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Thursday, July 30, 2020

ConZealand - Day 2!

I was going to post this last night, but had technical problems with Blogger. Never mind, here it is! 

Today was my second day at Worldcon. Despite being with Mum most of the day, I did manage to see some panels, starting with early morning events. 

Here they are.

  1. I turned on the retro Hugos and SJV Awards. Unfortunately I couldn’t get it running and when it did start it dropped out JUST BEFORE announcing the winner of best comic. I will have to look it up online, once the announcements are made.

  1. A panel called The Timeless Child and the evolving canon of Dr Who lured me in, good fun. Really, canon in Dr Who depends on who is showrunner. It was pointed out that there are a lot of books, audiobooks, comics, etc. so hard to have a series Bible.There  was some wish to have characters from the books  appear or at least be canon.

  1. The Future is Female was a discussion of a lot of female writers of the past. Someone on the panel said that Vonda McIntyre’s Dreamsnake was the first Hugo and Nebula winner to  go out of print. Sad, but no longer true. I found it on Apple Books. She passed away recently, which is sad. 

  1. “Come Time Travel With Me: 1965”. The year is 1965. What’s going on in the space program and writing? Good fun. 

  1. “How To End The World On $500”. David Brin was on the panel - great fun. There was a discussion of how you would be able to destroy the world if you were not a well funded super villain. Unfortunately it threw me off Zoom after about 20 minutes, and wouldn’t let me back in.

  1. So I went to another panel, “Terraforming and Alien Life: A Biochemist’s Perspective”. Great fun, again, and fascinating. A biochemist presenter showed how even a small difference in how we are made, or how a chemical is made, can kill you - or not, eg Oxygen is one thing, but you obviously can’t breathe carbon monoxide. No alien plagues, because what harms them is unlikely to harm us. He went on to talk about settling a planet and why some of the forms of terraforming in SF stories wouldn’t work. If, for example, you simply wipe out local life, you are also wiping out what keeps the atmosphere going. We can work out from a distance what other planets are like in many ways, whether it is generally suitable for us, but you can’t predict the biochemistry. He suggested if you are going to create alien life, you use our own life as a basis. He described, as an example, what sounded like something very alien - three hearts, tentacles coming out of the lips, blue blood - and turned out to be an octopus! 

  1. Finally the recordings started to go up and I got to watch the Tolkien panel, which was very good. Five panellists reflected on various aspects of Tolkien’s works. One said it was best to read the Silmarillion which explains a lot about the background of LOTR. another said, no, it was good to read, but not necessary to enjoy LOTR. I agreed there. Another thing I agreed with was that the hobbits showed that small and insignificant people can be heroes. It has always been one thing I loved about the book. Someone said cheekily that if  Tolkien had been around now LOTR would never have been written as he would have concentrated all his efforts on a wiki.

I did start off attending a book launch at the end of the evening, but I gave up when the Zoom dropped out - again. There were a lot of dropouts today. Maybe it was my lack of wifi, as I’m at Mum’s place, but I sat in the park for over an hour yesterday with no problems. 

I bought another book today. I also found one going free, by one of the con authors. 

There will be more. Sigh! 

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

ConZealand - Day I!

Today was my first day at this year’s Worldcon, and look what arrived in the mail - a very nice con book! 

ConZealand was supposed to be held in Wellington, New Zealand, but guess what happened while they were in the middle of planning it? Yep. COVID 19.

Instead of cancelling it altogether or making it a small local event, they started all over again and turned it into a virtual event. I thought it might be hard, what with all the stuff about Discord and Grenadine and such, but in the end, after some initial confusion I was logged in and all I had to do was choose my panels and click into them, taking me to simple Zoom meetings. Very smooth! 

I also encountered an old friend from my Andromeda Spaceways days on Discord. Nice! 

As I have family commitments for the rest of the con, I just went to as many events as I could, in hopes of slipping in one or two a day, but found to my delight that the sessions have been recorded and will be up till August 9, so while I won’t have the live-time pleasure, with chat, I can see the panels I miss. I’m giving it a test run tonight in bed.

I got up early this morning, 6.00 am my time, to hear the dealers’ room folk talking about their goodies. I haven’t bought anything from those people yet, but it was just a test run to see if there were any problems logging in. There weren’t. Zoom is so very easy when you’ve been doing absolutely everything on it, as I have. 

After the dealers’ room thing, I rushed off to make breakfast and put stuff in the wash before my first session of the day. It started off as “The art of the interview”, by a group of podcasters. There were some interesting points made, but in the end, it wasn’t for me, and, unlike at a live convention, where everyone would see me leave, I was able to wander over to “Future Laws”.

