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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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1. Just Been To See... Star Trek: Beyond

Well, I had to go at some stage, didn't I? I have loved Star Trek since discovering it in my teens. The original cast are either old or have passed away. So it has been wonderful seeing the new young cast who have grown into their roles over the last three movies.

A friend at work suggested we should go together. Weekends are difficult for me nowadays - family commitments on Saturday and some of Sunday, plus Sunday is the only day I can clean the house and make sure my classes are ready for next day. 

We went, instead, after work to the cinema complex nearest the school. We had something to eat beforehand - in my case just scone and tea, in hers a sandwich - and, on an impulse, decided to go Gold Class - small cinema and you get to have ordered food and drink brought to you as you loll in a comfy chair. I keep Gold Class for special films, but it was my friend's first time. She was delighted. We both ordered gourmet pecan pie-flavoured popcorn and mineral water, but we could have ordered a meal or even cocktails if we'd chosen. To be honest, the popcorn was nice, but not worth what we paid for it. Next time I'll have something more substantial. 

The movie was very enjoyable. I couldn't help noticing that the Enterprise was destroyed AGAIN in the third film of the series, as in The Search For Spock. Not a spoiler, as it happens about ten or fifteen minutes into the movie and the characters have a lot on their plates as the film goes on. I must admit, I found the villain's motivation a bit hard to swallow, as was the reveal about his background, but it was a fast-moving action piece and what I loved best about it was the build-up of our heroes. 

Spock and McCoy have their familiar relationship that we all know and love. Kirk has begun to do that quirky little smile at the corners of his mouth and his personality has also begun to be the familiar  cheeky Kirk not-a-boy-scout one. At the same time, he does the usual Kirk lecture to the villain. Oh, yes, this young man may not look like Bill Shatner, but the script is right and he is getting the mannerisms right too. 

Zachary Quinto's Spock voice is beginning to sound a lot like Leonard Nimoy's, while Karl Urban has been McCoy from the very beginning. I believe DeForest Kelley would have been delighted with him - and with the way the character is drawn, from sharing a (stolen from Chekhov)Scotch with Kirk early in the film to protesting, "I'm a doctor, not a..." as he's whisked off on an away mission he really doesn't want. 

The music was good, by Michael Giacchino, a composer who has done the scores for several movies I enjoyed, including the new Trek movies and Up. There was, of course, the Alexander Courage theme at the end. I'm into film music in a big way and have always been. My brother and I used to collect and share the recordings of our favourite films when we were both living at home. I guess I'll have to keep an eye out for the score to this one.

There was a tribute at the end to the two cast members who have gone since the last film was made. Leonard Nimoy' of course, but it was rather sad to see the young Anton Yelchin as Chekhov and know he would never be back. I believe they have decided not to re-cast the character. 

Chekhov did get to do his line about Scotch having been invented by a little old lady(from Leningrad in the original, in Russia here).

Here's a Creative Commons picture of him I found on Wikipedia. 


Sleep well, Anton! 

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2. CBCA Shortlist. Now Reading: A Single Stone by Meg McKinlay

I'm around 70 pages in since last night. This one has already won some awards, including the Aurealis, and been shortlisted in another. It's a dystopian novel in which a small village is located in a valley formed after a rockslide long ago. It's run by the Mothers and girls are valued more than boys because they can be sent, if good enough, into the mountain to harvest mica, which, in this world, is useful for heat and light. They need an alternative to wood fires because in the winter the snow comes right up to the top of the houses and smoke can't escape theough the chimneys, though they do have escape pipes.

I must admit I never knew mica could be used for that! Must look it up. 

So, these girls have to be small in order to squeeze into the tunnels. They're swaddled for their first few years, they eat as little as possible and if they're not quite small enough, well, bones can be broken and rearranged... The chosen girls receive training and are formed into teams to go harvest mica. Then they do something else for the rest of their lives, including having babies, preferably females - the whole village parties when a girl is born. 

I can't help wondering, though, if these people have, as it seems, been stranded in this valley for quite a few generations, wouldn't the gene pool be rather small? Everyone would be related to everyone else. That hasn't been mentioned yet, but still a couple of hundred pages to go. The soil would be rather poor after being farmed all that time, so I can only assume they have a three-field system. 

Anyway, more to come! 

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3. CBCA Shortlist: The Flywheel by Erin Gough. Ampersand Prize Winner


I bought this in ebook while listening to the author at Reading Matters last year, as well as a copy for the library. I never got past the first few pages, for no special reason. 

And today I read the lot, finishing a few minutes ago. It's one of those "just one more chapter" books. It was a Saturday and the book was on the CBCA shortlist, so... 

It has a lot of charm and humour. It reminds me, oddly, of one of Will Kostakis's novels, without the Greek family or the gay boy. This one is about being a gay girl and trying to run the family restaurant to give her Dad a chance to have a break and an overseas holiday after years of no holidays and a wife who left him for another man and moved from Sydney to Melbourne. But Del(short for Delilah)has troubles when the manager is deported over visa issues and she can't find another one.

 Like the vengeful barista she had to sack when he was lazy and stole money. Like the franchise cafe competing with hers. And then there's her friend Charlie who has moved in to hide from the police after he punched out the father of a young woman he had a crush on. And the beautiful flamenco dancer Rosa whom she watches performing at the tapas bar across the road every night from her window. And the bullying at school for being gay and having had a romance with a girl who is now denying it and telling everyone who will listen that Del had the wrong idea about her. 

Somehow, despite all the disasters, and a case of insta-love, the book is funny, the voice delightful. 

I'll be interested to see how the book will go over with our students. They don't seem to mind the gay boy books - Will Kostakis and David Levithan's books go over quite well in our library, though usually after a teacher recommendation. One of our boys is currently reading and enjoying The Sidekicks, but then, he's a Kostakis fan in general. It was so nice to be able to introduce them last year at Reading Matters when Will came over to say hi. 

I'm sure there are some girls out there not admitting to their sexuality, but I don't know. Even if they aren't around at my school, there's plenty for everyone. 

Interestingly, if Cloudwish was a love letter to Melbourne, this novel is a tribute to Sydney. I've been in Glebe, where it's set, in the YHA, probably the hostel mentioned in it. It's a fairly posh suburb near the sea. I haven't been to the library which the characters campaign to save, but you can check it out in Google Images. It has tourists wanting a bus to Bondi beach, Rose Bay, where two of my nieces live, Central Station and Redfern. You don't have to live there to be able to picture it. 

This novel won the Ampersand Prize given annually by Hardie Grant Egmont for a debut novel.

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4. Reading The CBCA Shortlist

I now have most - not all - of the Older and Younger Readers books for this year in my library and I've decided to make my way through them and comment as I go.

I've already read and commented on Soon by Morris Gleitzman and Cloudwish by Fiona Wood.

I'm nearly finished reading Sue Lawson's piece of historical fiction set in a small NSW town in 1965, Freedom Ride. It is, of course, about the Australian Freedom Ride led by Charles Perkins, who makes a brief appearance in the novel.

The hero is a white boy, Robbie, who lives with his father and his grandmother. He is not very happy in this life, which includes a school bully, an unpleasant grandmother and a father who goes to the RSL every Friday night and has some secrets her has never shared with Robbie.

