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Sunday, December 31, 2023

In Which I Fulfil A New Year’s Eve Tradition - The Rocky Horror Picture Show!


Tonight was New Year’s Eve, so I grabbed the chance to go out for a New Year’s Eve tradition: a viewing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. 

You can, of course, just play the movie on DVD or streaming. Disney + streams it, or you can buy and download it. But it’s not the same.

If you go to see it at the cinema, it’s a sing-along with a pre film show, an MC dressed as the main character, Frank N Furter, who calls out the “virgins” who haven’t seen it before and stages a costume parade for the cosplayers, with prizes for the best ones. I’ve been to a showing where people dressed as some of the characters turn up on stage to sing along. 

Tonight I went to my local cinema, the Classic. We were offered sparkling wine and a pack which contained a number of items that helped us do the traditional stuff, eg confetti to throw in the opening wedding scene and a newspaper to put over our heads during the rain scene(and were showered by people with spray bottles). During “There’s A Light Over At The Frankenstein Place” we all sang along and waved our phones using the torch app. When I first saw this film, with my cousin and his wife, people brought candles and lighters - how times have changed! I think the phones were much safer than candles.

Of course, there was “The Time Warp”, only this was the first time I saw everybody dance it! When I was going to the Year 12 Formals the kids danced it every year, as well as the Macarena and “Summer Lovin’” from Grease

And the film was just as much fun as always. In case you aren’t familiar, it has fun with old science fiction movies of the 1940s and 50s. You know the drill: the young lovers have a car breakdown and go to a scary house and ask to use the phone…

Richard O’Brien, the show’s creator, was in it. You may have seen him elsewhere in, say, Flash Gordon and Season 3 of Robin Of Sherwood, in which he played an evil sorcerer working for the villain. The lead, Frank N Furter, was played by Tim Curry, who is best known for this film, but has done plenty of other shows and films, such as a dashing Pirate King in a stage production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates Of Penzance. I’ve also seen him in The Life Of Shakespeare, in the title role. He made a  wonderful Shakespeare, but you wouldn’t recognise him between this and Rocky Horror.

If you’d like to see the stage show, with Richard O’Brien, here is a link to it on YouTube.


Anyway, I had a great time! I haven’t seen it since before the pandemic, so I was glad to go tonight.

Just Finished Reading… Wages Of Sin By Harry Turtledove. Perseus Books, 2023


This is the latest novel by the “Master of Alternative Universe”. In this case, the “what if…?” is “what if HIV arrived in Europe in the 16th century?”

In 1509, some Portuguese traders buy slaves in Africa, to take back to Lisbon. One of them is a beautiful teenage girl, who is passed around the crew. She has been raped by her captors before being sold. So… 

In 1851 - not the Victorian era, but the reign of King Michael III - England is very different from the one we know. AIDS, known as the Wasting, is common enough that strict measures have been  taken to control its spread. Victims are branded with a W as a warning to others not to sleep with them. Women are forced to wear burqas when they go out, to avoid tempting men - which doesn’t stop them from being groped and catcalled in public. England is still Catholic, because Henry VIII died of AIDS  - no surprise there - before he could break from Rome.

Not a world we would like to live in!

The novel is seen through the eyes of engaged couple Peter and Viola. It is an arranged marriage, but the young couple are willing. She is a doctor’s daughter in Salisbury, he is studying law in London. Most of the novel is about what is happening with each of them. Peter is trying to avoid temptation despite his randy room mate’s regular brothel attendance. Viola is frustrated by having no freedom, though her father is very supportive of her. 

She writes a book. 

I found it very readable and finished it quickly, but if you are expecting adventure like that in such other books as The Guns Of The South, you won’t find it here. There is no uprising, no cure found for the disease, no change of society. It’s just a story about what it might be like to live in that one. 

Interestingly, Viola’s novel, inspired by the travel tales she loves to read since she can’t actually travel, is about what it might be to live somewhere where the Wasting hasn’t taken hold.

