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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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By: Sue Bursztynski,
Lots of battles! Too many, in my opinion. Never mind
1399: Henry IV, the subject of a lot of literature(Three plays by Shakespeare, if you count Richard II, plenty of novels) is proclaimed King of England.
1791: First performance of Mozart's gorgeous opera, The Magic Flute. There's also a Marion Zimmer Bradley novel inspired by it. Being MZB, of course, she had to be terribly serious about it. Can't recall the title.
1955: Death of young actor James Dean, at the start of a promising career. Jack Dann's novel, The Rebel, is an alternative universe tale in which he survived.
1913 Screenwriter Bill Walsh. Never heard of him? Well, if you saw Walt Disney movies in your childhood, you've probably seen at least one of his films. The Absent-Minded Professor and its sequel, Son Of Flubber. Mary Poppins. The Love Bug. Bedknobs And Broomsticks. And more.
1924 Truman Capote. I bet you've heard of him, even if you've never read his work. I have just learned that he was not only a childhood friend of Harper Lee, he was the inspiration for the character of Dill in To Kill A Mockingbird and some of his experiences were written into the novel.
There are some writers, including a number of spec fic writers but I haven't heard of them, so I'll add one death, in 1987, Alfred Bester, a big name spec fic writer, who was honoured in Babylon 5, by having a villain named after him, the Psi-Cop Alfred Bester. The telepath situation in the series is similar to that in his fiction.
And today, never mind what the Blogger date says, is International Blasphemy Day, when you are encouraged to go and say something rude about religion! :-)
By: Sue Bursztynski,
In yesterday's ASIM list, I read the sad news below. I posted it to the official ASIM blog, but thought it might also be worth posting it here. Eugie isn't the first ASIM writer to pass away in the last year. We also lost the delightful Gitte Christensen, who will, I hope, be the subject of another post.
Sad news this time. Sorry to hear that Eugie Foster (an author we published in ASIM) has lost her fight with cancer.
Eugie Foster, author, editor, wife, died on September 27th of respiratory failure at Emory University in Atlanta.
In her forty-two years, Eugie lived three lifetimes. She won the Nebula award, the highest award for science fiction literature, and had over one hundred of her stories published. She was an editor for the Georgia General Assembly. She was the director of the Daily Dragon at Dragon Con, and was a regular speaker at genre conventions. She was a model, dancer, and psychologist. She also made my life worth living.
Memorial service will be announced soon.
We do not need flowers. In lieu of flowers, please buy her books and read them. Buy them for others to read until everyone on the planet knows how amazing she was.
--Matthew M. Foster (husband)
Issues of ASIM in which Eugie appeared:
Issue 14 Body And Soul Art
Issue 18 The Life And Times Of Penguin
Issue 37 The Better To...
The first on the list, from an issue edited by Zara Baxter, is still available on the web, including in ebook, so it must have been a story of which she was proud. The third story is one I got in slush. It's a futuristic version of Little Red Riding Hood, as I recall, though not played for laughs, with a male RRH character.
Condolences to the family - and to the spec fic community, who have lost far too many storytellers in recent years.
By: Sue Bursztynski,
Today is my great-nephew Jonah's third birthday. When he was born, I couldn't get the "Jonah-Man Jazz" out of my head and found it on YouTube.
But today, my dearest Jonah, I will find some famous events and birthdays for you. Not all of them are going to be book-related, since there are so few, but all of them will be interesting - and as colourful as I can find.
On This Day:
1066 - William of Normandy sets off to conquer England. (They'll teach you all this in Year 8)
1822 - Jean-Francois Champollion announces he's translated the Rosetta Stone. The Rosetta Stone was a stone found in Egypt that had three forms of writing on it - Greek, Egyptian "demotic" script and hieroglyphics. Now, in those days they could read Ancient Greek and demotic script, but not hieroglyphics. It was nothing very exciting, just something about the new king, but the thing is, it was the same decree in both the known scripts, so Champollion figured the hieroglyphs probably said the same thing. Tad da! Code cracked! Ever since then, when someone mentions that "this is the Rosetta Stone of..." whatever, it's about code cracking.
1905 - First publication of a blues song, this one called "Memphis Blues"
1998 - Google is launched!
Birthdays On This Day
John Marsden, author of the Tomorrow When The War Began series and lots more. How cool is THAT!
Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting, which was turned into a classic movie.
And because I couldn't find any other writers I'd heard of, I'm slotting in an actor, Greg Morris, who played the technician Barney in the original Mission Impossible series - his son was in the remake, which was filmed here in Australia, as Barney's son, and his Dad made an guest appearance in the series as Barney.
Today is also World Tourism Day, which is kind of nice, since Jonah's Dad, my nephew Mark, is a travel agent when he isn't performing with his rock band or composing new songs. This year's theme is Tourism And Community Development.
Happy birthday, Jonah!
By: Sue Bursztynski,
And I have bought it from iBooks!
I was thinking abut wat I might read for Banned Books Week before it's quite over when I suddenly remembered tat this amazing book is now available in digital form. Wondering if it was out yet, I opened iBooks at a bus stop... And there it was!
This is a book of which I will never tire. The students at my school do ask for it now and then. The only copy we had was a battered old paperback with the same yellow colour as it had when I was in my teens.
I must add it to my shopping list.
I know that some of my favourite students who had to study it didn't like it, which is a pity, but one of them, Ryan, chose it for his Banned Books Week reading - and he read it well and chose a very good bit that said something of what the book is about.
It's about so many things - not only racism, but growing up - and it's not only sad, it's funny and gentle and it also makes a point about prejudice against people who are simply different.
In The Help, one of the maids, who ges to clean at the home of a woman who has been snubbed by the community. By the bedside, she finds a copy of Mockingbird, which was new at te time hen the vl is set.
It also has mentions in various other books, such as another wonderful banned book my students were loving, The Perks Of Bring A Wallflower, in which the hero is reading a bunch of classics as extensions English. Even if I didn't like the book, I'd be pleased at how many classics are discussed in this one.
And there's a cheeky reference to the film in Pleasantville - no, I won't ell you, get yourself a copy from the video library and watch.
