. Sitting with a coffee or beer that many floors up in the heart of midtown,watching the lights of Times Square and smoking (increasingly hard to do anywhere else in the city), is quite something. The wonderfully restful Bryant Park is five minutes away, and Central Park only about fifteen). Grand Central is close by, and 5th Avenue, and if you put your striding legs on then you can be down in Union Square or Chelsea or the Village before you know it. A well-aimed brick will find you several coffee shops and even a couple of half-decent delis, not easy to come across in midtown, and Virgil’s is a very good BBQ restaurant just along the street (yes, Virgil’s is a little touristy, but you know what — you’re a tourist). After a recent regooding even the previously disappointing bar is a pleasant enough place to hang. I keep thinking I ought to check out some other hotels in the city but... I’m probably not going to. This works.

3. Galleria Park, San Francisco

This is a new entry, and I’ve only stayed there once thus far, so I can’t yet swear to its timeless quality. Initial signs are good, however. It’s close to Union and five minutes from Chinatown and the non-frightening end of Market Street. There’s a very decent coffee and sandwich store and a sushi restaurant attached, plus a La Boulange on the next block. There’s a 7-11 right close by, too, useful for picking up milk and what-have-you... I love boutique hotels with a passion that goes beyond reason, but I’m not going to pay ten bucks and have to pick up a phone every time I want a cup of tea. [Bonus hotel: though bigger, the Kimpton Group’s Hotel Monaco on 4th in Seattle has a similar vibe to this Joie de Vivre hotel, and is similarly well-located to things like stores, coffee shops and convenience stores]. The staff at the Galleria Park are some of the most serenely affable and helpful I’ve ever encountered, and the hotel scores incalculable extra points for having a kind of walking area/small park-style hangout on the roof of the building next door. Finding backstage areas in a city where you can sit and relax without having to move or interact or buy something is a great boon. If one’s actually attached to your hotel, so much the better. The Galleria’s not a big place, and the rooms and bathrooms are smallish, and there’s technically no bar (though the attached sushi place serves reasonably well, and they have wine in reception at in the late afternoon), but you’ll cope. This is a very good place to start and end your San Francisco day.

All the above are big-city urban, note. There are many other hotels of this type out there, of course — the Dream Inn in Santa Cruz, the Marquesa in Key West, and so on — but it’s when you’re in the heart of an urban environment that location really becomes key. You need a fixed point to begin, from which you can move in gradually larger and bolder concentric circles. Though the above are all reasonably pricy, it doesn’t have to be that way: I’m a big fan of the Sea Shore Motel in Santa Monica, for example, which is bracingly retro in decor and demeanour, but friendly and clean and well-placed and apparently run by people who haven't noticed that the rest of the world has raised its prices since, say, 1978.

With an urban hotel you need a place that has both refuge and prospect, that makes you feel at home and yet holds a door open to the city, easing the transition with nearby spots and conveniences that jump-start your relationship to the city. Knowing about places like this gives you a side-door into a place that will never be your home, but where you’d like to feel at home, at least for a little while.

Those are three of mine. So. Tell me yours...



Stop, thief: yes, you - ebookr.com

It strikes me that I haven't crapped tediously on about copyright theft for a while, which must be a disappointment to all of you. Luckily a trigger has dropped into my lap in the shape of a friend letting me know that yet another site had all my books up on it.

The site was ebookr.com. Go check it out. It's a nice-looking, cheery, friendly little website. Their tagline declares "We love ebooks". Maybe they do. They also evidently love charging people to download, but don't so much love bothering about the fact they're trading in things that don't belong to them.

What happens when you discover some new bunch of pirate gobknobs has stolen your booty? There's no email address on the site (which might seem odd, surely, in such a fresh-faced and approachable place), but there is a form. So I used it, and asked them to take my work down. Five days later I hadn't heard back. Surprise surprise. I knew what would happen if they did eventually reply, because in this game of whack-a-mole it's the same story every time. They'll refer you to their DMCA page. In case you're wondering, here are the kind of hoops you have to jump through:

What information do we need in a DMCA Notice? A properly formatted DMCA Notice will adhere to the guidelines and principals established by the DMCA itself. The necessary elements of a properly formed DMCA Notice are: 1. Clear identification of the person or entity submitting the DMCA Notice. 2. Clearly stated relationship to the copyright holder (self or authorized agent). 3. A specific listing of all content the DMCA Notice is requesting eBookr take down. Please keep in mind some content is posted multiple times and each instance will need to be specifically referenced. 4. Clear statement, under penalty of perjury, that the information in the notification is accurate and that you are copyright holder, or authorized to act on behalf of the copyright holder. 5. A "physical or electronic signature" of an authorized person to act on behalf of the owner. This is fulfilled by a name and a physical address that the authorized individual can be contacted should someone wish to contest your notification. 6. While not legally required by the DMCA, including "copyright violation" in the subject line of your email will flag your DMCA Notice and bypass spam categorization. 7. Submit the Notice to dmca (at) ebookr.com.

