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This is a book review and science fiction blog, for the most part, with the odd convention report and travel notes. And maybe the occasional Celtic goddess, such as the Great Raven...
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26. An Interview With Alex Isle


Every two years some members of the Australian SF community run something called the SF Snapshot, asking authors about their writing. Each one is different, with only two questions in common across the interviews. 

I've had two of these, but this year nobody invited me, or my guest, Alex Isle, formerly Sue Isle, so after Alex mentioned it on Livejournal, I suggested we do our own unofficial Snapshot. Mine will appear in Apocalypse Wih Rats and I'll give you a link when it appears.

Really, I should have interviewed this wonderful author a long time ago. We've known each other since the start of our careers. We both used to write Star Trek and other media fan fiction in the good old days before the Internet made it possible to write celebrity fan fiction, fiction about real people(Shudder!) 

Alex Isle's short stories are very, very Australian, though his only novel(see below) is set in a vaguely European Renaissance world, and he had a delicious story about Mary Bennet of Pride And Prejudice, a TARDIS and a certain famous fictional villain in shared universe anthology New Ceres Nights...




 You are best known to your fans and friends as Sue Isle and even  have your very own Wikipedia entry under that name. Would you share your reasons for the change of name?


In 2014 I changed my name from Susan to Alex to reflect a gender change identity and adopted the pronouns he/his.  Publications before 2014 are under the name Sue Isle.  And thanks for the heads up about Wikipedia.  I had forgotten the page was there and have now altered it as much as I’m able.  It’s an ongoing process because I’m not that computer savvy.


As a writer, what is your favourite genre? Despite being known mostly as the author of dark fantasy, you do seem to vary, from mediaeval fantasy to science fiction. So, what do you enjoy writing most?

It changes from time to time, but I lack the knowledge of hard science necessary to be really good in that field and my historical knowledge is only amateur, so I feel most comfortable in urban fantasy and horror of the present day or near future speculations.


You've written quite a lot of short fiction over the years. Do you feel most comfortable in this type of writing? 

Well, it’s easiest to finish and maintain a taut pace!  Also the opportunities for selling short fiction are much greater, since the anthology is a popular form in the sf and fantasy genres.  But I would love to break properly into novel writing.


Do you have a favourite story of those you've written? What is it and why?

Again, this answer keeps changing.  I like to think I’ve become better over the years and sometimes wince when I look at some of my early efforts.  I have a rather dark sense of humour, so the story I wrote for Orb, "The Woman of Endor" [2001], is still a favourite because it features the Jesus-as-a-zombie trope, which always seemed a logical interpretation to me.  And no, I’m not a believer.  I know my idea of the historical period is probably dodgy, but the story still won me an award so I’m happy.


"A Sky Full of Ravens" in She’s Fantastical, a1995 anthology edited by Lucy Sussex and Judith Buckrich, is another favourite because it sparked the interest of Hodder Headline, who published my first actual book, the aforementioned Scale of Dragon, Tooth of Wolf.  This is the first appearance of my teenaged witch alter ego, Amber, and her troubles with authority and the story ended up as a reworked chapter in the book.

My current favourite, "The Kind Neighbours of Hell",  is one of my few recent stories.  I have been rather blocked in writing fiction over the past few years and this one,published in the 2014 Peggy Bright Books anthology edited by Simon Petrie and Edwina Harvey, again appealed to my weird sense of humour.  It’s also the only one under my changed name so it feels right to me when I look at it.  Use Only as Directed is the name of the anthology, which had the theme of human invention, learning from others’ mistakes and what happens when Murphy’s Law goes pear-shaped.

I had fun with alternate worlds and calling up demons in this, a world where demons are very much a thing and where my main characters (a couple of teenaged boys) become everyone’s warning about why you never, ever, do this at home.


You've written for children, Wolf Children, a couple of articles in the wonderful School Magazine(now celebrating its 100th birthday)and your YA novel Scale Of Dragon, Tooth Of Wolf - would you consider writing for children or teens again if you got the opportunity? (In fact, are you considering finishing the sequel to Scale Of Dragon, which ended on a cliffhanger?)



I love writing for teens, it’s one of my favourite areas of literature.  I think a lot of the books and stories have fresher and more interesting ideas and interpretations of those ideas than quite a few adult books.  They aren’t bogged down with their own length and they have so much hope and anticipation for the future.

School Magazine is the most amazing publication and bunch of people I have ever met as an author!  I wish I could write more for younger children just so I could send stuff to them.  They recently asked to reprint an article I wrote about how wolves became dogs – 18 years after the original was published.  And they sent me an invitation to their 100th.  I would so like to read some of the early publications.

I’m sorry about the cliffhanger in Tooth; it wasn’t supposed to be like that, though having the heroine ride into the sunset isn’t that horrific an ending.  I did write another, but it was not accepted due to poor sales for the novel, and this sequel died with one of my previous computers.  What I would write now would, in any case, be very different and I may yet get to that, perhaps as a self-published e-book.

There is something very Australian about a lot of your writing and your landscapes. Could you tell us a bit about that? 

Well, I guess that’s natural since I was born here and lived most of my life here.  So even though I write fantasy and sf, the grounding of those stories really is what I know; the city of Perth, a bit about Melbourne, which is the eastern city I know best, and various towns and country areas I have visited, particularly when I was young.  Nearly all the fantasy I read as a kid originated in England, which never bothered me at the time, but later on I wanted to write about my place.



Can you describe your writing process? For example, what happens after you get an idea? If you like, describe the process of writing a single story among your many. 

My recent writing process has not been a smooth one.  I feel a bit guilty to claim writer’s block, which feels like an excuse, but the truth is I have not felt the sense of opportunity and openness which I remember in the past.  I have only completed a few stories in the last two years, which have been absorbed with my gender transition, something I felt I had to do in order to be able to write properly again.

That isn’t really what you asked, I know.  When I start with a story, it’s often with a person, an image of a person, sometimes a name, and a sense of where they are and what they are thinking about.  The problem, the focus of the story, comes after that.  So I guess I will use my latest story, the only one unpublished, as an example, since the earlier the story, the less I tend to remember about how it came to be.

It’s called "All We Have Is Us", written earlier in 2016, unpublished.  I wanted to write a zombie story, the one ‘monster’ I’ve never featured from the classics of vampire, werewolf, shambler, and to set it in a post apocalypse Perth.

Sian, a teenaged scavenger, discovers a secret dungeon in what was once a wealthy mansion, containing a woman who has been there before the outbreak.  

I started with that idea; a destroyed civilisation and a person so secluded that they don’t know civilisation has been destroyed, in a sense, a time traveller from the days before.   The story is from Sian’s POV, so again I started with the person, put her in her place, in the middle of something she’s doing.  To her, this is the normal world.  The survivors all have the morals of their age; your survival counts first, then your group, and the people beyond, not at all.  The prisoner has the soft morality of the First World, so the question is which ethics are going to win.  Is it possible that the prisoner has something to teach the survivors of a zombie plague?

I have these ideas in my mind while I write, and while I’m introducing characters and dialogue and the characters are trying to decide what to do.  It’s also about men and women, because I wanted to have female characters leading without making a really blunt point about it.  It’s not a thing to have a female leader; she’s just the leader, the strongest person in all the things that matter in this new world.  Male physical strength doesn’t mean a whole lot when you’re facing creatures who can kill you with a bite and who are vastly stronger than any living person because they hold nothing back when they use their strength.  Being a survivor is a headspace.  So if the characters find the person who imprisoned the woman years ago, will they punish him by the old morality or the new?

I hope that makes a little bit of sense.



Finishing with the two official Snapshot questions, which I hope the Snapshot folk won't mind:


What Australian work have you read recently and loved?

I have to admit to being an epic fail here.  I checked my book blog back until early this year and haven’t read any book by an Australian author in that time.  I think the last one was Gillian Polack’s  Langue[dot] doc 1305, the book whose title I can’t type out without checking it.  That would have been shortly after it was published in 2014.  I remember enjoying that a lot and feeling it was the first accurate time travelling novel I’d ever read.

Origin is not the first thing I look for, I admit; I follow genres or ideas I’m interested in and the nationality comes second.  But I will accept a reading list if folk want to provide one! 

What author, living or dead(let's assume they're snatched from their own time and not actually zombies!)would you like next to you on a long plane flight?

I would never have opted for a zombie; they can’t talk and would steal your food.  There’s probably quite a few I would like to choose from, but writers I have enjoyed for a very long time come top of the list, such as Rudyard Kipling or Rosemary Sutcliff.  Hopefully they also didn’t mind chatting to fans.

Thanks for visiting The Great Raven, Alex!

For anyone who'd like to read Alex's short story collection, Nightsiders, or New Ceres Nights, they are both available at the Twelfth Planet web site, here. http://www.twelfthplanetpress.com/store-items/nightsiders

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27. Happy 100th Birthday, School Magazine!


Last night, there was a celebration I had to miss because it was in Sydney and I had family commitments that wouldn't allow me to travel interstate. I was thinking of it, though, and hope to get a photo or two to share with you in a future post. 

The NSW School Magazine has now been delighting Australian children for a century. I was one of them, though it didn't look this good in my childhood! It's made up of four reading levels - Countdown, Blastoff, Orbit and Touchdown. Each is for a different age. There are stories, plays, articles, cartoons, letters to the editor. It's simply wonderful! 

And a great market. I first heard of it as a market at a library conference, where the guest of honour was Geoffrey McSkimming, author of the Cairo Jim adventures and, more recently, the Phyllis Wong novels. Geoffrey was working for the School Magazine at the time. He told me they had four different magazines and they came out four times a year, so they needed plenty of material.

I have written quite a few articles for them over the years, on everything from space travel to forensics, from archaeology to the story of the original Siamese twins. (Apparently, one teacher said she couldn't get her class to focus on their next lesson after they read that!). I haven't submitted anything for a while, must get back into it. It's a wonderful market, especially good for non fiction writers now that the book market has dried up. (And it has. Look at the Eve Pownall non fiction part of the CBCA shortlist and most of the books are published by specialist organisations such as museums, not by regular publishers. The education market is only good nowadays if you're a part of their stable of writers.)  

And most of Australia's favourite children's writers have written for it at one time or another; it's a bit like the writer equivalent of Playschool, which has employed some of the country's biggest actors, only they all did that at the start of their careers, whereas School Magazine's writers are only too delighted to continue submitting. 

I wish I'd been able to go to the party yesterday, but still, I want to wish School Magazine all the very best for their next hundred years!

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28. Just Finished Reading... The Underground Railroad By Colson Whitehead




I heard about this novel on Radio National last weekend, in an interview with the author, and downloaded it from iBooks immediately.

A fascinating premise! We've all heard of the Underground Railroad, of course, that network of ordinary people who helped smuggle escaped slaves out of the South, at the risk of their own lives. But it wasn't a real railroad, underground or otherwise, right?

Well, the author of this novel asks, what if it was? What if there really were tunnels under the homes and barns of abolitionists, leading to railway tracks, with trains coming every now and then to smuggle slaves out of their bondage?

