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Saturday, September 30, 2017

Look What I've Got! Some SF Classics

It's Sunday. I decided to wander down to Acland St, my favourite street in all of Melbourne, for a falafel and a haircut, if I could get one. The haircut has to wait fr tomorrow, but I had my late lunch and an ice cream and entered the local Reading's Bookshop. 

They were selling SF Masterworks for three for the price of two. Some I already have, in print or ebook, but I haven't been able to get hold of Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man on iBooks, alas!  And I want to read it. It's where the author of Babylon 5 got his idea for the Psi Corps, which is led by a man called...Alfred Bester. The role was played by Walter Koenig, whom we know best as Ensign Chekov of Star Trek. He made a very impressive villain! 

I think I have a battered old copy of Ursula K LeGuin's The Lathe Of Heaven somewhere, not sure where. It will be fun to reread. It's about a man who dreams true, in the sense that when he has a true dream, he wakes up and finds that it has happened and nobody remembers it ever being any different. There was a telemovie of it which I saw at Cinecon, the convention where I was lucky enough to meet Robert Bloch.  

And I hadn't realised that Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? was so short. I shouldn't have any problems getting through it. I hear that Bladerunner is very different, but it is a classic in its own right and I read a rave review of the sequel online this morning, only it didn't tell you anything about the film except the basic blurb, because literally anything else you might say is a spoiler and the journalists all had to sign something promising not to give it away. All this one would say was that it's even better than Bladerunner. We'll see about that. I'm hoping I can arrange to see it with my friend Bart; Bladerunner is his all-time favourite film. 

Meanwhile, I have a nice haul of books! 

The Hobbit: A New Edition

So, my great-nephew Eden is eight years old and currently reading Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix. I figured if he can handle that, he can certainly handle The Hobbit. And about time he does read it! I told him so, and yesterday I popped into the Avenue bookshop in Elsternwick and asked for it.  I had hoped to find a copy of the classic edition illustrated by the author - you know, four or five colour plates, depending which edition it is(I think the U.S. edition is the one with only four plates)and drawings. But they didn't have it, only one without art and the one you see above, illoed by Jemima Catlin. 

I didn't want to wait - I knew I would be seeing him today - so I bought the illoed copy. And what a beautiful piece of work it is too! The cover, as you can see, looks like something from an illuminated manuscript, and better still, the internal art is very reminiscent of Pauline Baynes, who was a friend of Tolkien and C.S Lewis and who illustrated both Tolkien's other children's books and Lewis's Narnia novels. 

I am rather tempted to buy a copy for myself. You see, I have several copies, different editions. I have the Tolkien illustrated version, of course, my first. I have an annotated Hobbit, given to me as a farewell gift from Heathmont College, where I worked before going to my current school. That one is lovely, and fascinating. I have the Alan Lee edition, and gorgeous it is; you probably know that Alan Lee and John Howe worked on the LOTR movies. I have the very rare anniversary Michael Hague edition, which is exquisite. It was brought to my school by a ruthless bookseller who knew I would have to buy it! It cost me $75 and was worth every cent. And there is my ebook edition, which has a lot of extra materials - fold-out maps, Tolkien drawings that can be coloured, earlier drafts of some scenes and Tolkien's voice singing and reciting the poems. 

So the idea of having an edition with art that reminds me of Pauline Baynes is very hard to resist.

How did young Eden react to this book? He drooled over the art! He started to read it till his Dad told him to stop and wait till he got home.  He asked questions - I have mentioned it before. I told him that Gandalf was a bit like Dumbledore. He asked me if any of the good guys died at the end. "Sorry, spoilers!" I said. "Just read it." It will be nice to see him discover a classic. 

If he does enjoy it, the lady at the shop suggested The Sword In The Stone. I hadn't thought of that, but nice idea! What do you think? 

