The Spinning Plates – Redux

It’s been a while since I updated my to do list. As we start the new academic year, I thought it might be worth dusting it off — not so much showing off as reminding myself that I have things to do and giving you insight as to what we academics do with our ridiculously short working weeks.

Not that you wanted to know.

You’re welcome.

I’m leaving out lectures (four a week on average this term) and if I’m circumspect about details, it’s just because I’m superstitious that way.

  • Notes on bad taste and comedy – tonight
  • Paper on A Scanner Darkly – 30 September
  • abstract on Star Wars – 1 October
  • notes on The Island of Doctor Moreau
  • Paper for Lisbon – mid-November
  • books proposal for Sekrit TTTTTTTT project – asap
  • revise bounced book manuscript – asap
  • three book reviews
  • turn War of the Worlds and The War in the Air papers into articles
  • continue beer research

I note, having read a PhD thesis, I have an idea for an article I will hide from and, having thought a bit about Chuck Tingle, I will move right along.

The Trail of the Spinning Plates

So, let’s look at the to-do list based on 26 January 2015, updated 15 March 2015, 3 April 2015 and 20 May 2015:

  • a submitted chapter that needs editorial queries answeringanswered
  • a keynote to write for the SF postgrad conferencedelivered
  • chapter to write for another companion — first draft
  • an article that’s been bounced from a special issue but has been taken up and needs another thousand words addingapparently doesn’t need those words; edited version submitted
  • two a conference papers to convert to an articles
  • a book to read for review
  • a book proposal to finish — I’ve had some ideas
  • a book manuscript to rescue — I printed out chapter one… somewhere
  • several reference book entries that are missing in actionchased and waiting
  • * new * article on The Arthur C. Clarke Award

Shall we note and celebrate the fact that I’ve completed the first draft of something a goodly way ahead of the deadline? I fear that this is something that happens rarely these days (leaving aside the “Can you write this by tomorrow?” commissions).

I have, admittedly, spotted a problemette in it that I ought to think through and solve, although I can see I need to cut 200 words to fit anything in to deal with that.

Take It On the Chin

When publishing, even in academia, your work is sometimes reviewed.

In fact, the only thing worse than being reviewed is not being reviewed.

Perhaps your book is so awful, no one wants to review it?

I’d say I’ve had a mix bag of reviews — and I have to say that I often find myself agreeing with some of the flaws the reviewers spotted. With Fifty Key Figures in Science Fiction (2009), we knew that the standard review would consist of “Why didn’t the authors include x, y or z?” and that few would note that that would lead the book to be renamed Fifty-Three Key Figures in Science Fiction. It wasn’t the fifty best, it wasn’t even the fifty key, it was fifty key. Other keys are available. I know one person who seems sweetness and light in person, but who has only really been critical of what I’ve written. So it goes.

So I was sent a review the other day and its author, who I don’t know, didn’t like the work in question. They raise a valid point, but that aside I didn’t get the sense that they’d engaged with the book. I could write a letter of response, get all defensive, but frankly I’ve never seen that kind of thing happen without the complainant looking like a dick.

There was the author a week or so back who demanded a retraction of a one-star review on Good Reads and who proceeded to make themselves look more and more of a dick. Eventually they deleted their comments — but the internet never forgets. Ironically, whilst this has given them all kinds of bad publicity, I would say that  it has probably brought some people to the book, too. In various fora  where there have been Puppies  vs non-Puppies debates, I’ve seen people say that they will now read the book by X because the opposition hate it so much.

No publicity is bad publicity.

So, I’m saying nothing more public or specific about the bad review. I’ve dealt a few myself, and I’m bound to get a few in return.

What I do want to say — and a perverse part of me is sniggering at this — is the reviewer was poorly served by their editor. I recently wrote trust the editor, they are there to save you from yourself. I would hope that the editor could spot the misspelt names in your review, the wrong word being used and the error of fact. Because it’s a thread to pull at in the meantime.