Any other Mockingbird fans out there?
By: Sue Bursztynski,
Okay, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, the issue I edited, has actually been out since June, when we took it to Continuum 10, the Natcon. But you could only get it at conventions, because the ebook was not yet done and until the book version was available, it couldn't go up on the ASIM website, in the shop.
I am so very pleased. I have already informed my contributors, some of whom wanted to update their websites, some who wanted to let their family and friends buy copies.
Anyway, it's a gorgeous issue. The cover is inspired by a story in the issue, "Callista's Delight", and shows the planet Mars in the first steps of being terraformed. The artist, Eleanor Clarke, offered me three possible covers, but this was the most breathtakingly beautiful.
The stories and internal art(by award winner and all round nice guy Lewis Morley) are also amazing.
By: Sue Bursztynski,
I have only just heard about this from someone on the Andromeda Spaceways list. If you write speculative fiction or have ambitions in that direction and live in Melbourne, you might like to try Marianne De Pierres's Masterclass this weekend. It will be on in Geelong on Saturday and at Melbourne's Wheeler Centre, which is at the side/ back of the State Library in the city. It's $180 for an all-day workshop, well worth doing.
I first met Marianne at the Aussiecon 3 writers' workshop, where we all had to send in 4500 words of a work in progress, read it and discuss. I missed a lot of that workshop because I had to go off and arrange Terry Pratchett's talk to the children, but I do remember how nice she was. She has since visited my school for free and talked to my book club and popped up stuff about it on her web site.And
is a big name local writer who has created some amazing worlds from cyberpunk to space opera to YA dystopia. Onya, Marianne!
Do go if you can!
Here's the link for you - you can book online.http://writersvictoria.org.au/what-s-on/event/spec-fic-masterclass/
By: Sue Bursztynski,
Years ago, I used to go regularly to my favourite SF bookshop, Space Age, where I bought some of the books that are among my most prized possessions, and recordings that would probably be worth a mint on eBay these days.
When that closed, we eventually got Slow Glass on the same site. Slow Glass, like Space Age, was a shop where SF fans could congregate before meetings, where writers would sometimes come to do signings. It was brighter and less musty than Space Age.
That too closed when the landlord tripled the rent, as they tend to do when they want to get rid of a tenant and replace them with a fast food joint; the owner, Justin Ackroyd, did open a small shop somewhere in the suburbs, which I never saw and which was open odd hours according to who had to look after the child at the time. Justin is still in business but online and at conventions, where I have to say he always brings my books.
Still, it's not a bookshop. And much as I love my ebooks, there is something about browsing in a shop that downloading just can't match.
For a while, there was Of Science And Swords in the CBD - gone.
But then, out in the suburbs again, was the wonderful Notions Unlimited, run by that very funny man, Chuck McKenzie. I couldn't go regularly, because it was in the outer suburbs. But whenever I went, I'd buy $80 or so worth of books, if not more. It was like having Slow Glass back. It had a lot of classics, some small press books and non fiction which I bought eagerly. There was a Dalek and a comfy chair area around a coffee table where games were played on the weekends.
This is the thing about fans. I don't know about the game players at NU, who were, after all, doing what they had been invited to do and no doubt bought plenty of books, but quite often, when a place becomes a centre for fannish gatherings, the fans gather and socialise and don't actually buy anything. And it's not that they have no money, more likely that they spent it on something else, somewhere else. Games. The latest season of their favourite TV show. Something on eBay. Or they simply couldn't be bothered waiting for an ordered book to arrive, when they could get it quicker online.
Now this wonderful shop is closed, with no plans to reopen anywhere else, and it's our fault for not supporting a local business. Even friends I urged to go along and try it didn't want to bother travelling to that side of the city, though it was close to the station.
It had been in trouble for a while and I admit I always wondered how long it would last in that
location. In the suburbs, you can't discover a shop you wander past, you have to go there - and this
one was in an arcade. You had to know it was there.
Still, a lot of us did know it was there. And now it's not and all we have left is Minotaur, which is just too big and commercial for my tastes. It used to be a fannish shop, but no longer.
Maybe that's why it has survived.
By: Sue Bursztynski,
It's amazing what you can get free, legally, on the Internet's book sites. Would you believe there are items on Project Gutenberg that you would never have thought were out of copyright?
I have been able to download early novellas by the likes of Poul Anderson, Fritz Leiber and Harry Harrison. Do you like the Stainless Steel Rat, Slippery Jim DiGriz? There's a story called "The Misplaced Battleship" on Gutenberg. I also found his short story "The Repairman". There are some Fritz Leiber stories I have read and loved before and am pleased to have in ebook form, "The Big Time" and "No Great Magic". I have both of these in a collection somewhere on my shelves, but it's nice to be able to carry them around on my cybershelves. I've also found some I'd never heard of. Can't wait to read them!
There are, of course, the classics. I found an Andrew Lang book I didn't know about - Lang did all those fairy books back in the nineteenth century and I have his edition of Kirk's Secret Commonwealth of Elves(I did have to pay for that one a while back, but it was worth it - you could read it online, but I prefer ebooks). This one is called Helen Of Troy; I've been back in the mood for things Trojan since my nephew Mark rang me last week, asking for evidence of the Trojan War, to help with an assignment he was doing for uni. I found him some good web sites and then felt hungry for Trojan War stuff myself.
There's The Scarlet Pimpernel, which I'm having great fun rereading. It has occurred to me that both Percy and Marguerite are blonde, something I've never seen in any film version - the closest was the telemovie with Anthony Andrews, who is blonde, and Jane Seymour, who isn't, but made a lovely Marguerite. Mr Andrews, incidentally, is the only actor who's played Ivanhoe who fits Walter Scott's description of the character. That was a great telemovie, by the way. It was generally well-cast, in my opinion, with Olivia Hussey as a gorgeous Rebecca, Sam Neill as Brian De Bois-Gilbert, James Mason as Isaac of York, Lysette Anthony as a wonderfully whining Rowena and Athelstane played perfectly by the actor who played Arthur's Saxon foster brother Cei in Arthur Of The Britons. And a Robin Hood who could have done his own Robin Hood movie.