Monday, September 25, 2017

Food In The Vorkosiverse

It's odd, really, but  the food that gets the most detailed description in Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosiverse seems to be on Barrayar, the homeworld of her hero, Miles Vorkosigan, or in Barrayaran homes elsewhere.

 I've just been rereading Cetaganda, in which Miles and his cousin Ivan arrive on the capital of the Cetagandan Empire to attend the funeral of the Dowager Empress Lisbet Degtiar, the current Emperor's mother. Cetaganda is a world which specialises in genetic engineering and loves things artistic. The palace spends the days to the funeral running different events and catering for hundreds of attendees, and we're told, on the first day, that Miles and his fellow delegates are served morning tea and lunch and that it's many courses of small delicate finger-food-type things, but not what any of them are. Same thing with the early reception at the Marilacan Embassy. Yet when Miles invites over Mia Maz, a Vervani etiquette expert, to their Embassy,  she pounces delightedly on chocolate petit fours. That is, we start to get some details. There is something called zlati ale on Cetaganda, but that's a part of the plot. I won't tell you what it does, in case you want to read it - spoilers! 

Because so much is centred around the military, we do hear of ration - rat - bars. They're not very tasty, but if you're desperate, as Miles sometimes is, you're only too happy to have one. At one point, in The Vor Game, he is imprisoned in a cell on board Commander Cavilo's ship, and fed on very basic food. Cavilo was unaware of this, telling him he was being fed only what she and her men have, but orders him something better - so much better that he wonders what her soldiers have. They must be overweight and happy. In that case, there was some detail. 

But once you get back to Barrayar, the home cooked meals begin, such as those prepared by Ma Kosti, the mother of two of Miles's guards, whom he offers a job as his cook. Miles gives lunch to Ekaterin, a young widow he first met on Komarr, where her husband was working before he was killed stupidly and needlessly. Ekaterin is the woman he wants in his life, and lunch is a Ma Kosti special, with peach tarts for dessert. Actually, Ma Kosti can make a gourmet delight of a sandwich. She concocts fishy delights for the cat! Before the end of A Civil Campaign, she has cooked a banquet for Miles's guests(using bug butter from the butter bugs being raised in the basement)and created maple ambrosia for the Emperor's wedding. 

A typical local breakfast is a cereal called groats, which are also used as part of wedding ceremonies. Barrayar has been terraformed for the most part, so that Earth maple trees are there to produce sugar - they are big in Miles's district. But there are, oddly, some edible indigenous fruit, brillberries, which are eaten quite safely by the human colonists and cooked into tarts. Well, they must be native fruit, unless they've been developed from Earth berries over the centuries. 

Bujold seems to take great delight in describing her food, especially little cakes, but mostly Barrayaran treats. Otherwise, food is there because it's part of the plot. 

Maybe Barrayar is "home" to the author! 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Take One Of Three Girls: An Interview With Simmone Howell!

A few weeks ago, I received an invitation from the publicist at Pan Macmillan to do an interview regarding the new novel, Take Three Girls, a collaboration by three of this country's top YA novelists. I have yet to read a novel by any of them that I didn't enjoy, so of course, the answer was a glad cry of, "Yes! Absolutely!"

As Cath and Fiona had both appeared on this blog, both in review and interview posts, we decided that Simmone Howell should be the third girl of this trio on The Great Raven. And very welcome she is, too! Simmone says she remembers us meeting at what I think must have been a Booktalkers event at the State Library, back when they were doing these wonderful sessions. 

Anyone remember a British TV series with the same name? It was about three young women living together in London. No connection except the title(though I keep hearing the folk rock group Pentangle singing the theme tune, Light Flight, in my head...)

