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Thursday, December 22, 2022

What I’m Reading Right Now

 I have done a lot of reading and listening this year. I just can’t stick to one book at a time.

Here are a few things I am reading or listening to right now! 

The Lost King: The Search For Richard III by Philippa Langley and Michael Jones. This is the story of the archaeological dig in Leicester which found the remains of Richard III under a car park. Richard was buried in the church of St Francis,  part of one of the many monasteries that Henry VIII destroyed during the Dissolution. For quite some time it was believed that Richard’s remains were thrown into the river Soar at that time, but no. The church was buried and Richard with it. And eventually it was buried under that car park. He was examined and found to have scoliosis, which made one of his shoulders higher than the other, but not a hunchback. Then he was given a proper funeral, with a poem read by Benedict Cumberbatch, who is related to Richard through Richard’s mother, and buried again in a coffin built by a many times great grandnephew, Michael Ibsen. 

I’m going to see the film on Monday. It’s not a documentary, and looks like fun.

I have just downloaded The Lady With The Gun Asks The Questions by Kerry Greenwood. It’s a collection of Phryne Fisher short stories, originally published as A Question Of Death. I do have that book, but this one has four new stories in it, so I sighed and bought it. As they are all together at the end, I’m rereading the lot before I read the new material. 

I first read The Art Of Coarse Acting by Michael Green many years ago. It’s a hilarious book about the bizarre things that go on in amateur drama. You can’t get it in paperback any more, or even in ebook, but you can get the audiobook read by the author, and I bought it a few months ago. He read it when he was an old man, but that is fine; the humour shines through. I have listened to it a few times while doing housework and I’m still laughing, no matter how many times I listen. Interestingly, he seems to have updated it, mentioning things that happened later than the 1960s when the book was first published.  It’s very much comfort listening for me.

Another book you can’t buy in ebook and which seems to be out of print but which is available in audiobook is Barbara Hambly’s Bride Of The Rat God, narrated by Marguerite Gavin. I like the reader’s style. She does a good job of playing the different characters, whether it’s the English heroine Norah or the studio owner Frank. Norah Blackstone is a widow whose American soldier husband was killed in France during the Great War. His beautiful sister, Christine, a silent movie star, has brought Norah to live with her in Hollywood. There is this cursed necklace which Christine wears everywhere, which has a scary Manchu rat god trying to kill her. Fortunately she has three adorable Pekingese dogs protecting her.

Incidentally, if you would enjoy this story more as a murder mystery, Barbara Hambly has rewritten it as Scandal In Babylon. I bought that earlier this year, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I see there will be a sequel early next year.

I’ve been downloading from Project Gutenberg recently. There are some Robert E.Howard swords and sorcery stories, including Queen Of The Black Coast, about Conan’s love for a pirate queen, Belit. I like Conan. He may be a raging, roaring mercenary, but he doesn’t do rape. Women may be drawn, panting, to his armoured breast, but they are there because they want to be - if they don’t want to be, he protects them from those nasty men who do have rape in mind. And he respects strong women; the love of his life is a fellow warrior. I have posted on this site about Conan as a next door neighbour

There are about seven Agatha Christie titles up on Gutenberg, increasing as they go out of copyright. I have recently downloaded The Secret Adversary, her first Tommy And Tuppence book.

Apple Books has a free comic book by Laurie Halse Anderson, better known for her very serious YA fiction, a Wonder Woman origin story. Who would have thought it? I downloaded it, of course!

The Children Of Ash And Elm by Neil Price is about the Vikings, written by the archaeologist who advised the production of film The Northman, which is inspired by Hamlet. I haven’t read very far yet, but I’m finding it fascinating so far. 

When I heard that SF author Greg Bear had died recently, I thought it might be time to finally read his work, so I bought The Complete Short Fiction Of Greg Bear. I like to discover new authors via their short fiction. If I like this, I will invest time in their novels. If not, at least I didn’t invest more time than I wanted.

My sister and I were talking about Neville Shute’s On The Beach, which I read years ago, and on impulse I bought the ebook. That is about the world gradually coming to an end after a nuclear explosion, and the last days of Australians; the poison is spreading from north to south, so Australia is the last place in the world where people are still alive. You may have seen the film, made in the 1950s, with Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner. Like other films of the time, of course, the cast was not Australian, but it was made here in Melbourne. One of my teachers was an extra in it.

