"I'm just going to write because I can't help it."- Charlotte Brontë

Sunday, September 30, 2012

End of the Month Report: September 2012

Submissions: 9 (3 were previously published stories all sent off to the same reprint anthology)
Rejections: 6
Acceptances: 0
Published: 0
Stories out in the wild: 10
New stories completed: 0 (my brain has been much preoccupied with other matters lately.)
Mood: Resigned to writing at a reduced capacity over the next few months until I get completely well. It's frustrating, but that's just the way it is. Things could have turned out a lot worse.

Another One!

Some of you may be getting a little tired of this, but me, never!

Eric J. Guignard sent an addendum to yesterday's email noting another nice review, hot off the press, of Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations. It's from Michael R Collings, a Senior Publications Editor for JournalStone Publishing, an Emeritus professor of English, popular author of best-selling horror novels and GOH at the last World Horror Convention. You can read it HERE.

And yes, he mentions me - why else would I be so excited and divert from my morning routine to immediately post this?

The twenty-five stories, all by fine writers with a careful eye toward craft and artistry, range from the quietly atmospheric to the overtly horrific…ribcages erupting from the living bodies of men. Some incorporate traditional horrors, such as ghosts and Lovecraftian behemoths; others introduce entirely new levels of creatures and creations. In Caw Miller’s “The Small, Black God,” a stone statue becomes the instrument of vengeance and death. In Rob Rosen’s “Buried Treasure,” the treasure found in the northern desert wastes is both that which is sought and something more. Gitte Christensen’s “Whale of a Time” evokes another time and place while simultaneously playing with multiple levels of a manipulated reality. Andrew S. Williams’ “The Talisman of Hatra” subsumes overt horror beneath a challenging story of love and betrayal. Jonathan Vos Post’s “Sumeria to the Stars” transforms the starkness of mathematics into possibilities almost—but not quite—beyond imagining; in its closing lines, it provides a counterpoise to Bruce L. Priddy’s re-creation of ancient epic in “Gilgamesh and the Mountain.”

Anyway, as said, I'll never get tired of this. It still amazes me that a story one has worked on for ages mostly in isolation, all the while wondering whether anyone else will want to spend a portion of their precious time with your creation, is actually being read by real live people out there in the great big world, and that some of them are actually really enjoying it! Talk about a warm fuzzy feeling deep in the cockles of my writerly heart. And (she said smugly) I do think WOT is doing rather well for a story that was rejected 11 times before Eric enthusiastically snapped it up. Lesson learnt: you either click with editors and readers when you do these riskier pieces, or you don't. Must remember this.

Now, must return to my trusty writing keyboard (with a smile on my face). I'll be back to blog later. Maybe.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Just Call Me the Comic Relief


Thanks to another of Eric J Guignard's fantastic updating emails, I've been alerted to four more reviews for Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations, all of which praise the diversity of the stories and comment on how they appeal to our sense of adventure and wonder. Check them out. They're right about the anthology being a good read.

One review is over at Onetitle Magazine: http://onetitle.ca/dark-tales-of-lost-civilizations

Another is over at Literary Mayhem:

And then - drumroll, please - there are the two reviews that mention ME! They don't say a lot, but they DO mention me.

The first is in a Black Gate review (Black Gate! Whoo-hoo!) HERE where, amidst all the praise for other contributors, they sneak in:
Nor is it just the lost civilizations themselves that are varied. Rather, it is the changing mood and tone that keeps this anthology so fresh. The reader assumes there will be horror (since it is mentioned in the subtitle) and will not be disappointed by Chelsea Armstrong’s “The Nightmare Orchestra”. The reader also suspects there will be something spooky, and Joe R. Lansdale provides a deliciously creepy yarn in “The Tall Grass”.

But most readers will not expect a laugh-out-loud futuristic comedy like Gitte Christenson’s “Whale of a Time”.

Then, over at Nameless Magazine, there's this very cool line:

Geeks will get a kick out of "Whale of a Time" from Australian science fiction writer Gitte Christensen, where virtual reality is no longer virtual and user groups run amuck.

So, more things to make me smile this week. Nice.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Time to Pull Up My Sleeves

There are many things that one lets slide when one is busy having an extended existential crisis. They seem small, petty, unimportant, insignificant, grubby even when compared with with the greater questions surrounding mortality.

These little things are, however, the warp and weft of everyday life, and once one's excuse for loitering on the edges of normalcy and napping all the time vanishes, one is left with a lot of cleaning up to do.

