Archive for January, 2010

Good Omens – Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Posted on 31 January 2010. Filed under: Book Reviews | Tags: , , |

Here is the first of Terry Pratchett Reading Challenge 2010 books. I chose Good Omens, which Pratchett co-wrote with Neil Gaiman, for the very complex reason that it was more easily reached than any other. The basic premise is that armageddon is about to happen, we have an angel and a devil on Earth and they have been on Earth for such a long time they’ve started behaving more like human beings and of course that just adds to the fun.

This was a reread for me and I couldn’t help noticing how much more I enjoyed it this time. I always find that rereading a Pratchett book opens new doors for me as I learn more about people and learn more about history and geography. The more I experience the more I find the books have changed for me. This book was no exception, I still enjoyed Aziraphale’s bookshop and wished I could have some of the same books, I thoroughly enjoyed the passage about the misprints. The part near the end about the final battle which I found so confusing last time, however, was just as confusing this time.

There are a number of concepts that both Pratchett and Gaiman are attacking with fervour such as the weight loss industry and the fashion industry, they show both industries in a very bad light. They spend far more time on the weight loss industry and made total fun of it.

Anyway, would I recommend it to people? Does a fish swim? I always recommend Pratchett to people he’s suitable for most readers. However, as this is also Gaiman it’s a bit blacker than normal Pratchett books and so you have to be aware of that if you’re a younger reader or if you’re looking for books for younger readers.

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Short stories

Posted on 30 January 2010. Filed under: Interesting websites | Tags: , , , |

Many, many moons ago, when I was much younger than the age I profess to be, my family were having a conversation about the shortest story in the world. Now I’m not able to comment on the validity of this but the shortest story we came up with was “And the sun sank slowly in the west.” That was the whole story. Whether it’s true or not is totally irrelevant at this point but it was fun. Someone in the family did mention it was a real story.

Technology has moved on dramatically since that time and we have so many stories of differing lengths. The latest I’ve found is Hellnotes and they’re canvassing science fiction, fantasy and horror stories. They pay roughly $1 per story but it has to fit within a tweet so a maximum of 140 characters. I have noticed novels are getting longer and longer with a lot of them being serialised so you end up with a large number of bricks which you have to wade your way through. I’m not convinced that longer books are better as some of them have an awful lot of fillers and as I read them I wonder why the author has enlarged on that particular point to quite that extent. I’ve heard many complaints about the length of the later Harry Potter novels and there is so much in the last book they’ve had to make two movies out of it. So, I can’t help but wonder how Twitter Fiction will go. Will we get back to the short stories by masters of horror, such as Edgar Allan Poe, and will we then end up with better fiction or will something else happen? I can’t imagine what could happen but if we get better fiction then the end result is good. It’s certainly going to be interesting to find out.

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It’s not been a good week…

Posted on 29 January 2010. Filed under: Rant and Rave Time | Tags: , , , |

It’s not been a good week for me. Either I was suffering from a migraine (not terribly bad pain just the side effects and after effects were gross) or I’ve been doing things with my youngest trying to get her paperwork sorted and support her in enrolling for university or I’ve had no wifi connection. This week has illustrated why I work from home. I don’t get migraines very often any more and I’d quite forgotten how to deal with them and how to deal with the postdrome so as to get as much done as possible. I’m not actually here to complain about the migraine, they happen and I just get over them and get on with life while reminding myself they used to be much worse. I recall (without any fondness whatsoever) the times when I would have a migraine for three weeks in a row before it finally went and I’d have a week to recover from it before my hormones started up again and the pain would start again. Monday’s migraine was nothing in comparison.