I've downloaded John Buchan's The Thirty Nine Steps, which I read years ago. It will make a fun reread. And Andre Norton's All Cats Are Gray, which came with the original SF magazine cover.
It's worth looking in the iBooks store because there's often a first-of-a-series offered free temporarily by publishers. I managed to get hold of Kerry Greenwood's first Corinna Chapman novel, Earthly Delights, which was being offered free that week. I have it, I've read it, but this is a series I read and reread. There was a first of a series Jessica Shirvington novel being offered free this week. This is an author I haven't read, but our students like her, so time to check her out.
This week I discovered why the University of Adelaide web site is able to offer free ebooks of Joephine Tey's books: they're out of copyright in Australia. The books are not the best; the covers don't show title or author and the text is crude. But they're free if you live here and better than Australian Gutenberg, which doesn't offer mobi or ePub, only HTML which you have to read online, text or zipped versions which you have to unzip and can then read in Pages. There are ways to convert, but too much bother.
The Baen web site is worth checking out. It offers some ebooks by their authors free. These are mostly temporary, so good to go back now and then to see what's up.
I did buy some books this week. I'm enjoying the Agatha Raisin whodunnits, by MC Beaton, who aso wrote Hamish Macbeth, and also bought Keith Roberts' Pavane, through SF Gateway, a project that is digitalising quite a few classics.
A nice haul this week!
By: Sue Bursztynski,
For me, in the Southern Hemisphere, it's September 20, though Blogger, a Northern Hemisphere program, will stick September 19 above this post. Ignore it. I'm going to write about September 20, okay?
There is no real literary-related stuff happening on September 20 in history, so here is the closest I can get: on this day, the Greeks defeated the Persians in the Battle of Salamis, in 480 BCE. A lot of stuff has been written about that, starting with Herodotus, the "Father of History" and one of the veterans of that battle was Aeschylus, one of the big three playwrights of ancient Athens.
There's plenty more if you like wars, plagues, suicide bombings and such, plus a mention of the creation of the first petrol-fuelled car, leading to the great age of pollution and fights over oil that we all know and love, but I might skip it. I only mentioned Salamis because there was a famous writer fighting in it.
Let's get on to the birthdays.
There was Arthur, Prince of Wales, born in 1486, to Elizabeth of York and that nasty man Henry VII. Imagine how much would never have been written if the poor boy had survived to become king instead of his brother Henry VIII! I mean, really. The history of Europe would have been so very different, whether for good or ill. A lot of people writing about the reign of Henry would never have had the chance. For starters, no Wolf Hall
and Bringing Up The Bodies
. ;-). No Six Wives Of Henry VIII
. No Anne Boleyn websites. No opera Anna Bolena
. Though, knowing Henry, he would have found his own ways to power, even if he was just the kid brother of King Arthur. And maybe Alison Weir and Hilary Mantel would have found plenty of material about the reign of Arthur to inspire them. Still, we'd have missed a lot of literary enjoyment.
Then there's Steve Gerber, a big man in the world of comic book writing, specifically Marvel comics. He's dead, alas, but did a lot during his lifetime, quite apart from his creation Howard the Duck. He has an entry in Wikipedia if you want to look him up for his long list of works.
Today, September 20, is also the birthday of George R R Martin, author of the great mediaeval epic fantasy soap opera The Game Of Thrones! If you don't know about him, you have been hiding under a rock. Who would have thought when I read the first novel of the series back when it first came out, that t would go on to be so huge? To be honest, while I do like it - it has such a wonderful feel of grubby "real" Middle Ages - there are other books of his I like better.
One of them, Fevre Dream is unlikely ever to be made into a TV series, unless they want something to follow up GOT once it's finished. There are some hints on the Internet that they might be able to get some interest in a film rather than a series. I'll believe that when I see it. It's standalone, not too thick, and it has vampires in it, but Martin's vampires are a race, not undead. One of them who is tired of killing, has come up with a formula that will enable vampires to avoid drinking human blood. He orders a magnificent paddle-steamer built so he can travel up the Mississippi river finding other vamps with his attitude to join him. It's set in the pre Civil War era because, as Martin said at a Melbourne con I attended, it was a time when slaves could be killed easily without anyone asking questions. Another Martin book I like better than GOT is the delicious Tuf Voyaging, a series of connected short stories set in a seed ship travelling through space, with the title character and his many cats. A good book for SF reading cat lovers!
It's also the birthday of Keith Roberts, author of the wonderful alternative universe novel Pavane, a classic of AU fiction, which starts with the assassination of Queen Elizabeth I and goes on to speculate on a world in which the Church rules.
Today is the birthday of the totally un-writing-related Sophia Loren, but what the heck! Such a beautiful woman and fine actress!
There are a number of Christian feast days, but it's also the seventh day of the Eleusinian Mysteries, which play a big part in literature. Mary Renault's The King Must Die is in there, among others. That's a wonderful book I first read when I was about twelve. My copy is falling apart. I'm holding out for the ebook which isn't yet on iBooks, though some of her other books are.
So, what do you think of this day in history?
By: Sue Bursztynski,
This evening I had an email from my publisher, Paul Collins of Ford Street Publishing, to say that you can now buy Crime Time:Australians Behaving Badly from Amazon, both in paperback and for Kindle. Yay! About time!
Apparently, if you buy it in paperback from Amazon, they'll sell you the ebook much cheaper.
Not sure how many people would want to buy both but hey, you can always give the paperback
as a gift to the child in your life and enjoy the ebook yourself.
If you prefer ePub, iBooks already
has it in this part of the world and I imagine the US page
will be taking pre-orders already and selling in a few days -
Paul assured me it would be up on iBooks -presumably
the US iBooks page - soon.
I'm quite excited. This is one book that I worked my guts out on and for which I had such high hopes
and it made so few sales it never earned back its advance despite excellent reviews and the fact that
when kids saw it, they wanted it. Not sure how well it will do in the US, where it's likely to
get banned for violence(well, it IS a history of crime, what are you expecting, fairies and butterflies?).