Recommended. The book is available in both Apple Books and Kindle ebooks, or in print.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Some Book Based Shows I’m Watching!

 I have just watched the first two episodes of Percy Jackson And The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, which is now showing on Disney +. The first two episodes are up, not sure when the rest will be in.

Having read the book, I have to say I’m impressed. It feels very faithful to the novel, unlike the film. The show is well cast and the effects are amazing. It does help that the author, Rick Riordan, is involved and has written some episodes. Having the author involved is not always the best idea, but in this case, it works well. 

In case you aren’t familiar with the story, it’s about a young boy, Percy(Perseus)Jackson, who discovers he is a demi god, the son of sea god Poseidon. After some attempts to kill him, he is taken to Camp Halfbood, where children of the Olympian gods learn and train together. There, he makes some friends, Annabeth Chase(the cousin of Magnus Chase, hero of another book series, which I hope will be filmed some time) and satyr Grover, who had been keeping an eye on him at school. The three of them go on a quest/road trip to find the stolen lightning bolt of Zeus. 

I am thoroughly enjoying seeing this and looking forward to the rest! 

Another show I’m watching but haven’t finished yet is The Artful Dodger, about the character from Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. In it, the Dodger - Jack Hawkins - has grown up and is using his hands for something better than picking pockets. He is a surgeon, living and working in  Australia during the convict era. One day, to his horror, Fagin arrives as a convict. Fagin is the last person he wants to see, especially as Fagin let him down back in England. Anyway,  Jack thought he was dead, but apparently Oliver Twist had saved him from the gallows. Neither of them is an Oliver Twist fan, by the way. Jack has his own secrets, so he reluctantly asks for Fagin as a convict servant and Fagin, who is a likeable rogue,  not a villain in this show, helps him with a big problem.

The role of Fagin was played by David Thewliss, whom I have only ever seen as Professor Lupin in the Harry Potter films. I wouldn’t have recognised him! 

I’ve just started watching Lovecraft Country, which I bought on Apple TV. It’s set in the 1950s and about Atticus, a young African American who has just returned from Korea and is looking for his missing father. There are supernatural elements, as you might have guessed from the title. I’ve read the novel, by Matt Ruff, and found it great fun, but the TV show seems to be a lot more serious. Only one episode so far. The star is Jonathan Majors, whose acting career is over, it seems, after he was found guilty of some violent actions. 

Another cast member, Wunmi Mosaku, was in Loki as Hunter B15. She is British, but does an American accent in both shows. Nice to see a familiar face, as well as Jonathan Majors, who was the villain in Loki, as well as a decent variant of the baddie.

It’s Christmas Eve, time to retire to bed and reread Susan Cooper’s masterpiece The Dark Is Rising. Good night! 

Monday, December 18, 2023

In Which I Show Off An Anthology I’m In

 The last few days have been fun and games with the courier working for Amazon. The courier is pretty hopeless, but when you contact Amazon they usually tell you that due to “privacy concerns” they can’t contact them and tell you to do it yourself. This particular bunch never pick up, as I have found in the past, and don’t even leave a card to tell you they have been there. Once, they left my parcel in someone’s back yard - no idea whose - with a photo to prove they delivered it. This time they said they hadn’t been able to deliver it, despite my being at home at the time! 

Never mind, I finally got through to a very kind and helpful  Amazon employee in Sydney, explained in great detail and he fixed it for me, letting the driver know to leave the parcel at my front door. 

And here it is!

I have a story in this anthology and got my contributor’s copy in ebook, but I like to have a print copy of anything I’m in. How else can I brag? Even to myself? 

It’s a Jewish-themed anthology, with stories about “rescuing ourselves”. Mine is set in Melbourne, where I live, and has a sort-of dybbuk in it. 

It was the first time I have been part of the demographic invited to submit to an anthology, so I finally wrote a story I’d had in mind, but never got around to writing.

Nice cover, isn’t it? Despite the cover title, it’s just called Days Of Awe. But I do like the cover title. “They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat!” is basically what most of our holy days boil down to.