What I meant to write about and get really upset about was my wifi connection as that is much more germane to working from home. I’ve mentioned in previous blogs that I work in the dining room and I may have mentioned I have a laptop. Well, the modem is at the other end of the house and sometimes the wifi connection is just not good. Yesterday illustrated this entirely. I admit I was out most of the day what with one thing and another and I didn’t actually care about working last night as I was just too tired but I did try to get online so I could write a blog, check Twitter and do some other stuff but it wasn’t to be. In the few hours I was home from the time I got up in the morning to the time I went to bed at night I only managed to get a few minutes online, the wifi connection was so bad yesterday it would only connect for about 10 minutes during that whole time. I had to turn the modem off (yes, and back on again) this morning to get a connection. Thank goodness yesterday is gone and it’s back to normality today.

Having complained about all of that I fully understand there are people with worse health than me who manage to just keep going and I would like to take this opportunity to salute them with a quote “You’re a better man than me, Gungadin.” I also know there are people out there trying to run online businesses with a dialup connection, something I had to do for a few days when our modem stopped working and I just want to say – I feel your pain.

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World’s Best Science Fiction Third Series

Posted on 26 January 2010. Filed under: Book Reviews | Tags: , |

This book was published in 1967 so it rather dated but the stories are not. The list of stories involved in this book are:

We Can Remember It For You Wholesale – Philip K. Dick
Light of Other Days – Bob Shaw
The Keys to December – Roger Zelazny
Nine Hundred Grandmothers – R. A. Lafferty
Bircher – A. A. Walde
Behold the Man – Michael Moorcock
Bumberboom – Avram Davidson
Day Million – Frederik Pohl
The Wings of a Bat – Paul Ash
The Man From When – Dannie Plachta
Amen and Out – Brian W Aldiss
For a Breath I Tarry – Roger Zelazny

I do actually wonder about the science fiction published in that year as Roger Zelazny features twice in this anthology, were the stories just not good enough or was Zelazny’s writing that much better than the competition? Don’t get me wrong, Zelazny’s writing is very good I did enjoy his stories, I just have to wonder, that’s all.

We Can Remember It For You Wholesale by Philip K. Dick was adapted into a movie called Total Recall starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Reading the story again after all these years made me understand why Arnold Schwarzenegger got the role, he was just right for the part at the time. There are now other actors who would do a better job, I name Matt Damon as one, but Schwarzenegger was the best at the time. The only thing I have against Schwarzenegger in this role is his too memorable face. A secret agent shouldn’t look too distinctive as they need to fade into the background, or at least that’s what I’ve been taught by reading spy books by Robert Ludlum and John le Carre, and he just doesn’t do that whereas Matt Damon does. Anyway, this is meant to be a comment on the story, not the casting of the movie. If you’ve seen Total Recall you will have some idea of the story except in the story we don’t see the hero actually leaving his home town.

While I was reading the first part of Bumberboom by Avram Davidson I was also composing a blog in my mind all about books that have rather a large proportion of non-dictionary words that really need translating in order to be able to understand it. The story came good in the end and I was able to get the gist of what happened in the first half of the story but it was still hard going. I think I read the same page three times because I was so bored with it I kept putting it down after only a couple of paragraphs, it had so many words that didn’t make sense that I just couldn’t cope. I did make it through but it was slow going. The story was a lesson in reading instructions in full before using a dangerous machine.

Anyway, that’s just a taste of the stories in this book and now I’ve scribbled a little about it and recommended it to you I’m going to put it back on my shelf as I have no intention of selling it.

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2009 Aurealis Awards

Posted on 24 January 2010. Filed under: Awards | Tags: , , |

Australia has some absolutely awesome authors and there are awards during the year to recognise their brilliance. The first one of the year is the Aurealis Awards and when I read the list of finalists I was stoked to see Trudi Canavan on the list and then waited with bated breath to see how she went, naturally she won the Best Fantasy Novel category and I’ll see if I can get her to say a few words here but I won’t promise anything.

Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine was mentioned twice as two of the short stories they’d published were nominated, that issue must have been a bumper of a magazine as they were both from issue 40 and one of them won. It’s a great little magazine and I have a subscription. I’ve managed to collect almost all of the 42 issues and they have some wonderful stories. They only publish quality work, I know as they turned down my poem even though I’m friends with the Slush Mistress of the time. I’ll have more to say about them in a future blog when I talk about slush piles.