But the thing is, neither bookshops nor the distributor website knew what to do with it or where to put it. The cover, which was designed by Grant Gittus, who did the posters for the Word Science Fiction Convention, is simply gorgeous, but it made the book end up in adult true crime. I remember asking in Borders for the section on crime and the young salesman saying,"What, in the CHILDREN'S section?" On the distributor's website it was under non fiction. Even my local library put it in the wrong section till I told them it was a children's book.
So this new thing gives me some hope that there will be a new lot of reviews, including some overseas. And maybe some sales.
There's a sample chapter on this site(check out the side of this page) both in HTML and in ePub, in case you want to see what you're getting - well, you can do that on iBooks anyway, and Amazon gives you a peek inside too. But this is a favourite chapter of mine, about the April Fool's Day blunder by two dimwitted robbers.
I will probably do a Goodreads giveaway to celebrate even though I have had little luck with giveaways in the past.
I also have some great bookmarks, both Crime Time and Wolfborn, for consolation prizes.
What do you think? Should I do another giveaway?
By: Sue Bursztynski,
Four this week. I downloaded Anh Do's The Happiest Refugee because my school is considering replacing Deadly Unna, which has been the Year 9 text for some years, with this one. I admit I was offered a copy for reviewing and never got around to it. It didn't seem to be for kids. Let's see how I go with the ebook.
I once read and loved The Three Musketeers and yesterday it was on TV, the old version withGene Kelly as D'Artagnan, June Allyson as Constance and Lana Turner as Milady.and, I think, Vincent Price being a villain as usual. I confess I prefer the later version with Oliver Reed as Athos and Michael York as D'Artagnan. And Charlton Heston, of all people, as Richelieu! But the book is wonderful. I got it from Project Gutenberg.
Harry Potter's Bookshelf by John Granger looks promising as a discussion of the great books behind the Potter series. We'll see.
Lastly, I've just downloaded an anthology called Firebirds Rising with some of my favourite fantasy writers including the likes of Charles De Lint, Kara Dalkey, Tanith Lee, Nina Kiriki Hoffman and Pamela Dean and there's even a story in there by Aussie Alison Goodman, whom I've known since we were on the Aussiecon 3 committee together and who first mentioned Harry Potter to me. I've watched her career as she's gone on to become someone who can make a living from her writing, something very few Australian writers can claim - even the fabulous Ambelin Kwaymullina, author fthe Tribe series, has, like me, a full time day job as a teacher! Alison made her first school visit to talk to my very first book club; she wanted the practice, so I invited her to talk to the four Year 12 students who were coming along to book club meetings. I'll look forward to reading her story in Firebirds Rising.
When I've read some more Aurealis books, anyway. I'm currently reading about the adventures of a child fairy called Daisy. Have to get those finished, then the John Flanagan Brotherband novel.
By: Sue Bursztynski,
Here I am, in the middle of the Aurealis judging and I'm re-reading. I have read as far as I can with the books I have - I won't read the new Brotherband
book till I've caught up with the others, I'm getting there... Still have Brotherband
3 to read before picking up 4. This week a courier left a message on my doormat, so I will have to phone before I can get my next bunch of books.
But I discovered that my old Elizabeth Scarborough favourite, the Songkiller Saga, is available in ebook, only $3.99 a volume. I remember discovering the first volume, The Phantom Banjo, on a remainders table. It wasn't out of print. Ironically, the only volume I had trouble getting was the final one, Strum Again?
Finally, though, I had the lot, and what a story it was, with Hell deciding to wipe out folk music because it kept humans hopeful. Folk musicians forget the words or are killed off, the entire Library of Congress archive is burned down. It only seems to be happening in the US for the time being, though, so a bunch of intrepid musicians escape to Britain, where their songs came from, to retrieve them.
I have always loved folk music, but this trilogy opened my eyes to just how much there is out there, including some songs that I hadn't realised were traditional or that were from places other than the British Isles. The books of Charles De Lint have also done this for me, and he gets a brief mention in this series. I ended up buying a lot of CDs as a result of reading these books - Songkiller and De Lint alike(I had the privilege of doing a panel with him once, at a Swancon, and hearing him and his wife jamming with Anne Poore, a local harpist)
So now I'm re-reading and loving it just as much as the first time around. I may just download some more Scarborough books when I've finished. She's written some lovely stuff over the years and I haven't read all of it.
By: Sue Bursztynski,
If you take a look at the side of this page, among all the links to my reviewing policy and such, you'll find some things I've ebooked for you and put on Dropbox. I don't know how long it has been since anyone downloaded any of them - it's too easy not to notice stuff on the side - but there's some good stuff there. There are free samples from two of my books. There are some of my published stories. There is a book of interviews with the likes of Juliet Marillier and Marianne De Pierres, Charlie Higson and Mark Walden and Melbourne writer Gabrielle Wang and CBCA judges Tehani Wessely and Miffy Farqharson. There's a little book of student writing so you know what good stuff is happening in the western suburbs of Melbourne.
Help yourself! And do let me know what you think.
By: Sue Bursztynski,
Some months ago, I posted to ask for new members of the ASIM Association. We got some and have some wonderful new team members.
Now, we need some more slush readers. Actually, we always need more slush readers!
Really, considering how few slush readers there are, we get through an awful lot of submissions. Hundreds a month. Thousands a year. Some are very short, others up to 20,000 words! Some of us are reading unlimited weekly submissions and still Lucy the slush wrangler tells me she has twenty parked in her files that she can't send out. I only read three a week, six in an emergency, but I have books to read for the Aurealis Awards. I can't take on any more.
How about it, my readers? Ever thought you'd like to see behind the scenes of a publishing enterprise? Have you wondered how we sort through stories submitted, perhaps including yours?Here's your chance to find out, and to have your say in what goes up to the next round of reading.
Even if you want to go on submitting your work, that's fine; we read all stories blind. And you'd learn what we want and what we don't.
You don't have to live in Australia or be an expert. You just have to love speculative fiction.