So, it's time to catch up with myself. But need I say that I'm happy to do so? I think not.

Off to the Arvo Job then.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Snoopy Happy Dancing my Way Back to Good Health

As you can guess from the title of this post, my Date with Destiny went well. After months of various doctors gently grooming me to prepare myself for the worst (yes, I knew what they were up to. I'm a writer. I study dialogue!) you can colour me surprised, amazed, a little shocked, but most of all, a bright shade of extremely grateful.

The day didn't start out well though. When I got to the hospital for my Date with Destiny scan, I was told that the MRI was broken, which meant there'd be no up to date information for the afternoon consult, which meant I would have had to head home again full of unknowing, which is dire stuff to feed my imagination, and wait goodness knows how long to find out about my situation. Luckily, the MRI tech guys arrived on the scene and managed to fix the machine in the nick of time. Thank you tech guys. I'd buy you each a beer if I could. Heck, throw in vodka chasers all round as well. And peanuts. And chips. The expensive ones.

After that unwelcome drama, I met up with my sister for tea and cake, and off we went to the specialist consultation.  Last time I was there, I was warned that the best case scenario after my initial three months of post-op therapy was a lot of upcoming pain and botheration for myself, friends and family. I'd been advised by my palliative nurse to not go to this meeting alone, so my sister was there to pick me up and get me home if the news was too bad and I was reduced to a puddle on the floor. However, when we walked into the consult, we were faced with a grinning surgeon and a smiling medical student. The surgeon announced that she was very pleased with the scan. My sister and I looked at each other in bafflement. We were primed for bad stuff, so it took a moment to sink in. Then our questions of the 'what do you mean by pleased' type started.

 Apparently, I've beaten the odds. Apparently, I've responded so well to the initial treatment that I'm well on my way back to good health. Thanks to the wonders of modern medicine (although my sister and I have a theory that last week's horse riding helped too), bad things have disappeared. Other bad things have reduced significantly in size. It happens sometimes, said the surgeon. I'm not out of the woods yet, but I'm pretty much standing on the treeline and looking out at the world and feeling very much like a part of it again for the first time in over ten months. I'll continue with my present therapy and checkups for another 3-6 months, but my team of medicos are quite confident I'll be as right as rain soon.

You cannot believe the relief I'm feeling. I can hardly believe it myself. I hadn't realised just how wound up I was. This is so amazing!!!! If I never win tattslotto, that's okay. I'm more than happy for the universe to siphon all my lottery luck into my continued good health.

So now I can breathe again. I can be calm. I can plan. I can purge all those twisty dark thoughts and free up my brain to WRITE again! Watch out anthologies of the world, here I come. Gitte is back in the game! Or at least she will be very soon.

That Friggin' Frosty Splinter

So today I have a Date with Destiny.

For the last week, my focus has dramatically narrowed, and it's just been me, the 25th September, and the tunnel that leads me to that upcoming meeting with my medicos.  I did absolutely no writing last week. The brain is not up for it. Other things have priority.

My perception is presently split into two - the part that is doing the living and not particularly enjoying the situation, and the part that is observing my own reactions and watching the way people around me are behaving, viewing the whole thing with writerly interest. The doing-the-hard-yards part of me has no patience with that attitude and wants to king hit the pretentious Graham-Greene-wannabe part and then grind her underfoot. Hopefully the two parts will reconcile soon.

Anyway, I need to get to this meeting so I can get through this meeting and then move on to the other side of it. Then I can make plans again.

Oh, and of course there was a rejection waiting for me when I got home from the Arvo Job. They always know when to hit you with them for maximum effect. And this one was in the works for so long and was soooooo close. I really thought... It was a nice rejection though. Not to worry - I'll get over it.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

I've Had My Fill of Filled

When perusing the anthology markets, no matter how exciting the theme is or how prestigious the publishers are, there are two words that, once sighted next to the all important deadline, cause me to back off and have a good think about it before I get sucked in : Until Filled.