Meanwhile, revenge is filleting negative reviews for pull quotes …

… joking. Honest.


When I first used a word processor — possibly something like WordStar or Works or LocoScript and then eventually Word 2 — there were a couple of limitations. I recall having to carry six floppy disks around with me to run the programme, and I think that was in addition to the actual file you were working on.



And those 3 1/2 inch disks were somewhat new fangled.

The other thing was that filenames were of the type abdcefgh.123. Eight characters and a suffix — txt, doc, ps. My PHD thesis, which I have most of electronically was


No, don’t ask me why the naming convention isn’t consistent.

These days we don’t have to use eight characters and we’re much more used to having nested folders — but equally used to using several machines, pendrives, clouds and gdrives. We can be sensible in our naming conventions.

Let us imagine that I am working on a chapter for a Cambridge Companion.[1] I write a file and I save it as CAMBRIDGE.DOC. That’s nine characters. Living on the edge.

Professor Neil James is editing a Cambridge Companion which consists of twelve chapters. So far, the day after the deadline, he has seven files called CAMBRIDGE.DOC.[2] This, obviously, is aggrannoying, so he renames them by contributor and then I get back a file called BUTLER.DOC. To go with the fifty or so I already have of that name.

Now, what would be more sensible is to have a naming convention where the project and author is clear. So call it CAMBRIDGE BUTLER.DOC. Or, maybe, BUTLER CAMBRIDGE.DOC, but I reckon the first will alphabeticise better. Then go a stage further and add a date or a version.

This is a whole other bundle of fun – I have a file called CAMBRIDGE FINAL.DOC. Which is fine, until I come to rewrite the file or I spot something else to change or there’s a possible edit to make but I don’t want lose the other version. So try something like CAMBRIDGE SUBMITTED JUNE 2015.DOC.

Ah, dating conventions.[3] To my eyes small, medium, large is sensible. So, day/month/year is superior to month/day/year. Fourth of July, not July fourth.

But alphabeticisation means CAMBRIDGE SUBMITTED 2015 6 14.DOC is better than CAMBRIDGE SUBMITTED 15 6 2015.DOC.

I’m noting that increasingly whatever version of Word it is I’m on, it opens the file as Read-Only and when I try to save as, I’m told the file already exists so CAMBRIDGE SUBMITTED 2015 6 14.DOC becomes CAMBRIDGE SUBMITTED 2015 6 14a.DOC. But maybe an archive of each version per day you’ve done is useful, even if you need to tidy up every few days. You risk editing older files in error if you’ve not sorted properly.

The next trick is to start investigating the tags and comments functions, to help you find the file that you are after in Windows Explorer (or equivalent). And to make sure I put this into action myself.

1. In fact I’m writing for two, but that’s another story.
2. The other five have yet to be submitted.
3. Split the bill.

Spinning Plates Ride Again

So, let’s look at the to-do list based on 26 January  2015, updated 15 March 2015 and last updated 3 April 2015:

  • chapter to write for companion — submitted
  • a  submitted chapter that needs editorial queries answering
  • a keynote to write for the SF postgrad conference
  • chapter to write for another companion — no further than Christmas
  • an article that’s been bounced from a special issue but has been taken up and needs another thousand words adding
  • two a conference papers to convert to an article
  • a book to read for review
  • a book proposal to finish — I’ve had some ideas
  • a book manuscript to rescue — I printed out chapter one…
  • several reference book entries that are missing in actionchased and waiting
  • *new*: an appreciation of Pratchett — published

I note that after a year of researching stuff that has invoked sexism, racism, homophobia and so forth (and some great books and films [and Quest for Love]), I want to go fluffy when I next have an idea.

The Good Companions

I have two chapters for companions on the to do list — a chronological survey for one, something meatier for the other, and Current Events seem to be swelling the materials for the latter, which does need to be written first. I would like to write something soon that doesn’t involved holding my nose. Heigho.