Now, that did interest me. A group of panellists, including at least one lawyer, speculated on the legal problems you might have in the future when things are different. Think about it. Things are different even now from when we were all growing up. What happens if we have clones? AI?

The opening ceremony competed with several other panels, but I always go to the opening and closing ceremonies if I can. This happened on the web site, for good reason; it was a number of small pre-recorded videos put together beautifully and linked by the two committee members - the GOHs, including toastmaster George R.R Martin, the guy who is making the Hugo awards showing how he did it, and such. 


My next panel was going to be on Australian SF and fantasy, but when 15 minutes past the starting time had gone, I found another panel. It turned out that Jack Dann, the moderator, had been having trouble with the tech. He said on Twitter that the panel did happen, but late. 

Meanwhile, I went to “Shared Common Myths” in which authors from different backgrounds talked about their own myths - Korean, Irish, Nigerian. I hadn’t heard of any of thrm, but I bought a book by the Irishman and the Nigerian and made a note of the Korean lady’s book which is not out yet. Two books already and I hadn’t even left my living room... whimper! 

I did miss one planned panel, on what inspired the panellists in their writing because I needed that hour to make lunch and put clothes in the wash. But I can see that recording when I go to bed later. 

Next was a panel on “The Chronology of Calendars” - that one was great fun! There was discussion of how you would work out a calendar for an invented world, and how it would be affected by how long the year was, whether there were moons, etc. Mention was made of Star Trek Stardates, but there were other considerations, like what about religious Calendars? Someone recommended a series by Yoon Ha Lee, The Machineries Of Empire, which was obsessed with calendars. 

Guess who wandered over to Apple Books and bought the first book in the series? One guess. 

I have long wondered what Jews would do in space, with a lunar calendar to work out the different holy days. Someone on the panel said that was a good point and that the Muslim calendar would also have problems there. 

I attended a kaffeeklatch with my friend Gillian Polack, who said she had a couple of new books coming out. 

If there had been the time I might have invited her to talk about why there is so much cooking and eating in every one of her books. She loves cooking and so do her characters, but she denies being in her books.

My next panel, out in the park, was on character names. You know how Dickens always gave his characters suitable, or st least over the top, names? The authors on the panel spoke about how they chose their characters’ names. One of them advised strongly against killing off your enemies in your stories unless you are willing to risk being sued. 

I ordered dinner from the Indian restaurant and it arrived while I was at the panel “Scary Stuff” in which panellists did a round robin horror story, which worked out surprisingly well. Elizabeth Knox was one - I’m still reading my first book by her, The Absolute Book, which I had to buy from a NZ bookshop, as it was not available here.  Frances Hardinge, another, a British writer is on this year’s Hugo shortlist.   

The next panel was on the theme of fae in countries outside of Europe. Some were invasive European fairies. Others were indigenous ones, because the folklore of most countries has some similar stories and Otherworldly folk. The only panellist I had heard of was Jodi McAlister, who has done a series involving the cruelty of faeries in a cruel landscape like the Australian bush. 

Sigh!  I bought my fourth book for the day. The problem with ebooks is that you don’t have to defer gratification.

Finally, I went to a very interesting panel on cons in the era of COVID. Four panellists talked about conventions they had been organising or, in one case, had been the guest of honour, before they had had to be cancelled. There was lively discussion, both among them and on the chat thread, about the advantages and disadvantages of virtual cons. On the one hand, we miss the face to face, and making friends you do in person. I personally miss al, the photos you take with friends and in costume. 

On the other hand, you can chat without disturbing the panel. Some of us just couldn’t have attended a traditional convention. It saves flying and environmental issues. And it’s quite possible even to sing filk songs on Zoom! 

I’m off now to have a shower and go to bed, where I can catch up with at least one panel from today. 

A long but enjoyable first day! 

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Lockdown Listening: Two Neil Gaiman Audiobooks!

Over the last few months, since the libraries closed physically, I have been borrowing on line, through BorrowBox. I download an audiobook to listen to in bed. I can’t always get what I want, but recently I’ve been able to listen to two Neil Gaiman books, The Sleeper And The Spindle 

and  Fortunately, The Milk, both of which I’ve read with great delight, and reviewed on this blog. 

The audiobook of The Sleeper And The Spindle is a cross between a book and a play. It has a narrator reading the story and a cast doing the dialogue bits. Somehow, it works. In case you aren’t familiar with this book, it’s a beautifully illustrated sequel to not one but two fairytales. The heroine is Snow White, now a queen, about to marry her prince. But three dwarves turn up at her palace to report something weird is going on. People are falling asleep. It’s not affecting them and possibly won’t affect her, as she has spent a year sleeping in that glass coffin - will she come and investigate with them? And she does. And they find strange things... It’s really just a short story, but was a beautiful book, with the Riddell art, and makes a lovely audiobook. 