Way back when I was a complete newbie, I came across an anthology that put the deadline as a specific date three months hence or until filled. At the time, I had the  rough draft of a story that I thought might be perfect. Surely, I thought, if I got my story to them in 3-4 weeks, a full two + months before the deadline, I'd be in early enough for consideration. You can, of course, see where this is heading. Before I even had the chance to sub my story, the editors suddenly announced they were going with until filled, that the antho was effectively full and was therefore closed to all further submissions. And so the poor dears missed out on my fantastic tale :-)

I'm not good at rushing my work, and so I'm not a great fan of until filled anthos. I don't really understand them either. I'm sure the editors have their reasons for staging the process that way, probably something to do with managing the slushpile and getting the show on the road the the printers as early as possible, but no matter how I hold until filled up to the light and turn the phrase this way and that, I cannot see how the principle of 'first in, first served' can make for the best possible anthology with the best possible stories. Sure the editors will choose very good stories that they believe in, they're professionals after all, but how can they know they've chosen the very best stories if they've already eliminated potential contenders by shutting up shop early? With the antho mentioned above, they effectively denied themselves eight weeks worth of fabulous stories that writers all over the world were still lovingly crafting. And even the stories they did choose, who's to say they might not have turned out even better if the panicky writers hadn't felt compelled to rush them off so they could beat the crowds?

With a set deadline and a guarantee that one's work will be fairly considered, a writer can pace the unfolding of a story, work hard on it and let it sit, then work hard on it again, all the while keeping a calm eye on the time it must be completed by. When it goes off, it's polished and ready, the best it can be, not just competent or good enough. ***

 So what's brought all this on? There's an antho I'd really love to take a shot at, and I have a story I could rewrite to fit. The antho involves reinterpreting fairy tales for various apocalypses, but not only do they have an overall until filled policy, but they're also only accepting one version of each fairy tale for each anthology. As soon as they pick a story to represent a certain fairytale, they close off all further submissions of versions of that particular tale. If you read the comments section, you sense that there are a lot of frustrated folk who worked hard on their stories and subbed them only to be pipped at the post by mere hours, or who were still working on their stories when the update came in that their particular fairytale had now been filled and was closed off. I'm loath to join those upset people. I don't mind my story playing off in a fair fight against countless other stories, that's how the game works, but I don't have a lot of free time for writing, and don't feel inclined to spend my precious weekend on producing a story that the editors might not even look at.

Editors are, as always, free to select works any which way they choose, and I, of course, am as free as a bird to not submit to their antho, but I still don't get this system. In this particular case, why not wait until all the stories are in, make a stack for each fairy tale, then read them all and choose an overall winner? How do the editors know when they pick a story that there isn't another far more amazing version of that particular fairy tale that might have been subbed two days hence but which they'll never have the pleasure of reading now because the writer has been denied a chance in the ring, an amazing story which, more importantly, this system has deprived future readers of reading?

Until Filled anthologies are, and remain, a great big mystery to me.

***Of course, some people are both fast AND good writers, so not everyone will feel the same way about the time thing as I do. 

Yep, She's Definitely Back

Photo just taken: the Chook, comfortably ensconced under the dining room table (yeah, yeah, I know, I need to vacuum.)

She's certainly, and possibly wilfully, not getting the boundaries I'm trying to enforce in this multi-species household, one of which can be succinctly summed up as 'Chickens are welcome outside, but are not at all appreciated indoors, thank you very much, now vamoose.'

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

All the Fowl News That's Fit to Print

Front page local news that's rocking the community: only 10 days after acquiring their new chook Twinkle, the kids at a local preschool arrived to find that a thief had snuck in overnight and stolen their  much-loved egg layer.The police were called in, the crime scene was investigated (there were signs of breaking in, so it definitely wasn't just a case of a wandering chook gone MIA). The kids drew identikit pictures of the missing Silky Bantam for the cops. "Why would anyone want to take our Twinkle?" said the sad and confused littlies to local reporters, their tender young hearts hurting as they learn a harsh lesson about the human race. Later, the police returned with a replacement chicken called Flossie for the kindergarten kids to look after while the local cops continue to look for Twinkle.

So the hunt is on. I'd hate to be the chicken rustling crim nabbed for nicking this kindergarten pet. I, and everyone for miles around, I imagine,  ask you, what kind of a lowdown scum steals a small, fluffy hen from four year olds? The perp who finally gets nabbed for this fowl crime will face much animosity. I see shadowy figures with pitchforks and flaming torches gathering in the dark around the local lockup, and envision much booing, hissing and tomato-throwing as the dastardly chook thief heads for trial. However, as one recently converted to regarding chickens with affection, part of me worries that our cringing burglar, on the run and frightened by the publicity, might feel compelled to get rid of the incriminating evidence...

