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24 December 2011

The single gosling the gaggle have managed to produce this year continues healthy. Visitors aren’t doing quite so well, my gander doesn’t like them at the best of times, and when he has a gosling it becomes the worst of times. A friend had to skip quite fast three days ago, and I’m expecting several visitors in the next 2-3 days – something that should provide exercise for all concerned.
Gold Neck the bantam appeared for breakfast this morning with three tiny chicks in tow, and another hen has one. She had two, one has since disappeared,) and as my hens and geese are all free-range, it’s possible other small feathery creatures will appear in the next few weeks
This is certainly the theme about fifty feet up in the shelterbelt trees where the white-backed magpies are nesting enthusiastically, and down in all the crevices of suitable (and sometimes quite UNsuiitable) out-buildings starlings are energetically raising broods. In the cat-park bamboo-clump the finches and sparrows are at it, and Thunder is spending a lot of time in his park – keeping an eye on the raspberries, and on the starlings that like them as much as I do. However, thanks to Thunder I get the larger share usually.

is due out at the end of january. I’m looking forward to seeing my copies and having them available at our 2012 natcon and seeing them available at the Oz natcon (Continuum 8)- which I hope to attend as well (baring acts of Ghod.) I’ve also been clearing short work submissions off the table this past two weeks. I wanted them away by Christmas so I could concentrate on the day. 12 short stories out, plus a true life animal tale which has already been accepted, and an article ditto. Now if only some of the editors like the stories it’ll be an excellent start to 2012…

17 December 2011

A sad event two days ago. Sister One the goose has been brooding four eggs, and they hatched. I spotted her strutting across the lawn for dinner with a single gosling in tow and was disappointed. I presumed that the terrible thunderstorms we’d had a week or so earlier might be to blame, (the massive changes in air pressure caused by heavy thunder can kill embryos developing in eggs) fed her, her twin (Sister two) and Stroppy the gander, and watched as everyone dabbled in the water-trough, ate the wheat given them, and wandered about.
Then, yesterday, I decided to check the abandoned nest and was annoyed to discover that the eggs – all four – had hatched. But putting things together I think what happened was – the first gosling hatched, a strong healthy baby, and the next day his mum took him off to the far side of my large lawn to find food. While she was gone the other eggs started hatching, but the day was cool and very wet, and with no mum to shelter them, the other three hatched alone and died before she returned.
At least it does mean that the eight eggs Senior Goose is sitting on at the moment – and which are due to hatch in a week or so – may be fertile and I could get more goslings very shortly. I’d be pleased if more appear – and so would Stroppy the gander who loves to have goslings. Right now he’s marching about, a foot behind his chest, and an ‘alone I did it’ look on his face.