And, of course, there's the small-town racism and ignorance and a local policeman who isn't interested in looking after the rights of the local indigenous people, even when one is killed, let alone when they're bashed up.

When Barry Gregory, a young man who has been in London, returns to his hometown to help his mother run the caravan park, things improve for Robbie, who takes a job with him and learns about the outside world and the fact that racism isn't nearly as bad in London as in his town.

I'm enjoying the 1960s references, including to OZ Magazine, which Barry reads.

It does take most of the book to actually get around to the Freedom Riders arriving in Walgaree, Robbie's home, though they're mentioned earlier - and abused by Robbie's father and grandmother.

Anyway, it will be interesting to see what else is available on this year's shortlist. There are some good books so far.

Anyone else reading them?

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5. Finally Reading... The Janna Chronicles by Felicity Pulman

I've had all the Janna books in my library for some time, including the last two, which the author had to self publish after her original publisher dropped them. But I've never got around to reading them before; I bought them for some of the students, who had requested them.

However, having a browse through the crime section on iBooks, I found to my delight that they are now available in ebook, published again by Momentum, the digital imprint of Pan Macmillan, which also does print on demand. The covers are new too. And it was only $4.99 and not too large a download, so I bought the first of the series, Blood Oath. I think I'll be reading the rest now.

In case you're not familiar with the series, it's a series of YA historical mysteries set during the time of  Stephen and Matilda's fight over the English throne. The heroine is a young woman who is a herbalist trained by her mother. I haven't yet read far enough for the mystery bit to start, but I'm feeling comfortable in this world, which was so well described in the Brother Cadfael novels.

Actually, the author says in her note that she was inspired by the Brother Cadfael mysteries to make her heroine a herbalist, though her sympathies lie on the side of Matilda, while the characters in the Ellis Peters books prefer Stephen.

Well, must get back to it - Chapter 5 beckons!


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6. Food And Fiction


Yesterday I stumbled across an online article about "Ten Memorable Meals In Fiction." I found it rather disappointing. It wasn't just that I'd read only two of the ten books. I could live with that and even say, "Hey, that sounds like a book I might try." It just didn't have any substance. 

So, here are a few(not ten, sorry!) universes which had food and eating scenes that I enjoyed. 

A Song Of Ice And Fire, aka Game Of Thrones

I've written about this before, including a review of the cookbook, A Feast Of Ice And Fire, written by some fans who did a lot of research, a lot more cooking and finally produced the book, presenting the author with goodies mentioned in his novels. And there are plenty! People in this series eat. And eat. Most of the foods - not all - are mediaeval. Some murders and mass murders happen at feasts - though I guess if you're going to kill all your enemies, it makes sense to do it when they're all in one place, and it has certainly happened in history.

Harry Potter

Another universe in which people eat and eat. I sometimes wonder why Hogwarts students don't come home bigger than Dudley Dursley. Even when they're not having a feast - and they do have one to celebrate the beginning and end of term and another one on Halloween(also on Christmas Day, but there are only a few kids left at school for that) - there is a large choice of foods for breakfast and dinner, including dessert. There are the Honeydukes sweets(including chocolate for overcoming the shock of Dementors) and such wizardly treats as cauldron cakes and butterbeer. We're never told what either of those are, but that hasn't stopped fans from trying to make both. What is a cauldron cake? Is it shaped like a cauldron or baked in a cauldron? Is it even sweet?

 And butterbeer. We know it's low-alcohol(unless you're a House Elf, in which case it's quite possible to get drunk on it). We know it's delicious and warming. That's about it. But there are masses of recipes out there. One, as I recall, includes butterscotch schnapps! Never had that, but I bet it's rather more alcoholic than butterbeer! The only butterbeer recipe I might consider trying is from the web site Food Through The Pages, which is written by one of the abovementioned Ice And Fire fans. Research by her produced a 16th century recipe for something called Buttered Beer. Sounds good to me.

Middle-Earth

The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien begins with the chapter "An Unexpected Party", establishing the Hobbits as a race who like their food - not to mention the Dwarves, who pretty much empty out Bilbo Baggins's walk-in pantry over afternoon tea. Of course, there are thirteen of them, plus Gandalf the wizard. A late friend of mine once sent me a carefully typed-out article called "The Pleasures Of The Hobbit Table", which I scanned in order not to lose it. All the food described is very English in style. And Tolkien's English food isn't the stodgy stuff most of us imagine when we hear "English food." Simple, yes, but not stodgy.  It has been said that simple food is the hardest to get right, because you can't hide it behind sauces and spices. 

In The Lord Of The Rings we have the opening chapter, "A Long-Expected Party" in which Bilbo and Frodo celebrate their joint birthday and Bilbo nicks off to live at Rivendell. There is a detailed description of what everyone gets to eat at this party.  Later in the book, Sam Gamgee offers to make fish and chips for Gollum, who just can't get his head around the idea of spoiling lovely fresh, tender meat by cooking it.

And the Elves! They can throw together a feast in no time. And I did love that scene in the Hobbit movie in which one of the Dwarves looks up from his vegetarian meal of mostly lettuce and asks plaintively if he could maybe have some fish and chips. It wasn't in the novel, but it does confirm my view that the High Elves, anyway, tend to be living in New Age artist colonies. 

 But the most important Elvish foods are lembas bread and miruvor, a drink that will warm and comfort you when you need it most. Lembas is supposed to be a travel bread that lasts and lasts. What it really is, is the blessed wafer you have in church, while miruvor is the wine. Tolkien was a devout Catholic. See my earlier post about March 25th. 

Discworld

Terry Pratchett's POV characters are mostly English-type people, who like bacon and eggs for breakfast, the greasier the better. Sam Vimes, the world-weary police chief, can't handle eating anything that doesn't make his arteries clang. As far as he's concerned, Burnt Crunchy Bits are an essential food group. His wife, Lady Sybil, feels she ought to be cooking for him, but as she isn't very good at it, she delights him with greasy, burnt food, just the way he likes it. Sam's idea of a BLT sandwich is plenty of B and skip the L and T altogether. 

There are the dwarfs, who bake bread that is so tough you can use it as a weapon - and they do. There's an entire museum of Dwarf Bread, including guerrilla crumpets. The Low King is crowned on the Scone of Stone. You certainly can't eat dwarf bread. So it's good to take on a journey because it lasts and lasts -  you'll eat anything rather than the bread.The joke is clearly meant to be about the journey breads mentioned in Tolkien's fiction, in which the Dwarves have a long lasting journey bread called cram. Pratchett's dwarfs love to eat rats, whether rat on a stick or in a pizza(quatri rodenti pizza is ordered in the novel Soul Music). 

There are Klatchian takeaways where you can buy curry, though the English characters think curry is yellow and contains swedes and sultanas. 

Anyway, people eat a lot in the Discworld novels! 

Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher and Corinna Chapman

Kerry Greenwood writes crime fiction. And her characters eat. And eat. Partly, I think, it's because the author is herself a good cook who enjoys food. 

Phryne Fisher, her Jazz Era detective, is a small slim woman with Dutch Doll hair. She should be the size of a barn the way she eats. Phryne is wealthy and can afford to go out to dinner - and shout her dinner companions. Which she does. And we're treated to detailed descriptions of those meals. I suspected one was pollo e funghi pasta and tried it out and very nice it was. Kerry told me it was based on a pollo e funghi she'd had in Florence. 