Poor Twinkle. One minute as safe and loved as a chicken can ever hope to be, the next nabbed in the dark of night and whisked away to some hillbilly hideout. Life can be tough for a helpless little hen. Indeed, it can be for all of us. We are Spartacus. We are Twinkle.

Here on the home front, the Chook is back after possibly saving the world, but is flightier that ever. She just pops in, demands food, then pops out again. I get no cute antics or clucking background noises in exchange for my sunflower seed investment, and am beginning to feel somewhat exploited. It could just be that she's roving further afield in this beautiful Spring weather - and who isn't tempted to go just one flower-strewn field further when the sun shines so brightly - but if she keeps it up, I might look at renegotiating our co-existence contract.

And in a final bit of chickenfeed news, my sister Cindy has joined the fellowship of fowl-loving folk by acquiring three terribly cute Isa Brown pullets. She calls them Noodle, Nugget and Narky (the one with attitude). Just twelve weeks old, they're still learning what treats they prefer, the intricacies of perching, the art of scratching and scrabbling, and how to flatten when dark shadows pass ominously overhead.

Alas, thinking of the 3N's good fortune at landing a gig at my sister's, and imagining their happy and contented lives, just makes me once more wonder about the fate of poor Twinkle. The life of one little hen might be a small thing compared with the terrible troubles of the world at large, but such everyday tragedies nonetheless have their own validity.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

They Should Bottle Horse Riding and Sell it as a Tonic

It'll be another early night for me, once I finish a spot of quick bio updating for the '100 Lightnings' anthology which I've just been informed is nearing completion. I'm very tired, but happy, after a lovely horsey day courtesy of my sister, who kindly ferried me about the countryside to reduce my expending energy on things other than actually horse riding.

There was none of our usual dusk to dawn derring-do wending through the forest at high speeds, but a more sedate 2.5 hour ride with lots of chatting and admiring of the countryside. However, we did trot and canter much more than I thought we would because, after a cautious start to test the waters, it soon became apparent that my poor, putupon internals were, apart from the occasional lurch, behaving themselves impeccably. At no point did I feel the need to scream, or even softly moan, with pain, so we picked up the speed and covered more ground than we'd originally planned. The horses were eager, the weather was grey but balmy, and the rain held off until after our ride was over. 'Twas a goooooood feeling to be back on a horse again.

Afterwards, we hit the jackpot foodwise, in that the people who own the place where we ride were having a family get together, celebrating a christening, and had whipped up lots of good country cooking for the event. My sister and I were waited upon like royalty, and served a selection of delicious homemade terrines with salad and a bread which, once buttered, we couldn't get enough of. But wait, there's more. As we leaned back in chairs on the veranda enjoying our cups of tea and our satisfied tummies as we perused horses shuffling picturesquely in the corals and the gorgeous landscape beyond, well-mannered kids appeared bearing the scrummiest pavlova I've had in years, and yes, it was for us. **

A great ride followed by great food - aaah, life is good!

The loooooong nap I had as soon as I got home was nice too :)

**Update: I realise now that the sequential logic of this sentence leaves much to be desired, the taste reveal coming before the sweet had been confirmed as destined for us, but hey, it was late and I was pooped when I wrote it :)

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Gearing Up

I'll be putting on my jammies soon and hitting bed early tonight because - yay! - I'm heading off for a tiny horse ride tomorrow. Tiny as in it'll just be an ever so very very gentle and short 2 hour ride, that is, not as in it in any way involves miniature equines. It'll just be my sister and me, two good horses, the Daylefordian countryside, and hopefully a nice sunny day for clopping at a relaxed pace through the Wombat Forest. I haven't ridden since back in April, before my first operation, so I'm really looking forward to climbing back in the saddle. My gear is all lined up and I'm raring to go. Cross fingers I'm not overextending myself, and that my poor old sliced and diced body is up for it. I think it'll do me a world of good.

But first, I'm going to hunker down in front of the TV, fire up the blu-ray, load up a tray with herbal tea and fresh fruit goodies, and finally watch Another Earth, which I've been meaning to catch for ages. As I've posted on a few occasions, I do love a good SF, mirror planet, doppelganger movie.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Waffling On About The Dead

 Bards and Sages Publishing have started their series of author interviews to promote the Return of  the Dead Men (and Women) Walking anthology. The first one is here.

Hmmm, apparently, they're micro interviews.


