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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Old style Trek fiction

Last weekend I started having a browse around to see if any of the classic works of Star Trek fan fiction I loved reading had been published on-line. I actually found a fabulous web site which was dedicated to preserving these and had a number of my favourites. And I contacted Jean Lorrah, who used to teach mediaeval literature and write stories about Spock's parents, Sarek and Amanda.She did sell a number of novels way back when, but now, in her retirement, has gone for the e-books for children and is having a go at screenplays. I wish her all the best in this area.

I haven't written fan fiction in years. It's not just that people started handing me money to write, but that suddenly, after about 150 stories - literally! - I had run out of things to say. I think I stopped in the middle of a Robin of Sherwood story where someone from our time goes back into the past from the modern Nottingham Goose Fair and deiscovers that Robin and his men are speaking early Middle English and can't understand a word he says (and vice versa!). I'd just been to the Nottingham Goose Fair myself.

However, I still love reading the stuff, and have hundreds of fanzines with which I don't intend to part.

I discovered fan fiction existed when I read Star Trek Lives! and thought I'd have a go myself. But I also wanted to find those stories. Some of them, I did find, because they werre re-printed in the New Voyages anthologies. Some were borrowed from friends who had been in fandom a lot longer than I had.

I have been re-reading some of the fanzines under my bed and on my study book cases and some still stand up, while others I can't believe I paid for.

One of the zines I borrowed was Spock Enslaved, which everyone was desperate to read.

Even then, I found it the funniest thing I had ever read. It had a cover with a half-nude Spock chained to a pillar. When I got into Blake's 7 fiction, I wrote a story in which Avon is chained to a pillar on a matriarchal world and has to be rescued by teleport, still chained to the pillar. It was published in Susan Batho's "naughty" fanzine and that wonderful writer-illustrator Lana Brown did a delightful Svon chained to a pillar which not only made it to the cover but was re-used in following issues.

Out of curiosity, I Googled "Spock Enslaved" - no text publication as far as I can see, but lots of discussion, including whether or not it was slash fiction. Not that I can recall. It was, in fact, Mary Sue - ultra-Mary Sue of the Sweet Young Thing Dies Pregnant With His Child variety. Which, incidentally, makes its way into original Trek on TV, only "The Paradise Syndrome" was a lovely episode, Mary Sue or not.

I admit that stories like "Spock Enslaved" are guilty pleasures for me, however I laughed at the time.

I remember all the ones we wrote for "Spock", the Austrek fanzine, back before Paramount walked in and closed down Aussie zines. Probably I'd wince if I saw some of the stories I wrote back then, some with friends. I remember how we all followed a series about Spock and Chapel by an anonymous writer who turned out to be Diane Marchant and continued writing them after she lost interest. Of course, that series was finished off by "Morva Shepley", wasn't it, Morva? :-) As I recall, Chapel ended up leaving Spock and running off with the greengrocer - yes? It's been a while. It certainly gave us a sense of perspective.

And those were the days when we had to type them up on manual typewriters and so think about them before we submitted.

I know that you only have to do a Google to get as much up-to-date fan fiction as you like now, but for me, the originals are the best. I am going to print out and curl up with some of the stories I've actually found at that web site and maybe have a binge of my fanzine collection during the term holidays.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Spam comments

They're smart, these spammers. Sometimes I get gibberish in the "moderate comments" section, but today I seem to have had a comment that looked legitimate, even if it was above a link which I assumed was the person's blog. When clicked, it took me to a web site advertising essays that they would do for you in a particular subject. You pay, they write your assignments for you. And if this had been published and left there, there would have been a link from my site to theirs.

I thought I had the spam comments sorted, but it seems not. I deleted the comment and my reply and I won't do the spammer the honour of mentioning what the web site was.

One of my students, who has set up a blog for English and has kept it up must have some sort of malicious software invading his site, because every time I visit it, it redirects to an advertising site.

I will have to tell the poor kid about it and see if there's some way he can log in and do something in the settings to fix it.

And I was so proud of the work he had done.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

STEPHENIE MEYER: The Unauthorized Biography of the Creator of the Twilight Saga by Marc Shapiro. London: Macmillan Children’s Books, 2010.