But she has a wonderful cook, Mrs Butler, whose buffet meals are also described in great detail, from the soup to the dessert and savouries, followed by cocktails. And her adopted daughter, Ruth, wants to be a cook and in Dead Man's Chest she has the chance to cook for the family while they're on holiday at Queenscliff, because the staff of the house they're borrowing have vanished.

Corinna Chapman is a baker and she is a large lady. She takes great pleasure both in cooking and in eating out with her boyfriend Daniel. Restaurant meals are described and Corinna and Daniel usually end them with delicious gelato for dessert. Her apprentice Jason is a master of the muffin, including an amazing chocolate muffin for which the author provides a recipe at the end of the book. And I use her recipe for French Onion soup, very nice and easy to make and perfect for a winter night. 

I think Corinna is meant to be Kerry. She is built the same way and has the same love of food and cooking.

There are plenty more, of course, such as Enid Blyton. I've always wished I could try the honey biscuits described in the Faraway Tree books - and there are fans out there who have made up their own recipes for these. Characters in Enid Blyton books eat a lot. Don't forget the midnight feasts!

But I'll leave it here and invite your own thoughts on fiction and food. Any suggestions?

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7. O Joy! Classic Kuttner In Ebook!

After my last post, I found in iBooks a Best Of Henry Kuttner, one of those books from SF Gateway, which has been republishing classic SF in ebook format.

It had some very familiar stories I last read many years ago. "Mimsy Were The Borogroves" was the first in the book. I think somewhere I have a vinyl recording of William Shatner reading that, but I'll need one of those special turntables to record it on to USB stick, then burn it to CD. It's the famous story about two children playing with toys sent from the far distant future by a man trying to build a time machine. They're his son's old toys and he just wants to use them to try out his prototype but he gives up when three tests don't bring the machine back. One of the three is picked up by a little girl in 19th century England, who has an "Uncle Charles" - hence the first verse of "Jabberwocky", which is a code ... I think he may have written that with his wife, C.L Moore, who was best known for her horror and fantasy fiction.

There's also "Nothing But Gingerbread Left", which I'm looking forward to rereading. You know how you sometimes can't get a song or tune out of your head? Well, some folk in the U.S. use that in the war against the Nazis. Delightful!

And, best of all, not one, but two Hogben stories! I didn't think you could get those in ebook(though there was that one short story I mentioned in my last post). One of the stories, "Cold War", I've read, but am happy to read again. The other, "Exit The Professor", I haven't.

I know there was a book called The Hogben Chronicles, published a few years ago by crowdfunding, but I think it was a limited edition and it was only in print. There were, at the time, copyright issues that didn't allow for ebooks.

But hopefully, sooner or later, things do change for most books. Ray Bradbury wouldn't allow his books in ebook for years, but now they're available. Harper Lee took a long time about it, but finally agreed to let her classic novel be ebooked.

You just have to be patient and keep looking.

Back to my new book!

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8. More Goodies From Gutenberg!

Some time ago, I discovered that there are some classic SF stories on Project Gutenberg. I'm not just talking about Verne and Wells, but about some of the big name writers of the twentieth century's Golden Age of SF. I found, to my delight, works by Fritz Leiber, Poul Anderson, H.Beam Piper and Harry Harrison that have gone out of copyright. They all disappeared from my iPad when the first one was broken, but I retrieved the Fritz Leiber stories and tonight I have gone back to see what else is available.

Most of them are short stories or novellas that first appeared in magazines, usually in the 1930s - and sometimes the magazine covers are there to enjoy, though I don't mind if they're not.

So, what did I pick up this evening? I found some of the works of Fredric Brown ("Happy Ending", "Two-Timer")Murray Leinster(Med Ship Man") and Henry Kuttner. One of them, "The Ego Machine", by Henry Kuttner, I had actually read, but it had dropped off the iPad. There's even a short story by Gordon R Dickson, "No Shield From The Dead."

You can get plenty of classic stories, mind you, in iBooks, and very cheaply, in the various SF Megapacks. I do have some of those, but I'm being careful with the downloads. There's only so much space on my iPad and I can keep more control with the Gutenberg downloads which are often just individual short stories.

I do want to get hold of some of the Hogben stories of Kuttner, but there's only one on iBooks - ten pages long - and I think I've read it. The Hogben stories are about a long lived hillbilly family originally from Atlantis. They're very funny, but you can't get them in ebook. The one time I found one listed in the ToC of an anthology I bought it only to find that there was some sort of a copyright issue and they had instead published a story by someone else - a story I had in another anthology!

Another short story I can't find is Murray Leinster's "First Contact." It's hugely famous, but nobody seems to be anthologising it in ebook, despite several volumes of Leinster stories available in iBooks.

So, it goes both ways: you can sometimes find stories free on Gutenberg that you wouldn't have thought were out of copyright and there are stories you'd be happy to buy that have copyright issues that prevent them coming out in ebook!

Ah, well, there's plenty to read while I wait! 

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9. On Rereading...Guards!Guards! By Terry Pratchett




I grabbed this one off my shelves whole looking for another Pratchett book to reread. I know of a lady on Livejournal who is rereading it all in publication order, but me, I read whatever I'm in the mood for. And whichever book I pick up, I soon settle into my reread, comfortable in this universe as putting on an old pair of slippers...

This is the eighth Discworld novel. Imagine, only a few books in - and the characters are still developing! It's the first, I think, in which the Patrician, Lord Vetinari, is more or less the Machiavellian figure we love, pulling everyone's strings. He has arranged the Guilds to be so busy fighting each other over honours and precedence they don't have time to unite against him. He has mimes thrown into the scorpion pit with, "Learn The Words" written on the wall. When thrown into his own dungeons(designed to enable him to escape if he's ever locked in) he soon makes himself comfortable by advising the rats in their fight against the scorpions, and then having them serve him. The Guild of Thieves is responsible for making sure crime is organised, thus limiting the levels to licenced theft.

Of course, that means he has had to arrange for the last of the police force, the City Watch, to be struggling and irrelevant, led by the drunken Captain Vimes. 

Yes! The first City Watch novel! Sam Vimes appears in the first scene, drunk, in the gutter, still grieving after the funeral of one of his last men. If you've read the series, you know that this proletarian hero will marry a rich and kindhearted woman, have a little son and be dragged kicking and screaming into the aristocracy. Eventually. Meanwhile, it's fascinating to see him right at the start, with nobody but his comrades Nobby and Colon, who have learned how to survive in the Watch, and their new young member, Carrot, the adopted dwarf who is six foot six in height and probably - no, certainly - the long lost heir to the throne of Ankh-Morpork.

 You know that this boy will one day be Captain Carrot, who knows the city like the back of his hand and seems to know everyone in it. He is still naive, but already able to shame a pub full of roistering Dwarfs who, in his view, should be living quietly and writing home to their mothers. And, by the end of the book, able to get the hardened cops to follow him. 

Vimes is very much as we know he will be, though lacking the confidence of later books. But he is the Vimes who is proud of the fact that the citizens of Ankh-Morpork will treat any public dramas as street theatre and try to sell you something while the crowds gather. He is the Vimes who won't let something suspicious go uninvestigated, the man in later books known as "Vetinari's terrier." 

