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22 February 2012

Yes, Whortleberry Press’s latest, Strange Mysteries 4, landed in my mailbox this afternoon. As always, neat cover, nice presentation, and a very good choice of stories. I have a story in that – Cursed Are They – and my friend Steve has promised to review the anthology sometime in the next few days. (I prefer someone else to review anthologies in which I have work, it prevents misunderstandings.) If you’d like a copy, go to the publisher or one of the on-line shops. They often have good discounts too.

17 February 2012

On Friday I was asleep when uproar broke out on my lawn. Stroppy the gander was announcing to all and sundry that we had intruders and that (as usual) he was convinced they were there to kidnap his precious gosling. His wives dutifully added to the chorus – which was probably alarming people half a mile away.
I woke up, recognized the yells for what they portended, and rose, galloped at my best racing-snail speed through the house, and through the door to stand listening behind the huge old concrete house-water-tank.
Stroppy was still sounding the alarm and staring down the road. I looked that way, in time to hear a door shut, see car-lights come on, and a car slip off quietly down the road. Hmmm, I think we had intruders, not, whatever that gander may think, those desiring to steal a noisy, messy, hysterical gosling, but more likely those planning on sneaking around farm sheds in case there was anything portable and of value.
Actually there isn’t – not unless they plan to spend an incredible amount of time and effort in stealing a small amount of firewood, and a few hay bales. And if they had vaulted the fence and joined my geese, firewood and hay weren’t all they’d have had. My gander is usually something of a coward, but not when he has gosling/s. Then he’s “as a raging lion, seeking whom he may devour.”
He leaves big, deep bruises instead of claw marks, and it’s just a pity that in this case, he doesn’t seem to have had the chance. Maybe next time…

T(homas) Jackson King was born in Houston on May 24th 1948. He’s a professional poet, archaeologist, investigative journalist, and author. (Yet another born in the 1940s, and who carries on several professions.) King’s first book, Retread Shop, appeared in 1988 from Warner Books under the Questar imprint. If you liked Stephen Goldin’s Jade Darcy books duo, and Julie Czerneda’s first Clan Trilogy then you will probably like Retread Shop since it too has multiple aliens, an eatery, and an infinity of odd events that range from riots, to conspiracy, to exploring new worlds and to alien eating habits.
Retread Shop is the story of Billy McGuire whose parents died four years ago, he’s sixteen when the story starts and for those four years he’s scraped a desperate living at the Retread Shop, a sort of space-going bazaar for second-hand alien technology. The locale is an asteroid of immense size, large population, many alien species, and where nothing’s free, not air, not water, not sleeping space, not clothing; nothing. Billy is hanging on by his fingernails until the day, when, not having eaten for two days, he steals fruit from Zilkie’s shop and is caught. He’s offered a deal, work in exchange for food, he accepts and his life begins to change under the auspices of the alien Zilkie and his mind-mate Melisay.
But there’s more going on under the shop surface that Billy realizes, and in the end he takes sides when an uprising pits alien against alien to control the shrine at the heart of his home, and for possession/control of the last of an ancient species. Billy isn’t handed anything on a platter, he works hard, sometimes going a step backwards, but mostly forwards although nothing is easy for him. It’s a real reader’s ride and thoroughly entertaining. And, sigh, once again I wish that the author would write more books set in this background.
There was a long gap between books, but in 1996, King had a collaboration, “Ancestor’s World” (Ace) with Anne Crispin. This was the 6th book in the Starbridge series-an excellent series in its own right.
In this book Ambassador Burroughs and archaeologist Gordon Mitchell become the targets of a radical faction that will do anything to gain the power of more advanced species, even kill. I have no way of knowing how this collaboration was worked, but however it was done this was another fine book in the series and a tribute to King. His third book (Judgment Day and Other Dreams) is a collection which should still however be worth a look as one of his tales was reprinted in Year’s Best Fantastic Fiction in 1997.

(note: Author publishes as by: T. Jackson King for fiction; Tom Jackson King for non-fiction news; or Thomas J. King Jr. for scientific papers and reports.)

Retread Shop. New York: Warner Books/Questar, 1988.
Ancestor’s World. With A.C. Crispin. New York: Ace Books, 1996.
Judgment Day And Other Dreams. Virginia: Fantastic Books, 2009.
Little Brother’s World. young adult SF, Fantastic Books, 2010.

Short Stories
“Winnowing The Chaff,” Pandora, Fall 1989, No. 24.
“Winnowing The Chaff,” M&F magazine, June 1992 (Russian reprint; Dnepropetrovsk,Uk)
“Tears For Ozymandias,” Pandora, Spring 1992, No. 27.
“The Fire Rains,” Pandora, Fall 1992, No. 28.
“The Tides of Fear,” Figment, Summer 1992, No. 10.
“The Fellowship of Manzanar,” Figment, Winter 1992, No. 12.
“The Dance,” Midnight Zoo, April 1993, Vol. 3, No. 4.
“The Memory Seller,” Expanse, Winter 1994, No. 2.
“Sumiko’s Hope,” Absolute Magnitude, Winter/Spring 1995, No. 2.
“Litter Control,” Analog, April 1995.
“Judgment Day at John’s Bar,” Pulphouse: A Fiction Magazine, Summer 1995, No. 19.
“Endless Summers,” Tomorrow, August 1995, No. 16.
“Judgment Day at John’s Bar,” VB Tech Journal, September 1995 (reprint).
“Alien Blood,” Aberrations, November 1995.
“The Gate of Ishtar, From Babylon, In Berlin,” Aberrations, April 1996.
“Paladin,” Absolute Magnitude, Fall/Winter 1997.
“Judgment Day at John’s Bar,” Year’s Best Fantastic Fiction, November 1997 (reprint).
“A Lesser Michaelangelo,” The Silver Web, No. 15, Winter 2002.
I have included here only Mr. King’s genre work, for other items look up the alternate names listed just before ‘books’.