Micro? As in really tiny? Not very long? No-one told me that. I've checked my emails, and cannot see the word micro, or for that matter short, or any instructions about not waffling on anywhere. The utter wordiness of some of the answers I sent now seems a bit embarrassing. Once I get started, and I'm having fun, well, off I go. But hey, if my interview gets used, I'm sure they'll cut me down to a few pithy lines.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Littlest and Featheriest Hobo

No sign of the Chook today, and the cats and I all missed her bossy presence. Usually on my Wednesdays off, because I'm mostly resting up at home, she spends much time sneaking into the house and sticking her sticky beak into every nook and cranny as she loudly voices her opinions on all matters. Last week she made it all the way into my writing room while I was working, and spent a goodly amount of time investigating my amazing floor-supported, filing system. Perhaps it was just me feeling a tad guilty about the mess (I will tidy it up soon, I promise) but her clucks definitely had an air of disapproval about them.

However, though I'm uneasy at her absence, and I worry about her being out there all alone in the world amongst predators of all types rather than safely roosting in her own tree by the hot water shed,  I'm not too worried yet. Not only is the Chook as tough as nails, she's also a free spirit, a vagabond who comes and goes as she pleases. She regularly wanders off on these walkabouts. The first time she vanished, I was quite sad, certain that she'd been gobbled up by a feral fox or the like. She also nicked off while I was in hospital and then convalescing at my sister's, though whether this was because she missed me or the cats, it's hard to say. Anyway, gone, gone, gone, was the verdict of my house minder, but the moment I opened the back door on my return and called out  a tentative hallo, Chookie,  there was a screech of welcome from somewhere in the distance (how sensitive is chicken hearing? I should find out.) and a fluttering of feathers, and there she was again, joyfully running around amongst the cats. She would have hugged them if she'd had arms, I'm sure of it. There have been a few other times when she's been gone for over a week as well, and I've been about to post a RIP in her memory only to have her turn up at the kitchen door loudly demanding food.

But I wonder, what does a chicken do when she goes walkabout? Head off down the highway like a hobo with a stick and bundle over her wings? Go visit relatives of the hopefully free range type? Hang out with friends in a local coop? Whatever she gets up to (maybe she's a spy of some sort, off on regular missions. That fits too.) this particular feathered little nuisance is free to do as she pleases, as long as she safely returns to us at some point. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Dead Men Up and Walking

So late Sunday night I finished and emailed the final edit of The Snowy River Feral for what is referred to somewhat ignobly as The Dead Men antho in the contributor emails buzzing back and forth. The answers for my author interview to help promote the book went off over a week ago. The cover art has been finally finalised - looking good. I've been peeking at the other stories - they look good too. Things are falling into place and hotting up. Now I just have to sit back and try not to fidget too much as I wait for October (not so far away), for that is when the antho finally comes out in all its glory and with its full title rightfully restored. I feel like a kid gazing longingly at a bike-shaped package under the Christmas tree, itching to unwrap it and take it for a whizz around the block.

Given my glee, it was only to be expected that the Real World, which constantly, above and beyond the call of duty, I sometimes think, goes out of its way to keep me humble, tried to stuff up my good mood with a two-rejection Monday night. But hah, I can take it! There's a book full of zombie and vampire stories on the way with my name in it, so suck it up, Real World, suck it up!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Dial A for Adventure

I was reading this morning about a new phone app that deliberately gets people lost so they can experience the cold hand of fate and the thrilling vagaries of chance. This is how some people choose to escape the rule of GPS devices that always know exactly where you are and behavioural tracking programmes that take all the thought out of people's lives by anticipating desires and recommending what they should read, watch, think, do and whom they should follow and hang out with to achieve maximum happiness.

 Sorry, I'm a bit slow sometimes, but lets see if I understand this correctly - there are grownup people with minds of their own who are reasonably conscious of the fact that they're so enslaved by their mobile phones that their lives have been organized and homogenized and made safe to the point of blandness that they conclude that they need to shake things up to make life interesting again. In short, they self-diagnose that they're in sore need of an unplanned adventure. However,  instead of just putting the damn phone away for a while and going for *shudder* (is it even possible) a completely cost free, disconnected walk, they buy an illusion of freedom for $2.99, or whatever liberty is going for these days, and bravely set off on a journey where they once more hand over their choices to their phone? They toddle about the neighbourhood obeying the phone's command to 'turn left instead of right' or 'follow the next redhead you meet' and consider this an exhilarating foray into the unexpected? And by the by, isn't that a bit stalkerish? I swear, if I ever catch anyone tailing me who then uses the excuse that their phone made them do it...

