Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Review: Zoo City

Zoo City
Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gritty, entertaining, and to my Australian eyes, exotic South African urban fantasy with a strong magic realist streak. Beukes' strength is in bringing locations to life, and the grimy urban-industrial landscape she populates with her collection of desperate and dissolute grifters is a compelling character in its own right. Thoroughly engrossing, and a refreshing change from similar British and american grim-noir tales, whilst projecting a unique cultural identity all its own.

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013


As part of Connor's home-schooling I've been teaching him haiku. It's a wonderful way to learn imagery and active language, and to teach him to consider the weight of a word before using it: when space is limited, everything has to count.

His first few efforts were simple things, but yesterday, sitting in the library at Murdoch University where we were using my rostered day off to indulge in a home schooling day trip, he cracked the active-language barrier, and gave me this one:

Bony flaming wings
slaughtering humans for food
Fire-breathing reptile.

The delicacy of thought, with the bloodthirsty gusto of the 8 year old. What's not to love?


Some years ago I took part in the Write a Book in a Day challenge at the behest of the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre: a group of writers and artists, locked together in a room, with a single aim-- to turn a bunch of blank pages into a printed, illustrated book in 24 hours.

Sometimes, we get together and cry.

In all seriousness, it's a brilliant concept. It's huge buckets of fun for the creators, it raises valuable money for the recipients, and there genuinely is not a single loser along the way. It is one of the few everybody wins concepts going around.

This year, the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild is taking part for the second year. The equation is simple: get on it. do some good. Make writers cry.



12 years ago I had a car accident, and when the chiropractor x-rayed me I had shrunk by a centimetre and a half, and my body's vertical axis had slid to the right and twisted, so that my natural line of balance involved leaning forward and to the left like some sort of physical representation of the Greens.

Yesterday, after a gap of four years or so, my new chiropractor x-rayed me-- I have lumbar pain and dysplasia that would impress the dancing skeletons in a Disney movie-- and discovered something that had been hidden by the car crash damage.

My left leg is almost two centimetres shorter than my right. and what's more, it always has been. There's some medical name for it that I missed because I was too busy goggling at the x-ray, but what it amounts to is this:

All the calf-tightness and cramping I experience when I was playing sport: this.

The lumbar pain and excessive bowing of my lower back: in part, this.

The degenerative arthritis that's beginning to effect my lowest vertebrae: 40 years of this.

My excessive weight gain over the past ten years: naaaaah, that's just me.

So here's me-- fat, middle-aged and wonky. And wondering why nobody ever played me on the right wing....

Me and a few mates. Owned by Disney. Aren't we all?

Thursday, July 25, 2013


My workplace held a Christmas in July lunch yesterday. I quite like Christmas in July: it's the ultimate why-the-hell-not? excuse for a bunch of people to eat food that, for some reason nobody quite understands, they limit themselves to eating once a year. Nothing about it makes sense, and there's a refreshing honesty overust how deeply everyone is deluding themselves in order to give permission to do something they could be doing any day of the week without repercussion. Maybe there's some obscure appendix to the Bible that says we shalt not eat plum duff with custard except on days we all agree Jesus was born except the day he actually was. Or something.

Not all mass delusion ends in lime koolaid. Sometimes it end in crackers.

Anyway, in that spirit, here's a Christmas thumbnail. Make of it what you will. It's all very New Yorker-lite, this one. I like it more than I should, middle class pretension being one of my own personal delusions.

Edward... I'm not happy.

Review: Hammered: Memoir of an Addict

Hammered: Memoir of an Addict
Hammered: Memoir of an Addict by G.N. Braun

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Powerful, open, and brutally honest. Braun holds up a mirror to himself and unflinchingly reports what he sees. Tough stuff, but it results in a rewarding read.

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013


As I've mentioned previously, our youngest son has been battling a condition known as Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome for the better part of three months. It's disrupted his home life, blown his school attendance out of the water, and generally consigned him to a never-ending rotation of doctors, specialist, chiropractors, shamans, witch doctors, faith healers, and boogeymen.

Yesterday was the first day back at school after their winter break for most kids in Western Australia, and Master 8 had his heart set on joining them. He'd set a personal goal of having his vomiting under control enough to attend: CVS it can be managed, if not completely eliminated, at least until some magic point where he 'grows out of it'. All he needed to do was have a run whereby he stayed vomit-free between 8am and 3pm, and we were all set to send him back. His bag was packed, he was full of chatter about catching up with friends, he had a project he'd been working on he wanted to show the class...