We can't pay you, only add your name to the list at the end of each issue. But it's a good thing to add to your résumé and if you do happen to be looking for a job in publishing, a good way to keep your hd in while you look.
If you're interested please email Lucy Zinkiewicz at email@example.com.
By: Sue Bursztynski,
Disclaimer: I received this book for judging of the Aurealis Awards children's section. Anything I say in this review is my own opinion and nothing to do with the awards, the Aurealis committee or the children's section of the AAs. It's just me, because I couldn't resist reviewing. It's what I do.
Teenager Bram Argent comes home from school one day to find his parents are gone. He knows what this means: his mother, a brilliant AI scientist, has done something that has gone out of control. She needs three weeks to put it right. The family has an agreed plan for what Bram should do if this happens.
With a schoolfriend, Stella, and a wisecracking AI toy duck called Bob, he is now on the run, at least till his parents have done what needs doing to stop the crazed virtual being Ahriman...
Who has seen the Dr Who episode Terror Of The Autons
? In the 1970s, when it was made, there was a common product that was simply everywhere - plastic. Anything from a garden hose to a plastic daffodil could attack you and a comfy chair could get too
comfortable and swallow you!
Have a guess what the "simply-everywhere" product is now? Right! The Internet. Wifi. Everything is linked up. Even a pool cleaner can be connected. Some time ago I read of a fridge that would let you know when it needed restocking.
Now imagine that pool cleaning hose or fridge being sent after you. A kettle. A coffee machine. A photocopier - anything with links to the WWW - spitting out boiling hot metal. Scary, isn't it?
It's what happens to Bram and Stella. They need to stay alive and running long enough for Mrs Argent to produce something to destroy Ahriman, her own creation. If caught, they will be hostages at best, slaughtered at worst, on the orders of a creature that has become self-aware and wants to take over the world. And its "junkbots" are becoming more and more smooth and properly built.
The book is great fun, with nonstop action and humour. It's not The Laws Of Magic
, but it isn't meant to be. Despite the age of the main characters - fourteen - it's really a middle-grade book, quite accessible and readable to primary school children, who will enjoy it.
By: Sue Bursztynski,
Just saying here that all this is my own opinion and has nothing to do with what the AA judging panel thinks or is deciding! And no, you will not hear from me here any juicy gossip about what we're discussing or who thinks what. This is just about what it's like to be a first-time judge, with bits about the CBCAs.
Judging the Aurealis Awards has been a fascinating experience so far. When I haven't been wrestling with the difficulties of making changes in the spreadsheet I've been reading the submissions for the children's section so far.
It's a mixture, so far, of middle-grade, junior and YA that has probably also been entered for the children's AND fantasy sections to give it a better chance.
I've been finding this all a learning process - there are criteria, of course, including a "yes, but is it really suitable for children of this age?" field in the spreadsheet, but so far, we haven't gone into whether or not books we consider aren't really for younger readers should be judged. And then there's one writer whose books read like YA but are also read by many, many primary school children. Middle grade? I think so. Another whose characters are a bit older than the target audience, but whose book definitely IS middle grade.
Doing this, though, I've come to see the wisdom of dividing into sections. In the CBCA Awards, all the judges have to read ALL the books, totalling in the hundreds. It usually works because the judges are mostly high-profile teacher-librarians who can't stop for a minute and get bored if they have five minutes' break. I've interviewed two on this web site, Miffy Farquharson and Tehani Wessely, and both say they'd do it again without hesitation.
To be honest, I don't think I could. I don't have the knowledge of everything from picture books to literary novels that espouse "beautiful writing" at the expense of story and character. I have a good idea of what my own students enjoy and why, but that's all. And I don't have the time. I really don't. Apart from class preparation and such, reading hundreds of books by other people wouldn't leave time for my own writing. It's also why I limit the number of slush stories I read for ASIM.
But yesterday, when the Little Bookroom sent out a survey from the CBCA on how people feel about the current structure of the awards, and one of the questions was about whether the judging should be split into sections I said that it works for the Aurealis Awards and would give judges the time to focus on the area they know most about instead of trying to judge absolutely everything.
It was an interesting survey that gave me the chance to have my say on a lot of things I've been thinking for years. Politely, of course.
It will be good to see whether anything comes out of it.
By: Sue Bursztynski,
Anyone reading this who knows me personally or has been following this blog for long enough will be aware that I was once a writer of media fan fiction - Star Trek (mostly the original series, though I did write a few crossovers when the first spinoff came out. Just a few. And that was because original-series characters sometimes appeared in STNG). Blake's 7, a series fondly remembered by anyone old enough to have seen it and probably unknown to others, except the occasional child named Cally, Dayna or whoever, after a character in the show. One or two Dr Who stories. Quite a few based on the fantasy series Robin Of Sherwood, though I was put off the fan fic of that universe when so many writers got enthusiastically into The White Goddess for their inspiration. I mean, I love The White Goddess, but you can overdo it. And most of them really hadn't done their research. I at least did. And when I published my own Robin Of Sherwood fanzine, Under The Greenwood Tree, I asked a contributor to rewrite just a bit to fix a glaring historical inaccuracy.
But mostly Star Trek. Today I found an issue of the Austrek club fanzine, SPOCK, which was published until Paramount started to close down fanzines based on the series, in countries where there wasn't the loophole that allowed other countries to continue publishing. While Gene Roddenberry was alive, he allowed it, unofficially. But he was dead.
This one, #57, was edited by Wendy Purcell, a fine artist in the club. In the centre is an art portfolio, by her and others, dedicated to the issue's theme, "the women of Star Trek". I had a story in it, in case you're wondering. It was inspired by the episode "The Enemy Within" in which Captain Kirk is split into two separate people, one totally good, but wimpy, one totally nasty but decisive. My version was set in the nasty Mirror Universe.
I thought it might be fun to go through the table of contents and see who has gone on to bigger and better things.
Helen Sargeant, now known as Helen Patrice, contributed a short piece called "Beginnings". Helen later wrote quite a bit for a women's magazine, Australian Women's Forum. Okay, it was a DIRTY women's magazine - Helen always said that she was good at this particular form of writing and they paid well. Why not? More recently, she has released two volumes of science fiction poetry. Helen was a regular contributor to SPOCK and we even co-edited an issue once.