It is, I think, the first novel to feature Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, vendor of anything he thinks the crowds will buy, but basically sausage-in-a-bun. He is a very good salesman; people who have eaten his dreadful wares before will still buy them again. He is pretty much as we know him from later books, though he will be seen having a go as a film producer in Moving Pictures(he only sells sausages when some big get-rich-quick scheme has failed). In that novel, we will see just how over-the-top crazy he can be when he gets hold of some power, but right now he's just the man with the tray of sausages(and dragon-dolls and anti-dragon cream...whatever will sell). 

Detritus the troll, later to be a good, reliable member of the Watch, appears briefly as hired muscle(a splatter rather than a bouncer) at the Mended Drum pub. 

The Librarian has appeared before, but this is the Librarian we know well from later books, the ape who definitely doesn't appreciate the M word - and it is the first mention of L-space, a place which only senior librarians who have performed valiant deeds of librarianship, know about. It's the reason for all those second-hand bookshop proprietors who seem to be aliens. 

There are minor characters who will only be mentioned in later books, but when I recently reread The Truth, a mention of the Dowager Duchess of Quirm made me think, "Ah ha! Brenda Rodley, friend of Lady Sybil, fellow breeder of swamp dragons."

It's exciting to see it all at the beginning and know how much more there will be and how much you'll love these characters in future books, as they grow and develop. Next stop: Men At Arms

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10. Theophilus Grey And The Traitor's Mask by Catherine Jinks. Crow's Nest:Allen And Unwin, 2016




In Theophilus Grey And The Demon Thief, we met twelve year old Theophilus, mostly known as Philo, who was a link boy, a job that involved carrying a torch and escorting clients late at night through the mostly unlit London streets to wherever they wanted to go. Because of this, he and his team knew their part of London like the backs of their hands - and were likely to pick up information that could be sold by their master Garnet Hooke to the magistrates, especially one Henry Fielding, whom older readers probably know best as the author of Tom Jones and Joseph Andrews. Philo was trying to find out why a bunch of criminals were being found unconscious without a mark on them.

That one might have been a fantasy novel; this one definitely isn't. It's a piece of straight historical fiction, set in the time when the Jacobites were plotting against King George, in hopes of bringing Bonnie Prince Charlie to the throne. A few months after the events of Demon Thief, Philo, now the leader of an independent team of link boys,  is workíng for the government as a spy. He doesn't like it much. It's not only dangerous, it's not moral, in his opinion. But he has a number of reasons for keeping going and he has made a new friend, apart from the delightful Dr Paxton, a surgeon whom he met in the last book, who is teaching him to read. His new friend is Mrs Cowley, an actress who is also doing some spying, who is teaching him to play a role. 

So, who is Mr Bishop, who is sending him on jobs? Is he all he says he is? Is Bishop even his real name? What does he have in mind when he sends Philo to St James Palace?

Again, we have a story along the lines of Leon Garfield's Smith. It feels like history. The streets are filthy, as are the places where the characters have to live, and you have a young boy who has to do the work of a man. The streets at night are dark! In the previous book the link boys were competing with the new lamp lighters, but those don't get a mention this time. So, yes, people who want to be lit on their way home late at night can hire a link boy, but the link boys presumably have to get home on their own. 

Mrs Cowley is a sympathetic character; she is clever and makes good use of her acting skills in her job, and to help Philo. We see some more of Dr Paxton and Henry Fielding makes an appearance in his job as a magistrate, though it does mention briefly that he is also a writer. 

If you enjoyed the last book, this one won't disappoint.

Available on line from Booktopia

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11. Amelia's Birthday Post - Again!

Today is my niece Amelia's fifteenth birthday. I've bought her a gift voucher for JB HiFi, where she can buy DVDs, music and gadgets. While I was there yesterday, I bought three DVDs for the price of two - Season 4 of Game Of Thrones, Season 1 of The Simpsons and Season 1 of Poldark - not the original, a remake, with the delicious Aidan Turner in the title role. Remember him? That's right, he was Kili, Thorin Oakenshield's nephew who - only in the film, NOT the book! - had a romance with an elf maiden.

Anyway, I posted about July 4 a couple of years ago, I'm Amelia's honour, so here's the link for you and please, do read it! Did you know the date has connections with Alice In Wonderland, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Neil Simon and the Crab Nebula? How? Check it out!

And happy birthday, my dearest Amelia! 

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12. Time Stoppers by Carrie Jones. Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2016



Annie and Jamie are both abused children. Annie has been taken from one dreadful foster home to another as long as she can remember, while Jamie is living with his horrible father and grandmother. They're basically what in the US is known as "white trash" and, incidentally, are trolls, as he discovers for certain when his grandmother comes after him with a knife and fork. Annie's latest foster home is in a trailer with - well, more white trash, of the human variety. While they aren't planning to eat her, they do lock her out in the snowy back yard with their wolf-dogs, ordering her to teach them tricks before they will let her back in, as they watch TV all day.

When Annie is rescued from trolls by a dwarf girl in a magic snowmobile,  she learns that she has powerful abilities that might help her to save the magical town of Aurora. Jamie is rescued at the same time. He's not, as far as he knows, magical, and he might turn into a troll some time after his thirteenth birthday, a worry that hovers over him the whole novel.

 The novel, incidentally ends on a cliffhanger, which  should mean a sequel. No guarantee - if a sequel was committed to, there would be a blurb for it at the end. Even the author's web site doesn't mention when a sequel to this one is likely, though it does call it the first in a series, so be warned!

Carrie Jones is better known as a YA novelist; I read one of her novels, After Obsession, years ago, and remember liking it, but not what it was about. We do have some of her other books in my library. This middle-grade novel was her first, which I'm assuming was left in the bottom drawer till now.

It is entertaining and has the odd in-joke, such as calling a teenage elf boy Bloom(as in Orlando?). The humour is over-the-top, as are most of the characters. I thought it interesting that trolls can live in the regular human world without anyone noticing, because they can do a Hulk and change into green monsters when they feel like it. The elf boy can go to school and play baseball in the small town of Mount Desert, where the town librarian is also a magical being, who lives on both sides of the border, with a Brounie wife in Aurora and a house in town. There's no Hogwarts or H.I.V.E for the kids to attend. I quite like that.

However... here are some things that didn't quite work for me.

Aurora is in danger from a sort of dark lord who has been exiled, but now his minions are getting through the barrier because the protective garden gnome has been stolen. Yes, the magical refuge of the witches, Brounies, dwarfs, etc. is protected by a garden gnome! We're never told why, either. Did Miss Cornelia, owner of Aquarius House, perhaps enchant it to protect her people? Is it more than it seems? We don't know.

But I think I do know who stole it.

The odd thing is that it takes most of the novel and an encounter with an evil blood-sucking book before Jamie suddenly connects the stolen garden gnome with one his grandmother brought back from a troll hunting-party.

I was hoping to find out why so many of Annie's former foster homes burned down, but we're not told - if it was to do with her powers, we never find out. We do know that when she draws a rabbit it comes to life, which got her into trouble in various former homes, but that's all.

Characters who are knocked unconscious snore. In other words, if you faint or are knocked out, you go to sleep? And, in some cases, have to be woken up?  Unlikely, I'm afraid.

Still, I think there's enough action, adventure and humour to keep children from about nine to twelve reading and enjoying. It has an endearing silliness about it that makes it worth reading, despite the oddities.

