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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Getting Fiction Right

I'm reading a lot this week and have already unearthed a glitch in one of the books I'm reading. I tend to do this, even in mainstream fiction by writers whose books have won awards and so are selling a lot better than mine. But a mistake is a mistake. And it seemed like a good subject for a post.

I won't name any of the books or authors, some of whom are personal friends or at least acquaintances, and I will mention that at least one of them took my advice and rewrote for the next edition. (If you think you know the books and authors concerned, please don't mention them in a comment!Not even if you ARE one of the authors!)

There are some genres where it seems obvious you need to get it right. Hard science fiction, for example. Get your physics wrong and there will be people to let you know about it. What they can get away with in a TV series won't be tolerated in a book or short story. Well, mostly it won't, anyway.

Even fantasy needs to be right. Yes, I've read a Twitter conversation between fantasy writers in which one of them declared it was her universe and she could do what she wanted within it. Not so, since fantasy is usually based on real world societies and if you're going to write about horses and swords and mediaeval ships and such, you need to understand what they can and can't do. I've posted about that here. But most people understand this and take the trouble to get it right. Heck, I've been careful in my own writing, creating a world with three moons and, not wanting to go against the laws of physics even in my own world, I checked it out.

If you get crime fiction wrong - say, a gun that does what a real gun of that type can't, or make mistakes in the medical treatment of a victim, there are going to be people jeering at you for it. So, mostly, crime writers make sure they get it right. I've read earnest, worried questions on the fabulous Jordyn Redwood's medical blog and a forensics blog I discovered on a search. "Can I do this or that to my victim?"

So why is there not the same degree of care with mainstream fiction, I wonder? Is it because it's the world you live in and you know how it runs, or think you do?

I remember a novel by a well-known Australian writer who is living off his writing, more than can be said for me, in which the children of the story are living with an aunt who has been cashing the Family Allowance cheques of their mother, who has disappeared, and she doesn't want to lose this income, so is keeping it secret. As it happened, I'd been working for what was then the Department of Social Security (a later Liberal Government changed the name to Centrelink). I knew about Family Allowance. In fact, the aunt was entitled to the payment as the children were in her care. I can remember times when a relative who had the kids overnight rang us, demanding the approximately $2.00 given for one night - and got it, despite the time it took us to process it and even their phone call cost about 50c. It wouldn't have taken much rewriting to get that right and might even have made the story more interesting. You might say, "Oh, well, you're a person who worked there, most people  wouldn't have noticed," but anyone who was in the situation of a broken relationship with children would have noticed, though clearly the author and his editor weren't in that situation, so didn't know and didn't check.

Then there are school stories. Anyone who lives in Victoria, anyway, and has had children at school, might know the rules. Kids certainly do. "You can't touch me! I'll sue!" Only recently a student I hadn't  touched was loudly claiming I'd slapped him, and I remember a nasty little Year 8 girl in my first year of teaching who rubbed her neck trying to produce a bruise so she could claim I'd hit her and, when that didn't work, told her father I'd threatened her with a chair.  Fortunately, he knew me and asked what was going on rather than accepting her lie, or I could have been suspended till the story was checked out and my reputation would have been gone while she might, at worst, have been given a couple of days' suspension and a grounding at home. They don't want to discourage genuine cases from coming forward. And this was many years ago, in the 1970s. Oh, yes, they know their rights and if they do, why don't the authors of so many YA novels?

I can tell you about a short story in which the victim and the class bully get detention and the teacher walks out of the room to attend a meeting, leaving a potential for tragedy. Sorry, I told the author, a friend of mine. It wouldn't happen today. Duty of care. Schools can have the pants sued off them for neglecting it. If you must have the teacher leave the room, make it an emergency. The school would still be sued - and I've heard of a primary school being sued for not having a teacher in a particular part of the yard when a branch fell from a tree and injured a child -  but at least it would be a situation over which the teacher had no control. "But it happened at my school!" he protested, meaning the teacher leaving the room for a meeting, not the tragedy. I pointed out that it was a very long time ago and that  expensive private schools like the one he attended  might have had different rules from the State system  back then. Not now, and he was trying to sell a new edition. He took it on board and rewrote.