This is the only fantastical element in the story; a lot of the other elements really happened in our world. And nasty they were, too. Very nasty! The heroine, Cora, is on the run from her plantation in Georgia, and a truly horrible master who is quite willing to suppress rebellion by torturing slaves to death as an example to the others. A number of times she thinks she has found a good place to live, only to find herself pursued by Ridgeway, a professional slave catcher/bounty hunter who is obsessed with catching her, because her mother was a failure on his part.

And along the route, she sees many new "worlds" in the United States, and their different ways.

The last scene of the novel left me scratching my head. I thought, "Er... Is that it?" A very sudden ending!

But interesting. I wonder if that one element will qualify it as a piece of speculative fiction? It's certainly alternative universe, and the whole notion of "stations" and "stationmasters" is woven into the fabric of the book.

What do you think? Is it spec fic? 

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29. Escape To The Moon Islands. Book 1 Quest Of The Sunfish by MardiMcConnochie. Crow's Nest: Allen And Unwin, 2016.


Annalie and Will live with their father, Spinner, in Lowtown, one of the shabbier parts of a city in Dux, in a world struggling up from a worldwide flood connected with attempts at fixing climate change disasters. Spinner is a mysterious figure. They live "off the grid." 

When Spinner suddenly has to flee from pursuers he has expected for a long time, the twins also must escape, Annalie bringing her friend Essie from their boarding school, where she had a suspicious visitor, Beckett, soon after her father's disappearance. Beckett had asked some questions that made her conclude he was up to no good. The children, who had spent a lot of time sailing with their father, know how to sail very well. They have to steal back the boat, which has been impounded by the Admiralty, the world's rulers, and set sail to find their father, using a few clues they have picked up. One more member is added to the crew, Pod, a former slave rescued from a rock where he was marooned. Then the adventure proper begins. 

And it is quite an adventure, or a series of adventures, from talking apes(left over from an experiment in making animals talk)to a cannibalistic religious cult. They're travelling through an archipelago of islands that range from dead to tropical, so they might find anything along the way. 

There is a definite lesson on what climate change might lead to, not to mention who might rise to the top - in this case, the Admiralty, which began as a way of getting the world through the crisis and ended up staying in power. 

The characters are good, each of them contributing their knowledge to the quest. Annalie is the intellectual, who remembers things - and the only possible navigator. Will steers the boat and does most of the repairs when needed. Essie, the rich girl with no special sailing skills, offers to cook - and, at one stage, becomes ship's medic because she saw all this stuff on a TV series. Pod can't swim, but has plenty of support skills to offer, and knowledge of pirates. 

I did wonder how the villain, Beckett, was able to track the fugitives so easily, something not explained by the end of the book. He simply turns up right under their noses whenever they're feeling safe. Not on a following ship, though there are those, but right there, ready to capture whichever of them is in a street, getting supplies along the way. The children wonder briefly about it themselves at one point, then don't discuss it again. Perhaps it will turn up in the next book, though I suspect not.

Still, suspension of disbelief should help the reader get on with enjoying the book, which is basically a road story with islands instead of towns on the way. 

There's also a distinct flavour of Jules Verne, especially Captain Grant's Children aka In Search Of The Castaways, a Disney film of the 1960s. Well, why not? Perhaps children who read this might try Verne next. 



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30. Happy Fiftieth Birthday, Star Trek!

Live long and prosper!

Okay, I took a "selfie" here because it's just too much trying to find a photo that's not copyright to Paramount or whoever. And they can't claim copyright on the gesture, which is part of the Jewish tradition, though our people do it with both hands. Still, I don't have copyright either.

Fifty years ago, On This Day, the first aired episode, "The Mantrap", was aired, about a creature known as the Salt Vampire, the last of its kind, which could take on the appearance of anyone it wished, to help it get close to an intended victim. (I used to use this as an excuse to attend Austrek parties out of costume, claiming that I was the Salt Vampire, who had eaten Sue Bursztynski at the door)

Star Trek means a lot to me. I grew up with the original series. I was a science fiction fan looking for real SF. I found it in Star Trek. In later years, according to an interview a friend and I did with David Gerrold, author of "The Trouble With Tribbles", Gene Roddenberry was upset that he wasn't getting respect from the SF community, so decided that he was having no more SF writers on his show. You might notice there was a stable of scriptwriters on the spinoff shows, and none of them had any SF credentials, as far as I know. Not that the spinoffs weren't wonderful in themselves, but there weren't any of the big name SF/F writers of the original series.

I'm talking about the likes of Jerome Bixby, Theodore Sturgeon, Robert Bloch, Norman Spinrad - should I note Harlan  Ellison? Well, he did write the original "City On The Edge Of Forever", except they rewrote it completely and he complained about it quite a lot in the years that followed. Still, he won awards both for the original script and the episode and I hadn't heard that he turned down his Hugo. I do understand how he felt, though. As a writer, I wince! But he went on to work on the new Twilight Zone and Babylon 5, which I assume didn't do that to him. 

And a classic episode of a classic TV show has his name on it, however he may feel.

Larry Niven's story "The Soft Weapon" became "The Slaver Weapon" on the animated Trek. Mind you, he later had his story removed from Trek canon, but then, I don't think Roddenberry considered it canon either, though it had some lovely episodes, especially Dorothy Fontana's "Yesteryear". I think Dorothy Fontana wrote some of the best episodes of the series and she did some lovely stuff for Babylon 5, too.

There was an episode based on Fredric Brown's short story "Arena". Having read the story and seen the episode, I can say the episode is different, but it's still Fredric Brown.

Isaac Asimov never wrote for the show, but he said in an interview that where Star Trek erred in the science, it did so intelligently. 

And what about the Trek novelisations?  Also done by well-known spec fic writers! The live action episodes were written by James Blish and the animateds by Allan Dean Foster. I actually preferred those, because they were developed into novella-length stories, but Blish did pretty well considering he had to squash so much into short sttories!

I have a vague memory of seeing a script for one of the spinoff shows, and where a character was supposed to explain the science, there was the word "technobabble" in brackets, to be filled in later.

Last Saturday night, my own birthday, I went to the Classic Cinema in Elsternwick to see Adam Nimoy's crowd-funded documentary about his father, For The Love of Spock. It was nearly two hours long and well worth sitting through every minute. There were not many people in the small cinema, but those who were there were all fans. Who else would sit through a full-length documentary about Star Trek lateish on a Saturday night? Glancing around, I saw happy faces with smiles on them. I must have looked the same.

I already know quite a lot, but there were things I hadn't known about Mr Nimoy and his family's lives. Like the fact that he never turned down any work because he wanted to make sure that what had happened to other actors on popular shows when their TV series were cancelled never happened to him. So, he'd finish filming on a Friday, catch the red-eye flight somewhere else and do another job over the weekend. His work hours were long - that I knew - and when they were over, he'd go home, have dinner and read lines with his wife. All that meant the kids didn't get to see much of him, but they still had to sit for family portraits in the magazines - and help with the fan mail!

There were interviews with everyone Adam Nimoy could get hold of - all the surviving members of the original cast, members of the new cast, some directors... There were snippets of archival footage, but also some bits of interview with him, because this film started before he died.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it will be available on DVD at some stage, because it gave me a lot of pleasure and I'd love to re-view it at some stage.

So, I wonder what the new series will be like?

But the joy of our wonderful Internet era is that fans are making their own films, some of them including the original cast. I think it may be their version of fan fiction, which we oldies had to write for publication in fanzines. Myself, I've written around 150 fan stories in my time, and at least 100 of those would have been Star Trek. It was a part of my early life in fandom, and I don't regret any of it! It taught me to write short fiction and develop characters within the limit. It also taught me to write book reviews, without which this blog might never have existed.

By the way, if you'd like to read some of the old fan stories, there's a wonderful web site, 1001 Trek Tales, which has republished a lot of the old classic stories - all of them with permission of the authors or their estates. (There are two of mine up there, not my greatest, but still, I'm chuffed... They happened to be what the site owner had in her collection).

So, to all fans out there, live long and prosper!





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31. A Book Launch At Reading's: Gillian Polack's Latest

I had heard about it on line and received an invitation to attend via email.

The invitation looked like this.


Reading's is a smallish chain of bookshops. We have one in St Kilda, the suburb next to mine, although that Reading's simply took over another bookshop, Cosmos, a real independent, and didn't even make too many changes.

But the one in Hawthorn has been there for years. It's in a shopping centre, though it takes a fair while to get there from where I was approaching. I work in Melbourne's west, a fair distance from Hawthorn, but I left work on time to catch a city train and a connection which would get me some of the way there. You can catch the tram from town, but it's actually quicker to take a third transport, get off the train in Balaclava, a suburb along the tram line, and catch the tram another 40-odd stops. 

I arrived with a few minutes to spare for the 6.30 am book launch, greeted Gillian, who had come from Canberra to Melbourne, where her family lives, and Michael Pryor, who was launching the book.

Which looks like this. 

I have taken the image off the publisher's web site - I don't think they'll mind, as this is promotional. 

I bought the book. I prefer ebooks these days, but there aren't any at this stage. There probably will be. But I was attending a launch and it seemed silly to have come all that way at the end of a long work day and not buy something! Besides, it would give me something to curl up in bed with. 

I have to admit, I was impressed with the look of the book. You can mostly tell a small-press book. They may look beautiful, but they're usually thin and the paper is thick. I guess it must be the way of less-expensive overseas printers. This one looks completely professional. In fact, after selling 29 copies, Gillian told me, the bookshop took several more on consignment. I think they'll sell. 

I settled down to the launch - first, the publisher, who has bought four books from Gillian and has known her a few years. Then Michael Pryor, a wonderful writer himself, though so far all his books are for children and teens. As a former teacher, he knows his audience very well. This novel, on the other hand, is about older women. Jewish women. Anglo-Jewish women. Gillian Polack's father's family has been here for many generations, one of twelve Jewish families to arrive in the 19th century. She acknowledges they're a minority among all the rest of us who have come from Europe. And they have a different culture. Despite that, if you saw Gillian, listened to her voice, saw her gestures, you might mistake her for a European Jew. Maybe there are some things that don't change. 



She read some passages from the book, answered some questions and settled down to sign. Again, I rarely bother to get a book signed, because I might not like it and wish to pass it on and then what to do with a book that has a personalised autograph? But I got it signed. And personalised. Gillian was a bit nervous, because I would be able to pick up the Jewish elements. Still, no harm in it. After all, how does she think I felt when she wanted a copy of my mediaeval fantasy novel? She is the expert in that area, after all.



Serve her right! But I've read the first few pages and think I'll enjoy it. I like a book with humorous touches and I think this will be gently humorous, the way I like it. 

Afterwards, I went off to supper with two friends from the Nova Mob. Well, I had a hot chocolate as the Greek place we went didn't have tea, and a Greek rice pudding. I had eaten on the train on my way, not thinking I'd have time to eat afterwards. One if my friends had come a longer way than me and hadn't eaten at all. 