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13. June 28 On This Day - Happy Birthday, Mary!


Taken from Wikimedia Commons


Today is my sister Mary's birthday. Mary is a writer too, though mostly articles. She has been published in newspapers and magazines over the years and once got a prize in the Scarlet Stiletto Awards for crime fiction. 

Here are some people with whom you share a birthday, Mary, and some events that happened On This Day over the centuries.

Oh, and by the way, here's a link to an article written by Eleanor Roosevelt on the day you were born: 


Popular film of the year was Easter Parade

On This Day: 

Two coronations in England

1461 – Edward IV - and Wars Of The Roses continue.

1838 – Queen Victoria

Two artsy things: 

1841 – The Paris Opera Ballet premieres Giselle. Lovely ballet! I've seen in several times and I saw the Paris Opera Ballet when they were in Melbourne, as a birthday present from Mary's best friend.

1846 – Adolphe Sax patents the saxophone - and gives us a wonderful jazz instrument! 

1880 –  Ned Kelly is captured at Glenrowan. Had to have something Aussie. 

1914 – Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie are assassinated in Sarajevo, starting World War I. It nearly didn't happen. They went the wrong way in the car and the despairing assassin saw them. 

Birthdays

1491 – Henry VIII of England. I can't leave him out of the list. Besides, he composed a bit, played music, sang, danced, wrote some lyrics. Pity about the wives. 

1577 – Peter Paul Rubens, Flemish painter; he painted a lot of large ladies, giving rise to the term "Rubenesque"

1734 – Jean-Jacques Beauvarlet-Charpentier, French organist and composer. I have some Charpentier music on CD. Lovely!

1867 – Luigi Pirandello, Italian author, poet, and playwright, Nobel Prize laureate. 

1891 - Esther Forbes, children's writer. Author of Johnny Tremain(made into a Disney movie)

1902 – Richard Rodgers, American playwright and composer. Half of the team Rodgers and Hammerstein, of course. Do I need to list their amazing musicals for you? 

1926 – Mel Brooks, American actor, director, producer, and screenwriter. Did a lot of very funny films and responsible for that classic, Get Smart. 1946 – Robert Asprin, American author, who did all those "Myth" fantasy novels, full of puns. I have read about two. I think my sister may have read the lot. 

Well, that's it for June 28th. Happy birthday, Mary!

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14. Back To Slush Reading

This morning I've been tweeting a number of posts I've written over the years on the subject of slushing. Good posts, all of them, but they got very few hits, for some reason, apart from the ones labelled "ASIM needs YOU to Slush!" or some such. 


I am going to write another one, anyway, and maybe this time there will even be a comment or two? 

Having dropped off the ASIM team for personal reasons, I've decided to continue with the slush reading, for which you don't need to be a member, but they paused for some months in reading submissions. Now it's back to business and over the last four weeks I have read twenty stories and passed on one to the next round. And I'm not sure that I should have passed that one on. The fact that I can't remember what it was about should tell you something about it. 

You see, I'm being more picky these days. Or maybe I've just been sent worse stories. The guy doing slush these days, with the retirement of Lucy Z, assures me I'm doing the right thing. Another friend still on the committee tells me they're being more picky too - perhaps too picky if, as she thought, a story now has to get a score of 3 to get into the slushpool - I told her that I couldn't remember ever seeing a story get a score better than 4! Three readers all giving it the top score of 1 is highly unlikely. I rarely gave even a wonderful story better than 2. It had to be something I thought would be an award-winner to get a 1 from me. 

 I do wish we had more people subscribing than submitting, instead of the other way around. That way, the magazine would be selling better and people would have a better idea of what's publishable and what isn't. Even if they just buy one ebook as a sample! 

But no. I sometimes suspect that many American stories we receive, from that country of many SF publications, are trying us because they were rejected - rightly! -  by all of the magazines back home. They get rejected here too. It would be nice to think they take the hint and retire those stories and try writing something else. 

 This isn't always the case. We've published early stories by the likes of Jim Hines 

and Ann Leckie and others who went on to win Hugos and Nebulas. Early fiction, mind you. Once they can get paid lots more back home, they sell there - and I don't blame them for that. But still - good writers do send us stuff that might possibly have been published in their own country. And our local international bestseller, Sean Williams, sent us a very short story set in his Twinmaker universe and was happy to do so. He mentioned it somewhere on line. And I published some wonderful stories by U.S. submitters in ASIM 60. They just aren't established writers; perhaps they will do well in future. I hope so.



Again, I'm reading in hopes of feeling the way I did when I opened, say, "The Wine Endures" by Anthony Panegyres(I published that in ASIM 50)or "What The Carp Saw(And Could Not Tell While Alive)" by Christine Lukas(I published that in ASIM 56, along with a terrific story by Lyn Battersby which I chose because we needed an extra story)or that beautiful story "Return Of The Queen" by an author whose name I've forgotten, as it was so long ago and he has never made any further sales, alas!

I keep hoping! 

So, just a little advice for future submitters whose stories may end up in my inbox, if you want to get to Round 2.

1. Get your grammar right. It's not the editor's job to fix it for you, unless you're paying someone to do it, and sending a story that is full of grammatical errors, as opposed to the odd typo, just shows the lack of professionalism of the author. 

2. If sending from outside Australia, don't make local jokes and references and assume readers overseas will understand them. If I don't know what they are, I'll reject the story out of hand. 

3. Kill your darlings. If a story is long, every bit of it needs to move the story on. If it doesn't, get rid of it.  I should add that when I have been sent several stories to read, guess which one has to wait longest to hear from me? Right! The longest one. It's a practical way for me to get through all of them as quickly as possible. And you know what? I have rarely read a story nine or ten thousand words long that didn't need a lot of pruning. While ASIM will occasionally take a longer story, it has to be brilliant. There is a limit to the wordage for each issue and if you're a subscriber who hated the longest story, you'd feel cheated, right? 

4. Don't submit a story that is number 6 in a so-far unpublished series which makes reference to things that happened in previous stories. And absolutely don't offer the whole series! Each issue is edited by a different person who can't be expected to commit a section of their issue to the latest episode of your magnum opus. Put the damned things together and try selling them as a novel somewhere. Don't try selling them to a magazine unless it does series and says so on its web site. If it turns up in my inbox, I am likely to reject it. If it's good, perhaps I'll reject it regretfully - but if it can't stand alone, I'll reject it. 

5. Ask someone to look at your story before submitting it anywhere and see if it makes sense. I've read a lot of stories in the last few weeks which made no sense to me. I said so, and why, in my comments.

6. Finally, check your market, even if it means shelling out a bit of money to read a magazine. If you sell, you can claim these things on tax. If not, at least you'll have had an enjoyable read or decided that this magazine is not for you. 

Well, now, off to read this week's slush - four short pieces, one long one. Fingers crossed I will be weeping at the beauty of at least one of them! 

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15. Shopping At Dymock's - First Of The Year!

I'm now sitting at Ganache, a lovely chocolate and tea shop, having a well earned cuppa and three choccies. It's my usual reward for going out to buy books for the kids.

It was hard enough to get them to request what they felt like reading next - I have had more enthusiastic book clubbers in previous years. I mean, yes, they turn up at meetings and chat quite happily about things bookish, but there aren't the same cries of joy as they dive into a box of new books and too many of them read one book at a time and firmly refuse to borrow another one till it's finished.