Here are the rules, in Victoria at least(and the main offending novels I've read have been by Victorian writers) : you must have a teacher to supervise students, so no allowing students to run their own event outside school hours with no teachers there.  You can't have a detention after school on the same day it's earned; parents must be given notice. You certainly can't publicly humiliate students, even as a punishment. Not without facing the legal wrath of parents. What you can and can't do for punishment is strictly limited.

Yet I've come across CBCA shortlisted books by Melbourne writers that have done most of these things and some that weren't shortlisted but were by well-known local writers that did the last-mentioned. And somehow they made even otherwise-wonderful novels just that much less wonderful for me.

I've read a novel written in the era of the Internet that had two kids exchanging emails and one of them doing physical research for something that was easily available on Google, even then. (I know, I googled it).

It's not so hard to check before submitting your manuscript. The Internet is a wonderful resource, or you can call someone who knows.

Writers, you must do your research, even for mainstream fiction, even if you think you remember what things were like when you were in your teens.

And guess what? They probably weren't quite as you remember them.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Preparing For Continuum X!

In a couple of weeks, I'll be going to Continuum X, this year's Australian National Convention. It will be a particularly exciting one for me because we're releasing my very first edited issue of ASIM. Well, I have worked on one before, but it wasn't really mine, though I wrote the editorial. The thing was nearly done, it just needed one more story because the editor had handed one over to someone else, leaving a gap, so I got to choose one story for it. The rest was tying up the loose ends left by another member of the ASIM Co-op who had unexpectedly vanished for several months, to the extent that some of the writers had assumed ASIM was gone and sent their work elsewhere, meaning one of the stories was now a reprint. (She did come back, eventually)

However, that's another matter. This time it was all mine. All the choices of stories and artists were mine to make. And with that gorgeous cover, I just can't wait to hold my first copy in my hands. The reviews will be what they are. I chose stories I thought were good - stories that made me smile or touched me or made me breathless with their beauty. Let's hope this will be the same for those who buy it.

I'm doing some panels. The first one, in which I interview three YA writers, is at 9.00 am on Saturday - groan! If I had been at home it wouldn't be so bad - I could just catch a tram into town and then another to the hotel - the Rialto, would you believe! I didn't even know it was a hotel! It used to be the HQ of the Victorian Education Department. Goodness knows, I've demonstrated outside it often enough in past years. It has an observation deck on top, where, for a fee, you can look out over the whole of Melbourne. But a hotel?

But I stay with my mother on Friday nights. It's a bit further, plus I will have to disturb her when I leave at about 7.00 am.

The interview will be good, though. I'm speaking with George Ivanoff, Edwina Harvey and Ambelin Kwaymullina, the author of the wonderful Interrogation Of Ashala Wolf and Disappearance Of Ember Crow. Ambelin has informed me she intends to read something by everyone on the panel, including me, which is nice of her, but I'm basically the moderator, so my books don't come into it - George will be interviewing me and others on Monday. She can come to that as part of the audience if she likes - there are bound to be some of her young fans in that audience. The panels are aimed at teenagers, let's hope we can get some. I've been on panels where the audience was at best one more than the panel! Still, we've agreed that if this happens, we'll just sit around in a circle and answer questions.

I'm doing a panel called "YA All Grown Up" which is meant to be about why adults read the stuff, but we'll also talk about why we write it and read it. (Because it's better than adult books? Because it has story and characters and important themes, not just "beautiful writing"? I've seen adult books win awards for stuff that kids would throw against the wall because you can't fool them the way you can adults.)

I'm also on a panel called "Live Slushpile". The original blurb said we'd be reading from stories that had made it or not, and why, but nobody felt comfortable with that, so we'll be talking slush in general and what we look for when we pick up a story submission. I will say, among other things, that I read slush as a reader, not an editor. I ask myself if I, as a reader, would enjoy reading this story in a book or magazine I'd paid for. I am not a professional like Jack Dann, who will also be on the panel; he no doubt also has to consider if this story theme has been published about a million times before and other things that I don't have to worry about. But it should be interesting.