I bought the hardcover Marvel’s Loki: Art Of The Series, which is filled with concept art and goes through each episode telling us what the artist had in mind and why. Originally, the plan was to end the show with Loki going off on adventures, so various possible costumes were painted, including one taken from the comic book Agent Of Asgard. Then they gave it a second season, so those costumes were no longer relevant.

 It is a stunningly beautiful book. I paid a lot for it, but don’t regret a cent of it. 

And, finally, I’ve been reading quite a lot of fan fiction, downloaded from the Archive Of Our Own website. Recently I have discovered masses of Blake’s 7 fan fiction. Some was written recently, but there are some classics I first read in fanzines, such as those by Lillian Shepherd, who is a very good writer and should be having a go at writing stuff she can sell. I don’t think she is interested. A pity - another former fan writer and editor, Janet Reedman, who used to do Robin Of Sherwood fanzines, is now writing and self publishing Richard III novels. She is doing well. I bought one of her novellas and it was excellent. 

There are also quite a few that were stored on Hermit. org, which was closed down and they have been moved to this site instead.

I have mostly been reading Loki-themed fiction, but it’s been nice to find Blake’s 7 stories as well. My favourite character, Kerr Avon, is an anti-hero. He did end up killing Blake, the titular character and leader of the group, though personally I thought Blake had it coming under the circumstances. But for most of the series he was talked into doing good deeds, much against his will. 

So there are quite a few Avon stories on this site, and I have had fun looking them up. 

I have recently been considering hunting up some of my old fan fiction and popping it up on Archive Of Our Own. Only a few stories, but hey, why not? 

What do you think? 

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Just Been To See…The Nutcracker Ballet

 It’s Christmas. Among other things that means The Nutcracker ballet, which I saw tonight. This performance was by the Australian Conservatoire of Ballet, a ballet school founded by former Australian Ballet dancer Christine Walsh, and oh, goodness, what a production it was! 

Most of the cast were members of the ballet school, with a scattering of adults in the character roles. The younger cast members played everything from the children at the Christmas party to the mice, and Clara, the little girl who gets a nutcracker for Christmas from her godfather Drosselmeyer and is taken to the kingdom of sweets, got to dance a lot more than in most productions. She was watching the divertissements in Act 2, yes, but kept jumping up and joining in. I think that kid is going to be a professional by the time she finishes school. 

I have downloaded the original E.T.A Hoffman story, The Nutcracker And The Mouse King from Apple Books and am reading it now. It was only 99 cents, and I had been intending to read it for some time. The original name for the girl was Maria, which is sometimes used in the ballet.

Public Domain

I have seen this ballet before, many times, though not recently on stage. There was a production done by the New York Ballet, which I saw on YouTube, but the most recent ballet I saw on stage was Spartacus, a few years ago. I just felt it was the right time of year to see The Nutcracker and booked on an impulse - an impulse I’m not regretting at all. 

If you want to see the ballet free, there are plenty of versions on YouTube. It’s a nice way to celebrate the lead up to Yuletide.


Monday, December 19, 2022

Just Been To See…Black Panther 2: Wakanda Forever

 I haven’t posted in a while, I admit, due to family issues, such as my mother being in and out of hospital. But I’m back, briefly, and I’d like to share with you the film I have been to see most recently, Black Panther 2: Wakanda Forever. 

Movie poster: Fair use

If you are at all familiar with the Marvel films or the comics, you will know that Wakanda is an African nation ruled by a king - or, as in this film, a Queen - who takes a potion that gives the new ruler super powers, though the last king, T’Challa, also had a scientific genius kid sister, Shuri, who made his suits. The new ruler takes the potion and sees an ancestor who gives wise advice. And Wakanda has a mineral, vibranium, which is found nowhere else in the world. Everyone wants it, including the US - and everyone is prepared to do whatever it takes to get it. Just as well Wakanda has an almost entirely female army, who can wipe out mercenaries! 

In this film, we learn that, actually, there is another place that has vibranium, and Namor, the ruler of this underwater realm, is not happy to have it raided by the above-water world. Quite understandable, though his way of dealing with it may be less understandable.

But the main theme of this film is grief and dealing with it. T’Challa dies offstage and his mother, Queen Ramonda, rules for the time being, presumably because her daughter is too young and inexperienced to do the job. This, of course, is because the actor, Chadwick Boseman, died of cancer, but it is worked very well into the film. Shuri, who was a supporting character in the first film, is now playing the lead role. She becomes the Black Panther when needed, and makes her own suit, as well as some more for other characters. 