In 2006, a new phenomenon began: the Twilight phenomenon. A previously minor sub-genre of the vampire novel, the vampire romance, suddenly became big among teenage girls. Harry Potter was coming to an end – the final volume was published in 2007, only a few months later – and there was room for something new.

The author, a Mormon housewife and mother of three, was suddenly being compared to J.K. Rowling. Well, they’re both women who wrote something that appealed to millions of young people and their parents, although I doubt if Twilight will ever be winning any prizes for children’s literature as Harry Potter did, and if there were separate covers for adult and teen editions, I haven’t seen them yet. I suppose they have that in common.

But many folk have her to thank for the fact that they are now able to sell books in the YA fantasy genre, as long as there are vampires or werewolves in them – hey, I’m one of them! Thank you, Stephenie Meyer, from the grateful author of a YA werewolf novel!

I confess that when this book first arrived for me to review, I hadn’t read any of the Twilight novels, mainly because they’re always out. However, I felt that I shouldn’t be reviewing a book to which I had no background, and as a teacher-librarian, I really ought to be reading what the kids were loving so much. I went to Reader’s Feast in Melbourne, where I found the books in the YA section, right next to Foz Meadows’ new novel Solace And Grief (see my review below) which was facing out. Lucky Foz Meadows!

I read the first book and started on the second. It was easy reading as I had expected, because one of our ESL students read it in a weekend and her reading level at the time was about Grade 3. Other readers of the same level made their way through the entire saga without much trouble.

I found the novel pretty slow-moving, with nothing much happening till about three-quarters way through the book, but it certainly told me something about kids’ reading habits that I had never known after all these years of observing their reading: they will be patient if they are hooked early on. (Or maybe what I found slow, they found romantic?) I wasn’t hooked, alas, but I have no problem with anything that gets my students not only reading, but being excited about reading. And they are excited – the girls, anyway. I have seen them sitting curled up on steps and under trees in the schoolyard, noses deep in the adventures of Bella and Edward, and lending personal copies to friends - "Look what I've found!".

Besides, I think I may be able to “sell” Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights to students who have finished and enjoyed this series. The hero of Jane Eyre is even called Edward! (Edward Rochester, that is) He has a Deep Dark Secret, a tragic past and a good woman who wants to help him. Time to head for Collected Works bookshop with an order form in hand - the wonderful Kris Hemensley has already checked and he does have them both …

I had never heard of Marc Shapiro, so Googled him and found that he has written a fair number of biographies and was not necessarily the great Meyer fan his style leads one to believe.

Whether he is or not, he has been thorough in his research. Possibly there’s nothing here that a fan doesn’t already know from the Internet, where he seems to have done a large chunk of his research, but I was certainly enlightened. I found out that the Twilight author was named by a father who wanted a Stephen and got a Stephanie, except he added “ie” to “Stephen” instead. I learned that she got the idea from a dream and that she picked the name of the town off the Internet by looking for the wettest place in the US (and isn't it wonderful that now writers just need to go on-line to check out these things in a few minutes instead of spending hours in the State Library?). There was a list of music she played while she was writing and the information that Wuthering Heights became suddenly popular again after she recommended it to her fans. There was a good deal of information about the making of the films so far. And fans will be pleased to know that Stephenie Meyer has lots of ideas for more novels.

I actually ended up finishing this before I read the novels and quite enjoyed it; it saved me a massive trawl through the Internet. I do wonder where this story can go now. It is already more or less out of date, because the information went right up till the end of 2009, but things had already changed from some of what was said in the book. Perhaps it might have been better to wait a year or two to see how the phenomenon pans out and find out what the author is writing next and how her own life is turning out. A woman in her thirties is really too young to be the subject of a biography. Unlike J.K. Rowling, she hasn’t had a particularly interesting life. She grew up, went to university, got married and had children. Eventually, she had an idea for a novel that did brilliantly. End of story. Apart from discussion of the phenomenon and what happened when the film was being made, there wasn’t much to say.

It reminds me of when Alice Pung was speaking at a Centre for Youth Literature evening in Melbourne. She had written a book, Unpolished Gem, about her upbringing in Melbourne’s west, and it had been doing very well. Someone asked her, “Will the next book be a novel?”