The three young women in this novel, Clem, Kate and Ady,  attend a boarding school in one of Melbourne's posher suburbs. Clem is an athlete who is losing interest in sport. Kate is a musician from the bush, a hugely talented cellist who has come to the city for her music and is preparing both for a scholarship exam that will let her remain at the school and an audition for a scholarship that will let her go to Finland for her cello playing. Ady, a gifted dress designer, is not a boarder and, due to family issues, might have to leave the school at the end of term. The three form an unlikely friendship. They all have their own problems, including an on line forum, Psst, which is a nasty gossip column along the lines of such web sites mentioned recently in the news, connected with a private boys' school in Melbourne. But these girls refuse to be victims...

So, without further ado, I'd like to welcome Simmone Howell to my blog. 

A basic question to start with: who got the idea for this novel? And whose idea was it to make it a collaboration?

We actually cant recall who thought of it. But once it was suggested we all went YES! The idea went collaboration first, story next. As soon as we knew we were going to do it we spent some time thinking about what we all really wanted to write about - the main thing being friendship, and unlikely friendship within a school - with the school with its heirarchies and posturing and lies and bureaucracy being like a microcosm of the world.

How did the three of you work on this? For example, was it planned out together, then perhaps you each worked on your separate bits? 

Exactly that way. We each created a character and then had mutual plotting sessions around a big table with a whiteboard, then wed go off and write our chapters, then re-meet, read, discuss, repeat.

I'm guessing that each of you created and worked on a separate leading character - am I right? If so, who was yours? What did you have in mind when you created her? 

My character was Clem. I had a few people in mind. It was the early stages of(US TV series) Girls and I loved watching Lena Dunham run riot over our screens - and I loved the idea of a character who maybe didnt know what she wanted eventually but could be passionate in the moment. I was also drawing on aspects of my teenage life, in particular my thoughts around boys and self-esteem.

The novel is centred around life in a boarding school - is this part of your experience or the experience of Cath or Fiona? If not, how did you research it? 

None of us went to a boarding school. I always wanted to (too much Mallory Towers). I did however go to a Catholic girls' school for some of my high school years, where I was a late arrival and never felt quite right. We all do a lot of school visits and residencies, so it wasnt so much research as experience.

Clem and Iris are twins who had once been close. I don't think we ever found out why they had lost this closeness. Thoughts on this? 

Clems reasons might have ended up on the cutting room floor. But it was nearly completely clear cut. I think just sibling rivalry, each one feeling like the other was more loved by their parents - their parents seeming not  to have enough time for them, and then familiarity breeding contempt. I think for some people having siblings is an empowering experience, where for others it just serves to make them feel more lonely.

In fact, there were one or two other ends that were left untied - if you can answer this without too much spoiler, was this deliberate? 

None of us is a fan of the tied-up-with-a-nice-bow ending. We wanted the book to feel realistic, and for people to imagine the characters being friends off the page into the future.

Is this novel very like or very different from your other work? In what ways?

I think its a bit different as theres one main idea to Clem. In my other books I have a lot more time and space to develop with secondary characters and storylines. Its closest in tone to Everything Beautiful - Riley Rose is also a fat and feisty character - a girl who wants to eat the world. The main characters from my other books are more introspective and ideas-y.

I see that before you turned to YA you wrote a lot of short stories - what made you decide to have a go at YA fiction? 

I was told that my no one was ever going to publish my collection of short stories (because it was indeed a collection by then) unless I also had a novel … And now writing novels seems easier, even though they take me ages and ages.

Are you working on something at the moment? 

I am working on a YA book thats set in San Francisco … and a memoir filtered through my formative film, music, and literary influences. And Ive got two half-written things all shiny in the corner of my eye but Im doing my best to ignore them!

I'm looking forward to reading your  new YA novel when completed and, some time, those two shiny things! Thanks for visiting, Simmone.

If you'd like to check out the author, further, Simmone has a web site here.

To buy the book, it should be available in Australia at all good bookshops. You can also buy it on line. Here are a few suggestions:

It's available in both ebook and print copy at Booktopia, in Kindle edition at Amazon, or in ePub on iBooks. 

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Music And Memories

Tonight my mother and I went out to dinner in a local restaurant, something we do most weeks, though not always the same place.

