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29 August 2011

I quite enjoy reading polls on all sorts of subjects, but over the years something has dawned on me. I don’t know if it’s that those who answer polls officially are so different, or if I am. But time and time again I read the results of a poll and discover that the answers bear no relation to those I’d provide/have provided.
Take a National poll conducted by a well-known bookshop on the 50 most popular books by women, I read down the list that was published as the outcome of the poll, read it again, and blinked. I read hugely and widely, probably averaging 500-750 books a year, I read in most genres including non-fiction (frequently research for the twenty plus books I’ve had published) I knew twenty-eight of the books listed, and was aware of thirty-five of the listed authors. But of the fifty books listed I’d liked only three and I hadn’t liked them sufficiently to put them on the list I ultimately submitted for the poll.
And then there was the “who’s watching what” poll, whose results were recently listed in a national television magazine. They noted the twenty most popular programmes, and of all of them I watched exactly none. Yet I watch around 25 hours worth of television a week, just, apparently, not the programmes that were claimed to be the most popular and that other viewers were listing as their “most-watched”.
Then there are the women’s magazine polls with their questions; Do you do this? (No, I don’t.)
If you were in this situation would you do a), b), c), or d?) (Actually, considering my alternatives, I wouldn’t do any of them.)
Then there’s what your preferences say about you. If you like this colour predominantly then it says this about your personality. (I don’t like any of the listed colours predominantly – so what does THAT say about my personality – apart – of course – from my being a contrary so-an-so?)
If you were in this position, they ask, would you take the following steps – a, b, c, and d. again? (None of them. I’d take an unlisted ‘h’, which seems like a far more logical response to the situation posed.)
And as for what your facial features, palm lines, body shape, and year of birth say about you, none of it seems to apply, and I can’t help wondering if it applies to anyone at all.
After which there are the phone calls. “Hello, I’m from such-and-such market research company. Would you mind answering the following questions?” (I’m always happy to do that, but so often I find that none of the choices I’m given as answers to their questions fit with my own choices. I end up selecting whatever is closest to what I’d choose – and that can be quite some distance away.)
So am I that vastly different from the standard human, or just from those who normally answer polls? Or are those who normally answer polls giving the answers that they think the pollsters want? Or perhaps the answers that make the answerer sound the most intelligent, intellectual, sensitive, sensible, and interesting of respondents?
I don’t know. What I do know is that the answers given in polls rarely sound like me, and I can’t help but wonder at times, am I unusual – or just unusually truthful!

I had planned to be on line earlier today but there were a couple of problems. The chimney-sweep was arriving to clean my chimney which had abruptly clogged, and then, just as he was leaving, I glanced right to discover that half a dozen of my hens were strolling up the centre line of our country road, chatting away to each other and oblivious of any traffic that might appear. Great! I left the gate open, fled back to get my electric scooter and started a chicken roundup. I can only report that they were resistant to the idea, that hens can run faster than the scooter’s top speed of 7 Kph, and that trying to steer 6 of them in the same direction isn’t easy. They are all home again, but I now don’t have time today to check the proofs for my newest book (due out shortly.) Roll on the day after tomorrow when I should have time to do that…

27 August 2011

This is almost ready for publication. I’ve just been on line to Cyberwizard Publications sorting out a few final details such as the dedication and updating my bio, but the book should be available on Amazon or from the publisher soon. I had a lot of fun with this one, harking back to my own teenage days of riding ponies with friends, and with a fair amount of wish fullfillment thrown in. ‘Autumn’ is the next in my ‘four seasons quartet’ of Young Adult books being done by Cyberwizard (nice outfit, great editor). The first book, SUMMER OF DREAMING appeared last year and this year won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SF/F (Young Adult) Book by a New Zealand author, published the Previous Year. This one and the final duo won’t be eligible as there’s no SF element in them, but they’re fun to write, and seeing them appear is exciting.