But in the end, I had a decent shopping list from them - and, oddly, from some non members who turned up today, just in time, asking for such things as the next Magisterium novel(Holly Black and Cassndra Clare) and a series by a Polish gentleman which inspired a video game. And I found both! I bought the first novel in the series, and Book 2 of Magisterium(it was in the children's section instead of the YA and the Polish novel was in the SF). In the SF also I easily found a Terry Goodkind book for one of my book clubbers who wanted to read it because she had seen a TV show based on it. Fine. I imagine some of my spec fic lovers will read it after her.

There was a request for "more Diary of A Wimpy Kid, miss" from a Year 7 - I bought the latest,  which we don't have.

I'm afraid the vampire fans will miss out yet again. I did find a couple of the requested books, but not all, and the only Morganville Vampire book they had was the first, which we have. I must ask our bookseller if she can get hold of some more. I keep disappointing that young lady.

My young history lover, who was in my class in Year 8 the other year, asked for "anything about war."  I found a couple of books about WWI which he should find of interest but which Year 9 students can also use after him. One of them was actually on the CBCA short list a few years ago, but I must have missed it - I mostly read and buy the Older Readers books.

Speaking of which, I suddenly realised that they had some of this Year's Short List which I had missed. Two were Younger Reader books, but I bought them anyway. It's surprising what turns up there.

Anyway, time for tea and we will have some lovely new books early next term!


    Creative Commons image

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16. Calling All Aussie and Brit Spec Fic Fans!

Received in my email yesterday the following request from a lady doing her Masters thesis on diversity in speculative fiction. This is a subject that is being much discussed recently and it will be interesting to see what results she comes up with in her thesis. I'm going to do it.

Sorry, Australian and British fans only this time.

Take it away, Rachel Aitken!

Calling all science fiction and fantasy literature fans! I'm Rachel, and I'm a student from Scotland studying the MSc Publishing at Edinburgh Napier University. I'm currently conducting research for my dissertation, which aims to critically analyse racial and gender diversity within sci fi and fantasy fiction, specifically in the UK and Australia. I'm looking for participants to complete the following survey, where you will be asked about yourself, your opinions on diversity in the genre, with some case study questions regarding book cover decisions as well. The survey itself shouldn't take longer than 20 minutes, and I will be extremely grateful if you could complete it! It's for British and Australian participants only, as I am investigating differences in the genre between these two countries. The deadline for answers is July 17th. You can contact myself, if you have any questions, on Twitter (@rh_aitken) and you can access the survey here. Thank you again! 

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17. Forgetting Foster By Dianne Touchell. Allen and Unwin: Crows Nest, 2016




Foster Sumner is seven years old. He likes toy soldiers, tadpole hunting, going to school and the beach. Best of all, he likes listening to his dad's stories.

But then Foster's dad starts forgetting things. No one is too worried at first. Foster and Dad giggle about it. But the forgetting gets worse. And suddenly no one is laughing anymore.
 


This is Dianne Touchell's third novel. The first, Creepy And Maud, was on that year's CBCA shortlist. I admit to not having got around to reading that one, so this is my first experience with this author's writing. 

This story, about a family's having to deal with early onset Alzheimer's Disease in the father, is certainly not going to make its readers cheerful. Like the young hero, we know it's not going to go away, ever. Foster misses his funny, gentle, wise father and we miss him too, with all the flashbacks and memories of the delightful, ridiculous stories he used to tell. 

It's painful, watching the father deteriorate and the mother being frustrated and angry and constantly telling Foster to go play in his room when the adults have to discuss things. It's painful seeing how Foster tries to cope at school when word gets around. 

Clearly the author has done her research on what happens when Alzheimer's arrives, or perhaps her family has been through it; an afterword might have been interesting here. 

The story is poignant, yes, but... at whom is it aimed? The blurb says from thirteen up and it's slotted into "young adult" on the publisher's web site, but the hero is seven years old. Teenagers tend not to read books about characters that much younger than themselves. At the same time, the average seven year old is unlikely to get it. I understand that a lot of this couldn't happen if Foster had been thirteen or older; much of it depends on his not understanding quite what's going on, and the reader knowing.  But I think it might have worked better if he had been a little older, perhaps ten or eleven, and the language a little simpler, to make it more suitable for a younger age range. 

Available from June 22nd at all good bookshops and online. You can order it from Booktopia here


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18. Just Started Rereading... Gilgamesh The King by Robert Silverberg





I do have a copy of this in paperback on my overflowing shelves, somewhere, but bought the ebook on an impulse after reading and reviewing Two Tales Of Brothers From Ancient Mesopotamia. Robert Silverberg is best known for his science fiction, but this is historical fiction lalong the lines of Mary Renault's The King Must Die, ie taking a character from mythology and asking how you can fit him into real history. And, I have read, Gilgamesh was a real person who had myths and legends wound into his life, a bit like Charlemagne, whom we know existed, rather than Arthur, whom we would like to think existed, but don't know. 

 I'm enjoying the reread so far. I'd forgotten a lot of it. This Gilgamesh starts to think of death, and how he definitely doesn't want it, when he is only six and attends his father's funeral.

 It's certainly based on the royal burial excavated by Leonard Wooolley, in which he had the theory that all those people who went with the king were there voluntarily. If you believed without question that the afterlife for most people was darkness and dust and you had the chance to go to heaven and party with the gods instead, in exchange for taking poison and lying down with the king in his grave, you might just do it, yes? Woolley gave some reasons for his theory; the layout was too neat, nobody seemed to have struggled and one handmaiden had her silver headdress in her pocket instead of on her head; maybe, he suggests, she was a bit late getting dressed for the funeral and forgot to put it on? It's a fascinating read, by the way, a book called Ur Of The Chaldees, which Penguin published many years ago; I was given it along with a number of other classics by a teacher who was clearing his shelves and knew I loved history. I used the book in my research for my book Time Travellers: Adventures In Archaeology(my one and only bestseller - still in print in the U.S., still bringing me royalties after 14 years).

At this point in my reading, Gilgamesh is not much past twelve and already a huge young man and sexually experienced. He discovered girls early and when his uncle takes him to the temple of Inanna to have his supposed first experience with a sacred prostitute, he has to pretend to be a virgin. 

I'm looking forward to rereading the rest. I always enjoy a book which has taken a myth or legend and shown me how it could work as history. 

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19. The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell. Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2015


The place: Russia, deep in the forest. The time: deep winter, a few years before the Russian Revolution would change the country forever. We're not given a precise date, only that it happened about a hundred years ago, and hints given in the novel suggest the Tsar is Nicholas II, who had a sick son, and that it's after 1905. 

Twelve year old Feodora, known as Feo, lives in the forest with her mother, returning to the wild wolves which have been abandoned by the aristocrats who had kept them as pets and become bored with them. When an insane General destroys their home and arrests her mother, dragging her off to St Petersburg, Feo follows with her much-loved pack of wolves, a newborn wolf pup and a new friend, Ilya, who has been forced to become a soldier(he's under age)when he would much rather be a dancer. 

Along the route to save Feo's mother, they make friends among the peasants who are starting to become restless; the General has been oppressing them too, and he represents the Tsar, after all. While the coming Revolution is never mentioned, anyone who is familiar with it will recognise the signs. And yet, the ending is almost fairy tale... I can't tell you any more lest I spoil it.