There's one panel that's happening because I arranged it. I'll be moderating a panel on small press in Australia. The theme is that small press here punches well above its weight, with big publishers being mainly limited to Fat Fantasy Trilogies, so anything else has to be published by small presses that can take chances big ones can't. I'll also mention that in this country, at least, small presses can persuade big name writers to sell them work for a much smaller fee than they're used to, and not just bottom-of-the-drawer stories either.  My panel is Edwina Harvey, representing Peggy Bright Books, Tehani Wessely for Fablecroft, Simon Petrie for ASIM and Canberra SF Guild and Paul Collins for Ford Street. That will be a very interesting panel and I hope we get an audience. Usually the audience for a small press panel is largely composed of writer hopefuls who want to see if there's advice on how to sell to it. So we should have those if not anyone else.

More when I get back from the con!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Happy Birthday, Rachel Carson!

Rachel Carson in 1952.Public domain image.

Today, Google celebrated the 107th birthday of environmentalist Rachel Carson with one of their Doodles. Rachel Louise Carson was her full name, and I'm pleased to say my nephew's younger daughter is also a Rachel Louise, a bright young woman who will go far in the world one day.

Hopefully she won't have the same troubles her namesake did. Rachel Carson was one of the women scientists I researched for Potions To Pulsars many years ago. I couldn't have left her out. She wrote several books, but the most famous was Silent Spring, which eventually led to the banning of DDT, but during her lifetime brought her up against big business; it should be compulsory reading for any politician before he or she is allowed into Parlament, with a test to follow. I vaguely recall it was on the Year 12 syllabus at one stage. No doubt the current bunch of pollies would consider it pinko leftie rubbish that shouldn't be taught in schools or be allowed to affect their business constituents.

I won't go into great detail here, because my book is long out of print, but there are plenty of web sites today celebrating her life and achievements.  Here's an article in the Independent.

I 'll just leave you with some quotes that might have referred to her own issues, but are highly relevant to today's world:

'We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost's familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road—the one "less traveled by"—offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.'

And how about this?

'Our attitude towards plants is a singularly narrow one. If we see any immediate utility in a plant we foster it. If for any reason we find its presence undesirable or merely a matter of indifference, we may condemn it to destruction forthwith.'

It also applies to plants that are too useful, like old-growth forests. Once they're gone, they're gone, and their wildlife with them.

There are some other quotes too, about the joy of nature. Just another couple here.

'The lasting pleasures of contact with the natural world are not reserved for scientists but are available to anyone who will place himself under the influence of earth, sea and sky and their amazing life.'

'Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature -- the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.'

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Look What I Got In The Mail! Juliet Marillier's Latest!

I know this has been out for months in ebook, but my policy is not to review ebooks, because I can't put them on my library shelves, so I held out for the print copy, and Juliet is actually happy with the arrangement, because we had the interview back then and now I can promote the paperback just when it will do the most good.

She actually has two stories on the Ditmar shortlist this year, which is nice - Prickle Moon and one based on her favourite fairytale Vasilissa The Wise. Both are good. If you're eligible to vote, you have till 11.59 pm next Wednesday, so get a move on.

It's strange to think I knew nothing of her but her name till two students asked for the latest in her Sevenwaters series and I bought the lot, because others might want to read them. Then I had an offer for an interview(done by my student Thando, now in Year 12) and I got a review copy of her standalone Beauty And The Beast novel, Heart's Blood. It was a wonderful version of the story, set in mediaeval Ireland, where women had a lot more rights than in other countries and her Beauty character could be a scribe, working on a summer job at the Beast's castle. 

This trilogy is wonderful too, and I'm looking forward to reading the final volume. The last two covers have been much better than the first, which was lovely but rather too juvenile for its intended audience. I still haven't been able to persuade anyone at my school to read it, dammit!