25 August 2011

ONE SECOND AFTER by William R. Forstchen. Published TOR March 2009
reviewed by Lyn McConchie.

Maybe because I’m aware that if civilization collapses I’ll be dead with it shortly thereafter even if I survive the initial event, (I have pernicious anaemia) I have a liking for most post-holocaust books. However I’m fussy about those I keep. I have a shelf of them, ranging from such classics as Day of the Triffids, The Kraken Wakes, and The Furies, to the more modern destruction of Cold Sea Rising, and the John Marsden series of Tomorrow When the War began. I keep an eye open for new additions to the shelf, and, having been disappointed this year with The Mission and Outpost both good read-once books but not keepers. – I pounced by William Forstchen’s book, One Second After.
I ignored the various accolades and introduction by a prominent Name and went for the throat, starting the book mid-morning, and remaining glued to it for the entire day, despite some interruptions, until, some four hours worth of reading later when I closed it with a sigh of satisfaction. For those who know this sub-genre, it can be likened to Pat Frank’s work, Alas Babylon. It has a similar family plus dogs, a village atmosphere (in the North Carolina hills) where being a neighbor is important, and where the inhabitant knows almost everyone, and Forstchen has been quite graphic in places about what the destruction of a key component in a civilization would bring to those who survive.
The village is Black Mountain, set in a beautiful scenic area of mountains close to Ashville, (The author lives in this area too) The village is mostly peaceful, the people are mostly generous and honest, and it’s a good place to live, raise children, attend the small Christian college, or retire. Until three nuclear devices are detonated high above the United States and produce not fallout but an EMP (electro-magnetic pulse) which in a second fries almost every electrical item in the country, including power stations, car computers, phones, and medical equipment.
And the fact is, that this scenario is one of the most likely to end up as a reality if some lunatic dictator with nuclear capacity decides to take his enemies with him. As in Forstchen’s book, it can be done in such a way that no one but the perpetrator knows who was responsible, and the area affected can be targeted with reasonable precision not affected by wind direction, or other natural phenomena. It would be excellent as the advance for a planned invasion since the victims would be too busy with survival, rescue, and coping with those who had relied on electrical equipment to live, and who would have lost in the single second, many military capabilities to fight back effectively.
It has puzzled me ever since I heard about EMP many years ago, why more has not been done to guard against such a scenario but it seems to have gone, for most countries, into the ‘too-hard basket’ and left ignored for the most part. Some modern military equipment has been ‘hardened’ against EMP, but little if anything of civilian items and if such a strike was made today, the events in One Second After would be all too probable and not merely in America, but in all the city areas of any first world country where it occurred.
This book is brutally realistic, something many of the older ones in this sub-genre were not, or were not able, to be. (Publishers don’t always like over-brutal realities graphically written.) The EMP strikes Black Mountain as John Matherson prepares for his younger daughter Jennifer’s twelfth birthday party. John’s wife Mary died of breast cancer four years earlier, and he lives with Jennifer and her elder sister, Lucy, and their two much loved dogs, Ginger and Zach in a pleasant home some distance out of town. In that second his discussion with a friend on the phone is cut off, his daughter’s CD player dies, the ceiling fan whirrs to a halt, the home security/fire alarm chirps that it is off-line, and the computer in the room shuts down.
Even Matherson, once an army officer, doesn’t realize what has happened, assuming that it is some sort of ordinary power outage. It takes him some time to become worried, more time to decide that he should investigate, and only gradually does it dawn on him that his life has gone from comfortable, predictable and safe, to uncomfortable, difficult and possibly lethally dangerous, for his children, loved parents-in-law, and for everyone that he knows.
This book is a progression as the country – in the form of Black Mountain as its microcosm – comes to see what has happened, and to deal with it, each in their own way, or within the groups they join or are swept into. Beginning with John Matherson’s discovery of all traffic broken down on the local throughway and some of the drivers already becoming dangerously belligerent since Jen (his mother-in-law’s) car, an ancient Edsal, is the only vehicle running so far as they can see.
Events move into the initial die-off when those dependent for life on electrically operated medical equipment die without it. Then those who rely on medication to survive and without the transport that regularly stocks their pharmacy, there are now no resupplies of heart pills, High Blood Pressure tablets, insulin, and pain medication. There is a wave of suicides at both times as well, as those who are ill or damaged understand what will happen to them. Famine is starting, disease breaks out, and attacks begin from communities that see Black Mountain as having more than others do.
In that one second, American civilization has been flung back, not just to the 1800s, as Matherson explains, but to a far earlier time. Because in the 1800 they had an infrastructure solidly in place. Now they don’t, they have to build it from the beginning again, and they can’t support much of the population they have while doing this. At the end of the book, only 20% of Black Mountain’s population have survived, and, while the book appears to then sound a cautious note of hope, John Matherson is unconvinced and, as a realist, so am I.
The characters of One Second After engaged me completely, and the background is that of any rural town. Throughout the story John Matherson has to make hard choices, as do the mayor, police chief, medics and those responsible for the running of Black Mountain’s college. Some find themselves unable to do so, while others break under the strain but I never felt that any of that was unlikely or contrived. The book has gone straight to my ‘keeper’ shelf of ‘post-holocaust’ books, and I look forward to reading it again in another 3-4 years – so long as an EMP doesn’t get here first.
This work is a chilling forecast of something that is far more likely to occur than many other doomsday scenarios, and it should be required reading for government and military personnel in countries such as the USA, UK, Australia, and my own New Zealand, where such an EMP would have the effects described. (It is true that here with our very low population density, fertile lands, and high agricultural production, we’d do better with maybe 30% surviving long term, but I doubt that the other 70% would see this as much of an improvement.) I strongly recommend this book to those who enjoy the sub-genre, but also to survivalists, governments, the military, and all realists everywhere.