Ms Miesel, born in 1941, holds Master’s degrees in Biochemistry and Medieval History. She is predominantly a non-fiction writer who has produced a number of very valuable works examining the writings of others both in and out of the SF field – and I do recommend most of them. However in one way she had been a great disappointment to me as a reader.
In 1982 Ace produced a book entitled DREAMRIDER. This was a brilliant shamanistic fantasy set in a number of alternate worlds. It featured a 10 page Introduction by Gordon Dickson, saying what a wonderful writer Miesel was and how this was only the first of what he expected to be many works of fiction. I watched for her name for years and was furious when in 1989 a book (Shaman) appeared from a different publisher, with a different cover, and different title – which book I bought thinking that it was a sequel to Dreamrider, only to find that it was the same book. It claimed to be an expanded and improved version, but I didn’t find it so and I wasn’t pleased. I do recommend either version, (but I preferred the original and retained that copy) but be aware that they’re the same book.
Dreamrider’s main character is Ria, a woman who lives in a far more repressive version of our own world. She has the ability to become a shaman and this becomes reality when her dreams lead her into a far different version of Earth, where giant otters exist as comrades and fellow citizens to humans. Kara, an aged human shaman and her friend and colleague, Lute, one of the Mac(ro)Otters, begin to teach Ria in dreams. But the PSI, the government agency in Ria’s world that oversees social conformity had been alerted to Ria’s odd behavior and she is faced with possible rehabilitation, something that can amount to the loss of personality and reduction of intelligence to a moronic level, and she must fight to retain her individuality. (The brief scene where Ria recognizes her old schoolteacher and hails her, to find that the woman has been reduced to this level by the PSI is chilling.) Ria learns, grows, and changes, and by the end of the book it looks likely that she will be a nexus point for possible changes to her world as well. This, for me, has been a book that has stood up to regular re-reading for almost thirty years, and I find the richness of the two main worlds and their offshoots, engaging every time. I only wish that Meisel had written other books that continued Ria and Lute’s story and showed what changes to her world Ria managed to make and where they would lead.
Sandra Miesel is Catholic and her views have stirred up some controversy over the years. A letter to Life Site News, her critiquing of an earlier letter by Michael D. O’Brien on LoTR and Harry Potter, received a stinging rebuttal from the author (frankly I thought Miesel was right.). Her consideration of Philip Pullman in “The Pied Piper of Atheism” is trenchant and her very reasonable point, made on a website ( – that the character Dr. Mary Malone, an ex-nun, and now an advocate of sex and science, who ends in this third book by engaging in occult practices to lead two twelve-year-old children to sleep in the same bed and indulge in sexual foreplay is not exactly a role-model for young children reading this trilogy – is well made.
The book she co-authored, The Da Vinci Hoax is a scholarly piece of work, but may suffer slightly from a fixed point of view. Both writers are devout Catholics unable to accept that the Church may, over the centuries, have deliberately suppressed certain writings and histories, particularly those of women. However they do very successfully deconstruct the Da Vinci Code, pointing out that while all the background on which it rests is supposedly true, much of what is cited is inaccurate or incorrect. The result of both books to me was a decision that I will probably never have sufficient time to read both side by side while looking up and verifying all references given to decide the truth and accuracy of each for myself – but I really wish I did. I think it would be a wonderful project that would expand my knowledge of history considerably.
Many of Sandra Miesel’s works are available on Amazon and other books sites, all are recommended.
(Partial) Bibliography there are other non-fiction books in which Ms Meisel is part-author and two fiction collections of Rudyard Kipling stories.
Exploring Cordwainer Smith by Arthur Burns, John Foyster, Sandra Meisel, and Alice Bangsund. (1975)
Dreamrider 1982 Ace. 
SHAMAN. 1989 Baen – an earlier version of this was published in 1982 as Dreamrider NOTE: this is essentially the same book.
Miesel, Sandra (1978). Against Time’s Arrow: The High Crusade of Poul Anderson. Borgo Press 
Miesel, Sandra (1973). Myth, symbol, and religion in The Lord of the Rings. T-K Graphics.
Olson, Carl E.; Sandra Miesel (2004). The Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code. Ignatius Press.
The Pied Piper of Atheism: Philip Pullman and Children’s Fantasy. by Pete Devere, Sandra Meisel, and Carl Olson. Paperback Jan 2008 Ignatius Press.


Forward! (1985) (with Gordon R Dickson)
Mindspan (1986) (with Gordon R Dickson)

Anthologies containing stories by Sandra Miesel

Catfantastic V (1999)

Short stories
a number appeared in Amazing Stories, Amazing SF, etc over the 1980s. But I haven’t listed them here

11 December 2011

published softcover (this WMG edition in 2011, previously in 2002)
Reviewed by Lyn McConchie.

