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Wednesday, January 18, 2023

A Trip To Sydney - And Books!

 So, last week I went to Sydney to see Amadeus. It was a wonderful, if short, visit, and worth every cent I paid.

And I bought books, despite promising myself I wouldn’t. More of this later. 

I arrived in the late afternoon and took the train from the airport  to Central railway station. I knew my hotel, the Great Southern, was near the station, but not how very close it was, so a two minute walk brought me there. 

It’s a very old building, 19th century, although renovated, of course, so it’s a bit shabby, but clean. I had a small room, mostly taken up by a huge bed, with a small bathroom that had a decent sized shower. It was clean and comfortable, which was what I really wanted. Unfortunately their entire breakfast offering was something called “Carnivore Hot Plate” filled with meat, meat and more meat, as I discovered next morning. And a toast and fried egg. I know that hotels no longer have a buffet, since COVID, but surely a menu? Ah, well. A nice gent in the nearest open shop, a tobacconist, directed me to the food court at a shopping mall around the corner. That was open, so I bought breakfast, a salmon Benedict and fresh squeezed juice.

The first night, though, I caught up with my great niece, Rachel, and her sweet boyfriend Benjy. We got on the light rail, aka tram, which was right across the road from the hotel, and went to their favourite falafel joint, which you had to book for! Rachel has grown, she is now taller than me. It was a delight to see her and have a chat with Benjy. They are both about to start their second year at university.

Tuesday I met my friend from the Blue Mountains, Anne, whom I know through science fiction fandom, but who is also a Ricardian. We caught up after a long time. We have both seen and loved The Lost King, and Anne, who is picky about these things, has seen it three times! After we had had lunch at her favourite cafe in the Queen Victoria Building, we crossed the road to Galaxy Bookshop, which is Sydney’s big SF shop. Minotaur in Melbourne is big too, but it’s mostly devoted to comics and knick knacks. Its SF book shelves are limited.

I decided that if I was going to buy anything, it would be a classic that I couldn’t get in ebook. I’d hoped to find some of C.J Cherryh’s Chanur books, but no such luck. Nobody seems to have them, so I ended up ordering a three-book volume from Amazon, which did have it, but there is a long story around that which I will tell you when it arrives.

So I bought Samuel R. Delany’s classic novel Babel-17, something definitely not in ebook. I’ll let you know how it goes when I’ve finished it. It was slim enough to fit into my overnight bag.

That night I went to the Sydney Opera House to finally see Amadeus. I had only seen the building from a distance before, while going to Manly on the ferry. This time, I stood on the terrace and took photos of ferries going past. 

The production was brilliant. I think they must have hired opera singers to be in it, because, unlike when I saw it with the Melbourne Theatre Company, that wasn’t a recording when Mozart’s operas were on. They were actually singing. It must have been very expensive to stage. Worth it! And Michael Sheen was amazing as Salieri - what a plum role for the right actor! He has also played Mozart when he was younger, so he knows this show well. 

The trams to Circular Quay were not working that night due to track work, so I walked to the railway station, which got me back to Central and my two minute walk to the hotel. 

Next morning I checked out early and found a cafe on the way to the station to have breakfast. 

On the plane flight home I didn't read my new book, because a young man sitting next to me wanted to chat. He was a teenager, about to start Year 9, and had just been for his first trip on his own.  He wanted to talk about his favourite things, such as history and books. I let him, and answered. I’m a teacher, after all, and he was about the age of the students I used to teach.

So, my first trip since the pandemic. Very enjoyable! And now I know it’s possible, I will do it again.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

January 15 - Happy Birthday, Dad!

 Today, January 15, is my late father’s birthday. He was born on this day in 1925 and died December 28 2009. 

I miss him terribly! He was funny, sweet and amazingly gifted in a lot of areas. He built me floor to ceiling book cases. He turned an old desk from an ugly, shabby piece of office furniture into something people would pay thousands of dollars to own. He could make silver jewellery, including a necklace with an open book pendant he made for me when I qualified as a librarian. He drew delightful cartoons of himself, which he left at my home when he dropped off stuff for me. He had a beautiful baritone singing voice, which he passed on to his male descendants (my brother and all my nephews). He was a “silver surfer” who discovered the Internet in his later years and loved it.