In the meantime, the survey is definitely a game of two halves and I’m pondering quite how I swing things around, given that there’s a large no go zone which is the other chapter on the same materials. I am the cause of reaction and a reaction to that reaction. I can see where I’m going to end, but I need to stick the teleology in the mix and work out the route there. All very post hoc, of course. At some point I’ll need to talk to the other writer on the shadow chapter. And work out how much of the three thousand words I wrote in November are usable.

Son of the Spinning Plates

So, let’s look at the to-do list based on 26 January  2015 and updated 15 March 2015:

  • a paper to write for the Sideways in Time conference needs turning into chapter
  • a keynote to write for the SF postgrad conference
  • a book to read for review
  • a book proposal to finish — I’ve had some ideas
  • a conference paper to convert to an article
  • a secondary bibliography to annotate
  • two chapters to write for companions — lots of ideas for one, no further than Christmas for the other
  • an overdue biographical piece to write — submitted 
  • an article that’s been bounced from a special issue but has been taken up and needs another thousand words adding
  • a book manuscript to rescue — I printed out chapter one…
  • a  submitted chapter that I’ve heard nothing back on chased
  • several reference book entries that are missing in actionchased
  • *new*: an appreciation of Pratchett — submitted

A Howl of Defeat

Among other things, I’ve been watching a horror franchise over the last month and have reached film six of seven — the idea being to get a paper proposal together for a conference which seemed as much an excuse to return to a particular town as anything else (although I reckon it will be a good conference). The paper probably would be useful context for the next Major Project.

But the deadline for proposals came and went earlier this week and I didn’t write more than a sentence of the abstract. Whilst publicly admitting defeat is usually the spark that makes me think OF COURSE — IT’S REALLY ABOUT … I think I shall admit defeat and stay defeated. (Of course, the organisers may accept a late throw in.) I shall blog the films in due course and will enter self-protection mode. There’s enough to write and redraft as it is.

You win some, you lose some.

See also under: Rugs, Persian

It’s striking how many articles that come into journals for review — or essays that are submitted to be marked — that lack any sense of the secondary literature. Admittedly, I learned whatever craft I have in the days of card catalogue indexes and scholarly indices of periodicals and going through bloody contents pages of journals, so I had it easier than the young rapscallions and skallywags who have to make do with mere search engines to several thousand journals.

Still, it is annoying to locate three articles on a subject that I’ve already published on, which didn’t appear to have been indexed when I’d done the research.

I have a habit of being very — what is the word? — instinctive. I’ll be convinced that X is connected to Y and get some way into writing about Y before I research X. I was convinced, say, that Mary Douglas’s work would help an understanding of The Sparrow, but I didn’t really put this to the test by reading Purity and Danger for rather too long. One of these days I’ll push my luck too far.

So I’d been reliant on my considerable gut on this particular piece and ran out of steam. I needed something else to kick start it. Oddly, I chose to read Adam Roberts’s Science Fiction, one chapter in particular, and a particular term jumped out.

Of course. Slaps forehead.

Searches in search engine for X and Z.

First two results: articles which discuss X, Y and Z. On the one hand, pay dirt. On the other hand, maybe someone already wrote the bleeding chapter. (They hadn’t.)
So, it might be a new journal collection or a new algorithm, but those three articles didn’t show up when I did the research on Y — which admittedly is about two years ago. One of them should have shown up.

But nothing’s wasted, as a chapter I have to write by May will use that very nicely, thank you very much, and my instinct is colliding ideas rather nicely. No research goes unused.

Meanwhile, I am plugging away at a conference paper on “Random Quest” and Quest for Love (you know, the one I wrote on Sunday, ahem) and am struck by how little has been written on John Wyndham. The secondary research on this story has more or less drawn a blank, but my gut says I have enough for twenty minutes.

Meanwhile, here’s one learned analysis of another short story by Wyndham. I shan’t insult your intelligence by telling you which one.