I’ll try not to do spoilers here, but I personally think this film is even better than the first one, which I enjoyed very much. I liked the fact that most of the characters were black. In this film, I like the fact that most of the characters are also women - strong, intelligent women, including another brilliant young scientist, Riri Williams, who has built a vibranium detector - as a class project at university! I believe she is going to be Ironheart, the replacement for Iron Man, as Tony Stark is dead, and she wears her first suit in this film, fighting for Wakanda.

And there is a female villain…

Namor isn’t really a villain in the traditional sense. He wants to protect his kingdom, even if he is doing it wrongly - and when you see what happened to his people in flashbacks, you don’t blame him.

I confess I haven’t read the Black Panther or Namor the Submariner comics, except one very short piece in a comic featuring various Marvel characters over the decades. But as a viewer, I think the film makers have done a very fine job here, making us feel for the characters.

If you enjoy fantasy adventures, I do recommend this, but watch the first film, Black Panther, before you get into this one.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Just Finished Listening To… Norse Mythology BBC Radio 4 Full Cast Dramatisation by Neil Gaiman!

 I have just listened to the BBC Radio 4 adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology. I do have the book and was hoping to find the actual audiobook of the original, but it wasn’t on Apple or even Kindle, for some reason, and it’s constantly out from my library, so I bought this instead, and I have to say, it’s very good, especially for the amazing cast. 

Neil Gaiman himself does his usual cameo role, in this case a radio announcer talking about the weather. It starts with a mysterious woman who calls herself Njordsdottir -presumably the goddess Freya - visiting a hospital and talking to a sick child, Magnus. She ends up as the storyteller, telling him the Norse myths, which are acted out as a play. 

The role of the Teller -  Njordsdottir - is played by the wonderful Diana Rigg, but she is not the only one listeners might have heard before. We hear Derek Jacobi’s distinctive voice as Odin and goodness, he is Odin! I’ve been a fan of this actor since I, Claudius and Brother Cadfael. Natalie Dormer, whom you have probably seen as Anne Boleyn in The Tudors or as Margaery Tyrrel in Game Of Thrones plays the goddess Freya. The adorable Colin Morgan, Newt Pulsifer in the radio play of Good Omens and Merlin in the TV series of the same name, is Loki. Colin Morgan’s voice is delightful as always. 

If you do want to hear the audiobook for free, I have come across it on YouTube, read by the author. There is another audiobook of it read by Tom Hiddleston, though to be honest, I prefer the one read by Neil Gaiman. He is a fabulous reader who does most of his own audiobooks. Tom Hiddleston has a beautiful speaking voice, but his performance of this one is rather dull, I’m afraid. I have no idea why. He is a fine Shakespearean actor, as well as wonderful in the role for which he is best known, Loki, but really, he might as well be reading the phone book in this. 

The radio play, though, is well worth a listen. I got my copy on Apple Books for a very reasonable A$12.99. If you are on Audible it’s free with the trial.

Or perhaps your library has a copy! 

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Just Finished Reading…Murder In Williamstown by Kerry Greenwood. Sydney: Allen And Unwin, 2022


This is the twenty-second Phryne Fisher novel by Melbourne author Kerry Greenwood, set in Melbourne in the 1920s.

The year is 1929, the place Melbourne. Private detective Phryne Fisher has received some abusive cards in her letterbox. Her two adopted daughters Jane and Ruth are doing the 1929 version of work experience at the Blind Institute, where there is something fishy going on with the accounts, but it isn’t the book-keeper who is at fault. And a dead body has washed up on Williamstown beach while Phryne is taking an evening walk with her university academic friend Jeoffrey. The victim is Chinese, but Phryne’s lover, Lin Chung, has asked her to stay out of the matter, and also not to look for his missing sister in law. There is another murder late in the book. 

All will be explained by the end of the novel; meanwhile, you’d think that Phryne won’t have much to do, but she delegates the initial investigation to her three adopted children, Ruth, Jane and Tinker. 

Tinker begins with a paper round that enables him to find the letter-dropper. Jane, the maths whiz, works out how much money is missing and who might be involved. Ruth helps, asking questions, both at the Institute and a party the girls attend. Phryne uses all the information to work out who the culprits are. 

A small event early in the novel, involving a broken clay pipe found in the Williamstown Botanical Gardens, proves more important than it might seem.

