Sunday 26 December 2010

Found in Translation

In recent months two books I have been involved in have been translated. One consequence is that these books have a broader reach than they might otherwise have had just in English, even given the anglophonic nature of software development. Another is that I now have books with my name on that I am unable to read.

Last month I received the translation to simplified Chinese of POSA4, Pattern-Oriented Software Architecture, Volume 4: A Pattern Language for Distributed Computing, which I co-authored with Frank Buschmann and Doug Schmidt. I have been informed via Twitter that it's a decent translation, better than previous books in the series. I'll take this on trust, but if you have an informed view — one way or the other — please let me know.

And just before Christmas — pretty much the last post before Christmas — I received the Japanese and Czech translations of 97 Things Every Programmer Should Know, which I edited. I had been told that the production quality on the Japanese editions is quite something. Now I have it in my hands, I can confirm: yes, it is. From the dust cover to the page design to the quality of the paper to the supplementary content, it is an exemplary model for paperback books everywhere. I have also had the pleasure of a brief email exchange with the translator, Takuto Wada. As I understand it, Korean and Russian translations are in the pipeline — let's see what the new year brings.

Friday 24 December 2010

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Starfall

My recent interest in writing short stories, flash fiction in particular, coincided nicely with the announcement of New Scientist's flash fiction competition and attendance at Rosemary Dun's one-day Writing Gym at the Bristol Folk House.

The competition sought stories in worlds where some dismissed scientific theory of the past turned out to be true. I have discovered that driving on the motorway and going for a run are two of the best ways of coming up with ideas and exploring them. Rather than play with the traffic on the M4 I went for a run. I returned with a head full of detail and whole backstory, which I downloaded at my wife. "And you're going to fit that into 350 words?" was her response. She was right, of course. There was no way a quarter gigalitre was going to fit into a pint pot.

With any good story, whether written, drawn or acted, the bit that you see is just the tip of the iceberg — if not the tip of the tip — of what its creators have imagined and elaborated. It's not simply a case of writing and editing down to size, and it's not just about implication over description: some stuff just shouldn't make it into the text in the first place. It is there to make the idea real enough and deep enough for the author to dip into and draw from, to provide enough substance to convince the author to convince the reader. But even so, 350 words for the theme set out in the competition involves a lot of omission given the world — cosmos, even — that I'd dreamt up.

Oh, and don't forget plot and character.

Kicking the idea around and incubating it for a couple of weeks helped... and brought the deadline close enough that I realised I actually had to do something about it. I have found some stories grow out of doodles and scrawls while others gestate before hitting the page. This was in the second category and was running the risk of not birthing at all. You know you're pressed up against a deadline when you're wondering if it's COB or midnight... and in what time zone.

I almost didn't submit, but I'm glad I did. A few weeks ago I was told that my story, Starfall, had made the shortlist — the final ten from over 700 entries. I had previously managed a competition longlist for a non-genre piece I wrote, and was more than delighted with that result. But shortlist for such a popular competition! And then two weeks ago I discovered I was one of two runners-up, judged by no less than Neil Gaiman. He said of Starfall that it "managed to tell a huge end-of-everything story in personal terms" — a spot-on summary of both the story and my original intent.

Starfall appears in the Christmas and New Year Special edition. You can read it here, where it appears on its own, and here, along with the wry and countrapuntal competition winner, Atomic Dreams, and the ingenious and humorous runner-up, Gaius Secundus ER. You can also read the winner, runners-up and other shortlisted stories here.

Thursday 16 December 2010

Another Drop in the Ocean

Articles, emails, code, presentations, books, courses... over the years I seem to have written a lot. Most of it inevitably related to work and, as a quick search shows, much of it has left its mark online.

So I've been thinking it's about time to start something else. Yes, more writing. Just what the Internet needs, of course — another blog. Undoubtedly some work-related things will end up here, but my main motivation and intent is around interests and observations. Creative (and uncreative) writing, travel, science, (rank) amateur photography, running, musing... not sure, so watch this space.

Asemantic? I can't promise any of this has any meaning, deep, shallow or otherwise.