This time, there was music in the background. I don't much care for restaurants with music; I like to eat in peace and have conversations with my eating companion. But this time the music was the Beachboys and suddenly I was taken back to my teens.

My friend Denise and I used to go to St Kilda beach every summer, and Denise would bring with her two things: a transistor radio(yes, that's how long ago it was!) and reading matter. Quite often the music coming from the transistor was that of the Beachboys. My strongest memory is of "Good Vibrations".

And along with that are the books and magazines she shared with me. Denise and her family owned a boarding house, where boarders came and went. Sometimes they left soft drink bottles, for which, in those days, you got a deposit, which we used to buy comics and ice cream. That was, of course, in our primary school years, and I loved it, because my mother wouldn't let me have comics at home.

But by my teens, we were reading other stuff. Sometimes the boarders left books and magazines - speculative fiction books, SF magazines. Denise would read aloud so I could share them. I discovered Robert Bloch in the magazines. I can't even remember the titles of those short stories, but I do remember the stories themselves, and mentioning this to Mr Bloch years later, when he was in Melbourne for a convention. There was a story, for example, in which an old movie extra, who had lost a girlfriend during the silent era, kept seeing her in films she had never been in, seeing her wave at him, and received a note from her from the other side, explaining what was happening. He was telling someone else about it, then died himself - and turned up in the movie Intolerance, with his girlfriend, waving at the narrator. We shared that story on the beach.

And I encountered my first Robert Heinlein book. One summer, Denise got a copy of Stranger In A Strange Land, left behind by a boarder, and read it to me by the sea... I did eventually borrow it and read it fully, but my first memory of it is in the heat of summer, sitting on a beach towel with my friend, in between swims...

Who would have thought that a couple of Beachboys songs would bring back book memories?

Monday, September 04, 2017

Final Day At The Writers Festival!

Well, I went, as planned. But I left later than intended, so missed those 11.30 sessions I was debating with myself about attending - the one with John Safran? The one with father and daughter team Thomas and Meg Keneally? I had opted, in the end, for the Keneally session, but it was too late - I reached the city about twenty minutes too late for either session. My own fault, I was a bit slack.

However, I was glad in the end - I at least downloaded the new Safran book and bought Volume 1 of the joint historical crime series by father and daughter Keneally, and was just in time to have it signed by both authors. Mr K, about to pack up for lunch with his daughter's publisher, promised to wait till I returned from the book stall. Very nice they both were, and they expressed genuine interest when I mentioned I had a book blog. I grabbed a pen and envelope and wrote down the URL, and will be reviewing the book when I've finished. I've started and am enjoying it so far. It seems to be a murder mystery set in the Port Macquarie penal settlement. Lovely!

So, why am I glad? Well, before I left home, my nephew David rang to wish me happy birthday and told me that his brother, Mark, would be going with his delightful family to the Harry Potter event. His elder son, Eden, is reading the series now. He is eight years old and is nearly finished Goblet Of Fire! I've told him he is getting a copy of The Hobbit from me when he has finished the series. If he can read a YA novel like Goblet, he can certainly handle The Hobbit.

So, both boys wore a bit of basic costume, although Jonah didn't want to participate in the costume parade. There were trivia questions from the stage - Eden did put his hand up, but was never chosen. Still, he had a great time and he did get a chance to be "sorted" by the lovely Sonia Palmisano from Bloomsbury, who gave me a hug. Eden is a Ravenclaw(he plays the piano).

After it was over, they left. I had lunch, then returned for my one and only session, which was about the LoveOzYa anthology. There were five authors, including the editor, Danielle Binks. There was Alice Pung, Amie Kaufman, Melissa Keil and Ellie Marney, whose short story was actually based on a chunk she had chopped out of her first novel about the youthful Holmes and Watson-type characters. I bought two copies, one for me and one for the library, because young Raiesah of Year 8 had asked for it. "All those great authors!" she enthused.