Kerry Greenwood takes great joy in giving detailed descriptions of food and clothes, as always. Phryne’s cook, Mrs Butler, loves a challenge in her work. This book is no different in that respect. Jane and Ruth, invited to a schoolmate’s party, are growing up and need new dresses, made for them by a dressmaker(not Madame Fleuri, Phryne’s usual dressmaker). People eat and drink, both at home and at the three parties in the book and the food and drink are described in loving detail.

Each Fisher novel has a theme, whether it’s a place or a community. This time, it’s the seaside Melbourne suburb of Williamstown and the Chinese community. Williamstown is one of the nicer Western suburbs of Melbourne now, but was a working port in the 1920s. There is still a ferry going there, though nowadays it’s really a tourist thing.

There are characters from other novels who appear in this one, and Jeoffrey was a character in a short story, “The Hours Of Juana The Mad”. Characters who have been in the series from the beginning, such as Bert and Cec, Phryne’s communist wharfie friends, only appear briefly, as does her lover, Lin Chung, who is only on the phone until finally appearing near the end. Bert and Cec aren’t involved with solving the mystery this time, and weren’t helping much in the last novel, Death In Daylesford, either. (They did find a dead body in that one, but didn’t help solve the mystery.)

I enjoyed it, as always, though I must confess that I like the earlier books better. Each one of the novels has had two or three threads, but usually the threads are more or less woven together or at least not too far apart. In this one, two of the mysteries are over by about halfway through the novel. I found myself shrugging and saying, “So what? Do I really care who has been stealing from the Blind Institute?” I think these small mysteries are just to give the children something to do and they really can’t be involved in the murder part of the story. 

There are a few oddities too. We know Phryne was in France during the Great War, working with the battlefield women’s ambulance(Murder In Montparnasse), and it’s even mentioned late in the novel, but she also mentions being in London during the war, something she couldn’t have done if you accept the premises of the other novels. But there were some huge plot holes in Murder In Montparnasse and I still found that very enjoyable. You just have to suspend disbelief when reading this series, something I am happy to do - anything by Kerry Greenwood is great fun.

This novel is available from all the usual sites, including Book Depository and Amazon.

Monday, November 07, 2022

In Which I Go To The Opera!


Poster for Melbourne production- fair use

Last Wednesday I went to see Opera Australia in Phantom Of The Opera. It was the first time since I saw it in the 1990s. Back then, I was sitting at the front, and had the fascinating experience of seeing into the wings, where the stage hands were hauling the boat across the stage! This time I sat near the back, so was able to enjoy whatever illusion there was.

 I know there are those who sneer at this sort of popular stuff, but it’s popular because a lot of people enjoy it. What’s wrong with that? I enjoy classic opera, but let’s face it, the stories tend to be pretty silly. Not all, but many. Anna Russell had a lot of fun with describing those operas in her shows - and she loved them too, she just understood that they could be silly. If you are interested, there is a lot of her material on YouTube, including a video of her famous twenty minute Ring Cycle. It’s hilarious! 

This opera - and it is an opera, not what we think of as a musical - is based on a novel by Gaston Leroux. The Paris Opera house is “haunted” by a crazed musical genius who has a maimed face and is obsessed with Christine, a beautiful young soprano, who thinks he is the “Angel of music” she read about in a book as a child. He teaches her singing. But the soprano has a boyfriend, which could be a problem…

I do have a copy of the book somewhere, beautifully illustrated. 

There are quite a few film versions, including one I vaguely recall had Nelson Eddy, with the “Phantom” played by Claude Rains(1943). There was a film version with Herbert Lom as a very sympathetic Phantom. The baddie has stolen his opera, Joan Of Arc, and he became disfigured in a fire, trying to get it back. When she hears his sad story, she gives him a hug and lets him continue to teach her the role.

I had such a wonderful evening at the theatre! The music is glorious, and I ended up buying some merchandise. I resisted the jewellery and the mugs and t shirts and bought the program and a CD of the opera. I rarely buy programs these days, with nowhere to put them, but it was a special occasion, and I can play the music when I feel like it.

The only thing was, I had a hard time trying not to think of Terry Pratchett’s send up, Maskerade, in which his two witches, Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, go to the big city to sort out the problem of a book Nanny wrote, which has become a bestseller, but the publishers haven’t paid her.  It’s a cookbook with recipes which are all about “goings on”(Nanny thoroughly enjoyed sex in her time and regrets nothing). While there, they are in search of a young woman, Agnes, whom they want to be their third witch but who has become a member of the Ankh Morpork opera chorus. And yes, the Opera House has its own “opera ghost”, who makes demands and who has a fascination with a girl called Christine, but Christine is dim-witted, can’t sing and only got into the chorus because the new owner owes her father money. Agnes has a powerful, glorious voice, but is fat, so nobody wants her in leading roles. The opera ghost accidentally teaches her instead of Christine, so she is asked to sing for Christine when the opera ghost demands Christine be given lead roles. 