24 August 2011

I saw that a recent discovery had been made, where some scientist discovered that there were strange emanations coming from a building in southern Sweden. The police arrived, charged in, and found that the occupant was merrily trying to split atoms in his kitchen – as a hobby, or so he informed them. He was certainly trying to split something since he had the radioactive elements of uranium, radium, and americium in his apartment. Unimpressed by his private hobby, the police have charged him with unauthorized possession of nuclear materials. Frankly, I’d have other questions – such as where on earth did he get all of the materials, (three different types?) Why did he want to split the atom again when it was originally done many years ago, and having spit one, what did he plan to do with the pieces? Because we all know what splitting it lead to the first time. It may be a good thing the police gathered him in before it happened again and somewhere down the track Sweden – vanished.

21 August 2011

1634:The Bavarian Crisis by Eric Flint and Virginia DeMarce.
Published BAEN SF (hc-2007, pb-2009) Reviewer Lyn McConchie.
I keep waiting for this series to fall over, others of the same type have done so, and this series has immensely complicated story lines, with a massive cast of characters, and spreads over politics, (incredibly entangled) practical considerations, (confusing) and masses of ordinary people who are caught up in it all (bewildered.)
The books tend to the tome too. It isn’t that I mind that, but you have to be very good to sustain a reader’s interest over 1,000 pages of book. Let it be known that thus far they’ve managed that for me at least.
However as I started reading I was initially worried about this one. Effectively this volume is a continuation of 633 and I liked that, but the blurb was very non-committal not really surprising I suppose. It’s virtually impossible to sum up a book like thisstoryline in a paragraph. But the blurb made no attempt to try. However I bought it and dived in.
It was then, maybe 50 pages in that I started to wonder if this was going to be the book that fell over. I wasn’t been drawn in as I usually am. It was okay, but not great. I kept reading. And around page 150+ I found that I was becoming engrossed. I chuckled aloud at some events, nodded at political points, turned back to check something, and dived back in again avidly. I read all day, half the night and shut the book around 1.30am still smiling. Oh yes, this is a good book!
I can only note two flaws, one mechanical it seems to be badly put together. The spine broke as I read the paperback (possibly because 1014 pages isn’t small) perhaps also because in the section where it broke, that portion appears to have been printed right to the edge of the page in error and hence may not have been inlaid correctly when the volumes were bound.
The other flaw is the slow start. I am a very fast reader. My standard fiction-reading speed was measured in a study in the early 1970s, as 600 words per minute. And even at that speed I’d reading each word, not skipping. So the slow start to this book meant it took me just over an hour before I was into the good stuff. I can live with that, but many who read far more slowly may not persevere. Mind you, they’ll be missing something, but they may choose to do so.
And the theme? Well, you could probably say that this book is about Maria Anna, Archduchess of Austria, and all the political discussions, decisions, and controversy that swirl about her proposed marriage to her uncle. Some of the described events had me laughing aloud, there were some great moments, and very human ones, and in the end when I put the book down I felt as if I’d eaten a large satisfying meal. I wanted to wander off and digest it.
