Monday, March 31, 2008

It's Raining, It's Pouring

And what a lovely sound it is. I woke up this morning to rain splatting on the roof and it's continued ever since - steady and soaking. This is the gift of Tropical Cyclone Pancho which has become a rain-bearing depression and moved south down the coast. Already the garden looks cleaner and fresher even if the day is rain-drenched grey.
It's chilly too - winter dressing gown chilly. The cat, who has been on a diet for the last five months and is slowly losing the weight he has gained ever since he gave up playing - about four years ago when he put away childish, or in his case, kittenish things - is unimpressed. His very thick, long coat is apparently not enough to keep him as warm as he would like. Jaz is also not happy. When she was offered the chance to go out for her morning toilet break she glanced out the door, looked at me as if I had gone nuts then curled up on the sofa again.
I'm not complaining even though I usually hate grey days. I've work to do so I'm staying put. Words will appear on the page and all will be well.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Daylight Saving ... is gone

For now at least and what a joy it was this morning to get up in daylight, to sit with my mug of coffee and my journal and later the Sunday papers. Sadly this late in the year we won't get to enjoy this for long. In a bit over a month we will be back to getting up and coming home in the dark. The weather will still be warm enough during the day to wear summer clothes and swim but the nights will be closing in. And where will all that precious daylight we saved be? Well not stored up anywhere that we can access it.
Actually I'm more worried at this moment about the cause of the two mini blackouts we had in quick succession last night. Neither lasted long but the first was preceded by a loud, sizzling noise that seemed to come from all around me - and continued for the two or three minute duration of the two. Very odd. As a result, when everyone else was turning everything off for Earth Hour, I was working through the house checking everything to see if they still worked. They did.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Swancon - a final comment

I was delighted to see a number of children at Swancon, ranging from new-born to teens. The organisers are to be commended on providing play space and child centered activities - from spaceship building to story telling. Of course, when children are present there are tears, squabbles and the occasional bit of attention seeking - by nature children are noisy and distracting - but these are the fans of the future. We should encourage their participation because in ten or twenty years they will be the ones reading and writing speculative fiction - and organising cons.
Besides one of the highlights for me - although probably not for his parents - was when the small son of one of the panelists announced with great delight that his Daddy was on the panel and ran up to "say hi to my Daddy".

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Of Ditmars and Tin Ducks

The results for both Awards are here
Congratulations to all for their success.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Swancon - reviewed

First a note of explanation. It occurred to me that overseas folk may not know about Swancon. Swancon is the annual Western Australian Science Fiction convention which this year also encompassed Natcon, the annual Australian National Science Fiction convention. It's held over the Easter long weekend and, despite its name, includes all aspects of speculative fiction. You would probably get a hint when you walked into the lobby and found the Tardis. Some intrepid folk went inside. Not me. I know what happens if you wander into the Tardis. You could end up anywhere!

All right. I'll get serious. I intended to update my blog daily but...

Overall, as a first-time Swancon attendee, I wasn't disappointed. It's hard to say what was most enjoyable - the varied and stimulating panels, the interesting and at times controversial academic papers, browsing the book stalls, the art show, the photographic display, the chance to talk to some of my favourite writers or the opportunity to meet up with friends. In fact there was so much that I found selecting what to do a challenge at times.

I certainly came home tired and so did many others to judge by the faces in the lobby at the end of the closing ceremony on Monday. Swancon stretched from Thursday evening to Monday afternoon which makes it longer than most cons. Add in that Swancon has a stream where academic papers are presented in addition to the usual writing and fan panels and a gaming stream and you have a packed Easter weekend.