The novel makes references to the Michael Crawford version of Phantom, only the Crawford character, Walter Plinge, is Crawford’s klutzy Frank Spencer, from comedy Some Mothers Do ’Ave’Em

I tried not to giggle! Still, I ended up buying the Pratchett novel in ebook. I’m rereading it already.

Have you seen the opera or read the novel - either the original or the Pratchett send up of the Lloyd Webber opera? 

Thursday, November 03, 2022

The Power Of The Doctor - oh, wow!

 So, the other night I watched The Power Of The Doctor, Jodie Whittaker’s last episode, in which she regenerated. I have to say I will miss her, to the extent that I am going right back to the beginning and watch the episodes I own.

I have to explain that I have been a fan since William Hartnell, the first Doctor, who was on when I was in primary school. I have loved all of them, but he was my Doctor. 

There is not much in the way of spoilers for this as we already know, through social media and reviews, that her immediate successor is not Ncuti Gatwa but David Tennant. We do have to wait to find out why, though. 

And by the way, you may or may not know that unless you live in the UK, you will no longer be able to watch it on free to air TV but will have to subscribe to Disney+. As it happens, I do subscribe to the House Of Mouse, which has all the Star Wars and Marvel films and TV shows, plus a lot of my favourite films, such as Chariots Of Fire and Ladyhawke, but not everybody does, or can afford it, so I’m not crazy about this. I did hear it may have been about getting bigger budgets, though personally I think they must have a decent budget as it is. No more wobbly sets or monsters with a zipper in their costume. I remember on the DVD extras for The Aztecs(William Hartnell) a memory shared was of hiring art students to paint Aztec pottery. The art budget was about £250. No more of that either. 

Anyway, we all got to see Jodie’s last episode and oh, my, what a story! There must have been quite a budget for it, with all the special effects and the guest actors. Exploding volcanoes. A spaceship battle - right at the beginning and no real connection with the story apart from frilly cybermen and companion Dan deciding he was nearly killed and time to move on.

Interesting that most of the action was done by women. Not only the Doctor, but Yaz finally gets to show what she can do and save the day, the Ruth Doctor, Kate Lethbridge Stewart and two classic era Companions, Ace and Tegan. And all these women kick ass! They don’t just show up for a five minute cameo, they participate in saving the world. Ace even gets out some of her famous Nitro 9 explosive. 

And then we meet Graham, one of this Doctor’s first companions, who turns up in a volcano, of all things, no idea how or even why! By the end of the show he has organised a meeting for ex Doctor’s companions, including the delicious Ian Chesterton(William Russell), on whom I had a huge crush as a child. He only gets one line, surprised to learn that the Doctor is now a woman - actually, Ian, as one of the first Doctor’s first three companions, left before regeneration was a thing at all. He has aged, but still has that beautiful voice I fell in love with as a child.

There were several classic era Doctors, which was nice. David Bradley was back as the first Doctor, but the others were the original actors. 

It was great fun, and who would have expected the Master to dance around to the tune of Rasputin? And was he actually Rasputin or did he take over from Rasputin?  Anyway, I expect we will see the Master again - he seems unkillable, he even came back once after he refused to regenerate. In the Doctor Who movie he came back from ashes, for goodness sake! 

Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor, unlike Doctor #12, was calm about regeneration, even sitting on top of the TARDIS with Yaz, eating an ice cream as they gazed out at Earth before dropping Yaz off and flying away to regenerate alone.

This is a story for fans, for people who love the show.

You just have to watch it to fully appreciate what I’m talking about, but it’s well worth the bother. I didn’t watch it till I could watch the episode all at once, a couple of days after it was shown. 


Excuse me, I’m off to get some popcorn and binge on favourite episodes.


Thursday, September 29, 2022

Just Finished Reading…Peepshow by Leigh Readhead. Sydney: Allen And Unwin, 2004.


This is not a newly published book. I bought a copy from the bookseller table at a Sisters In Crime event at my local library the other night. I don’t think it’s in print any more, so the author probably supplied some books from her stash to the bookseller. However, it’s easily available as an ebook on your favourite web sites. 

