Cheeseburger Gothic

The pleasing quiet of a backwater blog

Posted September 5 by John Birmingham

I had a busy week on the Twitterz and Facebuck this last week, mosty due to thinking out loud about the hotel industry's scammy preauthorisation charges. Hundreds of mentions, thousands of RTs and lots of traffic to a coulmn I wrote for Fairfax.

One troll of course, because it wouldn't be the internet without them, but I tend to get off lightly. After all I'm a white, middle class male.

Still, a lotta traffic. A lot of talk. A lot of stuff happening.

Here at the ol' burger-shoppe though, it was quiet. Looks like maybe a thousand visits over the same time. A few comments, mostly about Amazon's Jack Ryan series and my need for a new keyboard. Offsite comments greatly outnumbered the ones left here.

Once upon a time I'd have worried about that. I'd have been checking my stats by the hour. I seem to recall Journalspace allowed you to display a little map that showed where everybody currently reading your blog was doing so. I sometimes used to sit and watch that thing for hours. It was mesmerising.

But over time we all drifted away from blogs. Most people stopped writing them. Remember that? When normal people who weren't writers used to write blogs? I had a blogroll, again at Jspace, somewhere over to the right of the screen as I recall, and you could jump from the Burger to any one of a couple of dozen other stops on your daily blog tour.

Twitter and the Book of Face eventually siphoned off most of that creative activity. Not just for non writers, but for the pro's too.

Turned out that wasn't such a great development. I could run up a list of reasons why. The impossibility of nuance in 140 characters. The lazy habits of thought encouraged by aggregating all conversations in one or two places, instead of scattered far and wide, where people would have to seek them out. Fake News. Trolls. The never ending pile on. The whole blazing dumpster fire.

Having returned to my own blog I find the quiet and the slow pace... pleasing. Relaxing even.

I'd forgotten how ageeable it is to have a place of one's own, where you can gather as you please with whoever you choose. I find the... stillness of a blog, its solitude and calm to be restful to both mind and spirit in a way that the performative demands of social media are not. Novel writing comes close, except for all the SPLODEY, and the ever present needs of production, marketing and perfidious commerce. Column writing, which is nowadays largely a subprocess of the global outrage industry, is in no way relaxing or restorative. I'm sometimes exhausted before I even start ranting.

But having let this blog lie fallow for so long, and that quietude having reduced its regular vistitors to the most devoted, I find myself increasingly wanting to spend more of my time here than anywhere else online.

14 Responses to ‘The pleasing quiet of a backwater blog’

Dave W asserts...

Posted September 5
Will you shaddup? You're disturbing my fly-fishing!

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Oldy is gonna tell you...

Posted September 5
Dude, where's the 'like' button?

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Barnesm swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted September 5
gets pretty lively when Girl Clumsy posts her 'Raven on' reviews. Also when Havoc's around 'quiet' isn't the noun I'd use.

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balri would have you know...

Posted September 5
I usually read the posts through my RSS aggregator. Not sure how that is reflected in your stats. But I read every post. Not much of a commenter

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Barnesm asserts...

Posted September 5
I use the Old Reader, anyone else follow blogs using an aggregator

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Lobes mutters...

Posted September 5
LMAO, I remember Journalspace. Some good stuff but also non stop fucken flame wars.

Hindsight is Golden JB

John Birmingham reckons...

Posted September 5
I probably recall it fondly because I wrote a lot about walking my dog and having big feeds.

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DrYobbo puts forth...

Posted September 5
Blogs? Never heard of 'em.

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FormerlyKnownAsSimon puts forth...

Posted September 5
I pop in once a week just to see and read. I find this place an excellent source for further discussion with mates who for some reason haven't followed me here (i continually tell them they'd love it). And of course the inside skinny on up and coming books

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pi mutters...

Posted September 5
I flutter through the blogspace and twittersphere, and come back to a few places again and again. I've taken a (so far six months) hiatus from the collapsing neutron star formerly known as reddit, so always try and see what's about.

Alien Side Boob is always good for a laugh.

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pitpat has opinions thus...

Posted September 5
I am a kind of an under the radar sort and this blog seems to have that sort of vibe where poignant observations are considered and discussed. It is a good accompaniment to AlienSideBoob - which I love BTW.

Sorry I haven't starred up your latest offering on the Bezos beast but will once I finish. Lotsa stuff happening taking me away from xplodey goodness.

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NBlob mutters...