To me, he was the head of my fan club. That Shakespeare? Nowhere near as good as his daughter! He argued with bookshop owners to put my books in the window and pestered his friends to buy my children’s books for their grandchildren. When one of them said his grandchild was only a year old, Dad said, “So? Is it going to go off?” And he read my books, he really did. I’m not sure any of my other family members did, though my sister did beta read an early version of my novel.

I wish he could have lived long enough to see my novel Wolfborn published. I did dedicate it to him. 

Anyway, here are some people and events he shared a birthday with.

The most famous, of course, is civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jnr., born on this day in 1929, who gets a public holiday in the US

. I’ve just read that he was in a black church children’s choir that sang for a bunch of white guests(Black ones not welcome) celebrating the release of the film Gone With The Wind

In 1927 Phyllis Coates was born. She was in the first season of The Adventures Of Superman, with George Reeves(who played a minor role in Gone With The Wind)as Lois Lane. She isn’t as well known as Noel Neill, who came after her, but she was very good. 

Children’s writer Jenny Nimmo was born in 1944. I have only read a couple of her books, but they were amazing and one of them, fantasy novel The Snow Spider, was turned into a TV mini series - twice! One was produced in 1988, the other in 2020. Dad would like that - I’m a children’s writer.

Science fiction novelist Robert Silverberg is another January 15 baby, born in 1935. I have only read a few of his books, but my favourite is Gilgamesh The King, based, of course, on The Epic Of Gilgamesh, which was about a king of Uruk who goes in search of immortality after losing his best friend to death. In the novel, he first becomes aware of death as a child, at his father’s funeral, the burial found by archaeologist Leonard Woolley and written about in his book Ur Of The Chaldees(I have read that book too). Woolley had a theory that the many courtiers buried with the king went voluntarily. In Silverberg’s novel, young Gilgamesh watches as a lady in waiting who looks like his mother and a slave boy dressed in his clothes go into the grave. 

I heard Silverberg speak at a Worldcon, at which  he said that if he spent a lot of time plotting and researching before writing a book, he’d never get it done! I agree with him in one way, you can always go back and fix your story afterwards, but I have been known to read entire books while researching an article. 

There are more authors born on this day, but these are the ones I have read.

Just a few events:

On this day in 1559, Queen Elizabeth I was crowned Queen of England and Ireland at Westminster Abbey - not Scotland, of course, that became a part of the kingdom after her death. 

1759 - the British Museum opened to the public. That was a very special occasion. I’ve only visited once, but the collection is amazing! 

2001 - Wikipedia first goes on line. My Dad would have loved to know that, because he adored looking up stuff on line. I never asked, but I bet he used Wikipedia. I think it’s better than people give it credit for. Yes, it can be edited by whoever, but I believe it is at least as accurate as quite a few other encyclopaedias. The only thing I used to tell my students was that my issue with it, as far as they were concerned, was that entries tend to be too long for their needs, and the language is too complicated for some students. 

It’s getting a bit late, so I will end this post here. 

Do you share your birthday with anyone interesting, or with an exciting event?


Saturday, January 07, 2023

Look What I Got This Week!

 Look what I found! 

It was on my book case in the living room and I needed a print book to take to Sydney, in case they don’t let me read on my iPad on the plane. I had totally forgotten I had it. 

I think I must have bought it from the wonderful Collected Works bookshop in the CBD, before it closed down. I’m not sure how they had it, as it was printed by a micro press in Melbourne, only 300 copies. Maybe the author brought it in to one shop likely to sell it. Anyway, here it is. I have started reading it and am enjoying. I’m guessing the author must have read all the History of Middle-Earth books, plus LOTR and The Hobbit. The first chapter is about books in the different regions of Middle-Earth. Fascinating stuff! According to the cover, Hobbits play football… I haven’t read that yet.