Will get back to you with my review sometime very soon!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Countdown To The Ditmar Awards

I thought I'd done a post here, but found the only post I had done on this year's Ditmar Awards for speculative fiction(Australia's answer to the Hugos) was on the Andromeda Spaceways blog, so here's a link to the shortlist:

If you were at Conflux, last year's Australian national convention, or if you're a member of this year's national convention, Continuum X, even just a supporting member, you can vote and the deadline is just before midnight next Wednesday.

Here's the link to that site:

There is some terrific stuff on that list, though it would have been nice to see this blog up there on the  shortlist - I do seem to make it to the Chronos list, anyway.

One of the shortlisted artists is Dick Jenssen, whose nickname is Ditmar and I think is the one after whom the award is named - he's still going strong, anyway, doing some gorgeous fanzine covers. Another is Kathleen Jennings, whose art has appeared regularly in ASIM. And one of the "new talent" list is Michelle Goldsmith, who sold her second story to me for ASIM 60.

Go check it out, even if you can't vote - there is a lot of small press stuff there, not surprising in a country where the big publishers tend to publish mostly Fat Fantasy Trilogies. I 'd love some
 opinions on the shortlisted books and stories and art, even if you're on the list yourself.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The New Aurealis Awards Judge!

C'est moi! :-)

Just got my confirmation. I will be one of those on the children's section panel. Now I will see what all the CBCA judges go through, except they have to do all types of children's books, while I'm only going to be reading and judging children's spec fic. The books are likely to be shorter than adult or even YA, so it won't take as long to read all the entries. We did get the gig on the understanding that we are willing to read ebooks. I agreed, with the rider that if something is available in print I'd prefer it, because it can can go on my library shelves afterwards. I probably won't be reviewing anything from the AAs here, because while it's not against the rules you have to be careful not to make authors or publishers think they're out of the running. For the same reason I won't be giving star ratings on Goodreads, though I rarely do that anyway.

But it will be nice to see what's out and see how close we get to the CBCA shortlist or the YABBAs.

Speaking of YABBA I have been told that my school has won a visit from a writer or artist sponsored by CAL and YABBA, under the YABBA Ambassador program. I don't know who it will be yet - that's part of the deal, they choose - but whoever it is will be made very welcome and given lunch and publicity and maybe even a small gift. It's very exciting!

For any Melbourne teachers or librarians reading this I hear they have just opened a second round of offers, up to 25 schools in total will win it. The only condition for entry is that you must be a member of YABBA. At $42 a year, even I can afford it! And there are a lot of incentives to join.

What I'm Currently Reading....

Lots, actually, but here are some recent downloads and a not- so-random read or two!

Murder In The Telephone Exchange by June Wright. Recently re-launched by Sisters In Crime Melbourne but as I couldn't make it to the event in Yarraville I downloaded the ebook and what a fascinating read it is. Melbourne in the late 1940s, when the book was written. It wasn't historical fiction when it was written, but now it brings back a lost world of telephonists working in shifts because people do, after all, make calls all night and someone has to be on the boards, where young single women not living at home Iive  in boarding houses, where everyone smokes and a dead body can be found with face smashed in by a piece of equipment that is gone along with telephone exchanges.

The Dagger Of Dresnia by Satima Flavell, who chose and edited my story in Mythic Resonance. A mother does what she can for her children, even an elvish mother who married a mortal king, including what she suspects might be a Faustian bargain...I'm not far in, but finding it very readable so far.

The Winds Of Marble Arch And Other Stories by Connie Willis, one of my favourite spec fic writers, who not only does sensawunda but has real, believable characters you can care about. It's one of the wonderful SF Gateway series of ebooks, republishing books that are classics but might be out of print. The covers are usually plain yellow, but they're not expensive and you get to read books you may have missed out on in print.  

Wildlife by Fiona Wood. I downloaded it ages ago, but now really must read it since it's on this year's CBCA shortlist. It's a sort of sequel to Six Impossible Things, seen from more than one viewpoint, one of them the sensible girl whom Dan Cereill, hero of the first book introduced to his best friend. A bit darker than the first book, but great reading so far. 