Posted September 5
In a river the deeper water runs wide on bends, smoother, unruffled by shoals.

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Therbs would have you know...

Posted September 6
I remember the Before Time

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Murphy_of_Missouri has opinions thus...

Posted September 7
I do miss those days in someways, yet in others, I'm glad the implosion of the Journalspace server destroyed most of those entries. Some of my entries might raise eyebrows with my peers in Academia and Aquatics.

Flamewars were much easier to deal with there though. We regulated them ourselves, as opposed to having them regulated for us by social media shits.

Things come . . . and things go. Nothing is permanent or forever. Not even the Internet.

S. F. Murphy
On the Outer Marches

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Learning to take a beating

Posted September 4 into Writing by John Birmingham

Jason Lambright has published an interesting (and for me very useful) chat with his old CO, Lt Col Howard Pearce, whom he describes as "a good guy and proven combat veteran". They sat down a little while ago and talked through a few things. Jason's published three of the six part interview so far, with the rest to come at his blog The Interstellar Valley. Worth a read on its own merits, but in my case, with a whole raft of military sci fi novels on the go, it's got some very useful insights, often puncturing the received wisdom or establshed narrative about how professional militaries operate. Below is a short extract from their discussion about an escape and evasion training course:

“When you show up for SERE School it’s a gentlemen’s course, everyone is in the classroom to eventually you get to the point where you’re in the prison camp. It’s one of the few Army schools where you sign a form saying that they are going to hit you. You are going to be struck, you are going to be injured, and you sign a form saying that you understand that.”

“You go through interrogations. Without going to in-depth about it, let me say that they were professional and they explained everything that they did- to include that at the end you sat down for at least an hour with one of your interrogators. He would walk you through your interrogation, what you were thinking…how you reacted, where you started going wrong.”

Howard thought he went wrong when the “hitter” came in. The interrogator disabused him of that notion. “No, no, you went wrong before we called in the hitter…”

As an aside, the Army has people who are specially qualified and trained to beat people in these schools without causing permanent damage. Still, the experience is unpleasant at best.

2 Responses to ‘Learning to take a beating’

Barnesm puts forth...

Posted September 5
of as the great Al Swearengen of Deadwood once said "Pain or damage don’t end the world. Or despair or fucking beatings. The world ends when you’re dead. Until then, you got more punishment in store. Stand it like a man and give some back."

John Birmingham has opinions thus...

Posted September 6
We can still learn so much from Al.

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Jack Ryan on Amazon Prime

Posted September 3 into Telly by John Birmingham

It's always a surprise when the movie is better than the book. Then again, I suppose that's not surprising. You can pack so much more into a book that you can into an hour and a half, maybe two hours on-screen. The relationship between books and longform TV series bears this out. With a lot more time and space across twelve episodes, or even many years, shows like Game of Thrones or even True Blood (at least in its early seasons) don't feel cramped or rushed in the way that cinema adaptations sometimes can.
Most of the movies that came out of Tom Clancy's books work well, however. Perhaps the books were cinematic. Perhaps Clancy was more of a paint by numbers storyteller than most novelists. Whatever. It still feels weird that I've been so impressed with the 'adaptation' of Jack Ryan on Amazon Prime. I put the snarky quotes out there because the series isn't really an adaptation. It's not based on any of Clancy's books. It's more like James Bond of the Daniel Craig era, taking a well-known character and story world and simply applying the template to a new series of adventures.
I'll cut to the chase. It's really fucking good. Brilliant actually. Whether judged on its own merits or as an interpretation of Tom Clancy's original work, this TV series can stand up as one of the real grace notes of the current golden age of television.
It's better than Clancy. There, I said it.
I was a big fan of TCs novels when I was younger. I really admired, and I can still admire, the way he built his story engine. It was a powerful, stripped down piece of narrative engineering, and Clancy let it rip across a couple of books in particular which can be regarded not just as classics of the genre but as seminal works that actually created a genre.
Still, they had their problems. Tom was much better when writing about technology than he was when writing about people. In his later novels he simply couldn't stop himself preaching about politics. And the further he moved from his techno thriller roots into the realm of espionage writing, the worse it got for the reader.
But damn it, I did love those books. So I was more than happy to give this series a look.
Did I mention it was better than Clancy?
Partly I think this is due to the natural development and evolution of the storytelling art, especially on the small screen. As a culture we're just much better at this than we used to be. If this series had been made in the 1980s it would have been truly terrible. I doubt it would've got much better ten years later. But twenty years into the golden age and there are a lot of talented people with a lot of experience telling great stories on small screens working for the Beast of Bezos on this.
So, what's the premise?
Unsurprisingly the bad guys are beardy nutters. Pleasingly they are not just cardboard cutout Jihadi whack jobs. In fact the writers spend more time filling out the back story and explaining the very human motivations of the bin Laden-like character, Mousa Bin Suleiman, than they do on John Krasinski's young Jack Ryan.
Krasinski is great, by the way; arguably the most interesting and fully realised incarnation of this character so far. And he had some big shoes to fill given the names who've tried on the role before. But Ali Suliman as Mousa Bin Suleiman is uterly compelling. The writers and producers give his character real depth and breadth. He's not just some villain of the week.
Another casting win – Wendell Pierce as James Greer.