The panels generally worked well, being entertaining and informative. I'll list in chronological order those I particularly enjoyed:
Flash Fiction: Lee Battersby, Zara Baxter and Martin Livings
Girl Meets Boy:Romance and Fantasy: Satima Flavell Neist, Ju Landresse, Glenda Larke and Juliet Marillier. A slight misnomer as the discussion ranged over many and mixed relationship possibilities.
From an Idea to a Publishable Book: Avoiding Beginner's Mistakes. This workshop by Glenda Larke was an eye opener.
A Point of Difference: Standing Out in Fantasy Fiction: Glenda Larke, Juliet Marillier, Bevan McGuiness and Karen Miller.
The Big Stage: Space Opera and Setting: Ken McLeod, Karl Schroeder and Sean Williams
Horror: State of the Art: Lee Battersby, Stephen Dedman and Shane Jiraiya Cummings
Critiquing: how Much Feedback is Too Much: Lee Battersby, Satima Flavell Neist, Robert Hoge, Juliet Marillier and Cat Sparks
Is Democracy Inevitable: Glenda Larke, Paul Kidd and Ken McLeod
Writing for Televison: a Guide For New Writers" Rob Shearman, Grant Watson and another whose name escapes me.
This is, of course, only a sampling. I went to and enjoyed many others too but I'd have to give you practically the whole programme to list them all.

One of the few panels that disappointed me was one on race and other in science fiction. I am particularly interested in how science fiction and fantasy has evolved away from the largely male US/European focus of its early days. I like the way it can be used to infiltrate provocative ideas so that the reader is forced to view their own beliefs from a different angle. Just look at work by writers like Ursula le Guin, Sherry S. Tepper and C. J. Cherryh or read Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. These are all writers whose work can be enjoyed at a superficial level as a good read but have much more to say.
So I was looking forward to a reasoned discussion on the subject, one that included recent writers, in particular those from other cultures, and the women, who now form a large part of the field, and who have explored other concepts and constructs of societies and ethnicity. I got none.
The panel focussed largely on science fiction and fantasy (they didn't seem to understand the difference) on US television and criticised the writers for things like having the alien characters speak English. Given they are being made commercially for an English speaking audience I'm not sure what other options they have. Subtitles do tend to slow things down a tad. In another example they objected to the homogeneous nature of the colonies in Stargate and, when it was pointed out they actually originated as identical cloned colonies, that didn't matter because they still formed stereotypes. The most ridiculous statement was the one where a panelist said she had read one of Glenda Larke's books and saw it as more white culture being perpetuated until two thirds of the way through when she realised it was set in an Asian based culture - a comment that revealed a lot about the speaker's cultural bias. This was despite the description of the characters and setting early in the book that she apparently missed.
More irritatingly, no mention was made of writers of speculative fiction from other ethnic and cultural groups such as India, China and elsewhere nor of the many women who certainly do not perpetuate the stereotypes of "middle class white American males". It's a pity because a real discussion would have been much more interesting not to mention accurate.

Despite that disappointment the general standard of panels was high. Speculative fiction fans, readers and writers tend to be well educated in their field and expect panelists to treat them as such. Swancon certainly provided that.

To sum up, Swancon had a lot to offer. I'm already looking forward to next year. I hope you'll be there.

Friday, March 21, 2008


Unfortunately I couldn't get in to last night's opening ceremony but with the hotel accommodation sold out months ago I'm staying at home. This means I have to bring my car or get a lift and neither was an option last night.
Today though I've made my way through panels on Flash Fiction and its place in the pantheon of speculative fiction writing, the Politics of Fandom, Girl Meets Boy: Romance and Fantasy, Guest of honour Ken MacLeod's address and a workshop, From an Idea to a Published Book, with another Guest of Honour, Glenda Larke as well as meeting up with visitors and locals from the speculative fiction writing world. By then I was exhausted but mentally stimulated. It was especially nice to catch up Glenda because we went to university together.
There are so many interesting people and topics, it's hard to decide which panel to go to sometimes and the impromptu KSPSF meeting at lunch time gave us a good opportunity to meet up socially.
I'm really looking forward to tomorrow when the academic stream gets under way.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Oh What a Lovely War!

A local theatre company has been performing this clever piece and I have heard very good reports about the quality of it. Unfortunately my life at present consists largely of hanging on by my teeth or I'll be swept away in the flood of what I absolutely must get done so actually seeing the production was impossible.