Something else I received was the last several ebook issues of Andromeda Spaceways, from #79 to #88. They are giving these to slush readers to say thank you for their work. I used to be a member of the co-op itself, but for the last several years I have been just reading slush, to keep me connected. Only one story a week, but I appreciate the goodies they have given me, and am looking forward to a binge read. Here is the cover of the issue I’ve just started reading. They have certainly chosen their cover artists well. 

If you like reading ebooks, ASM might be worth considering. You can buy an individual copy or subscribe, and it’s not very expensive.

I admit I rarely put a story through to the next round. I wish I could do it every week, but the truth is, we tend to receive stories that have clearly been rejected elsewhere, usually the US. With good reason… And I absolutely understand why these authors probably started with Asimov’s or Fantasy And SF, but just because ASM is a semiprozine which pays authors and artists but not the people who produce it doesn’t mean it’s an easier sell than the prozines. If you make it through the first and second rounds to the Slushpool, you still only have a small chance of selling your story. It doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with it if it got that fae,  just that there are only so many stories that can be fitted into an issue and every editor has different tastes. 

I remember once browsing in a bookshop and overhearing someone complaining about us because we had rejected his story. “They aren’t writers!” he declared. His friend had got as far as the slushpool, the list of stories for editors of future issues to choose from.

I turned and said, “Excuse me, but actually, we’re ALL writers. But I read as a reader, asking myself if I’d be happy to buy a magazine with that story in it.” I told his friend that if he had made it to the slushpool and not sold to us, he would certainly sell it elsewhere. And that’s true, I have seen stories I read in slush published elsewhere. Once, I was chuffed to see the author had taken the advice I gave in my comments. 

I always make comments, whether I put the story through to the next round or not. Only once have I been remotely rude. It was an item that had the politically correct tyrants executing anyone who didn’t follow the PC rules, including a twelve year old boy. I just said it wasn’t a story, it was a political tract. Usually, I will just say what didn’t work for me and why. Sometimes I’ll say, truthfully, that I missed the point. 

Anyway, now I can read a pile of stories that did make it, in bed during my visit to Sydney! 

Friday, January 06, 2023

My Fan Fic World!

 So, I’ve been hunting up some old fanzines with my stories in them, from back in the days when fan fiction was printed and posted out to fans. I published a few myself, which gave me the practice for when I edited an issue of semiprozine Andromeda Spaceways. 

The hunt for fanzines made me remember the worldbuilding I did with my friend Robert Jan, when we created our planet New Wales, which was in the constellation of the Unicorn and had been settled centuries ago by a group led by Arthur’s knight Bedwyr, after the battle of Camlann, where both Arthur and his son Medraut died. 

They had reached the planet using a teleport portal from Earth. They found themselves with some Earth animals which had wandered through the portal themselves - animals such as unicorns, now extinct on Earth. There were also intelligent dragons which walked on two feet and were a part of the community. One dragon in our world was a space fleet admiral, Admiral Kirilli - Robert created that character. Mine was a pipe-smoking university professor, Rhisiart. 

We kept it as silly and over the top as we could. (I remember one reviewer referring to it a a sweet little tea party of a world - which I guess it was). It existed in three media universes - the worlds of Star Trek, Blake’s 7 and Robin Of Sherwood.  

Although Robin Of Sherwood might seem the most appropriate universe to host New Wales, I only wrote one story set there. 

Most of the New Wales stories were set in the world of the original Star Trek series. Robert and I alternated those stories, which were published first in the fanzine SPOCK, then some reprinted in my own fanzine, Trek Tales From New Wales. In one story, Ensign Chekhov, trying to impress a girl (a fellow crew member) while on shore leave on New Wales, was horribly embarrassed when a local unicorn, a mare called Maggie, followed him around. 