So, 1634:The Bavarian Crisis upholds the honor of the series, and I really recommend it. I just suggest that IF you can afford it, if as I am – you are keeping the books in the series to reread many times, then buy the hardcover. It’ll be much better value. I don’t think my paperback will stand up to more than two readings before it comes to bits in my hands and I didn’t find that value for the money.

In 1989 I lived in a small seaside community. I worked hard, and commuted long hours until I had an accident and couldn’t continue with outside employment. Shortly before I sold my home at the beach and moved to purchase a small farm in Hawkes Bay I noticed that I seemed to have a possible heart problem.

I would lie in bed before I went to sleep and feel my heart pounding so hard that it seemed to shake the entire bed. It eventually bothered me sufficiently that I asked my doctor about it. He used his stethoscope, considered, and then informed me that I had a heart murmur. I should give up the things that stressed me such as deadlines or becoming too involved and mentally fatigued with some work.

Sadly I gave up a number of activities that did stress me – in a good way or so I’d believed up until then. I completed selling my beach home, packed up and moved, and resettled six months later on the small farm I’d purchased. There I bought coloured sheep, a house cow, chickens and geese, and a piglet and settled down to a – hopefully – stress free life.

I worried now and again about my heart murmur since it had remained, but there were no other symptoms and I hoped that it wouldn’t worsen. That was the year we had a drought and very hot weather that went on and on. At summer’s height I switched to making large bottles of Raro orange drink and dropping it into the freezer for a couple of hours so that I could drink what I called ‘orange slush.’

The hot weather continued and after a few more weeks of it I was drinking nothing else but the orange slush. It was then that I noticed my heart murmur appeared to have been cured. I was delighted but a bit surprised, I didn’t think that once you had something like that it went away. Autumn arrived and with the cooler weather I went back to drinking cola again and my heart murmur was back…

Things that make you go hmmmm!

I went back to orange slush, heart murmur stopped. I returned to cola – ‘heart murmur’ back again. I made a decision, cut back on the cola to where I had a single can in the morning and now and again, but rarely, a second can in the afternoon and I’ve never had the ‘heart murmur’ return.

To me it was clear that too much caffeine was causing the problem. The question I’d like to ask, is why didn’t my GP at the time pick this up? Apart from using his stethoscope he made no tests at all, he simply pronounced that I had a heart murmur, ordered me to give up anything stressful, and left it at that. I remain puzzled at his apparent ineptitude.

18 August 2011

The weather at Farside has been absymal all week. Monday it snowed – to the vast confusion of the hens who amused me when I looked out and discovered that the four young hens (who’d never seen snow before) were all trying to walk across the yard without putting their feet down in this miserable white stuff. However I’d seen it coming and the sheep and calves had hay, the twin lambs had shelter in their paddock along with their mum (Rachel) and even with the remainder of the week having been very cold and wet, all is well amongst the Farside community.