It’s the first in a series, four so far, which is about Simone Kirsch, aka Vivien Leigh(her work name), a stripper who wants to start her own private detective agency, and has taken a course in this area. In this first novel she is trying to find the killer of a truly nasty man running a strip joint, whose body was found floating off St Kilda beach in the opening scene, because his brother has kidnapped Simone’s best friend Chloe and is threatening to kill her if Simone doesn’t find the murderer within two weeks. She gets a job at a lap dancing joint which was owned by the victim, to see what information she can find before time runs out.

 I think this book fits best into the category of “tart noir”.  There is sex, the mean streets, drinking, smoking, casual use of drugs and much more along those lines. But it’s fun. Simone is a likeable character and the setting is Melbourne, where I live. In fact, it’s set in the part of Melbourne where I live, the seaside suburbs of Elwood and St Kilda, as well as the CBD. Most of the venues are real too, so I had fun following Simone’s travels around town. The Greyhound Hotel, where some of it happens, was pulled down some years ago, but it was within walking distance of my home. There is also the Espy(Esplanade Hotel), a pub and live music venue in St Kilda, where my nephew performed with his band several years ago. 

It’s said you should write about what you know, and apparently the author had some background as a stripper. It doesn’t seem an easy job! 

I read this in a couple of days and have bought the second novel in ebook. 

Well worth a read if you enjoy a bit of whodunnit fun. 

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Just Finished Reading… False Value by Ben Aaronovitch. Rivers Of London series. Penguin Putnam: New York, 2021

 I have just read False Value and thoroughly enjoyed it, as I have all the Rivers Of London novels. 

Hero Peter Grant, a member of the very small Special Assessment Unit, London’s magical police, has a new - undercover - job at the Serious Cybernetics Corporation(and yes, it is a deliberate reference to The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy). There is a reason why the police want to know what’s going on. It’s connected with Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron, who was a mathematical genius and the world’s first computer programmer, and her teacher, mathematician Mary Somerville. In this world, where magic is real and Isaac Newton was a famous mage, there is a physical Mary Engine, instead of just a theory paper. And someone is using it for nasty stuff.

Peter is awaiting the birth of twins with his partner, river goddess Beverley Brook. Interestingly, there isn’t much activity by river gods and goddesses in this novel. They are mentioned, but don’t appear for once, and Bev is too focused on her forthcoming children to get involved.

I would have thought the series would be going downhill by now, but no. Each novel has something new to be enjoyed. 

But you really do have to have read the others to be able to follow this one. It assumes you know who the characters are and what their backgrounds are. Peter, for example, is the son of a woman from Sierra Leone and a (white) jazz musician. Bev is the daughter of Mama Thames, an African woman who arrived in Britain in the 1950s and became a goddess. Nightingale is Peter’s “Governor”, who taught him magic.

If you are a fan, you just need to know that this one is absolutely worth reading. If you haven’t read this series, what are you waiting for?

My copy is in ebook, but your local bookshop or web site will have it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Just Finished Reading - Three Miles Down: A Novel Of First Contact In The Tumultuous 1970s By Harry Turtledove. New York: Tom Doherty, 2022

The year is 1974. The U.S President is Richard Nixon, who is soon to lose his job. Jerry Stieglitz, a young PhD candidate in marine biology, who also writes science fiction, is approached by the CIA to go on a mysterious voyage. At first he is told they want to raise a Soviet submarine which was destroyed a few years ago. 

But there is much more to it than that. There is a reason the Soviet submarine was sunk. That, not the submarine itself, is why they want him along. And it’s something very exciting - as long as he can keep his mouth shut. If he can’t, he is warned he will be dead soon after.

They have found a spaceship, which probably sank the Soviet craft, but so far nobody on the alien ship is responding. 

This seems to be a first contact novel, but it isn’t, really. It takes a long time for the spaceship to be raised, then for it to be examined. Jerry gets to do that along with another crew member. I won’t give you any more details before you read it. 

The first few chapters are a bit slow. There is a lot of discussion, both political and speculation on what’s in the spaceship and whether their own ship will be wrecked like the Soviet one. There is much detailed description of what they eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We are also told what science fiction books have just come out, and real people, such as SF authors Ben Bova and Jerry Pournelle, are mentioned before actually appearing later in the book. 