Instead I happened by sheer accident on the Richard Attenborough movie version made around forty years ago. This made an enormous impact on me when I first saw it. I remember sitting in the cinema, tears rolling down my cheeks, as the death toll mounted on the scoreboard in the background. My degree includes a European history major. The political causes and terrible battle losses of World War One were not new to me but somehow the combination of songs and the stoic efforts of the fighting men really spoke to me. I couldn't understand then how, having experienced the carnage and appalling loss of life on all sides, anyone had allowed the whole thing to start over again in 1939.

Older and wiser now, I see that those who want war will always find a way to justify their desire and those who pay the price will never be part of the decision making process. Nations, friends and families will be caught up and divided because we seem unable to learn from our mistakes.

So I sat and wept again on Sunday night because sooner or later there will be more rows of graves, mounds of bones, scarred and mutilated bodies and minds and I, or some other mother, father, sister, brother, son or daughter, will look back and ask how did we let it happen again.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Overheard in the supermarket

Two young men, late teens, stacking pizzas into the freezer:

"Well, I got him but he kept on spitting and spitting on me and wouldn't stop."

"Yeah, it's hard to kill a priest when they're warlocks."

Yes, I know they were talking about a video game but...

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Nature of Friendship

As I said goodbye to a friend yesterday, she said, "It's amazing, isn't it, that we never run out of things to talk about." She's right. We've known each other since we were eighteen and at university and meet - just the two of us - to see a movie or have lunch or coffee every now and then as well as going out once a month with a group of mutual friends .
Yesterday we went to see the movie Juno. It's a wonderful movie by the way - brilliant script, beautifully acted and filmed. You should go and see it. But back to the subject. We went for coffee after and we talked - a lot. I couldn't tell you most of what we talked about but here's what I can remember - we talked about the film and its use of symbols, a mutual friend who is in hospital in intensive care, odds and ends about our ancestors, what our children are doing, our parents, our siblings, a newly released biography of John Adams - a founding father of the US for those who aren't interested in history, what we would like to do if we ever reach retirement - live on a small-holding in case you want to know, planned social outings, Swancon (the Speculative Fiction convention being held in Perth over the Easter weekend), that writing really is a job, how much of why and how we ended up where we are now was choice and how much was circumstance or accident, spirituality and the differences between today's lifestyle and our childhood.
This set me thinking about the nature of friendship. My friend and I are of different faiths. She grew up in a family consisting mostly of immigrants from Europe and the Middle East who arrived during the 1930s while my family came to Western Australia with the first British settlers in 1829. Our personalities are different in many ways and we definitely do not always agree but we have many interests in common and we both grew up in the post WW2 years in families with similar ethics. We've travelled together, comforted and supported each other in good and bad times and laughed - a lot. Apart from that though the glue that holds us together I think is respect for each other, that we truly care about one another and we have genuine pleasure in each other's company.
Do you think that defines friendship? I'd love to hear your comments.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Autumn Garden

It's been quite autumnal here in Western Australia. The days are cooler although I suspect there'll be quite a few more in the high thirties before the summer has truly done with us. The mornings are softer somehow - and it's not just because with daylight saving we are getting up in the dark so that by the time the family are leaving for work the sun is just coming over the horizon. I won't go into the energy guzzling idiocy of daylight saving at this latitude because if you're a regular reader you'll already know how I feel about that.

