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Saturday, July 04, 2020

Vale Tessie De Gabriele!

Too many people I have cared about are going! 

Wednesday night, I had a phone call from my friend Geoff. Our mutual friend Teresa De Gabriele, better known to all her friends as Tessie, had passed away in hospital.

It wasn’t COVID. Tessie had not been well for several years. She ended up in care some years ago, after only a few years in her new home, with her dogs and some rescue hens which had been in cages, then pecking and scraping peacefully in her yard. She had looked after her father in the family home till he passed away, because he decided, after the new house was ready, that he didn’t want to move.   

I knew her originally from Star Trek fandom, but other fandoms as well, including general SF fandom . We met at Austrek, the Melbourne Star Trek club. Tessie was the most generous and hospitable person I ever knew. She invited her friends over to her home regularly, to chat, eat and play videos, as well as for birthday parties, not only for her own birthday. She had a huge collection of videos from her various fandoms, which she happily shared with us; she used to bring her VCR and chosen videos to my home to help me dub them. 

When we all went to Star Trek marathons, in the days before you could rent or buy episodes, Tessie was the one who drove everyone  home afterwards. I believe she used to arrive home herself at about 3.00 a.m! 

She also shared her media-based fanzines, which enabled her friends, including me, to enjoy fiction we otherwise would never have seen. (Bear in mind, this was before online fan fiction, so you had to order it, often from overseas)

However, she was one of my few friends at the time with whom I could talk about books, especially SF and fantasy. The others just enjoyed media SF, including fan fiction. 

In the days pre-COVID the fannish phone/email/social media tree would have passed around the information and we would all have gone to the funeral, but obviously the funeral is not possible now, though the tree has passed around the information as always. Perhaps when it’s all over, we can have a wake in her honour. I hope so; I’ll offer my home for it.

Tessie was a devout Catholic, so I hope she has been made welcome by St Peter and has been meeting all her loved ones who went before. 

Vale, Tessie! We will miss you.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

June 26 - On This Day!

Some years ago, I started doing a meme in which you pick out some people and events for an On This Day. I don’t do it often, but sometimes when I just want to write, and the stories or blog posts aren’t coming, I do this. Right now, in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s June 26. For me, the deal is that I try to stick to writers, artists and, if I can’t find enough of them, other creative folk, or big events in the history of creativity, eg first edition of a newspaper. Sometimes I do quirky events. If I haven’t heard of the author or artist, I skip them. Sometimes I just use an event that interests me. 


4 CE - Augustus adopts Tiberius. Oh, dear! That didn’t turn out well, did it? 

1483 - Richard III becomes king of England, and sparks a whole lot of fiction and playwriting. Recommended: The Daughter Of Time by Josephine Tey.

1870 - Christmas becomes a Federal holiday in the US.

1948 - Shirley Jackson’s(author of The Haunting Of Hill House) short story “The Lottery” is published, and the author gets lots of hate mail. Here is the Wikipedia entry about it:

1977 - Elvis Presley’s final concert held, in Indianapolis. Sob! 


This was not easy, writer-wise, so I’ve added actors. Most of those I found were big names on YouTube or blogging or lifestyle websites, especially the younger ones. Sorry, not my kind of writing, even if they have had some of them as guests at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival! 

1817 - Branwell Bronte. He was a poet and painter, but we know his sisters - Charlotte, Emily and Anne - much better! 

1891 - Sydney Howard - wrote the screenplay for Gone  With The Wind. Didn’t outlive it by long, as he died in 1939.

1892 - Pearl S Buck, US author known for The Good Earth, which was turned into a film with a (mostly) white cast playing Chinese peasants. 

1904 - Peter Lorre, the one who played all those sidekicks, including in one of my favourite films, Arsenic And Old Lace. Married to Celia Lovsky, known by Trek fans as Vulcan matriarch T’Pau.

1929 - June Bronhill, Aussie soprano. She did opera and musicals, but my weirdest memory of her is an ad in which she played a giant tea bag...

There are also a number of battles On This Day, but too depressing, and I do like to focus on creative things and people. 

There are a few saints’ days, but the one who intrigued me was David the Dendrite, so called because he lived in/next to a tree outside Thessaloniki, in the interest of having some peace and quiet. He managed to do it for three years, but people kept pestering him. However, he left to ask Emperor Justinian for help for Thessaloniki, which was in danger. He is, of course, the patron saint of that city. 

So, anything interesting about this date that I haven’t mentioned? Or any here that you find of interest? 