There are quite a variety of themes in these stories. 

If you’d like a copy, you can only get it on Amazon, but now you can get it both in Kindle and print. It’s edited by Aviva Blakeman, who mostly writes romance novels, but decided to try her hand at an anthology.

Here is the link to the Australian site because looking up books on Amazon is a bit difficult.

And here is the link to the US Amazon site.,digital-text,279&ref=nb_sb_ss_recent_1_0_recent

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

What I’m Reading!

 I’ve been downloading and bingeing recently. In the old days I had to wait until I could get to a bookshop, but now that you can just pay and download, why wait? The only problem is, getting through them. 

So, here are some books I have bought recently on either Apple Books or Kindle, and am still reading.

Today’s download was Eating With The Tudors by Brigitte Webster. It’s a cookbook with history. You get the originals but also adapted recipes because in those days recipe books were aimed at professionals who knew what they meant and didn’t need details.

I’ve actually read Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man. I assumed I had it in ebook, till I was telling a friend about it and realised I didn’t. I had to buy it , of course. I loved it! It’s basically a police procedural murder mystery set in a world where cops are telepaths, so murder shouldn’t be possible to get away with, but it happens anyway. Very clever, and provided the inspiration for a theme in Babylon 5, where they cheekily call the villainous head of the Psi Corps Alfred Bester. 

I got a free audiobook of Treasure Island, published by Apple Books. I’m listening to that now.

There are some mentioned on Twitter, usually by the author, and I couldn’t resist. 

The only print book in the lot is The Impudent Edda by Rowdy Geirsson. It arrived yesterday from Amazon. It is, as the title suggests, a reworked version of the Norse myths, written humorously by someone who really knows them well. I’ve just started. I couldn’t get it in ebook. The print book does seem to be available everywhere on line, though.

The same guy was reading a book called Seven Viking Romances, which he mentioned on social media and, of course, I had to buy it. I haven’t started it yet, but it looks good.

There has been a lot of discussion of the Princes in the Tower on Twitter recently, due to a documentary on the subject on the BBC. I haven’t seen it, as it has only been shown in the UK and the US so far, but there was so much discussion I just slipped out and bought The Survival Of The Princes In The Tower, the book by Matthew Lewis, whose work I first discovered in a discount bookshop, Book Grocer. He is big in the Richard III Society. Again - just starting it. 

I haven’t yet bought Philippa Langley’s book on the subject, though that was getting a lot of discussion on Twitter too. I thought she did a great job finding Richard III and I have her book about that and the film based on it, which has become one of my comfort viewing films, but I think I’ll wait till I have read some others first.

Just for the heck of it, I went to Project Gutenberg and downloaded some works by  Poul Anderson and Fritz Leiber, two of the classic spec fic writers whose stuff I love. I do have some of their later books in ebook and print, but their earlier short pieces are available on Gutenberg, so why not? 

There is a lot more, but I’ll finish here with one last book. I was in the mood to reread some Connie Willis books, so I  bought Passage, a novel about “near death experiences” in which the heroine, a scientist working on this, finds herself on the Titanic! I do have the print book somewhere…

Do you have a large TBR pile? Especially in ebook? 

Thursday, November 09, 2023

A Trip To Sydney!

First issue of the School Magazine.

So, I just got home from Sydney. I’ve been many times before, for SF cons, twice to children’s writers conferences and to visit friends. This time I went because I was invited to lunch by the NSW School Magazine, along with other contributors.The School Magazine has been around for over a century - 108 years next February - and I missed the centenary celebration when it was held several years ago, so I thought this time I’m going! And I did.

It has suddenly occurred to me that I’ve been writing for them for around thirty years! It all began when children’s writer Geoffrey McSkimming visited Melbourne for a library conference. Geoffrey used to write a hilarious series of children’s books about a character called Cairo Jim, who was a sort of Indiana Jones for children. Jim lived in Egypt in a village called Gurneh, after a real place where the villagers made a cosy living tomb robbing, and worked in the Valley of the Hairdressers. 