Instead let me describe a garden soaked but not damaged by storms and heavy rain. Everything looks fresh - leaves newly washed free of dust shining, roses covered in a riot of pinks, reds and yellows. The Mexican rose is rampaging over the pergola and side fence, its dainty hot pink racemes bobbing and buzzing as bees forage among them. Wherever I look I see a sudden burst of blossom. Petunias drape over the sides of hanging baskets and from the planter pot on the veranda, splash colour over the flower bed outside the family room. Pale yellow water lilies float in the garden ponds while rosemaries in different shades cascade over the rockery. Sadly the grapes which we would normally still be eating were quite literally burned off the vines by the 44 degree Celsius heat of Boxing Day but the strawberries in hanging baskets are still producing the odd fruit. Mostly though they are dangling runners in a curtain to the ground. Every evening the frogs sing their hearts out. And today I noticed buds on the potted camellia.
The regular Autumn visitors of flocks of honey eaters have arrived - New Holland honeyeaters with their vertically striped waistcoats, singing honeyeaters, black robbers' masks over their eyes, brown honeyeaters and, for the first time I can remember, brown-headed honeyeaters. When the first of these tiny birds flew past me I thought it was a large moth until it settled on the garden arch. They are all endlessly entertaining as they queue to splash in the birdbath then whirl off about their business of food gathering. We've had mudlarks and a sprightly willy wagtail pair as well - he with his pristine white shirt front and shiny elegant tuxedo jacket, she a little more subdued. They all join the residents - native red wattle birds, little wattle birds, magpies and ravens as well as the exotics - doves, Indian turtledoves and Rainbow lorikeets which are driving out the local Western Ringneck parrots (known here as twenty-eights because of their call). The lorikeets dispossess the ringnecks, throwing their eggs out of their nesting hollows and compete for the same food supply. Then there are the flyovers - black cockatoos, corellas, pink and grey galahs with the occasional ibis, pelican or heron on their way between wetlands.
And people ask me if I'm ever going to move. Why would I?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

2007 Australian Shadows Award

The shortlist for the 2007 Australian Shadows Award is up on the Australian Horror Writers website. Among old favourites like Terry Dowling, I was pleased to see some West Australians among them in particular Martin Livings and Matthew Chrulew.
The winner will be announced in April 2008.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Saving the Planet and Earth Hour 2008

I'm a person who, when building a house thirty years ago, was blocked by government regulations from incorporating a rainwater tank (breeds mosquitoes), using grey water in the garden and to flush toilets (carries disease) and putting in a number of energy saving systems (we don't want ugly solar panels on roofs). Now the government and the media has woken up and we're being encouraged (through rebates of various small amounts) or bullied (by advertising that tells us how irresponsible we all are) into installing them.

Unfortunately all the rebates in the world won't make retrofitting of energy and water saving devices either affordable or even possible in many older buildings. This is what I find so insulting about the current spate of television shows where some "experts" come into a household, tell the residents how appallingly wasteful they are and proceed to lock garbage bins, disconnect water and power or otherwise totally disrupt basic hygienic living necessities. After the family has struggled with this they turn around and praise them for their efforts - and they certainly have made heroic efforts to cut back - and proceed to install thousands and thousands of dollars worth of equipment to help them maintain their reformed standards. I don't know about you but I don't have thousands of dollars and no-one is going to give it to me. Sadly I'm stuck with what was forced on me all those years ago however much I would like to change things.

The world is awash with suggestions of how we can be less profligate but they rarely consider that everyone is not well off, young or healthy. Yes, it is desirable to ride a bicycle to work or utilise public transport but if you have a disability that may not be an option and, if the public transport system is badly designed so that a return car journey takes only forty minutes and a bus/train return journey takes two to two and a half hours, it becomes impractical. The same applies to many areas - watering decorative gardens may be wasteful but what about home food gardens that cut back on harmful chemicals and don't receive the lavish watering of commercial market gardens? Energy saving light bulbs are a brilliant idea but what about the evidence that they increase migraines? Won't this lessen productivity?

I have always tried to waste as little as possible and many of those I know do the same so I resent the way the community is being treated as a single entity. Wanting to do my bit, I visited various websites that hand out advice on not being wasteful. I found that I've been doing everything recommended all my life. This doesn't stop me being harangued by the media and government instrumentalities telling me how wasteful I am. Er, excuse me. One size does not fit all.

So what are my options? I guess all I can do is my best. I'll keep doing as I always have - turning off lights and appliances where possible, taking my own shopping bags, making whatever water savings I can, not driving if I can walk or use public transport, sorting my garbage for recycling. It may not be much and sometimes I might be forced by circumstance to use more than I would like to but at least I am doing something - and while I might not make much of a difference if enough others do the same we might have a future for our planet.

Just a reminder: it's Earth Hour 2008 on March 29 at 8:00 pm. What began in Sydney is now global with people and businesses being asked to turn out their lights for one hour. I doubt that it will make much difference to the energy used on the planet but it just might act as a reminder if anyone's commitment to saving energy is wavering. This can only be a good thing.