Twelve Stories And A Dream by H.G. Wells, a collection of his short fiction I picked up from  Project Gutenberg, when I felt like rereading "The Truth About Pyecraft", a very silly, entertaining tale about what happens when you aren't precise about what you ask for, in this case the difference between "losing weight" and slimming down.

I've also picked up a paperback of Jim C Hines' novel The Mermaid's Madness from my library because he's coming to Continuum and I'd only read one of his books and thought I might be interviewing him in the YA writers panel(I'm not, I'm doing Ambelin Kwaymullina whose wonderful books I've mentioned on this blog before). It's his wicked take on what might have REALLY happened in the story of the Little Mermaid. In this case, she killed her faithless prince and has since gone insane and killed a lot of other people and it's up to Cinderella, Snow White and Talia the Sleeping Beauty to stop her(and do please read the first book, The Stepsister Scheme, well worth the read)... Jim sold three stories to ASIM earlier in his career, so it will be nice to meet him.    

There's more, plenty more, including some review books, but this will do for a Saturday morning post. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Another Peggy Bright Books Freebie

In honour of the Ditmar shortlisting of Peggy Bright Books' new collection, The Back Of The Back Of Beyond by Edwina Harvey, the web site is offering a free sampler - the story "No Pets Allowed". The pet concerned is not a cat or a dog, needless to say! If you want to find out what it is, you can wander over to the web site - here's the link -
  and click into whichever version you want, PDF, ePub or mobi. I have this book in
 paperback,  but downloaded it anyway. See that lovely cover? It's by Eleanor 
Clarke, my own cover artist, and has also been shortlisted in the Ditmars, for best art. 

If you decide you want the ebook, it's $4.99.

Monday, May 12, 2014

ASIM 60 On The Launch Pad!

I've just completed my very first issue of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. I am so very excited as the final work is done to get this launched!

It's not that I've never edited anything before. I've done a number of media fanzines, back in the days before the Internet turned fan fiction into an industry and made it possible for anyone, however awful their writing, to be published. In fact, it was that experience which made it possible for me to do this. When I was putting together Tales From New Wales(Blake's 7) and Under The Greenwood Tree(Robin Of Sherwood) and other such zines, I was looking for stories, poetry and art. I wanted a combination of funny and serious. I wanted to be sure that my authors, while they were, admittedly, working within the constraints of a universe created by someone else, knew what they were writing about.  You could probably get away with things in Blake's 7 fan fiction while you had a story entirely set on the spaceship Liberator and about character relationships, but in the world of Robin Of Sherwood, you'd better have done your historical research about England of the twelfth and early thirteenth century if you wanted your story to appear in my fanzine.(Most other editors felt the same, though I remember reading some excruciating ROS fiction written by people who knew nothing whatever about the Middle Ages!)

So when I was reading for ASIM 60, I had similar requirements. I am only a layperson in the area of science, but if something sounded weird to me, I knew who to ask for an opinion. There was one utterly beautiful story which had a slight flaw in its physics. I wasn't sure, but suspected it, so I asked for advice from a scientist on the ASIM team and got it. The author did a small rewrite and his story is now as good as it deserves to be. Another writer gave me a lovely story which needed just a bit of a tweak in the geography and history - they were areas I did know enough about to discuss with the author. 

I needed a mix of humour and serious fiction, fantasy, SF and horror. I needed some poetry. I needed some art. In other words - not too different from editing a fanzine. I read and read and read. In the end, I probably chose more other-planet and  space-themed stories than I should have, but I love this kind of fiction, it's what drew me to SF in the first place, the "sensawunda" you just don't find in any other genre.  But there was wonderful fantasy too, and, interestingly, poetry that ranged from SF to fantasy to Steampunk - I took one of each and asked for them to be placed as near as possible to appropriate stories. One of them, by Darrell Schweitzer, I had illustrated, it gave me such a powerful image. Another was about a black hole, the third a story in its own right, with a female knight who reminded me of Martin's Brienne of Tarth.   

I'm not fond of horror fiction, but you have to have balance; I found one that was not overly gory, but presented a vision of vampires I hadn't come across before.  