Pierce is one of my all-time favourite actors. If you know him it is probably as Bunk in The Wire, but he's done some amazing work in both movies and TV. Again, like Krasinski he had a hard act to follow, picking up the James Greer role from James Earl Jones who played the later career spy boss opposite Harrison Ford in the movies. This Greer is aggressive, foulmouthed and very much on the outer at the agency after screwing up badly on assignment in Pakistan. There is a further tweak to his story that I won't give away because it's unexpected enough to count as a pretty big spoiler, but it does testify to the producers having a real pair of cast iron story balls on 'em. You can read this series is something of an extended buddy movie starring Krasinski and Pierce. The actors work so well together that watching the evolution of their characters' relationship is as much fun as following the fast moving plot.
And it does move fast. The producers have really tuned up Tom's story engine, strapped on a couple of nitrous tanks, and lit that fucker up. The plot, which so far seems to be driven entirely by terrorists rather than Clancy's traditional enemies of Russia and China, flies along. The hour-long episodes are dense, but in a good way. There's is a lot happening here. A lot of action, a lot of character development, a lot of SPLOSIONS.
The splodey is excellent. There seems to be at least one kinetic set piece per episode, and lots of lesser opportunities for the writers to break things and hurt people.
I'm about six episodes in so far, about halfway through the season, and I don't see myself rationing the rest of the series to eke it out. I'm enjoying it too much. If you have access to Amazon Prime, you should check it out.

5 Responses to ‘Jack Ryan on Amazon Prime’

thetick would have you know...

Posted September 3
I watched the first three episodes of this yesterday on Prime, which I Wholly Did Not Intend To Do.

It's as you say, fucking great. Krasinski is pretty convincing as the Boston Irish Ryan and the villains of the piece are really, really well drawn.

And now if you'll excuse me, I need to go another episode. Or three.

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Dirk reckons...

Posted September 3
Hear, hear!

Excellent product right of the bat. Can stand up the comparison with The Bridge and The Fall. And series 2 is already in production.
PS while you are at it, can you UPS me either Abbie Cornish or
Dina Shihabi. Damn those two are bumped up the shortlist for the upcoming Bond flick.

If you haven't seen this, go, now, quickly, Yalla yalla!

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Oldy swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted September 3
I'm five episodes in, and I agree with every word you've written. Absolute love.

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Lobes would have you know...

Posted September 5
I am halfway through and got to say it has exceeded my expectations. Not completely sold on Jim from The Office as the eponymous protagonist but hes competent enough that I can roll with it much as I did with the new Han Solo who filled the same shoes under similar circumstances.

Totally agree that the well created villains really make the story. You can understand and even feel some empathy for their circumstances without forgiving their actions.

It is interesting to note that much of the dialogue is not spoken in English. There is heavy reliance on subtitles for the many many scenes in French and Arabic. This is really helping me focus on and appreciate the show because I am forced to pay constant attention to the screen and not be distracted by the devilish black mirror in my pocket. Its not that I particularly need to check my phone for anything and the show is certainly good enough that I'm not bored but perhaps I'm now so indoctrinated (addicted) to checking my phone constantly that its become habitual rather than out of need. I really enjoyed Babylon Berlin (all in German) for similar reasons and Patriot (set largely in Luxembourg).

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FormerlyKnownAsSimon has opinions thus...

Posted September 5
Groan. My wallet is going to hurt if i sign up to another one. In ten years time there are going to be back alley fights with different gangs wearing head/armbands with Netflix, Prime, Stan, (Disney?) et al on them aren't there? Homemade nunchuks, chains and steel capped boots.

