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Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Just Been To See...The Rise Of Skywalker!

So, today I went to see the final Star Wars movie in this saga, The Rise Of Skywalker. I won’t be giving you any spoilers here. I held off till I could go with my friend Jasna and refused to read any reviews till after I’d been.  But I do want to share. Again, I’m not including photos for copyright reasons. 

We went to the Hoyt’s cinema at Melbourne Central, opposite the State Library of Victoria, and decided this was special enough to merit the Lux cinema, where you sit in a small cinema that holds about twenty people and have staff bring you ordered food and drink. They also gave us all a complimentary box of popcorn. 

Ordering food was a mistake; I should have stuck to popcorn and a cold drink and maybe ice cream if available. The menu looked great and I bought what turned out to be small rolls with tofu; I couldn’t finish them. I had to drown out the taste with my mineral water. My friend was also not crazy about the chicken she ordered. Next time we take our own food, though I might consider a cocktail, something you can’t buy in a regular session. 

But I wanted to enjoy this film in style. I went to the first one, you see, when it first came out. It was nothing like as fancy, I just slipped into another Hoyt’s cinema that no longer exists and rejoiced in the beauty of it, the glorious John Williams music, the giant screen full of spaceships - and the characters. None of the lead actors was famous at the time. Harrison Ford went on to an impressive career, including another huge adventure fantasy franchise, Indiana Jones. Mark Hamill did do other films, but not many that I’ve seen, and none as wonderful as Star Wars. Maybe he did more stage stuff - I do know he has performed in Amadeus on stage, years ago, and I can see him as a Mozart in that one. He is on Twitter these days and makes an entertaining tweep. Carrie Fisher didn’t do a lot of films - The Blues Brothers is one I remember - but she did something even better, as a writer and script doctor, who edited film scripts - an important skill indeed! 

So, what did I think of the final film? I enjoyed it. My heart belongs to the original trilogy, but I also loved this trilogy. I appreciated that more women got things to do in this series. They were pilots and technicians and even Storm Troopers. In fact, I was rather chuffed to realise that the villainous Stormtrooper Captain Phasma was played by Gwendoline Christie, aka Brienne of Tarth in the Game Of Thrones series. In The Rise Of Skywalker we got to meet another female (ex) Stormtrooper. There was a diversity in colours too, with black and Asian characters. I was disappointed that Rose, an Asian rebel fighter from the last film, didn’t get much to do in this one. I’m not angry, as so many people are on Twitter, but with the build up she got in The Last Jedi, she really should have had more to do. However, you do get to see her; she wasn’t “written out” as some people on Twitter were complaining. 

Because it was the last film, there were some references to the original trilogy and characters who came back. One of them, without too much spoiler, was Lando Calrissian, who returns, older but twinkle-eyed, and one other character I hadn’t expected. And they did a wonderful job of slipping in the previously unused footage of Leia. It was so very good that you really wouldn’t know it was not part of the original film. 

Kylo Ren, the young villain of the previous films, is back and doing at least one scene that was probably deliberately taken from the original Star Wars film. He still looks like a youthful Severus Snape, but at least he spends around half the film without his mask. 

I’ll leave it there or find myself in spoiler territory. I found the ending pretty satisfying. If you liked the first two in this trilogy you will probably enjoy this one. After the movie, we went browsing in JB Hifi, where I bought Good Omens and the first two films in this trilogy, all on special for 30% discount, even if they were already discounted. An enjoyable way to end the year! 

Monday, December 30, 2019

On Discovering I Have A Wiki Page!

I’m ending the year with something light. And here it is! 

A few days ago, my nephew Mark, who is very good at finding stuff on Google, decided to Google my late father, Ben Bursztynski. By pure chance, the name that came up first was mine. It was not a web site I’ve ever seen before when I Google myself(as you do). I’ve always thought it would be nice to have a page on Wikipedia, but nobody has ever done that for me, and I didn’t have the nerve to do it for myself. 

It wasn’t Wikipedia, but it was a wiki of sorts, which you can edit, though you’d have to register. Here’s the link if you’re curious.  Someone took a great deal of trouble to research me, and, unlike the average Wikipedia entry, it even had direct links to pages selling my books. Nice, so far! It did my bio, where I studied in Melbourne, etc., even quoted me. (Though I’m sure I never said “boned up on...”) However, despite all that, it said I was Canadian! I’ve never even been to Canada- and someone who had read all that stuff about where I had studied would, you’d think, have noticed that there isn’t a Monash University or RMIT in Canada... Ah, well. I’m terribly flattered anyway. 

However, this is not the end of it. There’s more! I posted the link on Twitter with a chuckle, and I got an unexpected response from a lady who said it was news to her I was Canadian, as she had been in my class in a Melbourne school when she was 14! 

She remembered me reading Shakespeare aloud - of all things to remember. I did do an intro to Shakespeare with my Year 9 classes, yes, and I remember being delighted when I overheard a student say, as I brought in the box of books, “Oh, good, Shakespeare!” 