Congratulations to the winners of the 2009 Aurealis Awards!

The winners were announced at the thirteenth annual Aurealis Awards ceremony at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts in Brisbane on Saturday 24 January 2010.

And the Winners are (taken from the Aurealis website):

best science fiction novel
Andrew McGahan, Wonders of a Godless World, Allen & Unwin

best science fiction short story
Peter M. Ball, ‘Clockwork, Patchwork and Ravens’, Apex Magazine May 2009

best fantasy novel
Trudi Canavan, Magician’s Apprentice, Orbit

best fantasy short story – Joint winners
Christopher Green, ‘Father’s Kill’, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #24
Ian McHugh, ‘Once a Month, On a Sunday’, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #40, Andromeda Spaceways Publishing Co-operative Ltd

best horror novel
Honey Brown, Red Queen, Penguin Australia

best horror short story – Joint winners
Paul Haines, ‘Wives’, X6, Coeur de Lion Publishing
Paul Haines, ‘Slice of Life – A Spot of Liver’, Slice of Life, The Mayne Press

best anthology
Jonathan Strahan (editor), Eclipse 3, Night Shade Books

best collection
Greg Egan, Oceanic, Gollancz

best illustated book/graphic novel
Nathan Jurevicius, Scarygirl, Allen & Unwin

best young adult novel
Scott Westerfeld, Leviathan Trilogy: Book One, Penguin

best young adult short story
Cat Sparks, ‘Seventeen’, Masques, CSFG

best children’s (8-12 years) novel
Gabrielle Wang, A Ghost in My Suitcase, Puffin Books

best children’s (8-12 years)
short fiction/illustrated work/picture book
Pamela Freeman (author), Kim Gamble (illustrator), Victor’s Challenge, Walker Books Australia

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Dream Dancer – Janet Morris

Posted on 23 January 2010. Filed under: Book Reviews | Tags: , , |

Shebat was 16, she was the lowest of the low, her services sold to others by her employer. She was taken off her world by Marada Seleucus Kerrion, next in line to take control of the Kerrion Consortium. This is her story, how she rose to find herself almost at the top of the family and was then dismissed back to her original world.

I found this book to be really challenging to read. There were a number of new ideas that weren’t explained until quite some time after they were first introduced and I had trouble with this. Many of the books I’ve read have the new concepts explained fairly early on and I have contemplated the idea of introducing the concept and then explaining it much, much later in the book. Now that I’ve seen it used I find I don’t like it. I do wonder if it’s possible for it to work with a different author. Some of the ideas were very similar to other books. In Dream Dancer there is a prototype space ship that totally melds with the mind and can think and reason properly, the space ship is the brains while the pilot is the brawn, just like the space ships in The Ship Who Sang series by Anne McCaffrey.

Parts of the story are a rollicking good read and I had trouble putting it down, it was just hard to understand some of the concepts. The one I’ll speak about is the concept mentioned in the title. I’m still rather confused but I think the author is saying that dreaming is a commodity and that you can go to an illegal organisation and have a person create a dream for you. You can only qualify as a Dream Dancer within one of the illegal organisations when you can demonstrate all the approved Dreams and also create one within approved parameters. Shebat becomes a Dream Dancer and is very good at it. She creates a dream that startles and worries her fellow dream dancers so they have great trouble deciding if she should pass the test. I think I’ve explained it properly, although one bit that worried me with her Dream is that I couldn’t understand why it upset her fellow Dream Dancers so much, this just wasn’t sufficiently explained and I felt it was a relatively important point as it helped to round out the explaination as why Shebat was so desirable. She was wanted by all and sundry for her talents.

Warnings:
Violence
Sex scene

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Colour – why does it matter?

Posted on 21 January 2010. Filed under: Rant and Rave Time | Tags: , , , , , , |

Browsing Twitter yesterday I was directed to a blog which I found absolutely fascinating, I followed some of the links and was forced to confront some of my assumptions about books. When you read a book do you automatically assume the protagonist will be the same colour and have the same background as you? Well, I discovered today I do and I’m not exactly excited by it. I’m going to be challenging myself to examine the background much more closely and see what clues I can pick up as to the ethnicity of the characters. Let me give you the links to the blog and some other thoughts.