Yeah, you know where this is heading.

Last night, we gathered on our bed and had us a family meeting-- Master 8, his Mum, and me. And we've decided that it's time to formalise the teaching arrangement that's been forced upon us over the last 12-odd weeks. From now until the condition clears, at the minimum, we'll be formally home schooling him. Even if he went back to school, the chances of him passing Year 3 were touch and go. More time away will only confirm the need to repeat. At home, he'll get the attention, focus and targeted goal-setting that will give him the best chance to continue his education with the minimum of disruption. 10 puke-breaks a day are more easily accommodated when you're sat round the kitchen table with your Mum.

There's a lot of running around to be done: associations to be contacted; permissions signed; forms and letters and probably blood, sperm and third-eye aqueous humour samples to be given; but it's the right decision, and gives him a chance to have a normal schooling life that takes his condition into account.

Thankfully, he's a boy with a sense of adventure, and he's set himself to see the possibilities in the arrangement-- 'school schools' don't hit the zoo, the beach, the museum or the public libraries anywhere near as much as home schools do, so he tells us....

Sometimes, wanting the best for your children makes your chest too tight.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Review: Elizabeth's Bedfellows: An Intimate History of the Queen's Court

Elizabeth's Bedfellows: An Intimate History of the Queen's Court
Elizabeth's Bedfellows: An Intimate History of the Queen's Court by Anna Whitelock

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An exhaustive and brilliant examination of the political and personal climate surrounding the reign of Elizabeth I, filtering her decisions and the behaviours of those around her through the persons of those ladies most close to her. Whitelock draws these ladies-in-waiting right into the centre of the political intrigues that plagued Elizabeth's court, and shows the parts they had to play-- both positive and negative-- in maintaining the careful balancing act Elizabeth strode between political alliances, religious claims, and the infighting factions as they all jockeyed for control over her person, her power, and the British realm.

Imbued with stunning detail and with a deft and genuine feeling for the age, Whitelock's greatest achievement is in bringing the personalities of her protagonists to life, whether they be the acknowledge greats such as the Cecils and Walsingham, or such minor walk-ons as the procession of Jesuit priests who plotted her assassination. But the book revolves around Elizabeth in the way the court itself did, and it's ultimately the portrayal of this complex, unknowable woman by which the narrative will stand or fall. And Whitelock does an amazing job of bringing her to life, providing a fulcrum around which to build the narrative as well as giving the reader a close insight into the changes in the twinning of the Queen's body with the political fortunes of her realm, and showing the continued price that twinning played, not only on her but on those most intimately associated with her rule, and with her personal routines.

A genuinely stunning work of historical detection and philosophy.

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Sad news today, with the passing of Mel Smith, founding member of Not the Nine O'Clock News and co-star of Alas, Smith and Jones, two of the most consistently brilliant comedy programs of the late 70s and 1980s. Never exactly a slave to fitness or health, by all accounts, 60 years of age is still too early to see a performer of such superb timing and comic precision depart.

Not the Nine O'Clock News and, especially Alas, Smith and Jones played a huge part in my own comedic and writing education. They're incredible examples of writing, especially in regards to wordplay and dialogue. They were literate, articulate, and scurrilous, and I adored them.

By way of memorial, here's one of my favourite Smith & Jones sketches, a gleeful decimation of the Shakespearean turn of phrase:

And here's another, illuminating one of the lessons I've learned most deeply: that you can strip away everything else, and still be captivating, funny, and honest, as long as you have strength in your dialogue. No matter what else the show was filled with, these 'conversation' pieces were always the highlight, and this one is just about their best:

It's always a sad day when genius leaves us, not least because it means the opportunity for fresh work is denied us. And this passing leaves me sad indeed.

Thursday, July 18, 2013


I'm an atheist. This means three things:

1. I don't just lack a belief in God. I don't believe in the possibility of a God. Any God. The concept of a God or Gods itself is fear and superstition. I haven't just "not discovered God yet". God is not there to be discovered.
2. That means I feel free to use God as what I perceive it to be: a fictional construct.
3. That goes for all your Gods. There is no difference between your God, his God, her God, their God, and Brigid the Sun God. They're all just fictions people tell themselves to take their attention away from the eyes in the darkness outside the campfire.

Which means this is not so much a funny ha-ha comedy jokes cartoon, and more an accurate depiction of what all my religious friends think is going to happen to me after I die.

Eternity fool!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


I've reached that point. That point I reach. At some stage, in the middle of every large project.