We were soon joined by Gillian, her family and another fannish friend. I had a lift home and managed to be there by 9.00 pm, ready to have a shower and read in bed. 

A good evening all round! 




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32. Eleanor, Elizabeth by Libby Gleeson. Ill. by Beattie Alvarez. Armidale, NSW, Christmas Press 2016


This was Libby Gleeson's very first book, published in 1984, and won some awards. Awards or not, everything goes out of print sooner or later - well, nearly everything. I've read that the only Australian book to stay in print for 100 years or more is Ethel Turner's Seven Little Australians. And this one was out of print and now it's back! 

You'll find an interview with the author on the Christmas Press website here:


There are also details of how to buy Christmas Press books. If you live outside of Australia and want a copy, you will need to email the publisher, to work out postage; otherwise, it's available in all good bookstores. Remember, this is a small press. This particular imprint is Second Look, which I assume is meant to reprint out-of-print books that are special and deserve a second look. 

So, what's it about? It's not actually a time travel book, not even to the same extent as Jackie French's Daughter Of The Regiment, in which a boy in the more-or-less here and now sees through a hole in time, located in his family's chook shed, to the life of a young orphaned girl in the 1840s, who turns out to be an ancestor. 

But it does have two girls, the Victorian-era Elizabeth, writing in a diary, and her granddaughter Eleanor, who has just moved to her mother's childhood home in the bush. Eleanor is unhappy. She misses her friends and she has been bullied at her new school. She takes refuge in the diary of her maternal grandmother, whom she doesn't remember(she died when Eleanor was a toddler), which she finds in the old schoolhouse in the yard. Elizabeth was rebellious and hated her girly clothes and restrictions. She had found a secret spot in the bush, a cave, which becomes important late in the book, when Eleanor really needs to find it. For Eleanor, the diary is the secret - and there are some parallels in their lives. 

It's set in 1960, for the same reasons why you couldn't remake Back To The Future, ie the girl would have to be a much earlier ancestor than grandmother. The 1960s are just as much another world as the Victorian era. Everyone is talking about getting an aerial set up for TV. There's the "wireless" and the Argonauts Club. Girls asking each other, "Have you got George yet?" I hadn't a clue what that was till "the curse" was mentioned as an alternative name and I bet teenage girls don't know that term either.

It's a short book, surely no more than 20,000 words, but works as a novel. There's something sweet about it, and it is very Australian, considering the author was in Europe when she was working on it. 

Well worth a reprint and it should still appeal to girls in late primary/early secondary school who like their book heroines strong. 

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33. Happy Birthday, Andy Griffiths!

And to me also, but that's another story.


By the way, it's also the birthday of the guy who invented the safety match - a great thing, but he made very little money out of it, because the damned things were too expensive for the average person at the time. I guess you can't expect a scientist to also be good in business. 

For those of you who aren't Australian, Andy Grifffiths, Aussie children's writer, has no connection with an American actor who had his own TV comedy show in the 1960s - about the only thing they have in common is being funny, and believe me, Andy Griffith was funny in a very different way! 

Take a look at this. 


It started as a short story in which a boy's backside ran away and had to be persuaded to come back after a wild chase through the streets of Melbourne. I think the US edition of the book was called The Day My Butt went Psycho, because in the U.S. a "bum" is a tramp. 

This writer and his wonderful artist collaborator, Terry Denton, absolutely get that children like their humour over the top. (Paul Jennings does too, but it isn't his birthday...) There's a cartoon flavour about their fiction, where outrageous things happen which the young readers know couldn't possibly happen, but what fun to imagine it! 

In the "Just" and "Treehouse " books the characters are named for the authors. In one story that I read with my students around once a year, "Gorillagram", Andy decides to annoy his sister, who is celebrating her birthday in a Lygon Street restaurant by turning up in a gorilła suit. He ends up being hauled off to the zoo, when he can't get out of it. 

There's even Just Macbeth, a play in which the characters are preparing for a school production of Macbeth and end up falling into the roles they're playing. I think it was commissioned to get kids interested in Shakespeare, and I can't think of a better way. 


Here's the latest "Treehouse" book, which I'll be ordering for my library, where a sixteen year old student is reading the series. My nephew's seven year old son Eden is also reading the series at the moment. He's looking forward to this one. See? Universal appeal! (Of course, Eden is a very good reader, a couple of years ahead).

We have the Schooling Around series in my library, about the adventures of a class with a delightfully over the top teacher, a bit like the one in Oliver Phommavanh's Thai series, but that teacher is based on himself, and Oliver Phommavanh is every bit as crazy-delightful as his character; this one is even more over-the-top. 


And Andy Griffiths is such a nice man! I met him at the YABBA Awards one year(see the post, somewhere under YABBAs) and he was just lovely, and even gave us a set of Schooling Around, which had just come out with a new cover. They are much-borrowed, believe me. 

And you know what? I would much rather share a birthday with Andy Griffiths than any World Leader or famous general. He has done far more for the human race than any king or politician or conqueror. 

Let's face it, we all need to laugh.  





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34. Look What I Got From Christmas Press!

These books were waiting for me on my doormat when I arrived home this evening. 

One is the latest of their beautiful series of "Two Tales" books, the other is a reprint of Libby Gleeson's very first book, newly illustrated by Beattie Alvarez, who has done a lot of illoing for Christmas Press, as well as editing the lovely anthology Once Upon A Christmas, in which I was lucky enough to have a story. I'm drooling over both books - such a pity I've had to part with most of my Two Tales books, but I just don't have the space on my shelves any more - and it's nice to know that young children in my family and among my friends' children and grandchildren can enjoy them.

I think it's wonderful to see small presses such as this one, Clan Destine and Ford Street reprinting classics that should never have gone out of print. It's something that small press can afford to do, as they are willing and able to try something different - a good reason why we should be supporting them.

Anyway, reviews to come! 

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35. Happy(Belated)Birthday, Gillian Rubinstein!


Image borrowed from the author's website

I only found out about this last night on Twitter, when this wonderful writer received birthday congratulations under her pen name of Lian Hearn. See, she doesn't even appear on the Famous Birthdays web site, where there are a whole lot of celebrities, even among the authors, of most of whom I've never heard. I'd heard of Nancy Holder, but not read any of her work.

So, happy birthday, Gillian/Lian!

I read some of her fiction in my early days as a librarian. In Space Demons a bunch of kids playing a game not unlike Space Invaders find themselves inside the game - which reacts to you according to how you behave. If you're angry and in the mood for shooting things...well, you're going to get what you put into it. We used this one for Literature Circles and it made for good discussion. A bit dated, but still has something to say. 

I read some others, of course - Foxspell, Galaxarena, the rest of the Space Demons trilogy ...

And then Tales Of The Otori came along, under a pen name. I confess I've only got around to reading the first one, Across The Nightingale Floor, but I loved it! It was set in an alternative Japan, in which the ninja fighters really did have the magical powers ascribed to them in our own world. They were called something else, of course, but they were definitely ninjas. I won't go further, because spoilers, but read it!

I have been fortunate enough to hear her speak, some years ago, at the Melbourne Writers' Festival. She was talking about how she got her impressions of such things as country and city children from the likes of Enid Blyton, which she read enthusiastically as a child. Country children good, city children, spoiled and horrible.

It didn't affect her writing, though.

So, happy birthday and many more to come!

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36. An Interview With Anna Ciddor



Early in 2016, I wrote an informal review of The Family With Two Front Doors by Anna Ciddor, a novel based on the childhood of the author's grandmother, who appears as the ten year old heroine of this book. It's set in the 1920s, but it certainly appealed to my mother, who was growing up in Poland in the 1930s, and she is currently re-reading the book, which she says takes her right back to her own childhood. She did quite a lot of things little Nomi does, although her family wasn't a rabbi's family, and the small-town flavour was very similar. 

But I've read all of Anna Ciddor's fiction, so when she kindly agreed to be interviewed for The Zgreat Raven, I couldn't resist adding questions about her other work. 

Anna, welcome to The Great Raven! 

SB: 

What was your first book? The first one I read was your history of toilets in Allen and Unwin's True Stories series, but I think you were writing education books before that. Anything before the education books

AC: 

My first book was a picture book called ‘Take Me Back’ which was published in 1988. It was inspired by Australia’s bicentenary celebrations (for the arrival of white settlers). I realised these celebrations would be meaningless to children unless they could see how life in Australia had changed over those 200 years so I created a book that gave a snapshot of home life for each generation from 1788 to 1988. 

SB: 

The Viking Magic books were delightful, set in a small Scandinavian community with two children who had been exchanged at birth. Would you like to tell us a bit about it and how you got the idea for it?




AC: 

When I did some research about Vikings for a little non-fiction reader, I discovered there was a lot more to these horned-helmet wearers than dragonships and raiders (and I found out that they didn’t really wear horned helmets at all!) Viking lives were dominated by a belief in magic. They thought there were little folk who lived underground and had to be appeased with gifts of food. They feared neighbours might be witches who could cast spells on them. And then, I discovered that if a Viking family didn’t want a newborn baby, they were allowed to dispose of it by leaving it for the wolves! Well, that was it. The idea for the series was born! I came up with the idea of a midwife secretly swapping an unwanted girl-baby for a boy born at the same time. This then set up the wonderful storyline of two children, Oddo and Thora, growing up in families where they didn’t fit in. 
It was great fun writing Runestone, Wolfspell and Stormriders, because every time I got stuck, I researched more about Vikings, and discovered some other wonderful truth I could use in the stories. 



SB: 

You wrote a book in the Quentaris series, Prisoner of Quentaris, in which your leprechauns formed a small copy of heroic Irish society instead of the cliched cutesy leprechauns of most fiction - what gave you that idea?





AC: 

When I was approached to contribute to the Quentaris series, I was immersed in research for Night of the Fifth Moon, a novel set in Ireland during the fifth century – in the time of druids, kings and battles. I decided to write a variation on an old Irish folktale from that period. In Prisoner of Quentaris, the king of the leprechauns is captured by humans and the little leprechauns have to work out how to free him. I asked students in schools I visited to give me ideas how they might achieve this, and I actually used some of their suggestions in the novel. 



SB: 

There is a gentle humour in all your fiction,  even in The Family With Two Front Doors, which is based on the true story of your grandmother's childhood - is this deliberate on your part or is it just you?

AC: 

A bit of both. I am always alert for humour in any setting or situation I am writing about. As a reader, I appreciate humour and the way it brightens a book, so I always want to include it in my writing.

SB: 

You mentioned at the Jewish Writers' Festival that this novel took you five years to research and write. Can you tell us a bit about what was involved? Mostly, my research involves reading lots of books and following up anything I can't find by going online. I suspect your process was a lot more complex!
AC: 

The book was inspired by interviews with my grandmother from twenty-five years ago. However, when I sat down to write it in 2011, I discovered some crucial holes in my information, and sadly, Nana Nomi was no longer around to answer my questions. That was what set me off on my five-year quest. Like you, I researched as much as I could in books and on-line, but these were not enough. I wanted to bring back to life the intimate everyday details of a lost lifestyle from 1920s Poland and also the characters of the eleven members of Nana’s family. 