Monday, June 22, 2020

Alternative Universe - some spec fic that isn't quite spec fic

Today, I am going to talk about alternative universe. 

Strictly speaking, all fiction is alternative universe, when you think about it. The characters are people who never existed in our world and often they are in places that also don’t exist here and now, or at least a version of a real place that doesn’t exist in that way here and now. 

Mostly, though, what we call alternative universe is about “what if...?” , as in “what if this or that event in history had gone differently?” Sometimes it has elements of speculative fiction in it, such as “what if aliens invaded in the middle of World War II?” (US author Harry Turtledove’s Worldwar series) or “what if racist time travellers gave Robert E Lee’s army AK 47s?” (Also Turtledove’s stand-alone novel The Guns Of The South.)

My favourite alternative universe fiction is written by Harry Turtledove. Most of it would make perfectly good historical fiction except that it didn’t happen that way in our world. This sort of AU might appeal more to readers who don’t really enjoy SF or fantasy, but are prepared to try something a little different. 

Turtledove’s Ruled Britannia, for example, asks “what if the Spanish Armada had succeeded in conquering England?” It could have happened. The weather was a factor in the English victory. It could have gone so very differently! However, Turtledove sets his novel nine years after the Armada  victory, without going into much detail, and tells his story from two different viewpoints; one of his heroes is William Shakespeare, the other is Spain’s answer to Shakespeare, Lope de Vega. Lope de Vega was a real person, who wrote a lot more plays than Shakespeare ever did; I’ve bought some in ebook - translated, of course. He did set off with the real world Armada, but never got to England. In this novel, he is with the occupying forces. He speaks good English and admires Shakespeare’s work. This makes him a nuisance, because he keeps turning up at rehearsals - and Shakespeare has been commissioned to write two plays, one of them celebrating the life of a King Phillip of Spain, the other intended to encourage the English to rebel. It has not a touch of fantasy in it, just “what if...?”. 

When I first read it, it reminded me of another alternative universe story, a TV miniseries called An Englishman’s Castle, which was about “What if the Nazis had succeeded in conquering Britain?” centred around the cast of a TV soapie intended to encourage the locals to put up with the occupiers, and it had a similar ending. 

“What if the South had won the civil war?” is a fairly frequent theme of AU, along with “what if the Nazis had won World War II?”  

Apart from The Guns Of The South, which had time travel in it, the same author has done some straight fiction about the South winning the war, plain historical, except that it never happened. Yet again, in How Few Remain, we see how easily it could have happened differently. You know the old proverb “For want of a nail, the shoe was lost...”? Well, it might have happened! In real history, an order from Robert E. Lee was lost in 1862, one planning an invasion of the North, and picked up by union soldiers. In this world, the messenger has the dropped order handed back to him. Invasion successful, history changes.

Guy Gavriel Kay’s alternative universe is not quite alternative universe as we think of it, but his world, with its three religions based on worship of the sun, the moon and the stars, is fairly recognisable as ours, although it does have magic. 

My favourite in this universe is The Lions Of Al Rassan, set in an alternative Spain, during the time of El Cid, though the El Cid character has a different name. 

There is also A Song For Arbonne(Provence), Tigana(Tuscany) and the Sarantine Mosaic duology(Byzantium).

Well, sort of AU. 

In YA novel Timeless Love by Judith O’Brien, a New York girl time travels via a magical necklace and finds herself in the chamber of Edward VI. She soon figures out that he is suffering from allergies which will kill him. He thinks she is a messenger from his late mother and takes her advice. But this changes history dramatically; when she returns to her home everyone is speaking Spanish! Elizabeth Tudor never became Queen; Edward survived and turned out to be every bit as bad tempered as his father. The Spanish got parts of the New World the English took in our world. Apart from the magical time travel, it’s a straight “what if...?” 

The thing is, history can turn on so many small things. I read once about the White Ship disaster in which the heir to the English throne(Henry I’s son) and a lot of other young aristocrats drowned when their ship crashed on the rocks on the way home from France. According to my source, a history of tourism, this happened after the sailors got drunk on wine sent to them from a last-night party. As a result, there was a war between cousins Matilda, daughter of Henry I, and Stephen, which Matilda sort of won. After a few years of fighting over the throne, they did a compromise: Stephen got to keep the throne, but Matilda’s son inherited after him. That son was Henry II, father of Richard Lionheart. 