This is the first one, the jumping off point. Uncreated Conscience. It talks about Bloomsbury Publishing ‘whitewashing’ covers, creating a cover with a white person rather than a person of a certain ethnicity as is mentioned in the text. It’s rather misleading and very annoying. If you follow the links within the blog you will find more discussion on this topic and it’s very interesting. Part of the discussion centres on where books with an ethnic protagonist should be placed in a book store.

The part I’m going to look at focusses more on society and the fact that things do change. There was a time when all lead characters in movies were anglo-white and any coloured people were slaves or servants and not listened to. You could look at Gone With the Wind as a famous example. The lead characters played by Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh were both white while their servant played by Butterfly McQueen was coloured. This continued until quite recently. I can remember back to the eighties when it was still happening. I don’t quite know who was the first actor of colour to get a leading role, but Eddie Murphy was certainly fairly prominent in Trading Places in 1983 and has also stayed prominent. Ben Vereen was doing some pretty good stuff around that time as well. There are still more anglo-white lead characters than there are leads of colour or other ethnicity. Things are not that much different in Australia to America. We have very few Aboriginal actors, I can actually count the ones who do get the lead roles on one hand. Most of the lead roles go to Anglo-whites, I’m struggling to think of any examples where the lead role has an ethic background, supporting roles yes, but not lead roles.

The same thing was happening in the music industry. If the singer was coloured then it made no difference how absolutely fantastic they were the recording company did not dare put their photo on the cover of the record as they knew it would not sell. Motown was a very important part of changing these things within the music industry. It was founded by Berry Gordy Jr in 1960 and was the first record label owned by an African American. I do recall seeing a documentary on this a while ago and there was one particular singer who insisted her face be on the record label, unfortunately, I don’t recall either the name of the documentary or her name. This person broke down so many barriers – I do wish I could remember her name.

What I’m wondering is when the barriers will be broken down within the publishing industry? When will the publishers feel it is not financial suicide to put an Anglo-white on the front cover of their book and therefore depict the protagonist correctly? Here is where I have to make mention of an iconic Australian author, Arthur Upfield, the author of the Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte series of books. Boney was part white and part Aboriginal and he was not shown on the front covers of the early editions but he was in the reprints. In fact, when the series was produced in 1972 to 1973 they tried very hard to put a half-Aboriginal in the role but failed and instead placed, James Laurenson an actor from New Zealand, in it instead. They did look for someone of the right ethnicity but failed to find someone suitable. In 1990 a telemovie by the name of Bony, based on the same books, was produced with Cameron Daddo in the title role which caused some controversy as Bony was now white, a although under the tutelage of ‘Uncle Albert’ played by Burnum Burnum.

Now, talent has no barriers, it doesn’t matter whether a person is black, white, yellow or green with purple spots, if they have talent then it should be nurtured and promoted. At some stage this world needs to realise that we’re not all white and learn to live with all the different permutations of ethnicity that are around.

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Escape by Sea – L. S. Lawrence

Posted on 19 January 2010. Filed under: Book Reviews | Tags: , , |

Carthage 206 BC – where women are not expected to think, plan or act on their own initiative. This is Sara’s life until the Romans invade her beloved city and she and her father must escape the only they can – by sea.

I picked up this uncorrected proof copy of this book thinking it sounds good and I’m glad I did. It is aimed at the 10+ age group and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is a rollicking adventure story set in the time of the Romans. Sara is of Punic origin and due to her father’s station (he is a merchant and a senator) she has had a very good education including a good grasp of Greek and other languages, she can read, write and do sums. All of these things are rather rare for women at that time.