I pored over the half dozen family photos that had come down to me, trying to guess personalities from solemn sepia images taken so long ago. I reread over and over again the little anecdotes my Nana had told me – each time noticing some nuance or particular I had overlooked before. I interviewed other elderly people who had lived in Poland at that time, and I asked rabbis for details of Jewish rituals and customs. Finally, I travelled across the world to Poland. I hunted in museums, I searched old archives for family documents, but most importantly of all, I found the apartment block where my Nana’s family lived. I opened the big wrought iron gate and ventured into the courtyard. I walked the street outside, following the footpath they must have trodden, and bought a banana in the market where they shopped. By the time I had finished all my research and written the book, I felt I really had known that long-ago family. 

And by the time I'd read the book, I felt that I, too, had known that family! 

Thanks for answering, Anna! 

If you'd like to get hold of this book or any of the others here are some places where you can get them: 



 https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_3_11?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=anna+ciddor&sprefix=Anna+Ciddor%2Caps%2C494

Or there's Booktopia, where I've put in a link to the ebook versions:

http://www.booktopia.com.au/search.ep?pn=1&productType=917504&keywords=anna+ciddor&suggested=L&list=8

Book Depository has some and for others suggests AbeBooks, as they're out of print.

https://www.bookdepository.com/search?searchTerm=Anna+Ciddor&search=Find+book





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37. And The Award Goes To... Hugo Awards 2016








Aussiecon 4 Hugo, created by Nick Stathopoulos, etched by Lewis Morley, logo by Grant Gittus, who designed my favourite book cover, for Crime Time. Fair use, but I know the boys won't mind.

This list of nominees/winners is pinched from the TOR website. Alas, I haven't read any of the nominated titles let alone the winners! It tends to be the case with these awards - so much American stuff on the list, so harder to get in local bookshops, and at a time of year when I am busy reading for the CBCA  Awards, which are, after all, for our local books - and who knows how long those will be published if the Productivity Commission gets its way? Maybe next year I'll join as a supporting member. It's not too expensive and you get to read the nominated works in ebook, at least, quite good value! And then you get to vote. 

I see that Mike Glyer has won yet again, both for best fanzine and best fan writer. He and Dave Langford between them have  racked up quite a lot of Hugo wins! 

I see also, looking down the list, that the Puppies have been up to their old tricks yet again, slating. I mean, why? They must know it won't work, and last year was a particularly nasty year, in which both sides were horrible. If I'd been a member of the Puppy committee I would have made sure that the loudest-mouthed people on the other side were on this year's slate... and sat back and grinned while they denied frantically any connection... They would have refused their nominations, of course, but there would have been a lot of fun meanwhile. 

And frankly, some of them would have  deserved it, IMO. The whole business caused a lot of disagreement and unpleasantness in the committee of my lovely ASIM. I'm out of it now, except as a slush reader, but it was a bad year for me, and spoiled somewhat my pride in my first ASIM editing.

Anyway, why not just set up their own awards? It can be done. It has been done to a certain extent with the Prometheus Awards for libertarian SF. I was horrified to find a Poul Anderson novel among the winners of that award, but then I read it and said, "Oh. I get it."

The awards could even be presented at Worldcon, if they asked nicely. 

Still, there's no reasoning with some people.

Anyway, as a service, here's the list, with winners in bold. Congratulations to everyone who made it this far. Remember, someone cared enough to nominate your work. You're all winners! I see Ann Leckie was shortlisted again and would like to remind anyone who sneered at ASIM last year that she made one of her earliest sales to us, as did plenty of others, eg off the top of my head, Jim C Hines. 


BEST NOVEL 

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)
Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie (Orbit)
The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher (Roc)
Seveneves: A Novel by Neal Stephenson (William Morrow)
Uprooted by Naomi Novik (Del Rey)

BEST NOVELLA

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com)
The Builders by Daniel Polansky (Tor.com)
Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold (Spectrum)
Perfect State by Brandon Sanderson (Dragonsteel Entertainment)
Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds (Tachyon)

BEST NOVELETTE 

“Folding Beijing” by Hao Jingfang, Ken Liu (Uncanny Magazine, Jan‐Feb 2015)
“And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead” by Brooke Bolander (Lightspeed, Feb 2015)
“Flashpoint: Titan” by CHEAH Kai Wai (There Will Be War Volume X, Castalia House)
“Obits” by Stephen King (The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, Scribner)
“What Price Humanity?” by David Van Dyke (There Will Be War Volume X, Castalia House)

BEST SHORT STORY 

“Cat Pictures Please” by Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld, January 2015)
“Asymmetrical Warfare” by S. Algernon (Nature, Mar 2015)
“If You Were an Award, My Love” by Juan Tabo and Harris (voxday.blogspot.com, Jun 2015)
“Seven Kill Tiger” by Charles Shao (There Will Be WarVolume X, Castalia House)
Space Raptor Butt Invasion by Chuck Tingle (Amazon Digital Services)

BEST RELATED WORK 

No Award - (presumably because everything here was on a Puppies slate?)

Between Light and Shadow: An Exploration of the Fiction of Gene Wolfe, 1951 to 1986 by Marc Aramini (Castalia House)
“The First Draft of My Appendix N Book” by Jeffro Johnson (wordpress.com)
“Safe Space as Rape Room” by Daniel Eness (castcom)
SJWs Always Lie: Taking Down the Thought Police by Vox Day (Castalia House)
“The Story of Moira Greyland” by Moira Greyland (com)

BEST GRAPHIC STORY 

The Sandman: Overture written by Neil Gaiman, art by J.H. Williams III (Vertigo)
The Divine written by Boaz Lavie, art by Asaf Hanuka and Tomer Hanuka (First Second)
Erin Dies Alone written by Grey Carter, art by Cory Rydell (dynet)
Full Frontal Nerdity by Aaron Williams (nodwick.com)
Invisible Republic Vol 1 written by Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman, art by Gabriel Hardman (Image Comics)

BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION (LONG FORM) 

The Martian screenplay by Drew Goddard, directed by Ridley Scott (Scott Free Productions; Kinberg Genre; TSG Entertainment; 20th Century Fox)
Avengers: Age of Ultron written and directed by Joss Whedon (Marvel Studios; Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
Ex Machina written and directed by Alex Garland (Film4; DNA Films; Universal Pictures)
Mad Max: Fury Road written by George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, and Nico Lathouris, directed by George Miller (Village Roadshow Pictures; Kennedy Miller Mitchell; RatPac‐ Dune Entertainment; Warner Bros. Pictures)
Star Wars: The Force Awakens written by Lawrence Kasdan, J. Abrams, and Michael Arndt, directed by J.J. Abrams (Lucasfilm Ltd.; Bad Robot Productions; Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION (SHORT FORM

Jessica Jones: “AKA Smile” written by Scott Reynolds, Melissa Rosenberg, and Jamie King, directed by Michael Rymer (Marvel Television; ABC Studios; Tall Girls Productions; Netflix)
Doctor Who: “Heaven Sent” written by Steven Moffat, directed by Rachel Talalay (BBC Television)
Grimm: “Headache” written by Jim Kouf and David Greenwalt, directed by Jim Kouf (Universal Television; GK Productions; Hazy Mills Productions; Open 4 Business Productions; NBCUniversal Television Distribution)
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: “The Cutie Map” Parts 1 and 2 written by Scott Sonneborn, A. Larson, and Meghan McCarthy, directed by Jayson Thiessen and Jim Miller (DHX Media/Vancouver; Hasbro Studios)
Supernatural: “Just My Imagination” written by Jenny Klein, directed by Richard Speight (Kripke Enterprises; Wonderland Sound and Vision; Warner Bros. Television)

BEST EDITOR ‐ SHORT FORM

Ellen Datlow
John Joseph Adams
Neil Clarke
Jerry Pournelle
Sheila Williams

BEST EDITOR ‐ LONG FORM 

Sheila E. Gilbert
Liz Gorinsky
Jim Minz
Toni Weisskopf
Vox Day

BEST PROFESSIONAL ARTIST 

Abigail Larson
Lars Braad Andersen
Larry Elmore
Michal Karcz
Larry Rostant

BEST SEMIPROZINE

Uncanny Magazine edited by Edited by Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas, Michi Trota, and Erika Ensign & Steven Schapansky
Beneath Ceaseless Skies edited by Scott Andrews, Nicole Lavigne, and Kate Marshall
Daily Science Fiction edited by Michele‐Lee Barasso and Jonathan Laden
Sci Phi Journal edited by Jason Rennie
Strange Horizons edited by Catherine Krahe, Julia Rios, J. Odasso, Vanessa Rose Phin, Maureen Kincaid Speller, and theStrange Horizons staff

BEST FANZINE 

“File 770” edited by Mike Glyer
“Castalia House Blog” edited by Jeffro Johnson
“Lady Business” edited by Clare, Ira, Jodie, KJ, Renay, and Susan
“Superversive SF” edited by Jason Rennie
“Tangent Online” edited by Dave Truesdale

BEST FANCAST 

No Award
8‐4 Play, Mark MacDonald, John Ricciardi, Hiroko Minamoto, and Justin Epperson
Cane and Rinse, Cane and Rinse
HelloGreedo, HelloGreedo
The Rageaholic, RazörFist
Tales to Terrify, Stephen Kilpatrick

BEST FAN WRITER

Mike Glyer
Douglas Ernst
Morgan Holmes
Jeffro Johnson
Shamus Young

BEST FAN ARTIST 

Steve Stiles
Matthew Callahan
disse86
Kukuruyo
Christian Quinot

JOHN W. CAMPBELL AWARD FOR BEST NEW WRITER 

Andy Weir *
Pierce Brown *
Sebastien de Castell *
Brian Niemeier
Alyssa Wong *
* Finalists in their 2nd year of eligibility.

FOREST J. ACKERMAN AWARD

Joe Siclari & Evie Stern



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38. And The Award Goes To... Hugo Awards 2016








Aussiecon 4 Hugo, created by Nick Stathopoulos, etched by Lewis Morley, logo by Grant Gittus, who designed my favourite book cover, for Crime Time. Fair use, but I know the boys won't mind.

This list of nominees/winners is pinched from the TOR website. Alas, I haven't read any of the nominated titles let alone the winners! It tends to be the case with these awards - so much American stuff on the list, so harder to get in local bookshops, and at a time of year when I am busy reading for the CBCA  Awards, which are, after all, for our local books - and who knows how long those will be published if the Productivity Commission gets its way? Maybe next year I'll join as a supporting member. It's not too expensive and you get to read the nominated works in ebook, at least, quite good value! And then you get to vote. 

I see that Mike Glyer has won yet again, both for best fanzine and best fan writer. He and Dave Langford between them have  racked up quite a lot of Hugo wins! 