So, the history of England and possibly the rest of Europe might have happened the way it did because a bunch of sailors got drunk one night in the 12th century... 

If anyone has written a novel about this, I haven’t come across it, but have a think about how very different things might have been, without aliens invading or time travellers or magical objects. It’s one of the ideas that have been spinning in my head for years. 

Do you have any “what if” thoughts? Do share! 


Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Hugo Shortlist 2020

Here is the short list for this year’s Hugo Awards.  For those of you who don’t know about this award, the annual award for the best in speculative fiction, voted on my members of the World Science Fiction Convention. This year I’m a member - I was hoping to attend, as it’s only over the pond in New Zealand, but I’m sure you all know why that’s not possible. It’s all gone online, not the same, but at least it’s still happening, as are the Hugo Awards. As a I am a member, I have  been sent links to downloads for books, short stories, etc. I guess it’s worth joining for the books alone.

 I confess I haven’t read any of them, but will hopefully be able to comment on each one I do read. It will take me a few days to download everything I want(forget the dramatic presentations, which are in the gigabytes! I’ve seen most of the long form and a couple of the short form anyway) and yesterday I did so much downloading I had a hard time backing it all up. Today I have downloaded the short stories. A couple of the books only offered an extract, so I will save myself some download on those. If the publisher is not willing to let me read the whole book, I’m not willing to give them my vote. Plenty to read! 

I see there are two Aussie dwelling nominees in the New Author category. Nice! Plus an Aussie podcast, 

Anyway, here ‘tis! Thanks to Locus Magazine from which I got this list.  Have you read/seen any of them?

Best Novel
Best Novella
Best Novelette
  • “For He Can Creep”, Siobhan Carroll ( 7/10/19)
  • “Omphalos”, Ted Chiang (Exhalation)
  • “Away with the Wolves”, Sarah Gailey (Uncanny 9-10/19)
  • “Emergency Skin”, N.K. Jemisin (Forward)
  • “The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye”, Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny 7-8/19)
  • “The Archronology of Love”, Caroline M. Yoachim (Lightspeed 4/19)
Best Short Story
  • “Do Not Look Back, My Lion”, Alix E. Harrow (Beneath Ceaseless Skies 1/31/19)
  • “As the Last I May Know”, S.L. Huang ( 10/23/19)
  • “And Now His Lordship Is Laughing”, Shiv Ramdas (Strange Horizons 9/9/19)
  • “Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island”, Nibedita Sen (Nightmare 5/19)
  • “Blood Is Another Word for Hunger”, Rivers Solomon ( 7/24/19)
  • “A Catalog of Storms”, Fran Wilde (Uncanny 1-2/19)
Best Series
  • Winternight, Katherine Arden (Del Rey; Del Rey UK)
  • The Expanse, James S.A. Corey (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
  • Luna, Ian McDonald (Tor; Gollancz)
  • InCryptid, Seanan McGuire (DAW)
  • Planetfall, Emma Newman (Ace; Gollancz)
  • The Wormwood Trilogy, Tade Thompson (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
Best Related Work
Best Graphic Story or Comic
Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
  • Avengers: Endgame
  • Captain Marvel
  • Good Omens
  • Russian Doll, Season One
  • Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
  • Us
Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
  • Doctor Who: “Resolution”
  • The Expanse: “Cibola Burn”
  • The Good Place: “The Answer”
  • The Mandalorian: “Redemption”
  • Watchmen: “A God Walks into Abar”
  • Watchmen: “This Extraordinary Being”
Best Editor, Short Form
  • Neil Clarke
  • Ellen Datlow
  • C.C. Finlay
  • Jonathan Strahan
  • Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas
  • Sheila Williams
Best Editor, Long Form
  • Sheila Gilbert
  • Brit Hvide
  • Diana M. Pho
  • Devi Pillai
  • Miriam Weinberg
  • Navah Wolfe
Best Professional Artist
  • Tommy Arnold
  • Rovina Cai
  • Galen Dara
  • John Picacio
  • Yuko Shimizu
  • Alyssa Winans
Best Semiprozine
  • Beneath Ceaseless Skies
  • Escape Pod
  • Fireside
  • Strange Horizons
  • Uncanny
Best Fanzine
  • The Book Smugglers
  • Galactic Journey
  • Journey Planet
  • nerds of a feather, flock together
  • Quick Sip Reviews
  • The Rec Center
Best Fancast
  • Be the Serpent
  • The Coode Street Podcast
  • Galactic Suburbia
  • Our Opinions Are Correct
  • Claire Rousseau’s YouTube channel
  • The Skiffy and Fanty Show
Best Fan Writer
  • Cora Buhlert
  • James Davis Nicoll
  • Alasdair Stuart
  • Bogi Takács
  • Paul Weimer
  • Adam Whitehead
Best Fan Artist
  • Iain Clark
  • Sara Felix
  • Grace P. Fong
  • Meg Frank
  • Ariela Housman
  • Elise Matthesen
Lodestar for Best Young Adult Book (Not a Hugo)
Astounding Award for Best New Writer (Not a Hugo)
  • Sam Hawke*
  • R.F. Kuang*
  • Jenn Lyons
  • Nibedita Sen*
  • Tasha Suri*
  • Emily Tesh
*Second year of eligibility