Anyway, she said she had left school early, but now considered herself well educated and liked Shakespeare. I don’t know if she enjoys Shakespeare because of me, though I think it was implied, but at least I didn’t put her off him, as teachers have been known to do. That’s nice to know. 

See, being a Bard fan, I was passionate about his work and wanted to share it. And somehow I think I’ve managed, over the years, to do that. I don’t recall any class ever getting restless when I did a Shakespeare unit, and they did seem to enjoy it. So if a girl who left school early came back to him later and enjoyed his work, and then remembered that about me - well,  nice to know I didn’t spoil it for her. 

Have a great 2020!

Friday, December 27, 2019

Two Rereads And A New Book!

I’ve just finished my reread of the wonderful The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper, which I started as a Christmas Eve read. Strictly speaking I should have read it over the Christmas and New  Year period, from Midsummer Eve(Southern hemisphere!) to Twelfth Night, when the novel finishes, but I just can’t defer gratification! And I have to say, it delights me just as much on my umpteenth read as it did the first time, even if I have spotted a few glitches. If you want to know what they are, check out my post from this time of year in 2017, and see what you think. 

The other reread was of a novel I haven’t read since just after it first came out, Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman. The author had been in Melbourne for a convention I was attending, and read us bits from it. I’d just read American Gods. And I’ve  reread that one recently too, as well as watching several episodes of the TV series on my streaming service. (I haven’t seen the whole series, since a browse of the episode details told me that after sixteen episodes they still hadn’t finished the novel!). So I thought, what the heck, and downloaded Anansi Boys and thoroughly enjoyed it all over again. I’m thinking of downloading the radio play, in which Lenny Henry plays a role. 

Is it a sequel to American Gods? Sort of, I’m pretty sure it’s set in the same universe, but you can read it stand alone. 

American Gods featured battles between the old gods, who had been brought to America in the minds of their believers, and the new ones, such as Media and Technology. One of the characters was Mr Nancy, who was an African spider god and trickster figure. At the start of the second book, Mr Nancy has been living in Florida. He is a charming, basically kindhearted person who likes women, plural, but they also like him; he makes them feel good about themselves. He has died, falling off a stage while doing karaoke and grabbing a woman’s breasts as he falls. His son in England, known as Fat Charlie( he isn’t fat) has been living a dull life as a book keeper for an entertainment agency. He is  about to get married, but is likely to acquire the mother in law from hell.    

Travelling to the US for his father’s funeral he meets four elderly - magical - African American ladies who were his father’s friends, and finds out that he has a brother, who was sent away when he was very young. All he has to do to meet him is tell a spider, which he does - and regrets it. The brother, Spider, inherited all the magic, it seems, and, worse, all the cool. In the course of a few days he has taken over Charlie’s job and his fiancée ... 

I won’t tell you more; if you haven’t read it, time to grab yourself a copy, with or without the previous book. It’s funny and sweet - and oddly reminded me, in some parts, of Thorne Smith, a 1920s author who wrote the Topper stories(a bank employee haunted by the ghosts of a married couple)and Turnabout, in which a husband and wife swap bodies.  

Yesterday I got home to find a brand new book waiting, which I’ve started reading. Five Norwegian White Bear Tales is a set of variations on “East Of The Sun And West Of The Moon”. It was translated and edited by Simon Roy Hughes, a folklorist who lives and works in Norway. He used Kickstarter to fund it, and it has certainly been worth the wait. It’s a slim volume, but one of the stories in it has never been published before. There is an interesting introduction which explains where the stories in the book were first published and talks about the folktale “type” which is connected to such stories as “Beauty And The Beast” and Lucius Apuleius’s “Cupid And Psyche” which was a part of his novel The Golden Ass. At least one folklorist thinks they all come from “Cupid And Psyche”, but Mr Hughes doubts that all those folktales could come from a single work by a known author. He also suggests that there were earlier versions. 

Anyway, I’m glad I bought into this publication. If you want to read more of his translations he has a blog, here.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Compulsory Christmas Eve Post 2019!

Last year at this time I was celebrating Jolabokaflod, the Icelandic Christmas Eve, where you exchange books as gifts and spend the evening reading something new. For family reasons, I haven’t had the time to go out book shopping, so I’ve decided to reread something special, and very suitable for Christmas reading: Susan Cooper’s wonderful The Dark Is Rising, the title volume of the five book series. I may even see if I can get it read in a single sitting. 

I’ve posted about this before, so I will keep it short. However, no harm in talking about my memories of my first reading. It was in the late 1970s, when I was just starting out as a young teacher. I’d already read the first book in the series, Over Sea, Under Stone. That one was definitely a children’s book, with the standard story about kids having an adventure while on holiday. The Dark Is Rising has more of the flavour of YA fiction, even though the hero, Will Stanton, is only eleven. See, he turns eleven early on and finds himself one of a group called the Old Ones, and has responsibilities no ordinary eleven year old has. Basically, he is helping to save the world from the Dark, and he can’t share that with his siblings or parents. That does age him. 