Tracey Oliphant eventually sold a five book fantasy series under the name Kate Jacoby(there was already a Tracey Oliphant on the publisher's books). Her contribution to this issue was called simply "Chess".
Geoff Allshorn isn't a writer as such these days, but is working on a Master's degree in history.
Robert Jan, another regular contributor, whose work in this issue is in the art portfolio, concentrates on costuming, at which he is very good. He also has a long-running radio show about SF on community radio and interviewed me when Wolfborn came out. I think he may have had some art in the revised, updated edition of the Star Trek Concordance. His partner, Gail Adams, is also a wonderful artist. She has some illustrations in this issue and did the cover. Gail is also a costumer, who produces costumes good enough to wear in the street. Both of them are well known in the fan community.
The biggest success is George Ivanoff who, after doing around sixty books for the education publishing industry, is gradually making a mark in the trade industry. In other words, he's making a living out of his writing, something rare in Australia.
Art was contributed by Marianne Plumridge, some of whose paintings I am lucky enough to own. She married a well-known American cover artist and moved to the States, where she makes money out of her own artwork.
There are others, in other issues, but this is the one I happen to have on me.
I love fan fiction, though not so much what I've read in recent years. Many of my high school students are regular readers of fan fiction online and some write their own. It's nice to know the old, old tradition is continuing and wonderful how much more you can read now, in any universe you like, but it's just not the same. I'm sorry, it's not. I loved the entire process of putting together a fanzine or picking up one at SF events or even from overseas. It was a community thing in a way it isn't now. I'd receive my contributor's copy fanzine and curl up in bed with it to read the latest adventures of whoever the characters were. I think these days the equivalent - at least here in Australia - is the small press stalls you see at every con.
To be honest, the fact that you CAN get so much fan fiction now is as much of a disadvantage as a good thing. It means you have to wade through a good deal of rubbish before you find a story you enjoy. At least the print fanzines acted as a filter, through their editors. You soon got to know which ones were wonderful and which you'd never read again.
And with most fan writers going under pen names it will be a lot harder to work out who has gone on to bigger and better things in the current generation of fan writers, though I'm assured it has happened. One successful YA novelist, I hear, once wrote Harry Potter fan fiction.
I won't know about others, though, unless someone tells me.
Any fan fic fans out there? Anyone who can tell me about former fan writers who are now in print?
**Just thought of one you have probably thought of too, but won't mention her name. You can, though. Go ahead!**
By: Sue Bursztynski,
Remember I said I had this pile of goodies from Random House Australia to review? Well, I've just had a list of the entries so far in the Aurealis Awards and all five of them are on it.
I can still review them, but I will need to put a disclaimer on each review, so the authors don't think either that they've got no chance or that they're going to win for sure. Anything reviewed here is only my own opinion; there is a panel, that's one thing, and I have to judge it according to a set of criteria I've been given, that's another. And those may have nothing to do with my personal opinion of the book.
Just saying, okay?
By: Sue Bursztynski,
Today is July 27 south of the equator, no matter what date you see above this post( Blogger is a northern hemisphere thing). And today is the birthday of my sister's best friend, Huguette, so it seemed a good day to do a meme.
Lean pickings in the events, as far as a book blog is concerned. Lots of battles and disasters, of course, and unpleasant things such as Vincent Van Gogh committing suicide. And to stretch a point, the hero of the Scottish Play lost a battle on this day, to Siward of Northumbria. Well, if Shakespeare could write about him, I can mention him in a book meme.
Born on this day was Alexandre Dumas fils - not the author of The Three Musketeers, that was his Dad, but he wrote lots of plays and The Lady Of The Camellias, novel and play, which became a film(Camille), an opera(La Traviata by Verdi) and a musical film(Moulin Rouge - yes, that Moulin Rouge)
Also Hilaire Belloq, who wrote all those very funny Cautionary Tales for children.
And I'm going to stretch another point and include Simon Jones, the original and best Arthur Dent(sorry,Martin Freeman, though it did make it easier for me to accept you as Bilbo Baggins) in Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy.
There were a couple of writers I'd never heard of. One of them, Joseph Mitchell, I'm going to mention because he is also a character in a computer game!
And in Finland, July 27 is National Sleepyhead Day, in which it's traditional to throw water over the last person out of bed, or throw them into a lake or the sea! Sometimes, if it's a man, he gets the left side of his chest shaved. (Obviously women don't have hairy chests) Every year in the Finnish city of Naantali they throw a celebrity into the sea.
Believe it or not, this bit of silly fun is connected with the story of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, who snoozed away a couple of hundred years in a cave during the persecution of Christians, woke up during a Christian era and promptly dropped dead as soon as they'd found out it was okay to be Christians. Apparently, there's also a Muslim version. Obviously a story with an old heritage, might be interesting to see where it originally came from.
Well, better get up before the family arrive to throw me off St Kilda pier.
By: Sue Bursztynski,
This is the third publication by Christmas Press, and just as beautiful as the others. Like the first two, Two Trickster Tales From Russia by Sophie Masson and Two Selkie Stories From Scotland by Kate Forsyth, it's written by a respected veteran writer of Australan children's books.
Unlike the first two, it's taken from mythology rather than folk tales and mythology is different. It can get nasty. More kudos, then, to Ursula Dubsarsky for managing to adapt stories about characters who in the original myths were not particularly sympathetic, for children! The two stories are about the childhood of Apollo and Artemis and that of Romulus and Remus. It does have to admit that the story of the twins who founded Rome is not one with a very happy ending, but manages to avoid telling the young reader that Romulus murdered his brother. For the Romans, it was terribly important, the story of their founding, and the killing was just a part of it. Myth and legend can be nasty, simple as that.
The art by David Allan is gorgeous, well worth the price of the book, even if it weren't for the stories.
Read it to your young children or let the slightly older ones read it for themselves.