When the time came for art decisions to be made, I wondered which should be the cover story and which should get an internal illustration. It was very hard to choose, let me tell you! I'd picked the stories in the first place because they were ones which had a strong visual sense; I could picture what was happening in my head. Should the cover story be the one set on a water world? The one set on an island where victims were thrown into the sea far below the cliffs? The story in which a man finds himself living his life as a movie?

In the end, the cover story was a space-themed one. I'd always wanted to edit a magazine with a space cover. And the artist actually liked the story enough to offer me a choice of three covers, one of them the one I went with, with a view of Mars in its first steps towards terraforming. I chose it even though another of the options was actually closer to what I'd originally had in mind.

Choosing artists wasn't easy either. When others from ASIM are choosing, they have the option of asking my advice, but hey, I'm the art director! And as art director, I know all of them. There are some wonderful space artists among them and some fine internal artists. How to choose?

I went for two artists I had worked with before and was comfortable with. There were others I was also comfortable with, but I had a limited time, as they, too, would have a deadline, so had to make up my mind.

 The cover artist is Eleanor Clarke, whom I've known all her life, admired since she was winning her first awards for photography and painting, and who fully justified my faith in her with a breathtakingly beautiful cover painting. The other was the amazing Lewis Morley, whom I've also known for years, who is utterly reliable as well as first-class, whether he's doing cover art or illustrations(he has his own graphic novel series, Peregrine Besset). Both have been shortlisted for Ditmar Awards - Eleanor is on this year's shortlist, by the way, and Lewis actually won for an ASIM cover, which turned out to have been his first go at a cover. This time I gave him all the internals. We can't pay much, so he might as well have all of what we can pay for internals.  

Again, like choosing for a fanzine, though I had an art budget for this - in a fanzine you can have as many illoes as you can persuade your chosen artist to do. One of my fanzine artists was Robert Jan, who has done a few pieces for ASIM over the years. 

The big difference from a fanzine, apart from having to pay the contributors with more than copies, is having a length "budget" - mine is slightly over, by about four pages because I have six first sales and we needed extra space for their blurbs. There will be some advertising in it , though it will be appropriate advertising, for speculative fiction books, publishers, etc.

Another major difference is that I can't do this on my own. I need a layout artist, who, this time, is Simon Petrie, our man of many hats and skills, including science - he's the one who helped me out with the physics in that story. Simon also has to deal with the printer and receive the copies and post them out. Someone has to organise the contracts and pay the contributors. And then sell the copies as orders come in. It's all hands to the pump for proofreading. 

I've come a long way from the days when I just had to type up my issue, literally cut and paste, then photocopy and bind it all and take the orders myself. Of course, things might be different now, with a computer instead of a typewriter and the Internet to promote and sell. But I would never have had the confidence to do this if not for my experience as a fanzine editor way back when. Mind you, back then there were not quite as many people to write rude reviews as there are now, but back then they could be even nastier than now, because they had all paid for their copies - no such thing as review copies of fanzines - so when they didn't like it, they got really pissed off! But people can be unpleasant all the same, as who should know better than I, with Goodreads ratings for my novel from 1 star to 5, so it's nerve racking.

Still, I am going to be so proud of myself, the ASIM team and the contributors when my issue comes out in only a few weeks! 

Friday, May 09, 2014

This Week's Random Read: The Eye Of Minds(Mortality Doctrine 1 ) by James Dashner

I picked it up off the new books display as I was going out the door. Really, this random reading is fun. You never know what you're going to end up with and another of my random reads, The Hunt by Andrew Fukuda, has been attracting student interest, though so far only the girls. Maybe it's the cute guy on the cover who looks a bit like David Boreanaz from Buffy and Angel.