But our unicorns were shaggy Shetland ponies with horns, and had nothing to do with the traditional tropes about unicorns. If they liked you, they liked you, simple as that. I confess I got the idea for them from an early episode of Lost In Space, when the Robinsons, exploring their new planet, found a chimpanzee with a high domed head and a Shetland unicorn. Penny kept the chimp as a pet, not the unicorn! Still, I think I made those Shetland unicorns very much my own. Maggie was a semi regular character.

In the Blake’s 7 universe - which you will probably not be familiar with unless you are my age or were brought up by fannish parents - New Wales was the original home of the anti-hero Kerr Avon. He still had relatives there. The evil Federation had tried to take it over but not succeeded, due to - well, magic. Sort of. More of a mass telepathic barrier. One of the original characters, the telepathic alien Cally, who was killed during the fourth season of the show was, in fact, in a healing trance (like Spock) and was found alive by members of New Wales’ space fleet. She ended up joining them and settling on New Wales.

I did consider working up a novel using the world, without the media universes, but then Patricia Kennealy Morrison published a novel called The Copper Crown which had a similar premise to my universe, and she was a much bigger name than me, so that was that. 

The annoying thing is, her novel was much more deadly serious than my stories. I much prefer funny, myself.

Ah, well…

Thursday, January 05, 2023

In Which I Spoil Myself Outrageously!

 This has been an exhausting week in many ways, and it’s not over yet. I even forgot, on January 3, to wish a happy birthday to the sublime J.R.R Tolkien! Here, have a Tolkien birthday post from a previous year!

However, I am about to do something I haven’t done since well before the pandemic: I’m going to Sydney to see a show, inspired by AJ Blythe whose comment appeared on this site a few posts ago. I don’t have much time, due to family commitments, but I’m using the time I have. Monday afternoon, I am heading for Melbourne airport and flying off to Sydney. There, I will take a train to Central Station and walk to my hotel. 

I used to use the YHA regularly when travelling, and there is quite a good one right near Central, but this time I decided to spoil myself with a four star hotel, the Great Southern, which is also within easy walking distance. I just want to get there, buy dinner and head for my room, not have to go shopping for groceries and cook my own meal. And my membership has long expired, so I’d have to rejoin. Maybe next time.

On Tuesday I’m meeting a friend, Anne, who lives in the Blue Mountains, during the day, and going to the theatre at the Sydney Opera House, a world-famous building which I have only passed on the Manly Ferry, but never visited.

So, what is this show? Peter Schaffer’s Amadeus, starring Michael Sheen, whom you may know from Good Omens or Staged. He has done a lot of other stuff - I saw him as Tony Blair in The Queen. This production is not, as far as I know, coming to Melbourne, so… 

I saw the play many years ago, starring Fred Parslow, a wonderful Melbourne actor, as Salieri, and also the movie, with F.Murray Abraham in the role(winning an Academy Award for it), Tom Hulce as Mozart. I believe Michael Sheen once played as Mozart in this play. 

I wouldn’t go to see something just for the actor, but it’s an amazing play and an actor I admire is in it, so why not? 

In case you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s about the rivalry between composer Antonio Salieri and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, seen from the viewpoint of Salieri, who is hugely popular in his time, but insanely jealous of Mozart, whom he knows is much more talented than he is, but is also thoroughly irritating. So he sets out to destroy Mozart’s life…

I’ve actually heard some of Salieri’s music and it’s absolutely fine. But it’s Mozart whose music I play, and his operas I go to see. The Marriage Of Figaro and The Magic Flute are two I have not yet tired of, unlike some others, such as Madama Butterfly, which Opera Australia has a tendency to perform far too often.

Anyway, I’m going! And, expensive as this trip is, I’m worth it! 

Have you ever done something outrageously expensive just because?

Sunday, January 01, 2023

Just Been To See… The Lost King and 2001: A Space Odyssey!

 I usually write an end of year post. This year I forgot. It has been a long time since I did midnight for New Year’s Eve anyway, since Dad passed away on December 28, 2009, and I couldn’t be bothered, but I used to at least go and see a movie with family or friends and get home before midnight. This year I was looking after Mum, and the day was so exhausting, I just forgot and went to bed.