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Pour one out for Peter Corris. And for Cliff

Posted August 31 into Writing by John Birmingham

Hang up that .38 and leave the keys to the Falcon on the kitchen table, Cliff Hardy has closed his last case.
I was genuinely saddened to learn last night that Peter Corris had passed away. I didn't see any media reports or mentions on Twitter, but I was scrolling through Facebook when a post from one of his daughters popped up, announcing his passing.
I was a big fan of Pete's writing, especially the Cliff Hardy private detective novels, which I loved without reserve. I spoke to Peter a couple of times over the years, occasionally for work, and sometimes at writers festivals. He was a lovely bloke, very gentle and funny; no more so than when he once compared himself to Cliff, probably his greatest creation. I remember him doing so when I interviewed him for a review essay in The Australian, a long feature looking at his anthology of boxing stories. Hardy had been an amateur boxer, as well as a soldier, and it stood him in good stead as he moved through Sydney's underworld. Corris told me he'd had one fight as an amateur boxer, a skinny teenager, and he had cried the first time he got punched in the face. He was honest about writing Hardy is the sort of male character he'd wanted to be, but could only ever imagine.

I still remember reading my first Hardy novel, The Dying Trade, and then The Empty Beach which was later turned into a film starring Bryan Brown. It was a bit of it dud film, which was disappointing because Brown was a great pick to play the lead role. The book, However, I recall fondly. More than that. I remember it going off inside my head like a word grenade. Peter Corris made me want to write like that. I was immediately hooked on the narrator's point of view and I eventually bought every Cliff Hardy novel and short story collection that Corris released.
The very last title in the Hardy series, Win, Lose or Draw, sits unread on my bedside table. I picked it up a year ago, and felt a bit ashamed because I hadn't set aside time to read it. I bought the trade paperback at full price, because I liked to support Peter's work, but my eyes are going and I just don't read as much print media as I once did.
I have conflicted feelings about that now. I am desperately grateful that I have one more Cliff Hardy adventure to read, but also incredibly sad knowing that as every page turns I get closer to having to say goodbye.
I will pour one out for Peter Corris tonight. And another one for Cliff, too. I feel like I have lost an old friend. My sympathies to his family and friends.

8 Responses to ‘Pour one out for Peter Corris. And for Cliff’

sibeen ducks in to say...

Posted August 31
John, I saw the news come up on the ABC newsite yesterday afternoon and like you was saddened at the news. I had a look and realised that I haven't read the last two Cliff Hardy novels, so I'll have to go out and rectify that.

A funny thing about the novels and keeping things straight within them. Cliff has a godson, the son of his best mate and a women who used to share a house with Cliff. The godson never actually appears as a character in any of the novels and is only referred to. Funny thing is that his name changed at some stage during the series of books. I was having a reread binge of the series a few years ago and it stuck out like dogs balls. Annoyed me a bit as well, and I have no idea why, as it had absolutely no relevance to the story. Just thought it was lazy editing.

John Birmingham ducks in to say...

Posted August 31
Thats exactly what it was. A copyeditor should have picked that up.

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Bondiboy66 puts forth...

Posted August 31
I too was saddened to read this news recenty. I got a start on the Cliff Hardy books a few years back whilst mooching around the local library, and I found the story that is set around Bondi (can't recall the title), anyway I was hooked and read every title the library owned. He gave meaning to the expression 'hard boiled' for sure! I'm no fan of crime/detective books usually, but these were great. He'll be sorely missed.

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DarrenBloomfield has opinions thus...

Posted August 31
Yeah , I came late to these novels (saw them referenced here as a matterof fact) and then binge read one after the other. I too noticed the godson went from being named Cliff to Peter. Still. That happens.

Might even have happened here at the Burger - wasn't the novel that was made into the Bryan Brown film "The Empty Beach" not "The Dying Trade"?

John Birmingham reckons...

Posted August 31
Yes! But in my defence I have a terrible migraine and have self medicated with codeine and red wine. Cliff would approve.

DarrenBloomfield has opinions thus...

Posted August 31
Indeed he would!

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Therbs mutters...

Posted August 31
Was sad to hear about Corris. Got into a bit of Cliff whilst going through RGB's Les Norton stuff. Luckily for me I've still about a third of the Cliff Hardy books to nab and consume.

As Darren points out, I think it was in "The Empty Beach" that Brown played Hardy. Also, Robert G Barrett had a bit part as one of the bad guy's goons..

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happy buddha puts forth...