Anyway, while Geoffrey was at the conference, which I attended, he mentioned this magazine he worked for, and said it was a good market because they published four magazines for different age groups and each was four a year. And you don’t have to write for a specific one, they slot your work into whatever age group they think it fits. I started submitting and here I am, all these years later, still writing and submitting - my most recent article was published in September, edited by Geoffrey McSkimming. 

I’ve done a lot of articles about the space program - that one was about the Artemis project, which is going back to the moon, then on to Mars - but also about quirky bits of history and archaeology. A couple of times they invited me to submit items about specific subjects - once about Yuri Gargarin, another time about forensics. 

The thing is, at the time, the head honcho was a delightful guy called Jonathan Shaw, who eventually retired. Both in his time and for some time after, I could write to ask if they might be interested in a particular topic. If they said yes, I had a good chance of selling it. It’s a lot of research to do even a 1500 word piece and I’d hate to do all that only for them to say, sorry, we’ve just published something about that. 

Things changed over the years. For a while they were doing themed issues, which was a disaster for me. I’d written an article on a topic they had said interested them only to be told they needed to find an issue it would fit. Thankfully that system stopped soon and the article was published after all. 

These days you submit via the website, so I resubmitted it and they bought it. But at the time I thought there was no one I could email with an inquiry any more. And I found out on Monday, at the event, that you can, after all, still inquire and be answered. That made me very happy. I’m now researching a topic I think children will like, fingers crossed the good folk at the School Magazine will agree! 

It was an enjoyable afternoon. Lunch was really just sandwiches and sushi, with tea and coffee and cake on the side, but we had a fascinating talk about the history of the magazine. Afterwards, I picked up a copy of one of their best-of anthologies, along with a print of the very first edition. 

I met some folk I’d only known through correspondence, and the lady who pays us! There were the artists, who get a monthly “brief” and do the illustrations.

One of those was Queenie Chan, best known as a comic book/graphic novel artist, whom I met at a convention in Melbourne some years ago, and who told me she had illustrated some of my articles! Who knew when we first met that she would be illustrating my work one day? 

I was even more thrilled when I had a chat with Geoffrey, who said to me, “Keep them coming! I really like your work.”

A very nice ending to my visit to the offices of the School Magazine.

It was held in Paramatta, a bit of a way out of town, and I got lost on the way there! 

I saw my first jacaranda trees in bloom that day, something that has been compared to cherry blossom in Japan. 

Tuesday morning I met some fannish friends I have known forever and we took a trip to Manly by ferry, sailing past the Sydney Opera House. We caught up over lunch in the sunshine, fish and chips and lemonade, and watched people dressed for the Melbourne Cup walk past for some event of their own, then we walked on the beach with my friend Susan’s tiny rescue chihuahua, Pocket, whom she had brought along for a treat. Pocket was a breeder dog who was given away when she could no longer have puppies, so not a young girl, but a fine pet. 

In the evening I met my brother’s best friend, Michael, who enjoys talking about his family history and loves researching them. He really does a lot of research, and found relatives he hadn’t known he had, as well as finding, in the National Library’s newspaper archive, Trove, old articles about a relative who had been arrested and imprisoned for fraud! I also learned, after all this time, that he is a fellow Trek fan. We went for dinner at a favourite restaurant of his, with Israeli food. 

I woke up early yesterday morning to find the Internet was down, as was my phone. It wasn’t until I logged into the hotel’s wifi that I read the news that one of our major ISPs, Optus, had crashed all over Australia! If you live here, you’ll know about it. Really a disaster, with hospitals losing their connections, prop,e unable to call 000 for emergencies and trains in Melbourne getting backed up. My brother, who takes a train to work, got his wife to drop him off on the local tram line. I had to go home, so I used whatever wifi was available wherever I went; by the time I reached Melbourne airport, the crash was fixed. 

Still - much as I adore technology, it did show how much we rely on it. 

What do you think? Are we relying too much on our IT? Is it worth it? 

I think it is, but still…