“It will have to be,” she said. “I’m only twenty-five!”

Sunday, March 07, 2010

THE WHALE’S TALE By Edwina Harvey. Sydney: Peggy Bright, 2009

I first read this as a manuscript. Actually, I first read it as a short story, entered for the Mary Grant Bruce Award for Children’s Literature, which I was judging some years ago. The practice was to read all the manuscripts with the authors’ names removed, prepare a short list and hand this to children to choose the winner. That year, the story the kids chose as a winner was later published as a short – very short – book. I can’t remember what it was called and I suspect it’s long out of print. It wouldn't be the first time, not will it be the last, that a story that won a prize has been forgotten while one that didn't win has become a classic. Take that book which won the Australian Children's Book Council award for picture book of the year - what was it called? Something about bears? I haven't seen it around for a while, but Animalia, which didn't win, is still going strong.

But I felt that this story, “Restitution”, had merit and deserved a Commended at least, which was in my power to give.

Edwina Harvey worked the manuscript into a novel, which got as far as the George Turner Award short list for a new piece of SF writing.

Once again, I was asked to read the manuscript, then pass it on to a teenager to read. I felt it needed work, for reasons I told the author at the time, but the teenager loved it. What can I say? Samantha now has her copy of the finished product and no doubt loves it even more in print. The issues I had with the manuscript have been well and truly addressed.

Edwina Harvey is the kind of children's writer who can write the most over-the-top things and take them for granted. "What - you mean people DON'T run into unicorns every day, or travel the galaxy with a sentient whale and a dolphin?" And that's what makes her so right for this type of writing.

We all, as writers, have the story of our heart. This is Edwina Harvey’s. And that shows in the writing, as well as a whole lot of humour and wisecracking from a sassy teenage girl.

Japanese teenager Uki, a lonely but brilliant hacker who has been using her skills to make friends, is caught stealing a file from the computer of whale singer Targe. This is some time after whales and dolphins have communicated with humans and started touring the galaxy as performers and diplomats. As a punishment, she is ordered by the court to travel with Targe and his dolphin offsider Charlie on a tour. Targe is angry about being stuck with her. Uki is not pleased either. But as the tour proceeds, it turns out she has gifts neither of them knew existed…

It’s not the first time anyone has written about spacefaring cetaceans. David Brin did it years ago. But you really had to concentrate to get the most out of the wonderful Startide Rising, which was the hardest of hard science fiction as well as an adventure. This one is a lot easier to handle and has environmental messages that don’t hit you over the head.

The cover, by rising SF artist Eleanor Clarke, is exquisite.

And who wouldn’t love to travel the galaxy in the good ship Antarctic Dancer? I sure would!

I am told that this novel has been nominated for a Hugo Award and an Aurealis. Here's hoping!

Saturday, March 06, 2010

SOLACE AND GRIEF By Foz Meadows. Book 1 of The Rare. Melbourne, Ford Street, 2010

This latest publication of Paul Collins’s Ford Street Publishing is a first novel. Hearing the author speak at her launch and seeing her sign books, I think she’s going to do nicely as a professional. She’s also lucky enough to have a surname that puts her novel on the bookshop shelves right next to Stephenie Meyer’s books – and it has a snazzy black cover that will draw the eye of any teenager browsing for Twilight stuff.

The storyline is likely to appeal to young vampire fans, too. Solace Morgan is a born vampire. Her parents gave up their lives to produce her to act as a sort of saviour in a war with a nasty female vampire who has been “making” followers by addicting the new vampires to human blood. Most of the children of the night in this universe don’t like drinking human blood because it acts as a sort of heroin – once you drink it, you always need another fix. Solace has been living in a group foster home, uncomfortable out in the sun and limited in what she can eat. She is extremely strong and has other gifts that appear over time.

After some terrifying dreams, she runs away from home, into the streets of Sydney, where she meets a group of other gifted teens. Will her troubles cost the lives of her new friends? And what is her own role? Who is the faceless man? The small grey cat? Why are so many people after her?