I see also, looking down the list, that the Puppies have been up to their old tricks yet again, slating. I mean, why? They must know it won't work, and last year was a particularly nasty year, in which both sides were horrible. If I'd been a member of the Puppy committee I would have made sure that the loudest-mouthed people on the other side were on this year's slate... and sat back and grinned while they denied frantically any connection... They would have refused their nominations, of course, but there would have been a lot of fun meanwhile. 

And frankly, some of them would have  deserved it, IMO. The whole business caused a lot of disagreement and unpleasantness in the committee of my lovely ASIM. I'm out of it now, except as a slush reader, but it was a bad year for me, and spoiled somewhat my pride in my first ASIM editing.

Anyway, why not just set up their own awards? It can be done. It has been done to a certain extent with the Prometheus Awards for libertarian SF. I was horrified to find a Poul Anderson novel among the winners of that award, but then I read it and said, "Oh. I get it."

The awards could even be presented at Worldcon, if they asked nicely. 

Still, there's no reasoning with some people.

Anyway, as a service, here's the list, with winners in bold. Congratulations to everyone who made it this far. Remember, someone cared enough to nominate your work. You're all winners! I see Ann Leckie was shortlisted again and would like to remind anyone who sneered at ASIM last year that she made one of her earliest sales to us, as did plenty of others, eg off the top of my head, Jim C Hines. 


BEST NOVEL 

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)
Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie (Orbit)
The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher (Roc)
Seveneves: A Novel by Neal Stephenson (William Morrow)
Uprooted by Naomi Novik (Del Rey)

BEST NOVELLA

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com)
The Builders by Daniel Polansky (Tor.com)
Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold (Spectrum)
Perfect State by Brandon Sanderson (Dragonsteel Entertainment)
Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds (Tachyon)

BEST NOVELETTE 

“Folding Beijing” by Hao Jingfang, Ken Liu (Uncanny Magazine, Jan‐Feb 2015)
“And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead” by Brooke Bolander (Lightspeed, Feb 2015)
“Flashpoint: Titan” by CHEAH Kai Wai (There Will Be War Volume X, Castalia House)
“Obits” by Stephen King (The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, Scribner)
“What Price Humanity?” by David Van Dyke (There Will Be War Volume X, Castalia House)

BEST SHORT STORY 

“Cat Pictures Please” by Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld, January 2015)
“Asymmetrical Warfare” by S. Algernon (Nature, Mar 2015)
“If You Were an Award, My Love” by Juan Tabo and Harris (voxday.blogspot.com, Jun 2015)
“Seven Kill Tiger” by Charles Shao (There Will Be WarVolume X, Castalia House)
Space Raptor Butt Invasion by Chuck Tingle (Amazon Digital Services)

BEST RELATED WORK 

No Award - (presumably because everything here was on a Puppies slate?)

Between Light and Shadow: An Exploration of the Fiction of Gene Wolfe, 1951 to 1986 by Marc Aramini (Castalia House)
“The First Draft of My Appendix N Book” by Jeffro Johnson (wordpress.com)
“Safe Space as Rape Room” by Daniel Eness (castcom)
SJWs Always Lie: Taking Down the Thought Police by Vox Day (Castalia House)
“The Story of Moira Greyland” by Moira Greyland (com)

BEST GRAPHIC STORY 

The Sandman: Overture written by Neil Gaiman, art by J.H. Williams III (Vertigo)
The Divine written by Boaz Lavie, art by Asaf Hanuka and Tomer Hanuka (First Second)
Erin Dies Alone written by Grey Carter, art by Cory Rydell (dynet)
Full Frontal Nerdity by Aaron Williams (nodwick.com)
Invisible Republic Vol 1 written by Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman, art by Gabriel Hardman (Image Comics)

BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION (LONG FORM) 

The Martian screenplay by Drew Goddard, directed by Ridley Scott (Scott Free Productions; Kinberg Genre; TSG Entertainment; 20th Century Fox)
Avengers: Age of Ultron written and directed by Joss Whedon (Marvel Studios; Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
Ex Machina written and directed by Alex Garland (Film4; DNA Films; Universal Pictures)
Mad Max: Fury Road written by George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, and Nico Lathouris, directed by George Miller (Village Roadshow Pictures; Kennedy Miller Mitchell; RatPac‐ Dune Entertainment; Warner Bros. Pictures)
Star Wars: The Force Awakens written by Lawrence Kasdan, J. Abrams, and Michael Arndt, directed by J.J. Abrams (Lucasfilm Ltd.; Bad Robot Productions; Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION (SHORT FORM

Jessica Jones: “AKA Smile” written by Scott Reynolds, Melissa Rosenberg, and Jamie King, directed by Michael Rymer (Marvel Television; ABC Studios; Tall Girls Productions; Netflix)
Doctor Who: “Heaven Sent” written by Steven Moffat, directed by Rachel Talalay (BBC Television)
Grimm: “Headache” written by Jim Kouf and David Greenwalt, directed by Jim Kouf (Universal Television; GK Productions; Hazy Mills Productions; Open 4 Business Productions; NBCUniversal Television Distribution)
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: “The Cutie Map” Parts 1 and 2 written by Scott Sonneborn, A. Larson, and Meghan McCarthy, directed by Jayson Thiessen and Jim Miller (DHX Media/Vancouver; Hasbro Studios)
Supernatural: “Just My Imagination” written by Jenny Klein, directed by Richard Speight (Kripke Enterprises; Wonderland Sound and Vision; Warner Bros. Television)

BEST EDITOR ‐ SHORT FORM

Ellen Datlow
John Joseph Adams
Neil Clarke
Jerry Pournelle
Sheila Williams

BEST EDITOR ‐ LONG FORM 

Sheila E. Gilbert
Liz Gorinsky
Jim Minz
Toni Weisskopf
Vox Day

BEST PROFESSIONAL ARTIST 

Abigail Larson
Lars Braad Andersen
Larry Elmore
Michal Karcz
Larry Rostant

BEST SEMIPROZINE

Uncanny Magazine edited by Edited by Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas, Michi Trota, and Erika Ensign & Steven Schapansky
Beneath Ceaseless Skies edited by Scott Andrews, Nicole Lavigne, and Kate Marshall
Daily Science Fiction edited by Michele‐Lee Barasso and Jonathan Laden
Sci Phi Journal edited by Jason Rennie
Strange Horizons edited by Catherine Krahe, Julia Rios, J. Odasso, Vanessa Rose Phin, Maureen Kincaid Speller, and theStrange Horizons staff

BEST FANZINE 

“File 770” edited by Mike Glyer
“Castalia House Blog” edited by Jeffro Johnson
“Lady Business” edited by Clare, Ira, Jodie, KJ, Renay, and Susan
“Superversive SF” edited by Jason Rennie
“Tangent Online” edited by Dave Truesdale

BEST FANCAST 

No Award
8‐4 Play, Mark MacDonald, John Ricciardi, Hiroko Minamoto, and Justin Epperson
Cane and Rinse, Cane and Rinse
HelloGreedo, HelloGreedo
The Rageaholic, RazörFist
Tales to Terrify, Stephen Kilpatrick

BEST FAN WRITER

Mike Glyer
Douglas Ernst
Morgan Holmes
Jeffro Johnson
Shamus Young

BEST FAN ARTIST 

Steve Stiles
Matthew Callahan
disse86
Kukuruyo
Christian Quinot

JOHN W. CAMPBELL AWARD FOR BEST NEW WRITER 

Andy Weir *
Pierce Brown *
Sebastien de Castell *
Brian Niemeier
Alyssa Wong *
* Finalists in their 2nd year of eligibility.

FOREST J. ACKERMAN AWARD

Joe Siclari & Evie Stern



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39. Of Productivity Commissions And Parallel Import Laws


On National Bookshop Day, I went to my local bookshop and bought yet another cookbook! I wished the staff a happy National Bookshop Day and they gave me this.


If you haven't seen it, it's a collection of articles by our best known writers on the subject of something that is going on now, an attempt to destroy our local publishing industry.  Don't believe me? 

Here's a quote by Richard Flanagan, author of Booker-winning novel Narrow Road To The Deep North, from the Productivity Commission's report.


Okay, a bit blurry, but what it says is that the local publishing industry is wasting all those people who could be better employed in other industries, and is thus doing horrible things to the economy. Huh? It's successful, it's employing lots of people(25,000 at this stage) who are paying taxes, unlike some billionaires, buying things, building homes, thus employing more people, and this is wrong? I don't get it. 

When you think of all those manufacturing industries moved offshore because this government and the ones before it let them go, what do they have against an industry they don't subsidise and don't support, which is still doing nicely, here and overseas? Because they don't subsidise it, apart from a few grants via the Australia Council and even those have been slashed by the current government. 

"Productivity" basically means "do more with less." In this case, it's "do nothing. Overseas books are better and we can get the readers onside by telling them they will get cheaper books." 

In case you have no idea what I'm talking about, here it is. We currently have a law in place that prevents us from having huge piles of overseas books dumped on us. The deal is that the publisher has to make the books available in an Australian edition within fourteen days of overseas release. Otherwise, the booksellers could buy huge lots of cheap editions from the US or Britain - cheaper for them, anyway - and some of those books are by our local authors, who would get paid less in royalties  for the overseas editions of their own books.  That's while these still exist; overseas publishers don't want to take our books till they've proved  themselves here. 

I remember, early in my writing career, when a friend went to the UK to see overseas publishers, who just weren't interested in anything from the colonies. Looks like that time might come back.

When they did this to the music industry here some years ago, it wreaked havoc. Our musicians have never recovered. 

There is territorial copyright at present. Most countries have it. Check that paperback book in your bag and you'll see a statement about it. Once that's gone, it's gone. The end of territorial copyright all but wiped out the publishing industries of countries, such as New Zealand, which surrendered it. 

Books over there, by the way, have gone up in price, not down. 

And for what? Even if you do resent paying more for your own stories, you can always buy online. 

But this isn't all. They want to scrap the current copyright system, for something they call "fair use". Fair to whom? "Fair use" in this country means that you can photocopy 10% or one chapter of a book, whichever is more, to use in study. The new U.S. version of "fair use" means something else altogether. 

If this happens, the current copyright term of seventy years after the author's death would be reduced to fifteen or twenty years after publication. After that? If you've visited this blog before, you'll know how I feel about piracy. But it would no longer be piracy, it would be legal. 

For those writers who make their living from this, royalties are their pension, their superannuation, and something to leave to their families. Now? The politicians are sneering at the very idea. How DARE these writers want to leave an income to their children! 

What if someone walked into Mr Turnbull's mansion and ordered him to vacate it because he'd had his fifteen years in it, time to give it away to anyone who wanted it? Hey, why not divide it into flats for young families? How would he react to that? 

What if you walked into a furniture workshop and told the carpenter that they shouldn't expect to keep the work of their hands and certainly not expect to leave the business to their children? The furniture should be given away to anyone who walked in? 