Anyway, give me a break. This is all so irrational it makes my head hurt.

I also read article about the perennial criticism of how the very technology designed to ward off our intrinsic fear of being alone and apart from the comfort of the herd is actually driving us further into isolation. Mainly, it was a spiel on that modern phenomenon that we all know so well - people sitting outside on a beautiful sunny day oblivious to the weather and each other because they're busy phoning, Facebooking, tweeting, checking emails or surfing the net. Or people sitting with other people at a cafe but each is talking/texting to another, faraway person on their phones about how much fun they're having being with the people they're sitting with, perhaps snapping a "spontaneous" photo a la the standard, wacky fun pose for their Facebook page and sneaking in a few words about what an awesome time they're having with these awesome people, and if you don't believe them, check out the Facebook pages of those very same awesome people and they'll for sure confirm all this social awesomeness. 

Again, my head hurts, but I doubt things will change anytime soon. We are but undeveloped babes in the wood at this point in time, at the mercy of our primitive emotions and overwhelmed by sophisticated influences that push all our instinctual buttons and exploit our primal fears. The technology is all still too new, exciting, massively entertaining, and, let's face it, extremely useful, and we are are mostly still so afraid of the unknown and uncontrollable, anxious about the brutality of life, and too terrified of going it alone to risk not being connected. Friends and likes make people feel relevant, safe, and important in a tumultuous world that does its best to erase each person's uniqueness. I Facebook, therefore I am. Facebook is the cyber equivalent of those amulets made up of things like pebbles and feathers that have a special meaning for an individual and which are then worn to ward off the unruly demons of the natural world. And yet, just as superstition can be the undoing of otherwise rational people, the modern obsession with instant connectivity and an outright  dependance on social networks to bolster one's sense of being is as inimical to a well-balanced, happy individual as any banned drug. 

I just hope that we as a society eventually grow out of our infantile desire to avoid discomfort zones, to have nannybots coddling us and telling us how great we are every minute of the day, to have apps replace original initiative and recorded lives replace real living. I hope one day we take back control of this truly amazing and wondrous technology, that we learn to integrate and control it  on a personal level rather than blindly serve and obey it, and that we use it to expand our horizons into the great beyond rather than to shrink our individual worlds into tiny, homogeneous bubbles of self-serving, self-righteous self-adulation.

May we grow mature enough and wise enough to know the difference. And may we once again feel brave enough to venture forth upon adventures of the unscripted sort.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Much Ado About Substance

HERE the Los Angeles Review of Books gives science fiction writing the once over. Fantasy gets a slap on the wrist too. Reviewer Paul Kincaid covers in depth the short stories chosen for the three biggie 2012 Best of the Year anthologies, namely Gardener Dozois's The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Ninth Annual Collection, Richard Horton's The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy:2012, and Nebula Awards Showcase 2012.

Best of is a loaded term that is always going to provoke debates - or at least it should, if we want to keep our genre exciting and relevant. Plucking certain mortals from the mud below and elevating them to a celestial position high above others is always going to pit one person's love of straightforward, ideas-based fiction without any new-fangled experimental bells and whistles against another person's love of escapist entertainment versus a third person's loathing of mundane prose and a fourth person's hankering for more interesting story structures. Your OMG, it's the most blooming awesome story ever in the history of the universe, and if you don't agree with me you're stupid might be my meh! Talk of spheres of influence to rival the old Cold War carving up of the world into political blocks, whisperings about competent but bland talent being helped along by friends in high places, complaints about uniform editorial tastes and grumblings about timid writers resorting to backwards-looking tropes are bound to erupt, and once again, your personal writerly or readerly POV will kick in and inform your position in the debate. All of this, as long as it's done within civilized conventions, is allowable and necessary. Freedom of expression and transparency are always desirable, although one should remember (geek alert) that much like the command of a starship, an anthology is not a democracy.

There's a lot to cogitate in Paul Kincaid's article of the good, bad, maybe, and absolutely spot-on sort. Basically, he seems to think that contemporary science fiction writing is much like a cardboard character of old who is bound for a tragic ending, picturesquely languishing upon a chaise longue in a perpetual state of exhaustion and ennui as he or she sighs and awaits the final curtain.

I do hope he's wrong.