Posted September 1
I''ll miss Corris, and Cliff. Good writer, great books.
I got into the Cliff Hardy books when I first moved to Sydney. Even did a bit of a tour of the Glebe and Redfern pubs he mentioned.
Cheers to them both.

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Thinking of getting a new keyboard. By... Microsoft

Posted August 30 into Science and Tech by John Birmingham

Look! It's not that I don't love my Apple Extended keyboard. I do. I really do. But with Dragon borking itself in the last major update I've been typing more often than dictating, and I'm starting to feel it.

Been thinking I should try an ergonomic keyboard and most of the reviews point to this badboy from the orc foundry at Redmond.

It is just about the most un-Apple thing I've ever seen, and I would be mortified were Johnny or Tim ever to find out I'd defiled their virgin USB slots with it's nasty little plug.

But until Dragon releases an unfucked version of its dictation software, I'm in a bind. I have a shit ton of writing to do in the next 12 months and I'd like to finish it without reducing my limbs to withered T-Rex claws.

9 Responses to ‘Thinking of getting a new keyboard. By... Microsoft’

insomniac would have you know...

Posted August 30
Don't the bunnies take dictation?

John Birmingham is gonna tell you...

Posted August 30
TBH it’s not their core skill set.

insomniac mumbles...

Posted August 31
How many do you have? Assign a word to each one and just start pointing your finger.
(point) Hooper
(point) closed
(point) his
(point) eyes
(point) and

You get the picture.

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Dave W mumbles...

Posted August 31
I use an ergonomic board in my non-fruit laptop. Basically I'd back anything that matches the natural posture of your arms and hands. Mine is a logitech thingy, but all good.

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Murphy_of_Missouri is gonna tell you...

Posted August 31
You need a Razer Blackwidow.

John Birmingham asserts...

Posted August 31
I'm not launching drone strikes here Murph.

Bondiboy66 mutters...

Posted August 31
I think my gaming mad young bloke would like one of those - he has the fancy Razer mouse with about a dozen buttons.

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Rob swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted August 31
I've got a similar one but its a wireless Logitech , I'd recommend it . good response time and zero lag between the mouse, keyboard an d PC. I don't use a lot of the extra bits, but its photoshop so its mouse and keyboard short cuts. Your white box might get a bit punchy having an agro metal fan of a keyboard ruining its northern Californian vibes though.

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BrianC swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted September 3
Disclaimer - I am a Microsoft Employee

I love that big black stealth wing keyboard for long typing sessions. I probably dont type continiously for as long as you do but I picked up one of them a couple years back when i was upgrading my home office. Its a great KB for the work laptop, but i cant recommend it for gaming.

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Posted August 29 into Writing by John Birmingham

And while I'm on the King, he famously sits his arse down everyday and cranks out ten pages. At least I think it's ten pages. Maybe it's 2000 words. Whatevs. He has a routine. That's the secret of writing, just turn up every day and do it.

Frankly, this is a terrible writing space.

My routine is slightly different. It's time-based. I try to do four hours of uninterrupted keyboard mashing every day. (Unfortunately the latest version of Dragon is so borked I don't much use it for book writing anymore). I'm still working the pomodoro method, but with a tweak. When I'm writing a book I break the day up into four sessions of 55 minutes each. When I'm doing anything shorter I tend to default to the classic 25 minute pomo.

I can't always rely on smashing out a set number of words. There are days like yesterday when I spend a lot of time just thinking shit through. Even this morning, my first hour was just me stalking around the office asking myself questions abut three new characters. But there are days when the afterburners kick in and I'll put three- or 4000 words down.

In the end it probably doesn't matter what routine you settle on, as long as you settle on some routine. With that in mind, I'm going to try very hard to write something here every weekday for a month. I let the Burger lie fallow while I was dealing with my Dad's passing, and then the need to spin up my writing engine again. But I feel like I've got that big wheel turning again, so I'd like to attend to this one next.

2 Responses to ‘Routines’

Leftarc ducks in to say...

Posted August 30
Routines are important. They are often the result of hard work; the intentional creating of habits that evolve into routines. They are an anchor to oneself, and a window for other people. To watch, and if you are lucky, learn.
And we all can't be Hunter S Thompson.

John Birmingham mumbles...

Posted August 30
Yeah, I don't even think of my routine as writing anymore. It's just red dots. I have filing cards where I track my progress. Every hour of honest work gets a red dot. I try to do four a day. It is surprisingly difficult. So I'd best get back to it.

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