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Just Finished Re-Reading... How Far To Bethlehem by Norah Lofts


This is one of the books I’ve found lurking on the shelves in my old bedroom. I took it home for a re-read and was pleasantly surprised to find it still very readable. Norah Lofts wrote a lot of general historical fiction, but this is one of a couple of Biblical themed books, the other one I know about being Esther, a novel about the Jewish girl who married a Persian king and saved her people from a planned pogrom.

This one is about the journey of the Three Wise Men, each of whom has his own biographical chapter. Only one of them, Gaspar, is actually a king, and that’s only because he conquered a city state and settled down there with his Horde. He is a Mongol.

 Melchior is Korean and an astronomer/astrologer. He was once a wealthy man, but sold everything to set up his tower to observe the stars and has since lived with one slave, a woman who has loved him since their youth, but never managed to get the attention of her nerdy master. He is the first to set off, to warn the child of destiny’s parents of his danger.

 Balthazar is African, an escaped slave. He has had a few visions too, mainly of the future, in a polished surface. He is an accountant by trade, which is just as well, because the other two are naive in everything except their own special areas. Gaspar is a bit like Twoflower, the Discworld tourist who is carrying around a lot of gold coins that he doesn’t know are worth a lot outside his country. They are, in fact, valuable coins that brides receive to wear on their foreheads till needed. Balthazar, horrified at how many have been spent, takes over the  finances of the group. 

So - only one actual king - and his gift of gold is the crown of the last king of his city. The frankincense was meant to be an offering in Gaspar’s city, but was handed to him as he was leaving. He hates the smell, so  gives it to Melchior. The myrrh is a healing ointment. 

Not only the Magi have biographies - there is one for the innkeeper and even one for one of the shepherds in the stable!  By the time the stable scene happens you know everyone in it, including the main actors, Mary and Joseph.  Even Herod gets a viewpoint! 

The language is plain, modern English, but not colloquial. I liked that. Admittedly Nazareth feels like a small English village and I’m not sure all the animals and plants described were to be found in that country at the time. But I found it easy to suspend disbelief.

 Hopefully you will too, if you can get hold of a copy. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

“Not Worth Going To See..” : A Guest Post By Tim Richards!

Today, dear readers, I invite you to enjoy a guest post by travel writer Tim Richards! It’s very different from the children’s writing I do, and needs vastly different skills.

Like, maybe, going on a whale watching tour and settling for seals when the whales don’t turn up? I have had this happen to me in New Zealand, except it was dolphins, and the whales did turn up, but only briefly, in the distance... I happily settled for the dolphins, which clowned and frolicked in the waters by the boat, but I don’t know if I could do this for a living. 

Tim lives with his writer wife Narrelle Harris in the Melbourne CBD. They go for walks regularly to favourite spots, and report on it on Twitter. Once a travel writer...

Enjoy the post, in which Tim gives us an idea of his preferred type of environment! It was first published on his website(see below)

Boswell: “Is not the Giant's Causeway worth seeing?”
Johnson: “Worth seeing, yes; but not worth going to see.”

I was thinking about Samuel Johnson’s world-class diss of the famous basalt formations off the coast of Northern Ireland one afternoon, as I sat in a Zodiac boat in the waters off Victoria, Canada.

I had plenty of time to mull it over, because it was a three-hour whale-watching tour in the waters off Vancouver Island in which we saw nothing.

Well, no whales. We saw seals. A lot of seals. Mind-boggling numbers of seals.

“Seals, glorious seals!” by Tim Richards

(Really, I never needed to see any seals again after that. And yet, like brewery tours, I’ve reached my limit but have still endured more.)