This time, I'm halfway through inputting the first round of line-edits into the Magwitch and Bugrat manuscript. I've got to line-edit Father Muerte & the Divine after this, and plot out the synopses of The Sin-Eater's Lonely Children and The Hall of Small Questions. I'm a long way away from any original writing. A long way from just shoving my face over the keyboard and blatting along, exciting myself as I uncover each new turn of phrase, each new plot point, each new character or narrative twist or (let's be honest, being me) nob gag I wasn't expecting.

I'm at the point where thoughts of poetry begin to surface.

I've always had an affection for poetry, particularly 20th Century absurdism: I've collections from the likes of Spike Milligan, Adrian Henri, Roger McGough and Brian Patten. I grew up with Bruce Dawe and Les Murray when he wasn't being a right-wing twat. I started out as a poet: my first few sales-- University publications, while I was studying-- were poems. If I had the talent,  and the patience, and the sense of rhythm, I'd probably be a poet. (For the record, my favourite poem is Brian Patten's Little Johnny's Confession. You can read it here.)

There's something about the purity of thought contained in a poem that bubbles its way to the front of my consciousness while I'm slogging through the muddy fields of my longer works, desperately turning over sentences hoping to find one that's still breathing. Whatever it is, whether it's just the desire to complete a single, simple work or the unconscious desire to express myself in clear, lyrical lines rather than page after page of sodden description, I find myself itching to push everything aside and rediscover my poetic ambitions.

I shan't, of course. Not until Magwitch and Bugrat is finished. Then I may indulge in a verse or two to cleanse my palate between my major projects. But, in the meantime, I'm going to indulge myself slightly and post a previous poem here for you all to snigger at.

This one's called I'll Keep a Green Lantern Burning. It appeared in Strange Horizons back in 2008.


Out in the suburbs on Saturday night
The workaday Batman gets drunk and starts fights
Costume too tight around midriff and ass
The Batmobile running on unleaded gas
Batts has been living out of the back seat
Since Missus Batman threw him into the street
The Batdoor no longer accepts the Batkey
The Batcredit card's maxed out permanently
The Batkids are staying with BatNan and Pop
The beers keep on coming and no-one says stop
Once a hero to someone, there's none left to ask,
And failure's invisible under a mask
But with each tilt of beer glass we see plain old Bruce:
Middle aged; hopes forgotten; expecting abuse
And when the bar's closed and we're facing the dawn,
Batman of suburbia passes out on the lawn

If you like that one, head on over to my FB author page, where yesterday I posted another previously-published offering, Working For a Greener Narrative, which first appeared back in ASIM #36, also in 2008. 2008 was a poety kind of year... 

Thursday, July 11, 2013


Another finished one, thank you for choosing the number, although I never did anything with it once it was done. I love Derek, and there's a couple more thumbs in which he features to be shown later, but the background just didn't work and I just never picked up the hang of choosing the right line thickness and shading to get it right.

Still: a Yeti. Called Derek. In his jocks. What's not to love?

Thursday, July 04, 2013


Dreams are rich material. we use them for stories, to examine our subconscious, and if we're completely sad and lonely, to guide the deciding principles of our life.

And, of course, nob gags. There are always nob gags.

(To naked boy): It is not a dream, Mister Adams. It is also the third time this week.

Monday, July 01, 2013


Attention has been pointed, this afternoon, towards this gallery of SF authors and their writing spaces. Personal favourites include Andre Norton's Great Wall of Quiff and a pic way down the bottom, where Arthur C. Clarke has pushed a Sri Lankan rentboy off his lap to make room for a monkey.

I'll readily admit to being a complete geek for this sort of thing: artists and their artistic processes fascinate me, and I'm often as keen to learn about the story behind the creative process as I am to experience the end product. Writers, in particular, are a source of anthropological fascination: I devour author biographies and am in a constant search to find whatever it was that made each particular author so memorable and me so.... well, lot of weather we're having, innit?

Anyway, in the spirit of full disclosure and acting like famous artists in the hope that it'll rub off, I present my own writing space. Well, spaces. Well, space and writing.

The Battdesk, hard at work in the entire room we set aside as writing space, office and reading room. Keen-eyed viewers will note such essential items as the lantern and hand-spreader. 

My actual writing space, at the kitchen table. I'm seated behind Luscious Lyn's laptop, as mine is currently attached to the TV so we can watch some stuff on the hard drive. As Hemingwayish as the wine glass looks, it's stored nothing more exciting than Pepsi: I managed to break our last drinking glass this morning. That's how exotic and windswept we are around these parts, my friends. Mandurah exotic.