By: Sue Bursztynski,
Yesterday we had our YABBA Ambassador visit. Sherryl Clark spoke to the Year 7 and 8 students and some older ones who came because they were in my book club and wanted to hear her. Some had been reading the books I bought in advance of the visit although nobody actually asked specific questions related to the books they had read and the girl who had asked me if she could ask questions then was too shy to speak them herself, so wrote them down for me to ask on her behalf. But they,too, were general questions. One of my book clubbers couldn't make it due to SRC commitments, but met us in the hallway and told Sherryl how much she had enjoyed the book she'd read.
It was a hectic day for me. I had some drama in my literacy class, felt bad about it and went to seek the child I had upset. Then I rushed to the canteen, which had prepared lunch for me and my guest. Then I hung around, panicking when she was a tiny bit late. What if she had got the dates confused? What if...? I think it was my nerves.
But she turned up a minute later and all went well. She talked about her books and dear me, hasn't she written a huge variety of genres, from short humorous books for younger readers to verse novels and fantasy mysteries for teens. Apparently, her bestseller is her first book, The Too Tight Tutu, which is based on her own experiences as an overweight child doing ballet lessons. With some of her books she has bought back the rights and self published because there was still demand for them but the publishers weren't interested in keeping them in print.
There were some quite good questions from Year 7 and I invited Sherryl to choose a couple of students to receive copies of her books as a reward for the best. I usually do that as an encouragement to get them started, but it wasn't necessary this time, which was nice. You know, nobody wants to be first? Not a problem this time.
After lunch, we returned to the library, where the Year 8 students were even better, and I have to say I was pleased and relieved. We have a lot of difficult students in this year's Year 8 and apart from one or two, whose teachers took them away from the others, they were really very good and asked some great questions, including some of the most difficult students of the lot! In fact, two of the three prizes went to some of our harder-to-handle boys. One of them was so chuffed he showed off his book to the sub school leader who has given him many a detention.
After the session I had students asking to borrow some of Sherryl's books, which I had on a display. Some were out, but others were grabbed.
A successful event all round. Pity I couldn't even get a reply from the local press, but then, for them it's just another ho-hum author-visits-school event, big deal, it happens all the time. I did explain it was a special program run by YABBA, for only twenty-five schools, but no interest.
It's not a ho-hum thing for us. When I first arrived at the school, we had an annual writers' festival. The Principal gave us $2000 for inviting writers to speak. Not a lot, but enough for each campus to have someone, and we supplemented it with free visits from myself and Chris Wheat, my colleague who has written five YA novels. That was a principal who respected us and what we did. There was a college head of library.
Now my budget is half what it was back in the 90s and no college writers' festival. We just don't have the money to bring in guest speakers, so having a freebie like this means a lot to us and our students.
I hate that I can't do more, but never mind, it was a great day, if exhausting. Thank you, Sherryl, and especially thanks, YABBA, for paying for this!
By: Sue Bursztynski,
I have heard of this before, but never got around to it, then I saw it on Susan Price's A Nennius Blog. It sounds like fun, so I thought I'd have a go myself.
The idea is, you go seven pages into your work in progress, count down seven lines and quote the next seven. So here they are from the first draft of my as-yet-incompete novel The Sword And The Wolf(only a working title! Though at a workshop I did at Aussiecon the publisher from Tor said he liked it. But he also invited workshop members to send him their MSS and when a now-well-known writer sent hers she never heard from him).
...But in my wolf shape they were natural and felt good - too good. When I got home that night and climbed into my clothes, I had a good think, as I poked up the fire and warmed a clay cup of mint I'd gathered and allowed to dry. I was having to grow up quickly now and I knew I didn’t want to be helpless in my animal shape. I needed to be in control or it might just turn out to be easier to stay a wolf, never return to humanity. I didn’t want to finish my days just eating and sleeping, or, for that matter, as some lord’s wolfskin cloak. (Whimsically, I wondered if I’d turn back into a human when I died and if the wolfskin cloak would suddenly become girlskin...).
As you might have guessed, it has a werewolf as the main character. It's set in the universe of Wolfborn at an earlier time. The heroine, Lysette, is a Bisclavret, a born werewolf, as they are in my universe. Unlike Lord Geraint in Wolfborn, she's a peasant, though her mother was a little more, as the local wise woman. Her father had been a passing Bisclavret mercenary who'd come and gone. At the start of the novel, her mother has recently died, leaving her alone with a hostile village, whose inhabitants had only put up with her because of her mother's skills. In the opening scene, a bunch of local louts have attempted to rape her - and been unpleasantly surprised when she suddenly turns into a wolf! She escapes, but the only thing the villagers do for her is leave some of her stuff out for her with the implication that they want her gone. At this stage, she has found an abandoned hermitage to live in and is coming to terms with her nature. In the next chapter she finds a Merlin-like mentor quite by accident and sets off on her adventures as his apprentice.
If you're curious, I read from the second chapter on YouTube here.
I thought it might be interesting to at least start with a born werewolf who isn't an aristocrat, though she's soon enough involved with a long-lost prince, a royal-born mentor and the Regent, who doesn't know what to do with his charge having disappeared several years ago. There is a quest to find the missing prince, who will later become the king you meet near the end of Wolfborn. Right now, he's young and attractive, but given who she is and who he is, he can never become the romantic interest with whom she will ride off into the sunset. I am starting to understand the necessity for a triangle in YA fiction! I have created an alternative romantic interest, but I'm struggling and having to stop and go back to insert him properly, the reason why it's taking so very long. If my publisher hadn't been tossed out of her job, I might have taken some time off work to get it done, because she asked me if I had something else to show them, but with no deadline I have simply been playing around with it, in between preparing classes for Year 8 in an area I don't know how to teach.
So, who is Lysette's alternative romantic interest? I decided he'd be a Bisclavret from a family of them, quite comfortable with his identity. It's interesting to sort out a background for a born werewolf who lives in the city, is the son of an army scout and wants to be one himself, though once he gets there he realises that it isn't the respectable career it used to be, what with people turning themselves into werewolves in the service of the Dark One just because the pay and conditions for a werewolf scout are so good. What, I asked myself, would his mother and siblings be doing while Dad was off at war? I thought perhaps his mother might be running a cook shop and then I realised that this might not be the best occupation for a werewolf, especially when everybody knows she's one.