The author doesn't hesitate to do dreadful things to her characters, but it was a dreadful time, after all, and motivation is needed for the decisions made on Feo's quest. 

The language is beautiful and the flavour purest folk tale; I could almost hear a balalaika playing in some scenes, such as when a group of peasants celebrate the arrival of Feo and Ilya. In fact, I could almost imagine Baba Yaga flying through the trees in her mortar and pestle or arriving in her house on chicken legs! It is that kind of vision of Russia. 

If I have a nitpick, it was how quickly the villain recovers from having his eye poked out! I just can't imagine it.

Still, it's a great adventure with wolves, which I'm sorry I took so long to get around to reading, and I would recommend it for children from late primary school to early secondary.

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20. Nearly Finished... Soon by Morris Gleitzman




It has taken me a while to get hold of this because the book was always out from my school library. It's interesting, really - my school, in Melbourne's western suburbs, is very multicultural, with quite a few Muslim kids in the mix, yet everyone is fascinated by Holocaust era fiction, and this series is much loved. Even a young man whom I know is capable of reading much more difficult fiction - I've just lent him Melina Marchetta's The Piper's Son - wanted to read this series(or "family of books" as the author calls it). He is a refugee himself and it resonated with him.

We now have two copies; I have one and I saw one of my students yesterday with the other copy, lent to her by the literacy co-ordinator. I suggested we could discuss it on Monday. I'm nearly finished and know, just know, that our hero Felix is heading for yet another tragedy. It's only comforting to know that he ends up in Australia as a well respected and much loved doctor, adored by his granddaughter. Not a spoiler, as we learned this two books ago. Right now, though, he's a thirteen year old boy who is trying to survive, with his friend Gabriek, a man who saved his life, and an orphaned baby thrust into his arms by a despairing mother just before she was killed. And it hurts to read.

Now that it's on the CBCA short list, I can add it to my display.

As far as I'm concerned, if it doesn't win this year's Younger Reader prize, there's no justice. How does Morris Gleitzman  do it, time after time? How does he manage to draw you in and make you cheer for his characters and care what happens to them, smile at the gentle humour - and then break your heart again, as he breaks theirs? Damn you, Gleitzman!

If you haven't read this series yet, go and do it - immediately! The author says you don't have to read it from the beginning, you can read it in any order, but I do recommend you at least start with Once, or when you go back to read it, you will already know what happens to Felix's friends and that might spoil it for you. 

But make sure you have a good supply of tissues!

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21. Just Started Rereading...Mort by Terry Pratchett



I've just finished my reread of Wyrd Sisters, the first novel about the three witches, and had intended to reread the next, Witches Abroad, in which Nanny, Granny and Magrat head for Genua, the Discworld New Orleans, which is currently being ruled by Granny's horrible sister Lily, now calling herself Lilith, who is determined to make fairytales come true ... and if you remember some of those fairytales ... Urk!

But my paperback copy of that book is missing till I tidy up(I have it in ebook, but by bedtime the iPad really needs charging) so I picked up Mort, the first of the Discworld novels in which Death had developed into the loveable character he remains for the rest of the series. In the first couple of books, he was just pursuing Rincewind the klutzy wizard who has embroidered the word "wizzard" on his hat in case you hadn't picked up what he is, and you were just happy Rincewind managed to elude him.

In this book, though, which was the first of the Discworld books I bought, he has decided to take an apprentice, to be company for the daughter he adopted, Ysabell. She is seventeen and now he doesn't know what to do with her.

This is the novel in which you discover he loves cats, enjoys the occasional curry and has a horse called Binky. Binky looks an awful lot like Shadowfax of Lord Of The Rings fame. Death also lives in a cottage that's bigger on the inside than the outside, with Ysabell and his manservant Albert, and has an umbrella stand, although it never rains there. 


Death is fascinated by humans, especially  by their ability to invent boredom, and actually cares about them, though, as he says himself, he never gets to see them at their best. By Hogfather, he is posing as the Discworld Santa Claus himself, as someone has made the real Hogfather disappear by removing children's belief in him. Death puts on the suit, with a pillow to pad himself out, takes up the sack and the sleigh and goes out to deliver the toys, to hold a space for the real Hogfather when his granddaughter Susan has managed to find out what's going on and save the Hogfather from the Auditors, the personification of dreary bureaucracy, who want the universe to be rocks floating in circles in space so they can get on with their filing. 

Actually, it has just occurred to me - who else do we know who has a home bigger on the inside than out, cares about humans and has a granddaughter called Susan? Just a thought, we can't ask the author any more, though I hope when he left us he met his own version of Death. He would have liked that. 

In this one, Death goes missing for a while himself, taking a holiday as a short order cook and leaving the Duty to his apprentice, Mort, who stuffs it up, of course, or there would be no story. 

It is the first time he does this in the series, though it won't be the last. In Reaper Man he is sacked from his job as Death and gets a job on a farm, calling himself Bill Door. In Soul Music Susan has to take over the Duty for a time while Albert searches for him. He is making an effort to learn to forget, doing everything from joining the Klatchian Foreign Legion to getting drunk. That novel became an animated film with the wonderful Christopher Lee voicing Death. 

He also appears in some non-Discworld novels, such as Good Omens, which has a scene in a cafe, while the Horsemen are gathering for the Apocalypse. There's a trivia slot machine in the cafe and in response to "Which year did Elvis Presley die?" he protests, "I never laid a hand on him!" (Elvis appears in a fast food joint, flipping burgers and singing to himself)

Who would have thought you could take the end of life and personify it into such a delightful character? 

I will be carrying my copy of Mort with me and reading it at bedtime, even as I make my way through the huge TBR pile of review copies. 

So, who else loves the Discworld Death? Any thoughts? Agreement, disagreement?








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22. Found On My Shelves While Looking For Something Else.. Fritz LeiberClassic

So, last night I finished my reread of Terry Prachett's Mort and went to the shelves to look for another Pratchett to reread. I couldn't find the one I wanted and looked at the back layer of books, where I found Fritz Leiber's two horror classics Conjure Wife and Our Lady Of Darkeness, under the one cover, a Tor edition.



I bought the book years ago and it had been sitting there unread all this time! It isn't the only one by any means, and while I feel just a bit guilty another part of me says, "Yes, but that means I have a pleasant surprise every now and then, something new to read when I need it." It served me well back when I was unemployed and a trip to the bookshop was not an option. Yes, there's always the library,  but these were books I had chosen.

And there was that Twilight Zone episode which was based on a Harlan Ellison story, in which a young man rescues an older man, played by Danny Kaye, and goes back to his home, where there are shelves and shelves of books. On being asked whether he has read them all, the old man says, what's the point of having all those books if you've read them all.

I discovered Fritz Leiber through his fantasy tales of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, who live and have adventures in a place called Lankhmar. The stories have the kind of humour missing from a lot of other swords and sorcery fiction of the time - and, let's face it, from a lot of more recent fantasy fiction. Unlike recent writers, Leiber didn't write multi-volume sagas, and good on him! There were a lot of short stories about his two heroes, but you didn't have to read the lot to be able to follow the series. I think he actually coined the term "swords and sorcery", though not, of course, the genre. 