The last two books in the series come out while I was beginning my teaching career, and it felt like  everyone at that school, staff and students alike, was reading them. I remember seeing the fourth book, The Grey King, at my local bookshop while the publisher’s agent was showing it to the bookseller. I got so excited, the man from the publisher gave me the book! I still have it. 

 The Dark Is Rising is more or less standalone, in that you could simply read this one and not feel anything was missing. Possibly it’s because the previous novel is the first about the Drew children, this is the first about Will Stanton. 

Will Stanton, the last of the Old Ones, discovers this soon before Christmas. He is picking up several tokens in the course of the novel, circles with crosses in them, which will help him do the task he has been set. 

And the Dark want the tokens and they want to stop him. 

It’s full of folklore, and there is a wonderful climax, with the Wild Hunt led by Herne, pouring rain and melting snow, and a mysterious mask...

Amazing to think that the British author of such a very British story was living in the US when she wrote it. 

I’ve also downloaded an audiobook to listen to in bed, a dramatised version of Susan Cooper’s later novel, King Of Shadows, in which a young American boy, in a London with a troupe of boy actors to perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream, finds himself in Shakespeare’s London and performing the same play with Shakespeare’s company. There is a good reason for making the hero American. He is from North Carolina, where there are people whose accents are actually closer to the British accents of Shakespeare’s time than modern British accents. It was a beautiful novel - so nice to know Susan Cooper didn’t go downhill after her most popular series. 

So, I’m off to wash and curl up with Cooper’s Christmas classic and listen to a dramatised version of another of her great books.

Good night!

Monday, December 16, 2019

Yet Another Grumble From The Slushpile!

I’m back again with more complaints about my slushpile. I’ve done a few posts about this before, but not recently.

For those of you who haven’t followed this blog for long, I read slush for Andromeda Spaceways, formerly Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. For personal reasons, slush reading is now my only connection, but I used to be a member of the committee, even edited some stories for the anniversary issues and a couple of issues in my own right. It was a good experience, and I’m proud to say that one of my authors, Michelle Goldsmith, had her story reprinted in Year’s Best Australian Fantasy And Horror, and another, C. Stuart Hardwick, is now a regular contributor to Analog, one of the world’s top SF magazines. She made her second sale to me for ASIM, his was a first sale. ASIM(now ASM) is a semi-prozine, so doesn’t pay much, but we’ve published the first or second stories of some very big names. 

Unfortunately, being a low-paying semi-prozine means you also get all the rubbish already rejected in the US. After all, who would send a story to an Australian semi-prozine when they can have a go first at Fantasy And SF or Asimov’s? So, those distinguished magazines throw the stories back at the authors and guess who gets to read them next? And is expected to comment on them? 

We actually got an email from the slush wrangler a while back asking us to try to put through at least one story in five to the next round, because ... no. Not going to happen with me. Sorry. If I don’t think a story is publishable I’ll say so, 

It may be that I’m finding so very little that looks publishable because at this stage I’m only reading one story a week. I just can’t bring myself to do more, because I have my own writing to consider, even though one more story a week and comments which I’m doing anyway would give me a subscription. (I saw an ad from another magazine, far better known than mine, which wanted slush readers to do 20 stories a DAY and offered nothing but the honour of slushing for them!) It just seems to me that I can remember reading some utterly wonderful stories in the past, some of which ended up getting awards. Not now. I was pleased, recently, to receive a story I thought publishable. But it was the first in at least a year. 

To be fair, it has been a while since I read a story that was full of typos, grammar mistakes and punctuation errors. These days I only have to think about the story. 

But the stories I read nearly all need a lot of work. They often don’t make sense, even after a second reading. I won’t go into too much  detail here, as we read them blind and for all I know the authors might be reading this post. I mostly let a story “rest” overnight before I write my comments or make my final decision as to whether it should go on to the next round. (Some of the stories have gone to the second round already, making me wonder why). 

I try not to be rude, but I guess that comments on a rejected story are always going to make you feel as if your baby has been called ugly. I will sometimes suggest the author read a story or novel which handled a similar theme better. 

There have been several space operas in my inbox lately. I love space opera, so I’m probably harder on those than other genres. I try not to be, but I’m reading these as a reader, after all, not as an editor. If I ask myself whether I’d want to pay money for a zine that had this or that story in it and the answer is no, it’s no. 

The frustrating thing is when  a story is almost publishable, but not quite. You get almost through what looks like a story you can pass on to the next round...and then the ending lets you down - badly. I’ve had several of those lately. And I can’t pass them on, I just can’t.

Today’s submission was - well, it was fan fiction, basically. Fan fiction of a classic novel, but fanfic. The author assumed the reader would know what was going on. I did know what it was referring to, but not everyone would. I wouldn’t have minded so much if the story hadn’t raised more questions than it was worth trying to answer, even if the author could do that. A beta reader might have picked that up.

The thing is, other authors have done it too, but much better. I guess the author was unlucky to get me in the second round. 

In fact, I think I’m the slush reader authors pray they won’t get! I wish I wasn’t.