Yep. Not only do you have to prove you're the author, but you're required to reference every occasion on which some 'sharing' tossfrot has uploaded your book - despite the fact that someone must have written the bloody things, so it's pretty obvious that someone's copyright has been infringed, no? Notice the brazen assumption of the moral high ground, too - meanwhile huffily warning you not to commit the crime of perjury. Nice.

In the end I notified the publisher of the novels in question, and they set their legal department on them. My books were taken down. But you don't have to look hard to find them on other sites...

And so?

Partially in response to my rather inflamatory post on SOPA, the very excellent Megan Lindholm proposed that instead of excessive measures like the bill, people should hound sites like these in a kind of grass roots protest, shaming them into behaving differently. It's a lovely idea, but my suspicion is it simply wouldn't happen. And note again how there's no email address on the ebookr site: this is a deliberate policy, because it makes it just hard enough that most people won't bother (and it also makes the site impossible to mailbomb).

So. What do you think? What can or should be done about this? Would you be willing to try to take a site like this down, or at least shake it gently by the throat until it stopped this kind of behaviour? Do you actually care? I wouldn't blame you if you don't, to be honest — it's not your stuff. And that's the reason sites like this do, and will always, exist... and they'll get smarter, too, and use chirpy graphic design to portray themselves as hip and friendly and got-t0-be-legit, to the point where some people may not even realise they're trading in stolen goods. With a place called 'The Pirate Bay', it's pretty obvious. With these guys — and others, like Scribd — it's down to you to remember that we're still labouring under a capitalist model where people kinda want to get paid for what they own.

In the end...

And this is the reason I keep banging on about this stuff. It's not just about grouchy authors trying to make sure they get the pennies that are owed. It's about the fact that we're still taking early steps into a truly new type of environment, and need to keep an eye on the changes we're blithely accepting in our world. Are we okay with Google and Facebook having total and lasting access to everything we say and do and click? Are we comfortable with the way in which the Internet often makes it so easy to forget that we're dealing with real — albeit distant — others, making people so rude or assumptive the whole damned time? With a little search savvy I can find out what you paid for your house, who your friends are, where your kids go to school, where your sister likes to hang out (she Foursquared and Instagrammed twice from 57 Bottles on Main twice this week, and the second time she was kind of drunk, I should know, I made sure to sit near to her) — are you fine with that? You are? That's fine. Just checking. I'm not saying the Internet is evil. I'm just saying let's keep our eyes open and not simply say 'yes' to everything just because it's convenient; because it's nicely-designed; because it's (apparently) free.

This latest episode has at least helped me to ratify a personal position on copyright theft, which is to try to stop caring about it. If you want, you can do a search and find my books on similar "social sharing" sites, or stealeasys (not a real word, I've just made it up) like FileSonic, and have the lot for free. It's up to you, in the end. It's always up to all of us. I choose to believe the majority out there are honest - because I know that's true. So, you know, I'm, like, totally chilled about it.

Though if you feel like retweeting to the effect that ebookr.com are assholes... then, well, I'm not going to stop you.

And in the meantime, here's a probably naive thought toward another grass roots accommodation to our new world. It's up to you whether you download my books for free (or someone else's music, or TV show, or software). Your call. But if you do, maybe you could at least give a couple of bucks to a charity for something you do care about, or overtip your next underpaid waitress, or drop a coin in the broken-down busker's hat even if he's really not any good. Though I guess if FREE is so important to you, you're going to be tight-fisted with cash across the board. So maybe let someone else take the last seat on the bus instead, or give an extra stroke to the next cat you encounter...

... but do something, yes? If you can't tell the difference between right and wrong, I can't help you with that. But it'd be nice if you gave something back.