Just because writing is made up of ideas you can't touch or hold doesn't mean it should be free to anyone who wants to steal it. 

And so I'm asking you, if you read this, if you care about Australian stories, to do something. 

If you live here, write to your Federal MP. Write to your State Senator. Tell them how you feel and hint, if you feel strongly enough about it, that you're thinking carefully about your next vote. 

Here is a link to help you.


While you're there, sign the petition if you haven't done so already. 

If you don't live here but still care, and want stories from Down Under in your life, publicise the issue. Feel free to embarrass our politicians. Tweet this post or look in Twitter under #saveozstories and retweet. 

And - can you comment below to let me know if you've done any of the above? I get many hits on my posts, but rarely a comment and I never know whether they've had an effect. 

Thank you! 


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40. And The Award Goes To.... The 2016 CBCA Awards


Taken from the CBCA web site. Fair usage.



And here they are, after we've been waiting for such a long time, from the long list onwards. Congratulations to everyone who got even that far. The long list used to be the Notables and I remember one judge saying that for something to get a Notable at least six judges had to think it should be in the short list. That's nice to know, as someone who has had two Notables and a Clayton's short listing. So even if you got no further than the long list, authors, you've done well, just like someone who got into the Olympics, even if they didn't get a medal.

I have said I'm pleased with the winners this year, though I wish The Flywheel had got an Honour book.  But something I've found over the years is that once you've been on the short list you're likely to win another time and this year they had two books to choose from in that respect. So Erin Gough might make it another time, I do hope so. Or maybe she'll be in next year's YABBAs or, more likely, Inkys, for this one. I hope so. 

CBCA Awards 2016 winners -  from the Books And Publishing web site


This year's Children's Book Council of Australia Awards go to the following

The winning titles in each of the categories are:

Older Readers

Winner

Cloudwish (Fiona Wood, Macmillan)

Honour books

A Single Stone (Meg McKinlay, Walker Books)
Inbetween Days (Vikki Wakefield, Text)

Younger Readers

Winner

Soon (Morris Gleitzman, Viking)

Honour books  

Shadows of the Master (Emily Rodda, Omnibus)

Sister Heart (Sally Morgan, Fremantle Press)

Early Childhood

Winner

Mr Huff (Anna Walker, Viking)

Honour books

Perfect (Danny Parker, illus by Freya Blackwood, Little Hare)
The Cow Tripped over the Moon (Tony Wilson, illus by Laura Wood, Scholastic)

Picture Book of the Year

Winner

Flight (Nadia Wheatley, illus by Armin Greder, Windy Hollow)

Honour books

One Step at a Time (Jane Jolly, illus by Sally Heinrich, MidnightSun)
Ride, Ricardo, Ride! (Phil Cummings, illus by Shane Devries, Omnibus)

Eve Pownall Award for Information Books

Winner

Lennie the Legend: Solo to Sydney by Pony (Stephanie Owen Reeder, NLA Publishing)

Honour books

Ancestry: Stories of Multicultural Anzacs (Robyn Siers & Carlie Walker, Department of Veterans’ Affairs)
Phasmid: Saving the Lord Howe Island Stick Insect (Rohan Cleave, illus by Coral Tulloch, CSIRO Publishing)


Crichton Award for New Illustrators

The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade (Davina Bell, illus by Allison Colpoys, Scribe)


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41. Finally Finished Reading... Inbetween Days by Vikki Wakefield


Update! Update! I've looked up the winners and my two favourites won! Cloudwish and Soon, for the Older and Younger Readers respectively. Both of them books our kids, at least, have enjoyed. This one and A Single Stone got the Honour book for Older Readers.


And with it, I've read the entire Older Readers section of this year's CBCA shortlist. I decided I wasn't allowed to find out who the winners were till I'd done this. I just know that once I found out I would never have got around to finishing whatever I was reading at the time, and certainly not anything else I hadn't started. And that would have been a shame. I admit I'm missing the days when I had that wonderful student Selena to read the Older Readers list with me and discuss it. (That was the year we both loved Cath Crowley's Graffiti Moon and thought it should have won). There are some great kids in my current book club, but no Selenas. Most of them read only one book at a time! How can a true booklover do that? Unless they read very quickly, of course.

I confess, I have only read one book in the Younger Readers section, Morris Gleitzman's Soon, but it was wonderful! One of the book club students is reading another book in the Younger Readers, can't recall which one, and another is reading and enjoying The Flywheel. She told me so when she came to renew the loan.

So, what did I think of Vikki Wakefield's opus? Well, it was very literary, which probably means it has won. I felt that while I got the whole "heroine develops and grows as a human being" thing, it wasn't really the kind of book I'd normally read. YA fiction is the only area in which I'll read straight contemporary fiction, though I prefer it when it's funny. But funny doesn't win awards. Really. I remember Geoffrey McSkimming complaining about that at a library conference once. I guess he'll just have to comfort himself that the kids read his books.

There were some bits in it I appreciated. I liked the whale rescue scene, although it was really only there to tell us something about the heroine, Jack - and about her mother. I appreciated the whole notion of the Mobius strip town actually called Mobius which nobody ever really leaves. Mind you, there's the ending, but I won't tell you because of spoilers. I quite liked the wisdom of older female mentors, though they didn't take on that role till late in the novel. Before that, we only saw them through Jack's eyes, and I was surprised when they suddenly appeared in a different light to her. Her growth, I suppose. I very much liked the drive-in cinema which Jack and two others are trying to restore, though I don't know how you can show a movie on the big screen using videotapes. There must be some tech stuff I've missed. If the author meant "film reels" - logical, as it turns out the owner used to own the drive-in - she never said that. She said "tapes."

But the whole idea of getting a drive-in going again is very cool.

It's not an easy book to read; it took me a couple of weeks and I'm a fast reader. As far as the kids are concerned, it will take very good readers to enjoy it. Not a book for the reluctant reader or even the average reader. It's one you have to think about as you read.

And I suspect some schools will get class sets and make this a class text, because there's a lot of material for discussion.

Now I'm going to look up the winners of this year's CBCA Awards. I'll post about that later.

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42. Look What I just Bought! The Second Gisburne Novel!


And here it is, complete with deleted scenes. I read and reviewed the first novel, Knight Of Shadows, a couple of years ago

Now the author, Toby Venables, has been interviewed on the Modern Medievalists blog and I learned that there was a second one, so I wandered over to iBooks and bought it. The annoying thing is, the omnibus with both books was cheaper than just this one, but I already had it and this does have those deleted scenes, just like on a DVD...

If you didn't read my first post, just follow the link above. This Gisburne is not a villain or even an anti-hero, he is just the good guy of the novel and he's very much James Bond, with Prince John as M. There's even a Q character! And Robin Hood is the Joker from Batman, as the author says. Not at all a nice man. 

I loved the first book and as Gisburne was wearing a leather coat(just like in the ballads) I imagined him as Richard Armitage. 

If you want a medieval novel with a difference, get them both!

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43. Another Fannish Funeral: Elley Hamlyn-Harris


There are too many fannish funerals these days. Way too many!

This morning I attended the funeral of my old friend Elley Michaelson, married name Hamlyn-Harris, who passed away last week of cancer. I admit I hadn't seen her in years, and her sons had grown from little boys in primary school to young men since I saw them last. But that's life for you. Once she was married and moving around I only saw her at the occasional party.

Still, I felt that I ought to go, because I had enjoyed her hospitality many times in my early years of fandom, including birthday celebrations, mine and others'. Her home in Port Melbourne was our clubhouse, when I was in Austrek. I went there often in Friday nights, long before Friday became my family's gathering night. We watched Star Trek and some episodes of Dr Who. I tended to doze off after a long day at work. I missed most of the first episode of Blake's 7, of which we all later became great fans, but what I did see was in Elley's living-room. 

I remember how everyone used to dance the Time Warp around her tiny living room and have to work to make sure they didn't step on each other's toes. I remember going out for fish and chips to curl up on the couch with. 

And I remember Elley, large and jolly and hospitable. She will be much missed. 

I took the day off work and went to St Peter and Paul's Catholic Church in South Melbourne, a large, beautiful old church surrounded by gardens, where Elley had her confirmation many years ago. There, I met my friends who had known her. I only knew about it because someone had sent me a text message; I believe it was on Facebook, but I don't have an account and refuse to get one as long as I'm a teacher and have three blogs and a Twitter account; it's more than enough. But fandom is a great tree; when one knows, it's passed on and in a short time everyone knows. That's how I knew to go to some other fannish farewells. Once it was by email. When I mentioned it to some students sitting near me in the computer room, they were shocked that I'd heard by email instead of by phone. But it was the best way for that event; it meant that the emailer could contact a lot of people at once and we could contact anyone she might have forgotten. 

Fandom is still around, but we're an older generation. There was no Internet in those days and if you wanted to make a phone call it was landline. No mobiles! Fanzines? Printed, not online. I remember going to Star Trek marathons, where they were laid out on tables for sale. Then we'd all curl up at home or at our "clubhouse" and share them, along with the catalogues from Lincoln Enterprises, which sold posters, badges, photos and knock-knacks connected with Star Trek, and send in joint orders. And then distribute the goodies when they arrived...

Now? You just go online, whip out your credit card and order what you want from a website that sells it. Fan fiction is freely available online, in whichever universe you like, and artists can upload their work for everyone to admire. Mind you, when we were getting printed fanzines, there was a filter via the editor, meaning  a better chance of reading decent quality fiction; online you just have to take your chances. 

There  are fan-made films on YouTube, some of them with members of the original cast joining in the fun. And we can not only communicate by smart phone, we can do it the way they did in Star Trek, seeing each other's faces! Wonderful! 

Elley certainly thought so. Among the pictures shown at her funeral were some of her on her laptop, merrily going on the WWW. I think we all get more out of the Internet than the "digital natives" who have never known what it was like before. We appreciate it more, instead of taking it for granted. 

Speaking of the younger generation, most of the faces I saw today were my own age, but some brought their children, young men and women now, including my friend Greg, who brought his children Sean and Mary, whose births I remember. Now Sean is about to start life as a student counsellor and Mary, always the artist, is at uni, studying games creation. They knew Elley, though.  Their parents never lost contact, unlike me. 

Elley's son Freddy told me, after the service, over tea and cake, that his mother had inspired him to have his friends over regularly, though he always asks them to bring a plate! He also mentioned tat when they were looking for photos to use, he found the picture of her with Star Trek actor George Takei, so that now he can believe she actually met him.

"Oh, yes," I assured him, "she met him all right! I was there." It was at a con in Sydney, where we all shared a room, because fans did that in those days. We had very little money. I'm sure the hotel staff were suspicious, but they didn't check on us - and we were a lot quieter and better-behaved than, say, businessmen there for a conference. But, as I told Freddy, it was a case of whoever got there in time to use the bed. The rest of us slept in sleeping-bags on the floor. One of us - not Elley, but someone among the fifteen - persuaded George to come along to a room party, where he asked us to sing "Waltzing Matilda" but we had to keep stopping to explain, because the song sounds like another language if you don't know  Australian English. A very nice man, by the way. 