So, here are a couple of things I did just before the year ended. No Doctor Who Christmas or New Year special, of course, since the Doctor has regenerated. 

But I have been reading - I read The Lost King: The Search For Richard III in bed, for Jolabokaflod, on Christmas Eve. I’m still reading it, over halfway through. Its chapters alternate between the history chapters and the chapters about the archaeological dig organised by Philippa Langley- right now, I have just read the chapter about the finding of the remains and am reading about Richard’s coronation and what happened there. 

Film poster - fair use

Monday afternoon I went to see the film inspired by - not really based on - the book. I mean, if Philippa Langley spent any time chatting to the ghost of Richard III, she doesn’t mention it in the book! The film is another matter. 

It is a sweet, funny and touching movie I will have to buy on DVD when it comes out, or hope it turns up on one of my many streaming services. At the start of the film, she goes to see a performance of the Shakespeare play in Edinburgh. Later, when she encounters Richard, he wears the face of the actor who played the role in the performance she saw. 

She goes to Leicester to look around and one of the places she visits is the bridge across the River Soar, where it was believed for a very long time that Richard’s remains were thrown in the time of Henry VIII, during the dissolution of the monasteries. Richard stands on the railing and throws himself backwards. 

She sees him a minute later on land and asks him why he did that. He replies, “I thought it’d be funny!”

He seems to be the person she talks to the most about what she is doing, though she does get a lot of support from her ex husband and her children(also not in the book). When his bones are found, she is sitting in a cafe, getting a text to come back to the dig - and sees Richard ride past on a white horse(I think he did have a white horse called White Surrey). 

It might have been fun to have a cameo with Benedict Cumberbatch, who was at the funeral, reading a poem, as he is related to Richard, a distant cousin, but still a nice scene and touching to see the procession going to the cathedral with his coffin, made by Michael Ibsen, a descendant of one of Richard’s sisters, who crafts wood for a living. (Carpenter or cabinet maker?)

If you get a chance, see this film!

Film poster - fair use

The other film I saw this week was a much older one, Stanley Kubrick’s classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. I have seen this many times - in fact, I first saw it in my school’s General Purpose Room when it first came out. In those days you could rent a movie on film, if you had a projector and someone who could use it. 

Not the same, of course. The Astor Theatre, a 1930s cinema in my area, has what I believe is the largest screen in Melbourne and we fans got to see it in its 70mm glory. They had an intermission and all! It’s one of those special movies that is shown there once a year. 

It’s inspired by - again, not really based on - a short story by Arthur C Clarke, “The Sentinel.” In it, astronauts get to the moon and discover an artefact humans certainly didn’t make. When touched, it goes off, sending a signal. They figure it must be to a distant civilisation, to let them know humans have left their planet. The question then is… what next? Do they have benign intentions towards us or is it to warn them humans might be headed their way? Nobody knows.

The film is a piece of art that doesn’t need to be asking the questions of the story. The Monolith turns up at “the dawn of man” and inspires a prehistoric ape-like creature to pick up a bone and use it to kill a wild boar for food, then fight off a rival clan for a waterhole. It turns up again centuries later on the moon, for different reasons. The bone flung triumphantly into the air by an ancestor appears to turn into a spaceship travelling to a space station to the tune of the Blue Danube waltz. The spaceship is Pan Am, complete with flight attendants and pilots who aren’t astronauts. 

And the ending? I have no idea what it’s about, even after many viewings, but that’s okay, neither did Arthur C Clarke, according to an interview. I did see the sequel, 2010, in which much is explained and we find out that poor Hal 9000 was not at fault for his part in that ending. And I enjoyed that, but this one is the classic.

If you haven’t seen the film on the big screen, keep an eye out, it’s well worth it!

I wish all of you a great 2023. To be honest, for me, 2022 can get in the bin! Fingers crossed for this year and I hope I write many more posts than last year.