But the characters are good and the pace picks up after the spaceship is raised from the bottom of the sea. And there is some thought about whether it’s fair to have the US keeping all this to itself, or whether it should be sharing. 

It’s interesting to read about the era, before mobile phones, before the internet, before the Soviet Union fell(and after first contact, how different will that be?). Harry Turtledove was around at the time, but he is very good with history, even if it’s not the alternative universe for which he is best known. It took me a while to get into it, but I finished the second half in a couple of days. 

The book is available in all your usual good bookshops and websites, including Amazon, Booktopia and Book Depository. I bought mine in ebook on Apple Books. 

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Book Week 2022 - And Complaints!

 It’s the last day of Children’s Book Week 2022, and I confess I haven’t read any of the books this year. I can remember when I at least read all the Older Readers books and organised activities and displays for the celebration. We didn’t have author visits because my tiny library budget didn’t allow for it. But we had displays and a lunchtime book themed trivia quiz and I encouraged kids to read the shortlisted books. One year, when the theme was “Chsmpions Read”, I got some of my Year 8 students to pose in their PE uniforms, reading books, and also photographed three on a dais with medals and books. Those photos were part of the display, and I did it because I couldn’t find photos of sporting heroes reading. It worked.

If you want to know this year’s winners, here is a link to the Reading’s bookshop site, where you can buy them if you want.

I am glad to see there is a Rebecca Lim book among the winners as I enjoy her work very much. I will get it in ebook. She lives in Melbourne! 

But this post is about something else. 

Book Week is about celebrating excellence in writing for young readers. It hosts about the only major award here for children’s writing - the only judged one, anyway, as there are some for kids to vote for, such as the YABBA Awards in Victoria. There used to be a similar award, the Inkys, run by the State Library’s Centre for Youth Literature, but that was closed down some time ago. 

So, this is it - and even this award was nearly closed down some years ago due to lack of funds. Fortunately, it was sorted out and the awards continued. 

It’s a week for celebration of all things book related. But this year I have read several whining articles and Twitter posts, by parents, about having to put themselves out once a year to make or buy a costume for that stupid costume parade. How dare the school ask them to get creative to help their children have fun! Thing is, even if you agree, it tends to have headings like “Why I’m over Book Week”. 

It’s not about Book Week, it’s about one aspect of Book Week. Personally I think it would be just as much fun, or even more, for bits and bobs to be put in a corner of classrooms for kids to make their own costumes in the weeks leading up to Book Week. I was involved with the children’s program at a Worldcon once and watched kids do just this. It was amazing how creative they got. I still remember helping a young dragon to make her tail. 

But it shouldn’t be about helping parents avoid encouraging their kids to read. And schools give plenty of notice. Waiting till the last  minute and then complaining about the whole thing because you forgot to do it, or your duties at the office kept you too busy is not on as far as I’m concerned. It shouldn’t be about you or your convenience. Even if you do forget, there are plenty of cheap items in discount shops that can be put together to make a basic costume. 

I have no doubt some of you reading this will have a horror story about your child’s school and how it messed up Book Week celebration and made your child cry. These things do happen, yes. It has to be done right or nobody will enjoy it.

Still - how hard is it for parents to support their kids in the one week a year which is about them? 

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Some Banned Books In Florida Schools!

 There have been books banned in the US for quite some time. In fact, here is a link to a post I wrote ten years ago and that was the 30th anniversary of Banned Books Week. That was the year I got my book clubbers to celebrate it.

This year there are quite a few bans in the school system in Florida, where there were even bans of some mathematics textbooks! 

Here are some of the Florida school book bans I found on Twitter. 

I have heard of nearly all of these books and have read eleven(17 if you count the Harry Potter series as seven books, which it is). I have taught several of those.

You might notice that the books are generally classics and have been on school text lists. 

I have read The Handmaid’s Tale, The Catcher In The Rye, Of Mice And Men, Huckleberry Finn, To Kill A Mockingbird, Harry Potter 1 to 7, The Hate U Give, The Grapes Of Wrath, The Lord Of The Flies, 1984 and The Lord Of The Rings. I studied The Catcher In The Rye and taught Of Mice And Men and The Grapes Of Wrath

The Handmaid’s Tale has been much talked about recently and the red Handmaid’s costume worn in protests, and has been considered especially important with the overturn of Roe Vs Wade. 

