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The Rim of Space on Audio

Blackstone Audio have release The Rim of Space on Audio as part of A Galaxy Trilogy VOL. 4

Philosophical Gas

Running Off The Rim

All good things - and bad things - have to come to an end some time. It is just possible, however, that Commodore Grimes has not retired, although he has been sent on his well-earned long service leave. Whether or not I bring
the old bastard back remains to be seen.

Not so long ago I typed the magic words THE END at the bottom of the last page of a 70 000-word Grimes novel. I hope it sells. I always feel that there’s something missing from my own life if any Grimes adventure falls to see print. Apart from THE BIG BLACK MARK, the story just finished, THE WAY BACK which is a follow-up to THE DARK DIMENSIONS, has yet to find a purchaser.

THE BIG BLACK MARK had to be written. Just what did happen to cause Grimes’s resignation from the Federation Survey Service, followed by his emigration to the Rim Worlds? (Of course, in one of the many alternate universes he didn’t resign, and lived out his life as the commanding officer of an utterly unimportant sub-base on a very dreary planet...)

THE BIG BLACK MARK has all the answers, of course. It finishes with Grimes, inextricably in the cactus, wondering if the Imperial Navy of Waverley would take him and coming to the conclusion that they most certainly wouldn’t, and deciding that Rim Runners, If they happened at the time to be short of officers, just might...


So what do I write now?

Do I make the transition (it shouldn’t be hard) from sea stories thinly disguised as science fiction to sea stories that are just that?

The trouble is that I like science fiction. I always have, and always will. A sea story has to be really outstanding (and there was only one Conrad) before I can finish it. Usually when reading one I come across something that indicates the author’s ignorance of nautical matters in the very first chapter, and that puts me off, One of the few laymen who could write convincingly about the sea, seamen arid ships was Forester. Another, surprisingly, is Paul Gallico.

THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE is a book that I had no intention of reading. In most of his stories Gallico’s goodies exude far too much sweetness and light for my taste. But various friends In the USA asked my opinion, as a shipmaster, of the novel - so I bought a copy, and almost didn’t get past the first chapter. Here. I thought, were all the stock Gallico characters - the tough cop with the heart of gold, the lovable old Jewish couple, the charismatic radio priest who is also an outstanding amateur athlete. But I got hooked, mainly because Gallico, quite early In the book, made It clear that his opinion of the personnel of flag-of-convenience vessels is at least as low as mine. Here I will digress slightly to put readers not familiar with maritime matters in the picture.

In ships sailing under respectable ensigns all the officers hold real qualifications - certificates gained after undergoing quite tough examinations. It must be realized that at sea, as in any profession requiring qualifications, there are quite a few people whose only real ability is that of passing examinations. Nonetheless, our certificates are not purchased from the nearest friendly neighbourhood consul of some banana republic.

‘Poseidon’, in the book, was an ex -British passenger liner running cruises under a flag of convenience, The main reason for her instability was the incompetence of her Master and his officers. In the book, the officer of the watch, seeing what looked like a solid wall on the radar screen, attempted to turn away -which was, I admit, a natural reaction, especially since no warning had been given about the submarine volcanic eruption and earthquake.

In the film, ‘Poseidon’ was a passenger liner making her final voyage, on the way to the breaker’s yard, with a full complement of passengers. Her Master and officers were all quite competent - by Hollywood standards. But her new Owner was on board and refused to allow the Master to take measures to correct the instability, threatening him with Instant Dismissal if he did not carry on with the voyage. And that, regardless of the flag worn at the ensign staff, is absolute absurdity. Of course, the Owner could have said ‘I’ll fire you as soon as we reach port:’ The Master would then have sent a long radio message to whatever maritime union he happened to belong to, detailing the circumstances, and all hell would have been let loose on the hapless Owner.

In the film, ‘Poseidon’s’ Master and officers had received radio warning of the tsunami, and when they saw the wall of water on their radar screen they attempted to turn towards. but too late. And that mock-up of a radar presentation looked very unconvincing to anyone familiar with the Instrument... And in the film, much to my annoyance, the characters remained real Gallico characters to the very end, their hearts of gold shining through the begrimed tatters of their evening finery. In the book, they soon started behaving in a very un- Gallico-like manner, with the possible exception of the elderly Jewish couple. The charismatic radio priest revealed himself as an absolute phoney.

In the film, the priest’s party, which made its way to the shaft tunnel through the perils of the upside-down engineroom alone survived (apart from those killed en route). In the book, the final irony was that another party which had made its way towards the bows was rescued without suffering any casualties.

As you will have gathered, the film annoyed me. Special effects notwithstanding, it was infuriating to see a first-class novel so utterly ruined.

I have often wondered why people who make films about the sea and ships don’t go to the very minor expense of employing an expert to check technicalities. Recently ABC TV ran a BBC serial, ‘The Oneidin Line’. People tell me that it was good. It may have been, but I was put off it by a shocking anachronism that cropped up in the very first episode. It was about a sailing ship captain some time in the 19th Century who became an Owner! Master, as many did in those days. (Ships weren’t as expensive then as they are now.) Every shipmaster who appeared on the screen wore on his sleeve four gold bands with a diamond in the middle - and that Is today’s Standard Uniform, which was introduced after World War I...

A really prize example occurred in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. The people who made the film spared no expense in rigging up the characters in World War I uniforms, riding around in motor vehicles of suitable vintage (when they weren’t on camels), being bombed with little bombs by ancient-looking biplanes... and then, when Lawrence and his companions reached the Suez Canal, what did they see? A fairly modem Blue Funnel liner, complete with radar - and the big fat arse of a super-tanker vanishing round the bend! To maintain authenticity the film-makers should have chartered one decrepit tramp steamer for one day, given her one coat of grey paint and mounted a wooden gun on her poop. (Wooden guns were, as a matter of fact, used quite a lot in both World Wars when the real things weren’t available. They were alleged to have a certain deterrent value...)

And what does all the above prove? It proves that unless you are a Conrad or a Forester, capable of making technicalities fascinating to the lay reader, sea stories are best avoided by writers with a maritime background. Sooner or later there would be the temptation to refuse to let proper seamanship get in the way of the plot - and either one would resist temptation and write something boring, or yield to temptation and incur the scorn of one’s fellow mariners.

So sea stories are out. And much as I enjoy reading about the James Bonds, the Mart Helms, the Harry Lamberts and all the rest of them. I just don’t have the Inside knowledge of the shadowy world of espionage and counter-espionage possessed by the late Ian Fleming and his fellow spy masters.

A real novel?

Oddly enough, the idea has no appeal. I read real novels as well as thrillers. I read anything and everything, but somehow I’ve never had the urge, as a writer, to stray from my own well-trodden pastures.

Probably I'll finish up as so many others have done, selling my story-teller’s birthright for a pot of message.

(21.1.74:) 1 have retired to the naturist club to lead a virtuous life - alcohol is banned on the premises - and to make a start on the next novel. As far as the Rim Worlds are concerned, however, I fear that Commodore Grimes will not be going on his long service leave after all. The new editor of ‘If’ is demanding more Grimes/Rim World stories.

This may amuse you. As you may have guessed, I’m rather pro-Israel. I won’t say that I’m pro-Semitic, as there are so many Semites. the Moslem variety, whom I dislike. Anyhow, I was sitting on the edge of the swimming pool discussing Middle East politics with one of the lady members. She asked: ‘Are you a Jew, Bert?’ I replied: ‘You aren’t
very observant. Rene.’
Originally Published in Philosophical Gas No: 27 - Mar 1974