From Spacecraft to Starship

I have to admit, I nicked that great title about Voyager 1 from this Washington Post article. It was just too cool and evocative to not nick.

But as a great fan of the workhorse technology of the Early Space Age that just keeps going and going and going, I was always going to do a quick post to celebrate that on this day,  35 years ago, way way back in 1977, Voyager 1 was launched. In a sequence that often confuses peoples, and mucks up careless sources, it's sister probe Voyager 2 blasted off first, a month earlier in August 1977, but because Voyager 1 was launched along a shorter and faster trajectory, it all sorted itself out in the great beyond and Voyager 1 actually reached Jupiter and Saturn first. Timing is everything.

After an impressive reconnaissance of Jupiter, Saturn and its moon Titan, Voyager 1 whizzed on ever outwards, passing Pioneers 10 and 11 to become the most distant man-made object from Earth. Voyager 2 is trailing its sister probe, and against all odds, both Voyagers continue to happily chug along, enjoying the stellar sights, and gathering and dutifully sending information back to their distant creators with their archaic, but still functioning, instruments:

Each only has 68 kilobytes of computer memory. To put that in perspective, the smallest iPod — an 8-gigabyte iPod Nano — is 100,000 times more powerful. Each also has an eight-track tape recorder. Today’s spacecraft use digital memory.

Primitive they may be by today's standards, but like the admirable Martian rovers that just kept on giving and giving, the two Voyagers have exceeded all expectations by keeping it together and steadily approaching the end of our solar system. Scientists predict that any time now, Voyager 1 will break through the hot turbulence at the edge of our solar system's heliosphere and sail on into the (perhaps) relatively cool calmness of interstellar space beyond.

So, yes, Voyager 1 will become a starship. What a promotion!

Ah, they built 'em tough in the old days. There's a lot to be said for screwdrivers and simplicity. I like my space technology to be rugged and robust and repairable. That way, when we finally do head on outwards, we'll be able to jump start engines, weld together emergency parts from scrap metal, and fix malfunctioning computers with a swift kick rather than having to find the nearest spaceship outlet selling slick, disposable, slot-in units with a limited warranty. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

An Unmade Day

So that make or break my day email finally arrived (not the humorous antho. This was a different obsession.)

I fiddle-faddled around for ten minutes before I finally opened it.


Nearly, but not quite.

It would have been soooo great.

Ah well, onwards...

At least there's only a few minutes left of this day, so the damage to its well-being is minimal. My writerly pain will soon be over :-) And tomorrow, as we all know, is another kettle of fish altogether.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Clueless Cows

Enough with the gorgeous spring weather! How's a person supposed to hole up inside and get some writing done when Mother Nature puts on such a stunning, sunny come-hither display of vernal loveliness? Perhaps I should recharge and update poor neglected Rover, who hasn't done a thing since my last operation, and head out into the backyard for a few hours. I might then also be more likely to grab Rover on the way out the door tomorrow and resume my habit of writing on the train whilst commuting to the Arvo Job. Double win. Alas, I fear that if I choose the backyard writing option, I might be distracted by the Chook's antics, the cuteness of certain felines, and the hypnotic pull of a big, wide, beautiful, blue sky.

Last week, I was not so housebound, but I didn't get to blog about an event that got me thinking about so many things, so I'll play catch-ups now. Out of curiosity, we headed off to a local (only 60-70 kilometres away) horsey competition in Elmore, run by the National Cutting Horse Association of Australia.  We thought it was the actual national championships, but they're not until November. However, after a  fun day that just flew by, we've circled that upcoming date, and next time I'll take much money for products - umbrellas, hats, bags, t-shirts, halters, bespoke saddles, you name it, many depicting horses in all states of realism or animated cuteness. A few unicorns and Pegasi snuck in too, holding their own with the many images of working country horses in impressive poses.

On arriving, expecting to walk into a world of spartan toughness, much to our surprise we were confronted by horses bedecked in pink sparkles with pink ribbons and pink feathers woven into their manes and tails, ladies completely attired in pink and sporting many pink accessories, and weather-worn blokes wearing pink lingerie over their cowboy clothes. It turned out to be the Deb Elliott Memorial Ladies Pink Cutting, a fundraising and awareness rating initiative organised by Cutting for Cancer. It was a wonderful introduction to the world of cutting and the people who populate it. I took pictures, but these ones are far better.