The Catcher In The Rye, which I studied in both Year 11 and 12 at school, has been considered the first YA novel. Kids used to read it in bed, using a flashlight. These days, admittedly, the fact that it is taught at school has meant that kids don’t enjoy it as much any more, in fact complain about having to study it. It was written in the 1940s, so it doesn’t mean as much to this generation with their phones and Internet. Still - this doesn’t mean it should be banned, and I doubt it was banned for being boring and out of date! 

Of Mice And Men, by John Steinbeck, is very sad reading, but I think kids today, who have a lot more knowledge about mental illness, would get more out of it than when it first came out, but hey, it’s banned in schools! 

Huckleberry Finn has been banned for a long time as a racist book, which it absolutely isn’t. It’s a powerful piece of writing in which the hero starts off as a regular racist because that’s how it was in the American South of the time when the novel was written and, after travelling with escaped slave Jim comes to see him as a friend and decide that if helping him means he is going to hell, fine, he will go! There is a lot more than that, of course. If Mark Twain was around today he would be considered a left winger. I have read some of his other books and that’s what I concluded. 

I have no idea what the ban is for this time. At some stage I will visit the ALA web site to see if it has been updated.

The Harry Potter series has been banned, in the past, for supposedly promoting witchcraft. These days, there are former fans who have gone as far as to burn their Harry Potter books because they have been angry with the author. You have probably read about this, so I won’t go into detail. I don’t know why the Florida ban is happening, but probably the same reasons as before. 

I read The Lord Of The Flies in Year 9, on a friend’s recommendation. I remember discussing a section of it with my own class, and boys protesting they would never do that. I asked them if they wouldn’t do whatever they could get away with and, thinking about it, they admitted they probably would. Interestingly, there was a true story of a bunch of boys marooned for a while in the 1960s, and, far from killing each other, they looked after each other. 

I taught The Grapes Of Wrath to a Year 12 class in my first year out. It is a very powerful story of a poor family on the way to California during the Depression, in hopes of getting work picking fruit. It’s not going to happen, as all the families whose farms have been destroyed and taken over by the banks find out. Again - why is this banned now? It is a great classic. 

The Hate U Give is the most recent of the books I have read. I reviewed it here.

The heroine has to watch her childhood friend, Khalil, be murdered by a police officer and find the courage to bring his death to the public eye. Again - very powerful stuff and, for once, worth the hype. The film was strong too, and is available on streaming - Disney +, I think. 

And now it’s banned in Florida schools. Why? 

Finally, Lord Of The Rings? That classic novel? It’s not only an amazing fantasy, it was written as a mythology for England. It also has Catholic elements. Here is what I wrote about it.

I think I am going to have to visit the ALA website to find out why these books have been snatched from Florida schools, but one thing I know for sure: the sales will go up, as they did for Holocaust graphic novel Maus by Art Spigelman when that was banned in Tennessee recently. 

Maybe kids will even willingly read The Catcher In The Rye again? 

So, have you read any of the books on this list? What did you think? 

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Just Finished Reading … The Unbelieved by Vikki Petraitis. Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 2022


Vikki Petraitis is a Melbourne writer, best known for her true crime books, of which I own a few. This is her first novel.

Antigone Pollard is a police detective. She has returned to the small seaside town of Deception Bay, where she spent much of her childhood living with her grandmother, who is now in aged care and has left her the house. 

Antigone left Melbourne because of a rape case which ended with the death of the victim after she was disbelieved by the legal system. Now, she sees that not much is different in Deception Bay, where a couple of girls who have been raped after their drinks were spiked at the pub are unlikely to be believed either and the “good bloke” arrested for attempting the same with Antigone gets bail. She has come to the conclusion that rapists are believed over victims, wherever you live - something that is often true in real life.

Antigone and her police partner, Warren Harvey, better known as Wozza, must find proof of the rapist - and solve a murder that happened several years ago, though it was concluded to have been a murder suicide at the time. 

It’s a very readable story, if one that can’t be pinned down as a type - not a cosy and not a police procedural either, though the heroine is a police officer - one who doesn’t get on with her male  boss, for good reason. The small town, where everybody knows everyone else, is a good place for dreadful things to happen and be dismissed by those with power. 

As for Antigone, she won my heart when she used martial arts on the would-be rapist who attacked her in the pub carpark early in the novel after failing to spike her drink. 

The author knows a lot about crime, and how investigations work, from all her true crime writing. I think she has a great future in fiction and am looking forward to reading her next novel.

The print book is available at all good bookshops and websites, and in ebook format. I bought mine on Apple Books, but it’s available on Kindle as well.