Still working on it. If anyone has a suggestion, feel free to note it here!
By: Sue Bursztynski,
Plays! They suddenly, unexpectedly want us to teach plays in English! I think someone must have said at a meeting I missed late last year, "Hey, why not do plays?" And it was diligently noted and added to the curriculum document without further discussion of how it would be done.
What plays, you might ask? Oh, any play available in the class set room. The English co-ordinator took the trouble to make a list of all the plays available in the school. We have four campuses(Campii?), but not many class sets of anything you can do with Year 8. And we have to share them, while we all do plays at the same time.
There was only one play I remotely -
note italics -
thought I could live with and it was taken away to another campus for the term while I was reading it over the holidays. So I was stuck with a few battered copies - not even enough for every student to have a copy - of plays written especially for schools, written in the 1980s, with 1950s sensibilities. Tim Winton's Lockie Leonard play might have been okay if it hadn't had a wet dream on about page 2 or 3. It's okay in the novel, but stands out in a short play. My boys - most of the class - are 13 years old. They will either be embarrassed or love it for all the wrong reasons. Discipline flies out the window along with the whole point of doing the play in the first place.
No way am I going to use those. I decided I'd have to write my own, but no time to come up with a new storyline.So I took a look at the short stories in the Fablecroft anthology, Worlds Next Door
, in which I have a story, and wrote a very short playlet based on Edwina Harvey's "Rocket And Sparky", the tale of a girl and her camel and dragon. (And confessed all to the author, who was delighted and suggested we try to sell it, perhaps to the NSW School Magazine, which used to buy this sort of thing. Nice, but later, Edwina, later! I have 8A to keep amused - sorry, "engaged", the latest buzzword). Of course, we need the original story to accompany it, but it isn't one of the free downloads on the site, the antho is out of print and we only have about five copies. So I tried scanning because the school's "business manager" as they now call the bursar, is keeping an eye on our photocopying. And who pays for the copies, which I intend to make available in the library afterwards so this work won't be wasted? I couldn't, just couldn't get the first page done. It came out as gibberish. So that did have to be copied. All done on a Friday afternoon, shared with the other Year 8 English teacher - a much more experienced teacher of English than me and even she is not sure how to handle this.
So, what do we do with this? Remember, it's a double period and we're making this up as we go, because we haven't had it before and have been trying to get through other tasks with our classes. There's always something new to tackle because someone who has never taught or taught fifteen years ago at Veryrich Grammar but has the power to tell real teachers what to do has been reading the latest studies by other people who don't teach. We have a short story and a playlet. We both have integration students who will have trouble with anything we give them and no aide support because the poor aides are stretched thin across the school. We have students who will oblige if asked, but really would rather not be heard by the class. We have students we have to discipline before we can make a start.
At this stage, I have a sort-of idea of doing it in groups and discussing what had to be done to turn one kind of text into another, ending eventually in a group adapting another story. Eventually. But I thought we could do "Rocket And Sparky" as a podcast, using the class set of iPads - there are enough for both classes to use at once and they have Garage Band... If the iPads are working. The trolley chargers were playing up the other day. And if they are working, persuading the students that one to a table is going to be enough. Because you can't read a play together with four separate iPads, can you?
And then I have to take them through the process of saving to Public Share or the work is wasted.
The weird thing is, this woudn't even have been an option if I wasn't a writer. I've written stories for our literacy program because publishers simply don't get the concept of "high interest, low reading level." (And I remember at one SCBWI conference being stared at as if I'd just sprouted a pair of ears on my nose when I asked if the publisher who'd just presented cute stuff for Grade 3 was planning to do Grade 2 or 3 level books of interest to teens). Well, a few do, sort of, but not quite as low as I need. So I have written my own and shared them with colleagues. They're nothing publishable, just stuff we can use in class, but that's all that matters. I write my students' names into the stories and as the documents are in Word, my workmates can change the names to those of their own students.
And I still don't know if all this will work for the integration students. Time to write another play or story?
Oh, the joys of teaching English!
By: Sue Bursztynski,
It's been a while since Random House Oz sent me anything, but today's parcel of goodies by wonderful Aussie children's writers more than makes up for it.
Billy Is A Dragon : First Bite, by Nick Falk and Tony Flowers, is for younger readers and looks like it I'll be fun.
There's Volume 1 and 2 of Brotherhood Of Thieves by Stuart Daly, author of the delightful Witchhunter Chronicles, of which I have read the first two volumes. Those were set in Renaissance era Europe, but this seems to be set in a fantasy world. I'll look forward to it, hoping it's as deliciously entertaining as his Witchhunter books, which were very funny as well as exciting.
There is New City by Deborah Abela, a nice lady I sat next to at Supanova and watched her fans swarm her. This seems to be book 2 of a series, so I hope I can read it without having had to read the first.
And last but not least, volume. 4 of John Flanagan's Brotherband series, the spinoff from Ranger's Apprentice, set in the society of Skandia, that Scandinavia-equivalent, whose warriors are fabulous fighters but haven't a clue about strategy or tactics. The Heron Brotherband, the figurative - and literal - bunch of kids whom nobody wanted to pick for their team, sailed off at the end of the first book after some bad guys who stole the community's most priceless artefact and... Well, read them. I admit I haven't got around to Book 3, so I have downloaded that to read before this one.
Lots of good reading by local writers in the weeks to come! Yay! And then my students get to read them. Yay!
By: Sue Bursztynski,
View Next 25 Posts
Two years go, I reviewed Earthfall
, Mark Walden's new novel about alien invasion, here:
I even interviewed the author, whose wonderful HIVE books I love, here:
The lovely Sonia Palmisano at Bloomsbury has just sent me a copy of Earthfall with
a new cover. Here's what it looks like.
Very different from the War Of The Worlds-style original cover. This could be any
after-the-holocaust novel, which might, perhaps, mean it could appeal to a wider
variety of readers.
I wish Bloomsbury and the author many, many well-deserved sales on this,
though what I REALLY want now is the sequel. :-)