But he did a lot more. In recent years I've read two novellas, The Big Time and No Great Magic, set during something called the Change War, where agents from two competing organisations are travelling through time, changing things. 

He started life as an actor, as both his parents were actors; you'll see his father in a lot of very old movies, and I have this niggling feeling he might have done a few himself, must look it up. 

Anyway, off to read my new find, and hopefully let you know all about it!

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23. Continuum 2016 Begins!

I won't be going till this afternoon, and only because I'm on a panel. It clashes with a theatre ticket; I'd have changed it if I was going on my own, but I'm going with my sister and we have dinner booked afterwards, with our mother and my sister's husband, too much to fiddle with.

This afternoon's panel(after which I'm going straight to the theatre) is on the topic of the Mary Sue. I've offered to be moderator, because I have a feeling that one of us in particular has a lot to say on the matter and it might be simplest just to introduce the panel and throw a few questions at them. One of the other panellists is one of our two GoHs, who writes martial arts fantasies centred around Asian gods and a young woman who would probably dislike, and be disliked by, Buffy. I've only read the first of them, when it first came out. One comment on my review described the heroine as a Mary Sue, so it will be interesting to hear her own thoughts on the matter. People tend to bristle when their heroines are accused of Mary Suedom.

As a collector of fanzines for many years before they all went online, losing their quality filters, I have read the original story that coined the term "Mary Sue", my old pen pal Paula Smith's "A Trekkie's Tale" and found it on line, connected with an interview with Paula by the TV Tropes web site. I do have the zine, but it's too hard to find and just about everything is online these days. If you're a librarian, with the skill of using the right search terms, you can find what you're after. Incidentally, Paula entered the opening line, slightly rewritten, for the Bulwer Lytton competition for dreadful opening lines and won a place in the annual collection of entries, though not the competition itself.

I've read a lot of Mary Sue stories, even written a couple for fun, both in the Robin Of Sherwood universe, back in the days before people were paying me to write, and both were with collaborators. These days there are a lot of people complaining that any competent and strong female character is accused of being a Mary Sue. To some extent, that's true, but not entirely. And there is also complaint that male characters don't get hit with the same accusation. Not quite true; there is even an official name for such males, either Marty or Gary Stu(for many years I called him Mark Sam). But it is true that it doesn't happen as often, and my guess is that it's because mostly women write this stuff and naturally they want to write about female characters. And in my own area of YA fiction, there are quite a few Mary Sues, because the main audience for them is female. The girls I work with might laugh about the love triangles, but they enjoy them. Grab a random book from the YA section of a bookshop and it's likely to be about a girl who saves the world while having to decide between two very attractive boys. 

 Personally, I think Suzanne Collins made the right decision in letting her heroine marry the boy who had suffered along with her instead of the childhood sweetheart, but there are plenty of girls arguing about it and supporting the other one. Does this make Katniss a Mary Sue? Possibly, but not in a derogatory sense. She's not Supergirl. She is just someone who does what she has to do and would really rather not have to do it, and when it's all over, she's not ruling the world or a Queen or a President. 

Can you have a canon Mary Sue? I think so. Think of Miramanee in Star Trek TOS. She fits into a category I'd describe as the Sweet Young Thing. She's a Native American priestess in a society which was set up by a mysterious race called the Preservers, who went around dropping endangered species on other planets to let them survive somewhere else. And she has the misfortune of being Captain Kirk's love interest - even worse, being married to him and pregnant with his child. You might as well hand her a red shirt to wear; she's going to be dead by the end of the episode.  There were a lot like her in fan fiction. 

I know one of our panellists wants to discuss Rey from the latest Star Wars movie, who has been called a Mary Sue. I was surprised to hear that; as far as I'm concerned, she is just the Luke Skywalker of this trilogy, and novpbody, as far as I know, ever called him a Gary Stu/Mark Sam. She's just the protagonist of the Hero's Journey, just like Luke. 

Anyway, we'll see how the panel goes. I'm doing two more on Monday, one on the YA love triangle, the final one on children's fiction. Those should be fun! 




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24. Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers Third Grade By Kate and Jol Temple, ill.by Jon Faye. Sydney: Allen And Unwin, 2016





Jimmy Cook is finding History Week a bit boring until Ms Fennel starts banging on about Captain Cook. Then - bingo! Turns out he and Captain Cook have a lot in common. Here are three of the big ones: they are both named James Cook; they are both great explorers; and they both look great in a tricorn hat.




So, he makes a tricorn hat for History Week, which goes over very well, until it's clear he is going to keep right on wearing it, which his teacher and his mother don't like. Jimmy insists he is descended from Captain Cook, although Cook has no known descendants, and his goal is to go to Hawaii, despite all the dangers(volcanoes, scary animals and people who are rioting) to retrieve Cook's stuff, to use in his own exploration. There's a competition with a family trip to Hawaii as the prize, but it means buying a lot of a certain brand of breakfast cereal. Like hundreds of boxes - if he can get there before his rival Alice Toolie...

This is a gentle, humorous book in the style of the popular Diary Of A Wimpy Kid series,  with a delightful hero who just doesn't get that he may be confused about some things - and refuses to believe what he is told, even if it it right under his nose, if he is focused on something. He interprets things his way, always. There are plenty of references to various products with a slight name change, but which young readers will recognise and have a giggle over.

The illustrations are amusing, reminiscent of Andrew Weldon.

Suited for children from seven years up.

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25. Two Tales Of Brothers From Mesopotamia by John Heffernan.Ill. by KateDurack.Sydney: Christmas Press, 2016


Here is yet another beautiful picture story book from the wonderful Christmas Press. Christmas Press is a fine example of Australian small press publishing, springing up to fill a niche that the large publishing houses have left open. It only does a few books a year, but all of them are carefully and exquisitely produced, retelling folk and fairytales from various countries. 

This latest book is by John Heffernan, better known as a YA novelist. It retells, in language young readers can follow, part of the story of Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, and his friend Enkidu, who are as close as brothers. The two stories are "The King And The Wild Man" and "Brothers Battle The Beast." In the first story, the two men meet, fight and find themselves admiring each other. Gilgamesh has been a bad king, making the lives of his subjects a misery in his arrogance. The gods answer his subjects' prayers by creating a wild man, Enkidu, to match him, since he won't pay any attention to a lesser being. Then, in the second story, the two battle the monster Humbaba, the Bull of Heaven. 

Both stories are beautifully illustrated by Kate Durack, who uses ancient Mesopotamian styles as her starting point and gives them a cartoon-like flavour which, oddly, works. The stories and the artwork match well. The ancient Mesopotamian style will also give children some idea of the history behind the story. That's a good thing, because I don't think anyone does Mesopotamia in history any more; our Year 7 students study Egypt, Greece, Rome and China. 

Young readers might also follow up the stories told here. 

Just one thing: the author changes the ending, making it happier than in the original "Epic of Gilgamesh". But the original ending of this part of the story leads to the next part, in which Gilgamesh, upset by his friend's death, goes on his quest for immortality. And there's only so much you can fit into a picture story book, only so complex you can make it. That was recognised by Ursula Dubosarsky in her story about Romulus and Remus, in which she finishes by saying that she wishes she could give it a happy ending, but does say that Rome was founded as a result of this story. If children want to know more, they can always look it up. 

Suitable for children from about middle primary school upwards.

Available from the Christmas Press web site. 



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