I could go on for thousands more words with the memories, but enough. To her family, I say, "Long life!" as we do after Jewish funerals. And "Peace and long life", as the Vulcans do. 

Another part of my life has fallen away, alas! But the memories will stay. 

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44. CBCA Shortlist: Just Finished The Pause by John Larkin



I finished this yesterday and bought a copy for the library.

Oh, my, this is a deadly serious book, not the slightly humorous, or at least whimsical one I had expected from the blurb. It is about depression. The hero, Declan O'Malley, throws himself under a train in a fit of depression after his girlfriend is sent to live with her aunt in Hong Kong by her abusive mother and doesn't send a text to confirm she has arrived okay. It turns out that her mother had confiscated her phone before she left.

But Declan's depression isn't just about that, it's about something truly horrible that happened when he was six. This is hinted at several times in the course of the book, before you finally learn just what it was his great-aunt Mary did to him when he was a child.

After a gruesome and detailed description of his being dismantled by the train, he speaks to the reader from "non-space", where he gets to see what would have happened if he had hesitated before jumping. It isn't all positive but it's a lot better than being killed and thinking of what it has done to his family, his girl and even the train driver. This takes up most of the novel - and, interestingly, goes over nine years; the Declan of the later part of the novel is well into his twenties.

I found it very readable and you might have noticed I finished it quickly. It might work for some of our students who feel like reading a deadly serious book, but today I only had three Year 7 girls, a Year 9 and a Year 10 with me at book club. And there were only two borrowings from the shortlisted books - The Flywheel and Soon.

I've started reading Inbetween Days by Vikki Wakefield and when that's done I will have read all the Older Readers books. I think, of those I've read so far, I'd give the award to Cloudwish.

And speaking of books that turn out to be deadly serious, I've just begun reading Lili Wilkinson's newest novel, The Boundless Sublime, and I don't think this is going to be the usual romantic comedy which my students enjoy so much. It starts with a thoroughly depressed mother and daughter sitting in the living room watching TV and doing very little else after a family tragedy. Oh, dear. I'm sure it will be a great book, but, I must admit, I like those romantic comedies as much as the kids do, and this is beginning to remind me of the time Paul Jennings, so beloved by so many children for his hilarious stories, decided to write a serious YA novel. It was good, don't get me wrong - in fact, very good! It just didn't feel like Paul Jennings. If it's still in print I'll be very surprised. 

It may be that the author  needed to get this book out of her system. 

Or it may be that funny books just don't win the Children's Book Council Awards. Some of them make  it to the shortlist, but I can't recall one ever winning. Paul Jennings and Andy Griffiths are hugely popular with their readers, but not with awards judges. They just aren't literary enough. Ah, well. 

Anyone else out there reading the list? What do you think?

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45. CBCA Shortlist: Currently Reading... Inbetween Days By Vikki Wakefield

Probably a bit early to be commenting, but this isn't really a review. I'm up to page 130. It's the last book of the Older Readers section for me - I've read the rest. I don't think it's exactly contemporary fiction, as nobody in the novel so much as mentions the Internet and the heroine, Jack, doesn't have a phone, apart from the one in the home she shares with her sister Trudy, and that one is disconnected for non-payment of the bill, so she has to go to the phone booth to try calling her boyfriend Luke(well, I say boyfriend, but they're not actually dating - all they do is meet weekly to have sex; she says she loves him, he doesn't return her feelings). Having a mobile would allow her to make contact without having to go through his family. In one scene the phone rings out - no message bank. In another, she mentions her video recorder. So, is it set in the 1980s? The 1990s? Certainly not in the here and now.

Jack seems to have a bit of obsessive compulsive disorder, taking the form of  counting the diamond-patterned tiles in the shop where she works.  She also keeps moving her bed around in her room, for no special reason, and setting up a display of toilet rolls at work, angrily shifting them back when they have been moved by the other shop worker. Definitely some OCD there!

The small town where she lives is dying, getting smaller and smaller, and has the appropriate name of  Mobius - you know, like the strip that has only one side. It also has a forest where people go to commit suicide. Very odd place!

I expect I'll finish it on time for Book Week, though, to be honest, I don't know what the students will think of it. It's a strange book...

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46. Brother Cadfael Re-Read: The Confession Of Brother Haluin

I first read this some years ago, when it first came out. It's fifteen books into the series of twenty, so near the end. The last book, Brother Cadfael's Penance, felt like a last book, although it didn't have to be, only the author died not long after. Brother Cadfael had disobeyed his Abbot to go to the rescue of his son and was riding home, expecting trouble but thinking it worthwhile. That, I remember.

But this one, I read again yesterday at my mother's home, where I spend Friday nights, and remembered nothing.

I really wasn't in the mood for Vikki Wakefield's latest at the time - I prefer to read something familiar and comforting at bed time and curled up in bed on a weekend, when I don't have to get up at 6.00 am. And whatever I may have to say of Inbetween Days when I've finished, it's neither familiar(first time) nor comforting. And not meant to be comforting!

But I really didn't remember anything, it has been such a long time since I first read it. It did have some of the usual elements - Brother Cadfael accompanies someone on a journey, there's a sweet young couple who aren't allowed to marry for one reason or another(at least, not till the end of the book) and although there's a murder, the killer doesn't actually get executed.

And, as usual, Ellis Peters doesn't cheat her readers with last-minute information they couldn't possibly have known - more than can be said for Agatha Christie, who usually has Poirot announcing in his gather-all-the suspects meeting that he has received a telegram in answer to an inquiry he sent and his suspicions were confirmed! If you read any Brother Cadfael mystery carefully enough, you can usually work out whodunnit. You do need to read carefully and not take any character for granted as a minor character. At least you know it won't be any of the regulars(again - unlike Agatha Christie, who doesn't give you that comfort). That helps.

Anyway, it was a pleasure to re-enter the world of twelfth century England with our favourite herbalist monk!


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47. Census Is Coming - But Not Yet...

Well, after all the discussion about doing the census on-line, I find I can't. We were assured the up-to-date browser requirement was only for officials. Not true. I went to the web site because apparently it will let you through early, and it seemed simpler than waiting till everyone else in the country was doing it, and tried to log in.

The message I got was that my browser - and my operating system - were out of date and could I please try another device? If I can't do that, give them a call to order a paper form. I called. I got an automated message asking for the login number, then it thanked me for my call and hung up. I assume this means they will send me the paper form now, but I didn't speak to a human being. My sister did, when she rang to order one for our mother, and was assured that the census was due in September, whatever she had been told, and didn't have to be handed in immediately. Assuming that my login will go to a human being somewhere, the form will arrive within 7 working days. (Apart from the fact that the new Aussiepost is now slow and more expensive. So maybe 9 working days?)

For those of you who don't live in Australia and may not have heard, there has been a lot of anger over the government's decision to keep our names  for four years instead of the 18 months they need to process the data. Four years - in other words, till the next census. And as it's being done on-line, there is the danger of having our details stolen. Not to mention the danger of the government using them for things we won't be happy about.

"Oh, but it's so easy for them to find you anyway!" we hear. "You're on social media. They know about you!" Yes. But not neatly arranged for whenever they want to look up, say, all the Jews in Australia, or all the Muslims, etc. And with the recent election there are a number of truly crazy Senators, including one who thinks we should be teaching climate denial in the schools(he used to work in the coal industry); if he doesn't believe the Earth is flat, he comes close to it. And he is one of those who want the Racial Discrimination Act altered in the name of "freedom of speech", ie "we should be able to be horrible to anyone we want, but we'll sue the pants off them if the shoe is ever on the other foot."  By the way, he got in with just 77 votes(family and friends?) - the rest was above-the-line preferences. The nut-cases may have the balance of power in this government.

A lot of people are going to be Jedi Knights this year, and the information in general will not be accurate. And the web site will crash tomorrow night, with millions of people trying to log in.

Hopefully, they will get the idea soon enough.


I'm going back to my books. A book isn't going to look up information about your health or your religion or sell your information to private companies.

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48. In My Bag At The Moment...Kerry Greenwood


The Greenwood book - not the author, of course! - is Death By Water, a Phryne Fisher mystery. It's kind of fun living Phryne's glamorous life vicariously. She has a nice house opposite St Kilda beach, a smart maid who helps in her detecting, a very good houseman and his wife, an excellent cook, working for her, two delightful adopted daughters, great clothes and, of course, a gorgeous, intelligent lover. What's not to enjoy?

In this one, Phryne and her maid Dot go on a cruise, but not just for fun. They're there to catch whoever has been stealing the wealthy passengers' gems.  And naturally, there's a murder, though it happens late in the book. Like all her other novels, each chapter ends with a letter from someone who isn't actually a character in the story, but you need to read it, because it throws you hints about something that will play out in the novel itself. In this case the letters are from various people about to go on the Titanic. The Phryne Fisher novels are set in 1928, sixteen years after the Titanic disaster. Here, we learn that for once Dot knows something in the news that Phryne doesn't; while that ship was sinking, she was with her family on another ship, on its way to England. 

But it's now 1928, the good ship Hinemoa is on its way to New Zealand and the passengers - first class, of course! - are eating and drinking gourmet stuff and dancing under the Tiffany lamps of the Grand Salon, which is decorated with stained glass depictions of Australian and New Zealand critters and there's an all-girl dance band which includes a trumpeter whose Uncle Cec is one of Phryne's minions, under orders to be helpful to Miss Fisher. 

And we have vicarious fun imagining ourselves on that gorgeous ship. I'm betting that modern cruise liners aren't quite that classy. 

In the middle of the school year, with a lot of work things hanging over me, I need the comfort of a Phryne Fisher glamorous experience to keep me going just that bit longer...

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49. National Bookshop Day! August 13

I'm lying in bed posting to the world on my little iPad. And it's early on the morning of August 13 and it's also Nation Left-hander Day, so I win on both counts. Go southpaws!

Famous lefthanders? Off the top of my head, Leonardo Da Vinci, though he may have been ambidextrous.  Also, looking it up, I see so many others that I need to choose just a few. President Barack Obama. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Albert Einstein. Bill Gates. Charlie Chaplin. Michelangelo. Marilyn Monroe. Angelina Jolie. Two of the Apollo 11 astronauts - Armstrong and Aldrin. Joan of Arc. Benjamin Franklin... I can't find any writers so far, let me know if you know of one. You notice how many creative people are on that list? I think it's to do with the right-hand side of the brain, the creative side, which is linked with left-handedness.

On this day was born Cecil B DeMille, who gave us so many spectacular films. I believe his crowd scenes were the best, because he was known to stop an extra and say things like, "So, why are you crossing this marketplace in such a hurry? Maybe you're going to get your sandal fixed and are in a hurry because you need to get home to cook dinner for your little boy..." He treated them as actors, in other words. Individùals. 