I've read the first story, "One Small Step" by Amie Kaufmann, who explained yesterday that she had got the idea from two sources: firstly, from overhearing some Year 12 students talking about what they wanted to apply for as opposed to what their parents wanted, and secondly from the story of the world's first IVF baby, who had had to put up with the whole world  wanting to know about milestones in her life. It's about the first baby born on Mars, now seventeen and having to share her life with the entire population of Earth. Oh, and she falls in love with another girl, her best friend.

I've just started the next story, which is by Will Kostakis. Will wasn't part of that panel, though. It was all female. In fact, eight of the ten stories in the anthology are by women - the other man is Michael Pryor. However, the purpose of the anthology, as Danielle Binks explained, was that in the ALIA survey of most-borrowed books in Aussie libraries, only two out of the top ten YA books were by Australians. So this one is for Aussie voices, though of course, they have every respect for overseas work. Last year, we were told glumly, not one of the top ten were local.

I'm hoping to read the whole book this week, so I can suggest it for next year's English text. The stories are unfortunately a bit long for "short story" work, but so far, quite readable and not too dreadfully hard for our weaker readers. And there seems to be a variety of genres, which is good.

Anyway, a nice day out! 

Saturday, September 02, 2017

September 3 - Happy Birthday To Me... And Andy G!

I woke up this morning to a personalised Google Doodle, with birthday candles, so thought I might as well post about it. This is my official birthday, the one on my birth certificate but I believe my real birthday is September 4, because I was definitely born on a Friday and the year I was born September 3 was a Thursday. September 4 has a lot more interesting and positive stuff about it than the 3rd, and I've posted about that too(and September 5, the birthday of the delightful Kate Constable, YA author, who, I think, shares a birthday with historical romance novelist Frank Yerby, or maybe Joan Aiken...?).

However, here I am, and I will be shouting myself at least one session at the MWF later today, to celebrate. If nothing else, I'll enjoy the Harry Potter day. Friday was the day when, according to The Deathly Hallows, Harry Potter saw his son Albus off to Hogwarts, so they're having fun with a Harry Potter theme today.

BUT there's Kiwi SF author Cherry Wilder and I also share a natal day with Andy Griffiths! Yes, THAT Andy Griffiths, author of so much fiction that has delighted young children and even teenagers in Australia and other countries. I think his novel The Day My Bum Went Psycho had to be retitled The Day My Butt Went Psycho in the U.S. because over there "bum" means "tramp", not "backside" as it does here.  Oh, well. Happy birthday, Andy! Lots of cake and other delicious stuff for you.

I hadn't heard of most of the "famous people" with whom I share a birthday, or if I had, I hadn't read any of their work. The guy who invented the safety match was born On This Day, but he never made any money out if it because it was too damned expensive for most people. Interesting, really. I have always thought it was women who invented most of the ordinary everyday things which we take for granted but wouldn't consider doing without. A man invents this and can't sell it!

Apart from Andy G, most of the writers were people I was unfamiliar with, and the "famous birthdays" web site included some bloggers, for goodness' sake! Anyone on the list 25 years old or less was a blogger. And not even a book or political blogger, generally a lifestyle blogger! That seems to be how you get famous these days. ;-)

Not a lot of positive stuff happened on September 3 - battles, massacres and such for the most part. But Viking 2 reached Mars On This Day.

It was also the birthday of the world's first daily newspaper - September 3, 1833. That was the New York Sun, which operated until 1950. There is an on line paper of that name now. 

Here in Australia it is National Flag Day, commemorating the first time our flag flew, back in 1901,when Australia became a federation. They ran a flag competition and the one we have now is the design that won.

I see that in the U.S. it is National Welsh Rarebit Day, so enjoy your cheese toasties, my American friends! 

It's the birthday of San Marino, the world's oldest republic. The founder was St Marinus. Happy birthday, San Marino!