The trouble with this book is that it’s too good. And if that sounds odd, bear with me. The book was a gift, I scanned the blurb and thought that it should be a good read because a) the author writes well, and b) it’s a very intriguing plot. Both items were right and thereby was the problem.
In this universe humans and aliens have made agreements relating to what is and isn’t legal in their various spheres of influence. And the trouble is, that on Earth the Government has accepted that alien laws should supercede ours.
Case One. A human, female, lawyer, sentenced to the rest of her life – and it’ll be short – performing brutal hard labour because she won her client’s case. It’s more complicated than that, but no one explained it to her and now she’s on the run.
Case Two. a terrified traumatized human, male, child of eight. Kidnapped legally because aliens are entitled under their own laws to visit the sins of the father upon the child. He’ll be mentally broken beyond ever being put together by what they’ll do, and our Government says that’s okay, it’s legal. He’s been returned for the moment – and now the family is on the run.
Case Three, four, five, et al – more of the same, and those that the aliens haven’t caught up with are The Disappeared. Those who’ve gone deep under cover, walked away from everything they know, from all friends and family, from every single possession – to put themselves in the hands of experts who specialize in ‘disappearing’ humans hunted by alien legal systems.
Yes, this book is very well-written, yes, the background and characters are compelling, yes, it’s one of a series, so if you like it there’s more already out and others coming. And no. I won’t be re-reading this book, no, I won’t ever be buying others in the series, and no, from now on I’ll check any book by this author twice before buying – or accepting.
Why? because it was too effective. I too am a writer and as such I have imagination and empathy. I could imagine myself unwittingly caught in a similar situation and suffering those punishments.
(one alien species disembowels the humans it catches who break their laws – and the laws can be very easily broken. Here a 17 year old dies that way because as a ten year old he taught his best (alien) friend next door to speak English. Best friend developed to be a neuter and it’s retrospectively forbidden. So after running for seven years, the boy is caught and left to die in agony for a sin he committed without knowledge or intention – as a child.)
And it distressed me. I finished the book, laid it down and felt disgusted and physically slightly nauseated. I know ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse’, but when that sort of punishment is routine, when the perpetrator is a child, ignorance should be a valid defence. Nor should aliens be legally allowed to kidnap and mentally shatter an eight-year-old, because twenty years ago his father broke one of their laws.
This book is compelling, all too believable, and strikes out into new territory – for all of which reasons, the author has lost me. I could too easily put myself in the characters’ places, and I’d rather not be there. If it sounds like a book you’d enjoy then buy it. For me, it was too good – and that was the problem.

And in the last week I’ve done another three stories. Finally however, I seem to have caught up – temporarily anyway. But while I have other work done/to do over the last 3, and next 3, days, I get the feeling that my ability to produce a short story fountain is only briefly in abeyance. I’m still getting that niggle at the back of the mind that says more new story plots will be presented and watch this space. Not that I’m complaining. So far for 2012 I have publications listed as – twelve articles, four books, and short stories in 7 theme anthologies.