Fortunately, The Milk is read by the author. He is hilarious! I really feel a bit jealous that he can not only write but do readings that make you want to rush out and buy the book. Check out my review for the details of what the print book is like. I think this one is the American cover, a bit of a disappointment as the Chris Riddell cover showed the father who went out for milk for the kids’ cereal and had many adventures(well, he says he did! The kids don’t believe him). The father was drawn to look like Neil Gaiman himself. 

Anyway, if you belong to a local library and can’t get there due to the virus, you could do worse than download BorrowBox and see if these two books are in the audiobook catalogue. 

Or you can buy them online! 

I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. I’m now listening to Neil read his book Norse Mythology.

Monday, July 20, 2020

On Unearthing Another Treasure: Pillar Of Fire by Judith Tarr.

I have been stumbling across books I’ve forgotten I had. This one was on my home book cases, not the ones at my Mum’s place. It was a hardcover copy I bought at a discount bookshop. It was published back in 1995, but you can still buy it at Amazon, print or Kindle. You can also get it in Apple Books. For some reason her books are no longer on Bookview Cafe, though my ebook is the Bookview edition.

This is one of many novels about Akhenaten, the Pharaoh with one god. And I do mean many! Everyone is fascinated by this king, who was a one-off, whom the Egyptians tried to forget after he was dead. From what I have read about him, I don’t blame them. His worship of the sun god Aten was strictly a court religion. He didn’t care if anyone else did, but he closed down the temples of the other gods and moved to a brand new city with his court. That wasn’t going to make him popular. 

Before we look at Judith Tarr’s book, let’s check out some of the others. 

The Egyptian by Mika Waltari was turned into a film, with Edmund Purdom, Michael Wilding(Akhenaten), Victor Mature, Jean Simmons, Peter Ustinov and many other big names. It presented the heretic Pharaoh as a saintly man who pre-figures Christianity. Unlikely, but you could suspend disbelief for a couple of hours.

Allen Drury’s A God Against The Gods and Return To Thebes were a bit more believable. I think those were my first Akhenaten reads. He is shown as a sort of Egyptian version of England’s Henry VI, a bit of a nut case, not a villain, but definitely not saintly. 

There is an Australian verse novel by Dorothy Porter, very readable, seen from various viewpoints.

Howard Fast, author of Spartacus, also wrote a novel about Moses, Moses, Prince Of Egypt, in which Pharaoh’s daughter, Ramses II’s Queen, is a secret worshipper of the Aten, as is a priest who loves her and a couple of other sympathetic characters. Usually the name Moses is connected with a god’s name, but they had hoped that religion would return, so left off the god until they could call him Aten-Moses. I got the impression that the Akhenaten mentioned in this novel was saintly too.

Kerry Greenwood, best known these days for her Phryne Fisher crime novels, wrote one for Clan Destine Press, Out Of The Black Land. This Akhenaten is utterly insane, and Nefertiti has to escape from him. Kerry Greenwood does quite like rescuing characters from the death that history or myth decreed for them. She did that with prophetess Cassandra in her novel Electra. Basically fantasy. 

In fact, the only ones I have read that don’t have a fantastical flavour are the Howard Fast and the Drury ones.

Which brings me to Judith Tarr’s book. Pillar Of Fire only has hints of fantasy till the last few chapters, which are centred around the parting of the Red Sea. I’d been assuming that the Apiru would escape via the Sea of Reeds or some such, but no. It became totally Biblical by then. 

The story is seen from the viewpoint of Hittite servant Nofret(she has to take an Egyptian name when brought as a tribute and gets used to it). She is the maid of Akhenaten’s third daughter, Ankhesenpaaten, with whom she forms a deep friendship. 

The book is based on the theory expressed by some that Akhenaten and Moses were one and the same person. Akhenatenaten is a king who really would have been better off out in the desert as a prophet of his god. Eventually it happens, when it becomes clear that he isn’t going to last much longer as king. 

I won’t go into more detail, in case you want to read it, and she does explain her ideas in an intro and a postscript. Personally I don’t think he was capable of fathering sons. I read a bio which suggested that, judging by his statues, which are not idealised, he might have been suffering from a medical condition that makes the man only able to father daughters. As Moses, this version fathers two healthy sons by Zipporah, his desert wife, once he gets away from the incest stuff. Well, we don’t know, of course, and it’s only a theory, but after six daughters by Nefertiti and three more by his own daughters, I’d assume that girls was all he could father! 

Anyway, it’s very readable stuff and I enjoyed it, though it did have so much happening in the first half of the novel, over the years. 

You can get it in print, if you really want it, on Amazon, but otherwise easily available in ebook on both major platforms. 

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.