The premise of this one is somewhat The Matrix meets Alex Rider. The hero, Michael, lives in a future where everybody has an EarCuff that lets you bring up a virtual computer screen and, for fun, you can play games on the VirtNet, a virtual reality simulation with the emphasis on "reality". You can eat, sleep, have adventures and even die, though not permanently unless you dig out your "Core" deliberately and use the virtual world to commit suicide. You wake up in the comfort of your Coffin, which looks after you while you're in the Sleep and stimulates your nerves into pain if you hurt yourself out there. Michael has been picked up by VNS, the VirtNet security staff, who want him to track down an evil gamer who has been hacking rather too deeply and doing dreadful things to other gamers. He must go truly deep into the virtual world, accompanied by his friends Bryson and Sarah, whom he has never met in the Wake(the real world).

The mind boggles at the thought of what might happen in a world where you could go into a virtual reality so detailed that you could practically live there. Think of the implications not only for leisure and education but for much darker things - prison, for example, addiction, porn... The only thing that might prevent usage for some things is that in the novel the Coffin is highly expensive; you wouldn't want to blow the government budget on mass torture, for example. But it wouldn't take long to develop a cheap version. And virtual prison staff would still be cheaper than humans who need paying, feeding and time off. 

And what would you do if the power went out while half the human race was in a fantasy word somewhere?  Someone has to stay in the real world to keep it going, which is why I never quite believe those films and books where everybody is in a permanent VR world or stumbling down the street wearing VR goggles. 

But this is a good, fast-paced book that you might be able to persuade boys to read ( o, joy! a book that isn't girls-only!)though it might be too hard for reluctant readers, who need something thinner, with simpler language. Still, a good book for those boys who are always playing Halo and other such shoot-em-up games - if you can get them off the real computer into a fictional one... 

Saturday, May 03, 2014

May 4 - Some Important Birthdays

Today is May 4. May the Fourth Be With You!

However, I won't do the usual meme stuff in this post, just a couple of birthdays.

One of them is on Google today, Audrey Hepburn, who would have been 85 today. Unfortunately for the world she died when she was only 64. As well as her wonderful films, she did a lot of humanitarian stuff in her later years. She was already sick the last time I saw her interviewed, and you could see it on her face, her slim body gone from waiflike to simply thin. But when the interviewer said something that made her smile, her face lit up and you coud see the beauty from within. You don't need me to write her biography here, but if you want more, just go to Google today and click.  Happy birthday, Audrey!

It was also the birthday of my late friend Helene Shaw, whom I first met at university, where she was working as a librarian and studying some subjects as well. Helene died soon after Audrey Hepburn, actually, in April 1993. She nearly made it to 61, I believe - I never knew her age till after she passed away. I will tell you a bit about her, because you won't find it in Google.

Helene persuaded me to try for the librarianship Graduate Diploma at RMIT; I will always be grateful to her for that.

She was a neighbour, living only a few streets away from me when I was living in Elsternwick. She had lived in the area all her life and was very knowledgeable about its history.

Helene was a great book lover, especially science fiction. She was also a fellow Star Trek fan, who collected all the Trek novels, which she was happy to lend out to friends because it took her a while to get around to reading them. She had a stack of fanzines which, in those days, were all print, in the days  before online fan fiction.

A passionate lover of astronomy, she belonged to two astronomy clubs, one of which asked her to catalogue its library, a huge job(and didn't even thank her by naming the library for her, despite all the hours she put into the task, sometimes whole weekends)

Helene and I went together to SF conventions where I watched her, with great admiration, making friends; I always used to say at the time that if you dropped her by parachute from a plane and followed her down, by the time you got there she would be friends with the local people. She could get people to confide in her; after about half an hour, she'd know things about new friends their other friends  didn't know after years!

I know she would  have loved the Internet and ebooks and over the years, when a new book, TV series or technology came out, I would think, "What a pity! Helene would have adored this!"

If she were alive today, I'd be giving her an iTunes card as a gift, to buy more books.

Happy birthday, Helene!

Friday, May 02, 2014

A Meme For May 3!

Looking for literary things that happened on May 3 I found some Pulitzer Prizes, a famous war poem and a number of other things that weren't literary but looked interesting anyway.
I couldn't find many birthdays that interested me and no festivals or anniversaries that were of interest, so here's what I did find, mostly in HistoryOrb and Wikipedia.