This novel has come along at just the right time in the teen vampire fiction revolution. But it’s not quite a vampire novel, despite all the vampire politics The Rare of the title are more like X-Men or characters from the TV series Heroes. And so far, it’s not a romance, though there could be some in the next two novels, depending on whether or not a certain character returns to the group. However, the vampire isn’t the brooding Byronic male, but the girl. To my mind, the fact that this isn’t quite a vampire novel or a romance is a positive feature. Kids like “more of the same” but when they tire of that they will have something different to read.

Worth buying.

Friday, March 05, 2010

The Fascination of Web Site Statistics

A few months ago, I started keeping a counter on the number of hits this site receives. I wasn't brave enough to put it up where everyone could see it and anyway, I wanted more than just how many hits I got. As it happens, I found a lot more people than I had ever imagined were visiting this site - so far, in the several thousands, since I started keeping a tally.

One of the things that intrigued me was the kind of search term people were using that led them to stumble on my site. Some of them were fine - they were looking for reviews or information about certain books and writers or things fannish and hopefully had found what they wanted. And some were coming from the web sites of writers who were pleased with their reviews and had urged their own readers to go take a look.

Then there were kids (I assume) who wanted help with their assignment on an Andy Griffith novel and no doubt decided to cheat just a little. Plenty of folk looking for reviews on Catherine Jinks' Genius Wars. Stacks of hits looking for my review of F2M and Girlfriend Fiction books. Some looking for stuff about filk music or Tolkien's Elves, on both of which I had posted.

In the case of others, I was thinking, "Boy, have you come to the wrong web site!" Some finance web site seekers who stumbled on my post about libraries and ELR (Education Lending Right). Quite a few that wanted fan fiction about their favourite books and writers (no - I don't do fan fiction any more and if I did, it wouldn't be about Kylie Chan's novels, I never did anything but media fan fiction).

To the person looking for a way to contact Kerry Greenwood (one of the search terms), if they ever come back to this site, it's easy: she puts her email address in the back of every book and yes, she will reply. She's a nice lady. If you're that much of a fan, you should be reading the notes at the end of her books.

Someone else was looking for recipes. I don't do that either, though I am considering doing a recipe blog some time, to publish my mother's wonderful recipes. But not this one. "Quadriplegic fan fiction"? Huh? "Cats in Aida" . Maybe the person looking for that had read my short story "Nefer" in the Spinouts series, in which a mummy cat came to life, enlarged and completely wrecked an arena production of Aida while being chased by a werewolf boy who had changed when the full moon came out. There are otherwise, as far as I know, no cats in that opera. If they WERE looking for a reference to my story, I am terribly flattered!

Maybe I need to improve my tags. But then - it's fascinating to see what people look for in Google. And intriguing to think that somehow it led them to my site.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

BEAUTIFUL CREATURES By Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. Camberwell, Penguin, 2010

Ethan has lived in the same small Southern town all his life and longs to escape. The town is full of people whose ancestors have been there since before the Civil War (known to the younger generation as the War Between The States and to the older residents as The War Of Northern Aggression). The school is full of the standard cheerleaders and sports players and there are only two small places to hang out after school.

Now there's a new girl in town. Lena is beautiful and intelligent and, naturally, gets on the wrong side of the cheerleaders, as heroines tend to do in these novels, but even the boys are avoiding her, because she is the niece of "Old Man Ravenwood", the town recluse.

Ethan is in love. But Lena is under a curse, caused by an ancestress who made a huge mistake - a curse that will take effect on her sixteenth birthday. Or perhaps it won't; her family is magically gifted and has been for centuries, but nobody knows what will happen on their birthday, what gift they will have or even whether they will become good or evil.

The days are passing, and unless Ethan and Lena can find out the truth about the beginning of the curse in time, they may not have a future together at all.

This is just the sort of novel teenagers are likely to devour. Despite the standard stuff about sixteenth birthdays and curses and horrible cheerleaders and evil, it has a few original touches. The story is seen from the boy's viewpoint and the girl's family aren't vampires. And nobody tries to persuade you there's anything scientific about it. The family is magical and there's a curse, right? Simple!

The book is thoroughly entertaining. It helps that one of the authors, Kami Garcia, has worked with teenagers.

I look forward to putting it into my library and watching the fighting over who gets to read it first.