On this day died the amazing Romantic artist Eugene Delacroix. He did some of my favourite paintings of the Romantic era. Scenes from history. Scenes from fiction. Horses! Oh, wow, those horses! And one cheeky bit where he slotted himself into the painting "Liberty Leading The People." He's the young man with the tall hat, carrying a gun, next to Lady Liberty. 

Liberty Leading The People by Eugene Delacroix. Public Domain.


And now, to the book shops. In no special order, some of my favourites over the years. To keep it simple, I'll mainly stick to Melbourne. 

Cosmos bookshop, where I went as a child and a teen, in Acland Street, St Kilda. Still there, though now it's on the other side of the road and has become a Reading's. I remember taking up skating as my sport in high school, though I never did get the hang of it, just so I could walk home through Acland Street, buy a gelato and browse in Cosmos. It was a small family business, though these days I don't recall seeing the same staff twice in a row. But I don't go as often. And it us much bigger in its current location. 

Sunflower Bookshop, in Glenhuntly Road, Elsternwick. That, too, had two locations within a few shops of each other. The owners, Brian and Noreen Ormsby, were my favourite booksellers when I was in my early twenties. Brian would show me a book, exclaiming, "You've got to read this!" And he had good taste - he introduced me to the works of Tanith Lee, among others. In later years, the shop was bought by a mother and daughter - the daughter once showed me one of my own books when I was shopping for the library - and thereafter, promoted them all. They moved out and the shop was repainted in dull charcoal grey. It lasted a long time and one of the staff was a teacher-librarian who did a great job with the children's books, probably just as well, as the shop itself was too depressing in colour for my taste. However, it specialised in Judaica, which made it handy when I needed a new Bible, my mother having appropriated the old one I was given as a child, and I even got one with Hebrew in one side, English on the other, very useful for looking up what the Bible really said in any specific passage! How disappointed all those YA fantasy novelists would be to find out that their half-angel heroes/heroines were not based on a word in the Bible that actually means ,"distinguished men." 
Anyway, the shop is still there, but has become another of my favourites- 

The Avenue bookshop. It was renovated, the depressing charcoal grey is gone and there's some wood panelling among the shelves. The place is full of air and light and once more a bookshop to enjoy browsing in. And the loyalty card is great - you can even get points for a gift voucher, something other shops don't do. They actually gift wrap  the gift vouchers in boxes! The window still has a children's section, which is nice. 

During my teens, I had a favourite secondhand shop, way up in Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD. Penn's bookshop is long gone. It was one of those bookshops right out of The Neverending Story,  where you could buy 19th century editions of the classics, some of which I still have. And they were cheap! How else could a schoolgirl on only a little pocket money afford them? 

The closest I can think of now is Syber's. Actually, there are two Syber's bookshops, run by a husband and wife, David and Penny, but since David moved his out of St Kilda, I haven't seen it again; you have to go there, you can't just wander in, and I don't have the time. So I'm thinking of Penny's shop, right opposite Windsor Railway Station, just down the road from the classic Art Deco Astor Cinema. I can browse, buy and catch a tram home. There's usually a cat in the window or near it, as Penny keeps her pets with her. I must admit, I'm more likely to browse the SF and fantasy paperbacks, but there are quite a lot of traditional secondhand bookshop books on the other shelves. Not quite Penn's, but as close to it as you can get these days. 

There's all those science fiction bookshops I used to love - gone, gone, gone! Minotaur is still there, bigger than ever, in the Melbourne CBD, but it now makes its money mostly from pop culture stuff and comics. It feels too commercial to me and I mostly only go there now for something specific I can't find elsewhere. It did start as a smaller, more personal shop in an arcade. No longer! 

There was a wonderful shop called Space Age Books, where fans used to gather every Friday before the Melbourne SF Club meetings. Unfortunately, too many of them were just there to socialise, not to buy. But I bought. And it was the place where famous writers would come for book signings and to meet their fans after appearing at a convention. I met Frank Herbert of Dune fame there, and it arranged a one-day con with Harry Harrison as the guest. 

It died, eventually. The elderly owner is still around, retired, attending the occasional convention. He was one of a bunch of young men who started local fandom in the 1950s; one of that group went into politics and became our Arts Minister in the 80s. He was still doing a fanzine! 

After a few years of being something else, the site became Slow Glass Books, also a wonderful SF bookshop. It didn't last long; the owner, Justin, did open a shop in the suburbs for a while, but now only works online and at conventions. 

Another SF bookshop in the city was Of Science And Swords - small and delightful, it was in an arcade. The owners were brothers. They knew their stuff. I'd wander into the shop in the mood for hard SF or space opera and get good advice. One of the staff, Christopher Ruz, is a writer. We follow each other on Twitter.  The shop moved to bigger premises, but didn't last long there. It's gone too. The last time I entered, there was a pop culture shop that didn't sell books at all. 

Fan and writer Chuck McKenzie started a fabulous bookshop, Notions Unlimited, out in the seaside suburbs. It was so very like Slow Glass, I made time to go there. There were comfy chairs and tables, and a regular game playing group. There was a bay for small press books, which form much of Australia's local SF publishing scene. Everything else you can buy is either from overseas or Fat Fantasy Trilogies. 

Gone, alas! I think it lasted two or three years. I bought a lot of related non-fiction there. 

Finally, for today, my favourite bookshop of all: Collected Works, in the Art Deco Nicholas Building in the Melbourne CBD. It's run by a poet. It sells classics and books on everything from architecture to anthropology, but there's a spec fic bay, where I discovered how many writers famous for other things wrote horror fiction and ghost stories - Rudyard Kipling, D.K Broster, even sweet Edith Nesbit,who wrote those charming children's books, such as Five Children And It. Who'd have thought it? I've found a collection of Louisa May Alcott stories, the kind of blood-and-thunder ones she had Jo write in Little Women, and books of mythology and several bios of the Inklings and even Alice B Toklas's book about her adventures in France, complete with recipes, including the one for hash brownies. (The owner admits he tried that once, in his youth, out of curiosity). 

So, do you have a favourite bookshop,you'd like to share?

And happy Bookshop Day! 

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50. ANOTHER Ben-Hur Movie!

Silent movie version. Public Domain.


I stumbled across the trailer when I was reading a newspaper article on-line - about Donald Trump, of all things! It was the advertising added to the video footage about Trump.

I never thought it could be done, considering how expensive the first one was, but ... I guess that in this day and age, you can do an awful lot with CGI, making it less expensive.

The movie hasn't had much of a rating in IMDB, but how can I let it go, when it comes out?

I've seen the original, made in 1907, one day in the city. It was Easter and they showed the 1907 version, the 1925 version and the chariot race from the Charlton Heston version.

The original movie was only ten minutes long. I vaguely recall, it had a cast of dozens and ended with the (two-chariot) chariot race. It's actually played a part in history by having gotten its makers into trouble for copyright breach,  so they created a law to make sure it didn't happen again.

And it was hilarious, by our standards. I don't know if it's on YouTube, but worth looking.

The 1925 version, with Ramon Navarro, was actually not bad. I think it went for about two hours, quite impressive for that day and age.

Francis X Bushman played Messala. I read somewhere that he went for advice to Will S Hart, who'd played the role in the Broadway play(and who later became a well-known cowboy star in silent movies). Hart advised him to take the role, saying something along the lines of, "It's the best part in the play! They made me play Ben-Hur once and it made me sick - I couldn't wait to get back to playing Messala again!"

Carmel Myers, who played the vamp, Iras the Egyptian(left out of the later movie) was a rabbi's daughter. Iras is the daughter of Balthasar, one of the Three Wise Men. He has come back looking for the child he once gave presents in that stable, and brought his daughter with him. She falls in love with Messala, abandons her Dad and later regrets her choice.

I remember that from the book, which I read as a child, because it had all that spectacle in it and lots of horses and I was, after all, a little girl longing for a pony... In the novel, as I recall, Ben-Hur's chariot team were bays, not white. But white does look more spectacular in a film - wonder what they'll do in this version? From the looks of the trailer they may be white again, or maybe dapple-grey?

The 1950s version was amazingly beautiful to watch, and that chariot race was breathtaking. It's also the version where, so we heard in The Celluloid Closet, Stephen Boyd, the Irish actor playing Messala, asked how he should handle the scene where he and Ben-Hur first meet again after all those years and was told, "Play it like he's your lover - but don't tell Chuck!"

Is it apocryphal? I don't know, but it makes a good story, and it was told in the film by one of the script-writers. And every time I've watched that scene again, I can't help noticing it - Stephen Boyd really does look as if he's gazing at his lover!

The thing is, I had been enjoying it for the spectacle and for the distinguished cast members such as Jack Hawkins and Frank Thring. Sorry, I know he got an Oscar for the lead role, but Charlton Heston, in my opinion, was very pretty, but not the best actor in the world. His Moses was just as awful. Just my personal opinion, so please, any Heston fans out there, don't kill me! But oh, he was pretty! In all fairness, the lines he got were not that good; he actually did well in Planet Of The Apes, where he had a decent script. And yes, he did make quite a good Michelangelo in The Agony And The Ecstasy, although I'm remembering it from a long time ago.

I went to see the movie one day at the wonderful Astor Cinema, which has the biggest screen in Victoria, and took along my friend Bart, a Catholic, who had never seen it before. Afterwards, discussing it with him, I realised that in his eyes, it was just a Sunday school lesson, not one of the great epics of cinema history.

It hasn't had quite the same feel for me ever since.

The novel was indeed a Sunday school story.  I think it could probably do with some pruning, beginning with the opening scene, where the shepherds see a great light, etc. and the Wise Men come along looking for that stable. It began with a long description of the territory where the shepherds were watching their flocks by night, then the shepherds themselves, then the Wise Men's camels...

It was also interesting in that it's the first time I read the word "voluptuous" applied to a young man, Ben-Hur as a teenager (oh, yes, in the novel he and Messala were teenagers in the early chapters). I asked my English teacher the meaning of the word and she described it as being big, perhaps a little bit too big, ie overweight. So I tend to snicker when slush stories I read describe a character as being "slim but voluptuous."

Nevertheless, it does have a lot of dramatic set pieces. There's the fight at sea. The chariot race. The drama of the Crucifixion. Even reading it, I could almost hear the music, see the crowds...

Hey, I was a child who loved ancient history - anything to read a historical novel!

Just saying, by the way, there weren't any galley slaves in ancient Rome - as I discovered in my reading. The rowers were free sailors, though one of the lower ranks in the Roman navy.

So much for one of the most famous scenes in Ben-Hur!

Ah, well, I guess I'll go see the new one anyway. Morgan Freeman plays Sheik Ilderim and I gather he gets to do a lot more than Hugh Griffith did in the Heston version, though guess what? He got Best Supporting Actor in the Oscars that year and he was delightful in the role. But if Morgan Freeman is playing it, it's going to be dignified, as the trailer seems to suggest. Anything with Morgan Freeman!

I'll see if I can get someone other than Bart to come along, unless, as usual, he's read some interesting things about it. I couldn't put him through another Sunday school story.

Anyone else thinking of going?






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