7 December 2011

I was happily doing a few blog entries when, just as I finished the ‘Cuckoos’ one, an email signalled arrival and I turned to check who was contacting me. According to the email it was from the Department of Internal Affairs and they’d just deposited a sum of money into my bank account. I considered that information doubtfully. It was a nice thought, but so far as I knew they didn’t owe me anything and what was it for? There was no information as to that in the email or on the attached payment note. When this sort of thing happens I tend to be suspicious, usually it’s either an error or a scam. Well, they had a phone number on the email…so I phoned. A nice lady at the other end assured me that they had already received a number of calls, and that they knew nothing at all of this.
Had I done anything of recent months that might have led to a payment? Hummm. Citizenship? I’m a born and bred kiwi. Births, deaths and marriages? I’ve been neither hatched, matched or dispatched lately. Raffles? Well, I don’t run them, and I didn’t think that winning $20 from one of my competitions last month would attract other payments. Passport? Yes – ah, well – no. Yes, I got a new one this year , but I’d received it. Why would the Department be reimbursing me the cost? If they’d decided out of the blue that I was a terrorist or something and shouldn’t have got the passport I didn’t think they be sending me a repayment – more likely the Armed Offenders Squad. I should check with my bank, the lady said, and if money hadn’t been deposited then it was probably a scam since the email email said clearly that “the money HAS been deposited…”
My question was, that if it was a scam how had the scammers known my bank account number and feeling a bit insecure over that, I phoned my bank. They checked my account – after a prolonged and rigorous check that I was who I said I was. Things almost fell over right there since starting to feel more paranoid I wasn’t happy about giving them some of the details they wanted. Yes, I knew I’d rung their number, yes, I knew they were the xxx bank. But they themselves had been telling me for years not to give out those details and…I was persuaded – to discover that no, that amount had not been deposited in my account. Therefore the bank said, it was almost certainly a scam and I should email the email to their scam-alert people. As for the bank account number, that was worrying. I should go back to the Department of Internal Affairs and ask them to check further.
But now my paranoia level was so high it had bypassed the stratosphere and was on a straight-line trajectory for the outer planets. Fearing that the phone number given in the email might actually be connecting me to the possible scam-artists, I looked up an alternative in the phone book. Phoned General Inquiries, and talked to a pleasant guy there who was sounding just a trifle weary. I listened to his explanation and smothered a fit of the giggles. The money was the annual payment sent to writers who have a book or books in the library – The Public Lending Right. A writer who has his/her books in public libraries receives x amount as compensation for all the readers who read the work without buying it. I get this each year, however… it normally arrives as a letter, listing the eligible books and adding all sorts of details. It can’t be mistaken for anything but what it is.
This year those who do this, had apparently decided to save trees and postage by sending everything as an email. They’d omitted anything ON the email to say why you were getting the money, AND there was nothing on the attachment that said so either. Nor apparently, had they thought to tell those who answered the phone whose number was IN the email what they’d done, so they were just as baffled as anyone when they began to get all these phone calls. I get the impression that paying the PLR this year will be a steep learning curve for the Department of Internal Affairs. A large percentage of New Zealand writers will have been phoning them (as well as their banks and probably Netsafe too.) And the apprehension and confusion caused has been considerable.
I told the chap that he should enlighten whoever was on the (emailed) phone number before things spread further. He said he’d do that. I phoned my bank back to explain and to add that if others called they could check ‘these’ points and if they agreed, then this is what the payment would be for. They were grateful. And I sat down to write this, contemplating that old saying that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. I’m sure you get the allusion.

IF the eggs ever hatch, I may have given one of my geese psychological problems. The geese sat earlier this year, Senior on five eggs, Sister One on one egg, and Sister Two on hot air and hope. Nothing hatched, (particularly the hope.) The eggs must have been infertile because nothing hatched, and finaly all three girls gave up. I cleaned out the nests, and only a couple of weeks ago realized that all three were sitting again. Senior on 8 eggs, Sister One on four, and Sister Two on – yes, hot air and hope again.
I was sorry that she was in for a second disappointment and thought no more of it until one of the hens went broody and I found her parked right where I didn’t want her, in the most popular hen nest-box, on three eggs. Kindly but firmly I dispossed her, and stood there with three warm eggs in one hand. Hmmm, while I didn’t want that nest-box blocked to all the other hens, I had nothing aginst the eggs, and there was Sister Two and her hope…
So I tossed food out, Sister Two dived for it, and while she was off her nest I tucked in three warm hen eggs. She returned and settled onto them with every evidence of deep satisfaction. The question is, will she still be so satisfied if they hatch? Three offspring, not grey and white like her, but either black or a fawnish shade. Three offspring who don’t swim, and who are a fraction the size they should be, with chick voices. I fear that if those eggs do hatch, I could have set Sister Two up for appointments with a goose psychiatrist. Although it’s going to be interesting to watch events if the eggs do hatch in another 2-3 weeks.