Caution: Contains Nitpicking

I knew my last post would be deeply unpopular in some quarters (though, to be fair, it also had strident support, and not just from people in creative professions). I got a lot of irate tweets, and lost followers. I'll live. The piece's potential unpopularity was kind of why I posted it, rather than getting it out of my system and leaving the file safely on my hard disk.

I didn't do it to be provocative, but to be honest.

It's extremely easy - especially in popularity contests and profile-conscious opportunities like Twitter - to always play to the crowd, stay safe, not antagonise the demographic. Pretending you always agree with the unconsidered zeitgeist is easy. But kind of empty, surely? If you're going to say stuff, then mean it. Otherwise remaining silent is a more honourable course - except, of course, for the fact it may be taken as tacit approval of what everyone else is saying, however dim that may be. It's a minefield. So I posted, and now some people evidently think I'm a stooge of Old Business and the Federal Government, and an active supporter of the worst forms of Censorship (It's not entirely clear to me how cracking down on theft counts as "censorship", but that's because I'm a stooge of the etc, etc).

For the avoidance of doubt, I'm not for SOPA, okay? I'm simply disenchanted with some of the reasons people have for opposing it. If you've read the bill (including the revisions) and have strong arguments and/or reasons for opposing it, you have my respect. If not... I'm just saying think about it first. Don't just press ME TOO. And while I'm on the subject, if you're so in favour of WikiPedia, you might want to donate something toward it, eh? See the button at the bottom of the right-hand column on this page. Even "free" things cost somebody something, somewhere. Their time, their effort, their love. They give. You can too.

Anyway. Allied to all this, it's struck me this afternoon how the Internet is changing the meaning of a couple of words - and how these speak to this overall debate.

1. "Contains" As in "This software may contain profanity, adult themes, violence, nudity, etc". Seen most often with browsers, Craigslist apps, and anything that accesses the Internet.

But the thing is... the software doesn't contain these things, really. If the web browser had drop-down menus featuring swear words, or popped up a dialog box every ten minutes showing a picture of people shagging, then it would "contain" these things. But it doesn't. It merely provides a window onto a world in which these things pre-exist. It's interesting that the software is being held to account here - like blaming a sheet of glass for standing between you and an atrocity. It may seem like I'm splitting hairs, but to me this usage covertly implies it's not the web or its users which should be held responsible for the content of the Internet or the the way people use it. The Internet's in the clear - perfect and true and blameless. So are the internauts. It's the naughty software that does the wrong.

I'm really not sure this is true, and I think it's indicative of the way the Internet and some of its users hold themselves unaccountable for both their content and their actions.

2. "Free" This word now apparently means 'it is possible to acquire this good or service without paying for it'. Here's an example, just in this morning:


It's a useful blog and you see this kind of thing all over the web (and I picked up the link via the venerable www.iconfactory.com), but to me it neatly encapsulates a key schism in the way people respond to the availability of resources on the Internet. A number of the faces featured in this list (and others of its kind) are available from www.losttype.com, an excellent site where designers showcase interesting new work for sale on a pay-what-you-like basis. And there's the thing. Some users will immediately interpret this as: "Cool - free fonts". Others will equally unthinkingly say: "Wow - nice typeface. A lot of work went into that. I'll donate ten bucks in recognition of the person's time and creativity, and in the hope they'll make more."

(And yes I know some people have more ready cash than others - but don't claim to be "poor" if you've got a broadband connection and a computer to download stuff onto. That's a vicious mis-use of the word "poor" in a world where millions of children don't have anything to eat.)

I guess probably neither approach to pay-what-you-want is right or wrong. They're just different. A lot of people do what they do ultimately out of love, and that's the way it should be: but when there's rent to be paid and food to be bought, nothing says 'love' like a little cash. Anyone who finds this observation distasteful has never tried to make a living via their creativity alone. I'm not dumping on the referring site, note - there's a strong chance that by steering surfers to Lost Type, they'll provoke at least a proportion of visitors to donate, which is the basis on which the designers put their work up there, after all; and many people - including myself - are happy for some free stuff to float around the web as a goodwill gesture, marketing tool, or just out of an open heart. I'm merely saying it's interesting how the word is now being used, and how it perhaps speaks to some of the debate on SOPA.

So - what do you think? Does Safari "contain" profanity? Are the fonts I'm talking about actually "free"? Am I really a stooge for the dark, censoring elite of the New World Order - and if so, why haven't they bloody well paid me yet?*

*Caution: sentence contains profanity.