Prior to this event, all I knew about cutting was that it involved a rider and loyal horse separating a cow from the herd and keeping it isolated for a certain amount of time. It turned out to be a lot more complicated than that. After a few hours of studying the information sheets, judging rules and point system, we were trying to second-guess scores, having a great time throwing around terms like 'coming down the time line' and 'hot quit', while discussing the animal psychology behind 'herd holding' and, basically, how the whole sport depended on it. For, first and foremost, if the cows were not so unrelentingly bovine, cutting simply could not exist as a sport. It was this information, proven over and over and over again, that fascinated me. The sheer and utterly frightening predictability of the cows had my thoughts going off on all sorts of tangents.

Firstly, and remember I'm not cutting expert, the herds are regularly refreshed so as to not mess up their instincts. The herd holder, basically a cow whisperer on horseback, calmly weaves back and forth 'programming' the cows to accept one part of the arena as their safe zone. An ever so relaxed rider comes down the time line, quiet and calm, and sashays into the herd, lackadaisically breaking off a group and weaving back and forth to whittle down the numbers until there are just two cows. At this point, the two cows get somewhat uneasy. Instead of working together, however, self-preservation kicks in and they split off in two directions, giving themselves a 50-50 chance of escaping whatever predator is after them, I suppose. The rider then clearly chooses one (you lose points if you vacillate or change your mind).The visible and violent jolt of electricity that passes through a cow the second it realises it is the target is both pitiful and (I'm so cruel) a little bit comic. It's so pronounced that I'm sure there's a behavioural term for it. Anyway, the cow goes from being a couldn't-give-a-turd-about-being-here beast just chillin' with friends to becoming a panicked, mad creature dodging and twisting and doing amazingly gymnastic movements in a frenzied effort to get back to the herd. All of our victim's mates are, by the by, calmly in the safe zone utterly ignoring their colleagues distress. After the rider and pony have held the cow apart for a designated time, they 'quit' the cow and it is allowed to return to its pals. Once again, in the flick of a behavioural switch, it immediately relaxes, and within seconds seems to have forgotten its ordeal. I have to admit, after a couple of hours of this, I was hoping for a cow rebellion of some sort -  for the herd to stick together, for a cool individual to not care about being alone and not succumb to the usual panic, for the herd in the safe zone to come charging to the rescue of their  persecuted member. But no, they all reacted the same every single time.

Another revelation was the fact that the horses have complete autonomy during the phase when the cow is prevented from returning to the herd. I always thought the rider lightly guided the horse, but no, the rider actually signals that he or she is  handing over control by "dropping'  the reins, and the horse then works as an independent participant until the rider picks up the reins again. In fact, any interference from the rider results in lost points. So all the lightening fast starts and turns and cunning blocks that one sees are ALL the horse's doing, which is why, of course, there are superstar horses on the cutting circuit that cost a king's ransom when up for sale. Like all sports, there will always be naturals. Some of the horses radiated fun and delight, more like big dogs eager for their owners to throw a stick as they scampered back and forth than equines, some were highly trained but their hearts weren't in it, while still others obviously hated the cows with a passion, and drew on that antipathy to get the job done. The last seems not to be an unusual state of affairs, for the rules, interestingly, note that points are deducted for horsey displays of aggression and unnecessary roughness - apparently some horses indulge in pawing, biting and kicking the cattle.

Cutting horses are extremely intelligent animals, and far more personable than most horses exactly because they do enjoy periods of absolute autonomy. Well, that's my theory, at least - give animals half a chance to be themselves rather than unnatural products of human rules and they'll surprise you with their uniqueness. These cutting horses know they're important. They're fully aware that they're clever and fast, and they openly revel in it, each according to their particular character, by being cheeky, regal, show ponies, arrogant or aloof. Cutting horses are the exact opposite of the cows they play with (or harass, according to your view of the sport), while the rider, perched above the two, is (I think when I'm in a certain frame of mind) the intermediary who exploits the two animals to look good, and takes all glory thereafter.

Anyway, that day at the cutting championships set me to thinking about herd behaviour, human psychology, human kindness, the mini worlds within our big standard world that humans create with like minded individuals who share their passions, inter-animal relationships, how I'd rather be a cutting horse than a cow, and how someone needs to sneak in under cover of darkness and rally all cattle into facing down those smart-arse cutting horses. At the very least, someone should teach those cows to come up with new bovine moves and twists that would knock the socks off the fancily dancing fetlocks of their superstar opponents.