Living on a farm for more than twenty years makes you sleep lightly. That is, I sleep well, but any sound that’s out of the usual tends to have me drift towards being more awake and aware until it’s identified. Then I drift back down to solidly asleep again. I never come completely awake unless I can’t identify the noise. If I can’t then I do wake up and listen, it may be one of my animals in trouble, in which case I’ll be up, dressed and out of the door in 2-3 minutes. The best example of this I can tell was several years ago in the early hours when the ‘alert’ section of my brain noted footsteps running towards the house. Someone hammered several times on the wall by my bedroom window and I was awake so fast that I was calling back to them by about the third thump.
In a way this ties in with the book review I’ve just done (of Jack McDevitt’s Firebird) in which I said that people don’t change, we’re the same as we were thousands of years ago, it’s our surroundings that we alter. And after my ‘alert’ signalled last night that in the distance one of my lambs was bawling, after I’d come awake, dressed, gone out and found that the daft little critter had got himself stuck in the fence, got him out, watched an ecstatic mother and child reunion in the moonlight, gone back to bed and fallen right back into sleep…I feel a kinship with those ancient people who probably had the same ‘alert’ and, while they probably had different reasons to deal with why the lamb was crying for help, would have acted as I did.
It wasn’t much, half an hour out of my night, not uncommon for a farmer, even one like me who has only a few acres and a flock of ten sheep. (Two cattle, 11 hens, a rooster, 2 bantams, 4 geese – and probably two piglets come winter.) But I paused to look over my paddocks in the moonlight and admire the silent land, to smile at the lamb now catching up on his drinking, to be sleepily muttered at by the geese, and I went back inside feeling a link over the centuries with every farmer who’s done that. The machinery may change, but the land remains, and a farmer is a farmer, now, in the future – or ten thousand years ago – and the continuity is pleasant to contemplate.

an ‘Alex Benedict’ novel, hardcover, published ACE November 2011. Reviewed by Lyn McConchie.
I don’t think that it’s any secret that I love Jack’s work. I like some of his books more than others, but I’ve never found any of them to be less than very good. The ‘Alex Benedict’ series has been fun, clever, and interesting up to this book, but with this one it’s become seriously involving. The earlier books were adventure, this one has slowed to take a serious look at some of the human interactions behind the adventure, and – fascinatingly – what the loss of someone you care about, without any way of resolving that loss, can mean.
Before Alex’s assistant, Chase Kolpath, joined Alex, she worked for his uncle. He was one of those who (over centuries) boarded a space ship which then vanished and was never seen or heard from again. There seem to be two schools of thought about such events. Either the ships were destroyed, or they weren’t. And if some weren’t then those ships may still be out there, beyond time, the new Flying Dutchmen of the space era.
And that’s the theory of Dr. Christopher Robin, who died in a major quake but not before he’d talked extensively of his theory. His widow has also died and now her sister is selling many of Doctor Robin’s artefacts. She comes to Alex and Chase to discuss that sale, and as they begin negotiations they find out more and more about Robin’s death – which may not have been a death, or if it was, was it accident or murder – because there are wheels within wheels, and some people have an axe to grind.
This books covers a lot of bases, it’s an adventure, a mystery, SF, and an in-depth look at some of the possible aspects humans could face in the future, if or when some SF possibilities come true. Humans don’t change that much. We change things around us, we learn new tricks, but we ourselves aren’t much different from what we were when we first gathered to live in villages. If you took a baby from that era and raised it in our now, that child would be as civilized (or uncovilized) as we are, it would use iphones, computers, and SKYPE to the manner born. And in three or four thousand years when we are spread over a hundred other worlds, and have house AIs, personal spaceships, and vacation casually on other worlds, we might do well to remember that we haven’t really changed. Only our surroundings have altered.
This book makes you consider that point, as well as being a great SF adventure, with characters I’ve come to know and really like in the previous five of this series. How much did I think of it? Enough to go on line as soon as I could and nominate it for the Nebula. Enough to recommend it to anyone who likes SF/adventure/ and something that goes deeper into what makes us people. And enough for it to go on on my bookshelves in the happy knowledge that I can re-read and reread it. I can’t say better than that.

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