At the beginning of the book they are at war with the Romans and her brother, Aram, has been allowed to go and fight them. His groom returns and announces Aram’s death, also heralding the Romans arrival. Sara and her father are forced to flee and the only way they can do this is by sea. Her father is totally paralysed by the news and Sara does the unthinkable and takes charge. She packs and ensures both of them make it on board their fastest ship and then head out to sea. I won’t give you any more details, but she does things that women don’t do in those times and earns the respect of the Captain, crew and her father.

Warnings:

Death
Blood
Fighting
no sex references

This book is now for sale on the Suz’s Space website.

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Conventions

Posted on 18 January 2010. Filed under: Conventions I've attended | Tags: , , |

How do you enjoy your books? Do you enjoy them alone or do you want to share them with people? Do you want to share them with a few people or lots and lots of like minded people? Me, I haven’t quite decided, but I suspect it’s the latter considering I review every book I read on this blog.

There’s different ways of sharing books. You can share them with Book Crossing which is a lovely way of getting books to other people. The way it works is that you register yourself and your book and also where you’re going to leave it. Then you download the sticker with the Book Crossing ID and the details of what to do when the book is found and leave it ‘in the wild’ for someone else to pick up. If you pick up a book with a Book Crossing sticker you’re at liberty to take it, register it on the Book Crossing website, read it and then release it again for someone else.

Some people like to share their books online and join book groups where they all read the same books and then discuss them. I know there are some of these on Friends Reunited and also on the Real Mums website on their Retell forum and I’m sure there are many more around the web but I haven’t found them. I’m sure there are also in person book groups, I recall my mum being a member of one when I was a child and I’m sure they’re still around.

Some people like to share their books so much they attend conventions. This is my favourite, I just love conventions. There’s lot of people getting together to discuss their favourite author or genre and attending panels on the various aspects of the books. My favourite to date has been Nullus Anxietas the home of Discworld in Australia but you can find many more around the world. Now I don’t know if this website has all of them, but it certainly has a decent amount. If conventions float your boat then have a browse and find one that suits you.

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Owls Do Cry – Janet Frame

Posted on 16 January 2010. Filed under: Book Reviews | Tags: , |

Janet Frame was a New Zealand author and is also wrote An Angel at My Table which was adapted into film by Jane Campion.

Owls Do Cry is about the Withers family. They are a troubled lot. Toby has epilepsy, Francie dies from burns just as she is old enough to work and help the family finances. Daphne ended up in a mental hospital and was administered electroconvulsive therapy many times while Chicks ended up moving away when she got married.

Janet Frame is a very talented author. In this book she has written about thigns she knows intimately. She spent some time in a mental hospital in New Zealand an experienced electroconvulsive therapy first hand. The passage written from Daphne’s point of view about her time in the hospital and when she experienced the electroconvulsive therapy was particularly moving. It was disjointed and dreamlike as I imagine the time must have felt like to actually experience.

Her brother, George, had epilepsy so when she spoke about Toby’s fits she knew exactly what she was talking about. She must have helped him so many times she could have written about it blindfold.

Frame wrote very carefully about Francie and her death. It had me in shock and tears. It set the scene about how fragile the family finances were and what they needed to do in order to survive. It showed how important equipment, such as a bicycle, was to the family. It would ensure Francie would be able to get to work and contribute to the family finances which was very important to pay the bills. Toby’s medical bills were quite high and mentioned a couple of times. It also showed how she died from a child’s point of view and we have to fill in the gaps ourselves of what they didn’t see.

I don’t think I can give proper warnings about the book. Frame is a graphic author, not just with her words, but also with her presentation. The word and the concepts are hard enough to cope with but add in the layout of the book and the whole thing is very stark. Having said that though, she is a very important author to read, just be prepared for the emotional baggage that comes with it. I can’t recommend her enough so I’ll use the quote from the back of the book by Patrick White as that seems to do the trick:

“Janet Frame seems to me the most considerable New Zealand novelist yet. Her innocent eye can show one the commonest object for the first time, her sensibility can convey, and has perhaps experience, the bloodiest tortures of the mind.”

This copy is now for sale on the Suz’s Space website.

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