Off in the far distance, we spotted a US nuclear submarine making its way along the Pacific coast. But it was too far off to be really gripping. When we limped back into port, everyone crestfallen, the guide in charge of our vessel made a laboured job of listing all the things we did see (including seals!), and offering a freebie for anyone fool enough to submit themselves to this activity again.

You might think the absence of whales means Johnson’s pithy quote is not applicable; that there was nothing to mildly sneer at as “not worth going to see.” But to that, I give you: nature.

There, I’ve said it. I’m a fan of urban environments. Pop me down in a foreign city, point me vaguely in the direction of some interesting neighbourhoods, and I’m happy. I can spend any amount of time exploring built-up areas. 

To me cities are the greatest achievement of humanity. To overcome our natural instinct to cluster in small bands of people we know personally, to instead create vast conglomerates of districts and dwellings to the point that – in the larger cities – every possible shade of taste and community is represented in quantity – is near-miraculous.

When cities go wrong, of course (did anyone mention a virus?), they can be hellholes. But interesting, fascinating, colourful hellholes nonetheless. And they’re easy to reach – flights, after all, generally land at cities. One Uber ride later and you’re in the midst of it.

But nature is often far away, nature is unpredictable, nature is often uncomfortable. And hard to navigate on your own, barring the hiring of appropriate vehicles or mountain bikes or other specialised gear, or undertaking heroic hikes.

I get why people like that. I’ve visited national parks and found them beautiful. Even better, I’ve sat in the bar car of transcontinental trains – think Australia or Canada – and admired striking scenery bereft of humans, while sipping an excellent cocktail. (Trains to me count as urban attractions, because they’re basically long thin towns travelling through the countryside. The most civilised towns that exist, IMO. Go on, fight me.)

Bar Car of The Indian Pacific train. By Tim Richards

Getting to nature is hard work, and then sometimes it doesn’t show up to the party. I’ve sat in uncomfortable boats for three hours waiting for bears who preferred to be elsewhere, and bobbed around for three hours in a Zodiac not looking at whales. Why are these sessions always three hours, by the way, when two would be sufficient?

Other tours involve being driven for hours in a minibus for a fleeting encounter with nature. Many tourists spend many, many hours on a bus to see the Great Ocean Road from Melbourne in one day. Just no. It’s never worth spending that long on a bus. Buses are the devil’s transport, possibly even worse than planes. Yes, it’s to do with the tiny seat width and immobility, on both of them.

Give me a city any day, it’s like a puzzle I have to solve, a code I have to crack, a treasure box I have to prise open. Don’t get me wrong – the best parts of a city are not the obvious tourist traps; no matter how good the attraction, there’s nothing more soul-deadening than joining shuffling tourist crowds to see it.

When I first visited New York City I had a quick look around MoMA and a cruise past the Statue of Liberty – then I hit the streets of Bushwick, a long-time Hispanic neighbourhood east of cool Williamsburg that was gradually becoming gentrified, with incursions by hipster food and street art, but with the existing culture still standing strong. I loved seeing a ‘hood in transition, meeting locals, eating tacos at a factory where tortillas were manufactured.

Food place in Bushwick. By Tim Richards

Beyond hanging in neighbourhoods, meeting people is the highlight when I travel. I love making connections on the road, often meeting in real life people I know from social media. Getting together for a drink with locals (not seals) is what brings a place alive for me. Spending a day in the tourist-free St Roch district of Quebec City was brilliant like that, eating and wandering and chatting to locals, interviewing the guy who runs the fish shop (I mean poissonnerie) on the main street.

Another time I met a German man who was once the president of an ABBA fan club, at a specialist beer bar in Stockholm. While I interviewed him we drank beer, and for one round I ordered a Norwegian craft beer from the list on the big board above the bar. It wasn’t until we were both quite drunk, talking nonsense about ABBA too loudly for a Swedish audience, that I realised the beer was 10% alcohol. That was the best night, and the best interview. And the best memory. What there is of it.

So keep your whales (really seals) and your bears and your collection of interlocking basalt columns. If I happen to be passing, I’ll certainly take a look and admire them. Just don’t expect me to go out of my way.

Freelance travel writer Tim Richards has launched his own Patreon site, at which he writes regularly about travel-related topics. Tim promises to keep readers entertained with three posts per week featuring lively travel-related writing and images; patronage starts at US$3 per month and you can cancel anytime. Visit to sign up and read more of his travel writing, and in the meantime he hopes you have enjoyed the free sample!