 1374 BCE: Solar eclipse seen at Ugarit by Mesopotamian astromoners "On the day of the new moon, in the month of Hiyar, the Sun was put to shame, and went down in the daytime, with Mars in attendance." I don't imagine the Mesopotamians called it Mars, but still... Nice that we can find out things that happened so very long ago!

1915: Classic war poem, "In Flanders Fields" written by Canadian poet John McCrae, the one beginning,"In Flanders fields the poppies blow..." It was a poem written by the author, a doctor, while sitting in an ambulance the day after a close friend had died at the second battle of Ypres. The poem was used as propaganda for some time - sad, but not anti-war(this was early in the piece)and, while poppies have been associated with war for some time, it was this one that inspired all those red poppies for sale around Remembrance Day.

1937:  Margaret Mitchell wins the Pulitzer Prize for Gone With The Wind. Not my favourite novel, as I have mentioned before, but undoubtedly a classic.

1948: The Pulitzer Prize was awarded to Tennessee Williams, for  his play A Streetcar Named Desire, which has been performed and filmed and imitated and become a part of our cultureand to James A Michener for Tales Of The South Pacific, a collection which included a short story that became the musical South Pacific. I have read some of his thicker novels and enjoyed them very much; Geraldine Brooks's People Of The Book reminds me of Michener's The Source, which also had a lot of stories from history, centred around objects found during a framing story. 

1953 Westchester conference of the ALA proclaims "Freedom To Read" - this was about censorship, so I think it very much about books and reading.

1978 - The very first spam email sent! The Internet was very small in those days; it was sent out on something known as ARPANET by some marketing executive. It's thanks to this that you now get all those Nigerian scam emails, prizes for lotteries you never entered, bank emails from banks you don't have any money in asking for your login details and offers of cheap Viagra. Remember May 3.


1415: Cecily Neville, mother of Richard III, subject of so much fiction, and her daughter Margaret(1446). The poor woman outlived many of her children and would have been around long enough to hear the first Tudor propaganda about her youngest son. Still, she would have been a great grandmother by then, by her granddaughter Elizabeth of York, even if that awful man Henry Tudor was their father.

1469: Niccolo Machiavelli, author of The Prince, after whom we have the term "Machiavellian" for anything sneaky and sly. I read this book for European History at university and I must say, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to read. Must have been a good translation, but still, it's a slim volume and a lot of it is likely to be somebody's introduction, which you can skip if you want. Read it if you're curious about where the term comes from and what he actually said as opposed to what people think he said.

So, anyone else got some May 3 stories I might have missed?

The Old School by P.M Newton. Camberwell: Penguin, 2011

The year: 1992. The historic ICAC investigation into police corruption is in full swing. The place: Sydney, Australia, Bankstown police station. Nhu, "Ned" Kelly, a young half-Vietnamese police detective, is tracking the murderer of two women, one an Aboriginal activist, one an Asian woman, whose bodies have recently been found in an excavation for a new car park. But there's more to it than this - a lot more. Ned's own parents were murdered when she was a small child, the case still unsolved - and her father was a partner in the construction firm that originally put up the building which was torn down for the car park. He was also a career soldier in Vietnam before returning to Australia with his Vietnamese wife, Ned's mother - and things happened there which are best not dug up...

I am not generally a great fan of police procedurals(apart from Dalziel and Pascoe),  mostly preferring "cosies" and historical crime fiction. In some ways, this is historical crime fiction, with references to things happening in Sydney at the time, with Paul Keating as Prime Minister and the end of the Vietnam War less than twenty years in the past. It couldn't have happened in the present. 

Anyway, as a Sister In Crime, I couldn't resist asking for a review copy of this book by an Australian woman writer who was herself a police detective and knows what she's talking about, when one was offered and I am glad I did. The book is exciting and fast-moving, but doesn't neglect the human element, with Ned and her sister afraid of what they might discover about their father's past. Family plays a substantial part in the novel and not only Ned's family. 

The history is fascinating, whether or not you can remember the 90s - and ICAC is in the news again. Sydney is almost a character in its own right, as a city should be.

I hear that a sequel has come out recently, which might just be worth following up.