10 February 2012

It may end up that way, but right now it’s a moan. There’s been an American theme anthology open for submissions for a while now. Very odd and interesting title, very restricted theme, and initially I had no intention of writing for it. My subconscious – as it often does – had other ideas. I sat down to write letters last week, and found I was writing a short story, just under 4,000 words, and very specificically for this anthology. Okay. I finished the story, revised, edited, filed, and went to have a (very) late lunch.
Back on line after that I chased up where I remembered seeing the anthology listed, ah *****, I clicked on the listing, the little thing that goes around did so, indicating that it was connecting to the anthology site, around and around and…after five minutes I got the impression that the little circling thing was a liar. I went to a different site, and clicked on the anthology there. the little thing that goes around did so, indicating that it was connecting to the anthology site, around and around and…after five minutes I got the impression that the little circling thing was a liar.
I googled for the anthology publisher, got their name, brought that up on a search, clicked on the name – the little thing that goes around did so, indicating that it was connecting to the publishing site, around and around and…after five minutes I got the impression that the little circling thing was a liar. I was irritated by all this, it seemed possible that the problem wasn’t my computer but the publisher site, however I kept trying.
So I started trawling market sites and on one of them found the editor’s email address for submissions. I did an email, attached the story, and fired it off optimistically. Two things on all of this. The editor had been complaining that he hadn’t been offered many good stories, and I wonder if it wasn’t because most writers aren’t as obstinate as I am. The other thing is that my @#$% subconscious seems to have another story in mind for that !@#$% anthology!

And an update to this post on March 1st. I finally did get into the site, and yes, the email I found elsewhere was right. Meanwhile my subsconscious had indeed been working undercover, and the anthology currently now has two submissions from me.

This occured to me only the other day, and I’m now wondering just how much damage our ability in this area can do. What am I talking about? Well, it was like this. I’ve been watching a continuing series I like that’s on late one weeknight and I’ve also been watching the repeat series that follows. The latest Listener arrived, and I saw that the repeat series is ending and a new one beginning, one I’d never heard of. I was on-line next morning checking short story markets, and out of interest I googled the series title.
I found that it had only ever had one season, and that was only 13 episodes – black mark. I don’t like getting hooked on a series and the characters and then finding that I don’t get a decent amount to watch. I also found that – another black mark – the series is the same type as Fringe, Lost, Haven, and has a continuing strange thread running through it that a watcher is going to want resolved with almost all loose ends tied up by the end of the season or series. It was clear that this one didn’t do that (despite the producer apparently promising that it would) and other overseas watchers had been annoyed.
So I marked it as a series not to bother watching – and I won’t. Now if there wasn’t an internet, if that didn’t tell you all about a series before you watch it, I might have watched the 13 episodes and liked them – to be disappointed when I found out it was one season only and didn’t fulfill its promises. And if I was one of those people listing what I watched for the NZBC, this series would have rated lower because I’d never bothered to watch.
So now I wonder if this may not be occurring more than I’d realized. If a new series appears, is googled and checked out by a lot of would-be watchers, who then decide against it, and the series ratings never get off the ground. Will this lead to producers having a write-up of a possible series done, posting it on line, and only making the series if they get sufficient numbers saying they’d watch it, that they like the plot, characters, and actors? The future of TV series if this is so could become interesting in a whole new and different way…

And no, not mine, but that of a small white dog whose family moved into our village a few weeks back. For my forays to the village I use an electric mobility scooter. That runs on batteries and it emits a very highpitched whine as it runs. Something few people can hear but dogs hear very well. As a result I’m used to a dog, when he hears it for the first time, either rushing towards me, or running for his life.
In this case there was a small white dog fast asleep on his lawn, I came along the pavement, his ears shot to attention, he sat up, focused – and flung himself towards me barking like a maniac, bounced off his fence, and came back to warn me at the top of his voice just what he’d do if I was a threat to his family. His owner rushed over to reassure me and I smiled, explained that I wasn’t bothered, his dog was just worried about the very strange sound my scooter makes and that he’d probably never heard it before.
I switched off, started talking to the dog, and he relaxed, looking over the scooter. You could almost see his mind summing it up. Not a threat, just a people-conveyance; like cars, push-hbikes, and so on. It wouldn’t chase him over his property, wouldn’t attack his people, and he could relax. After a few minutes his nose was through the wire-netting as he asked for attention, I scratched under his chin and he accepted happily before wandering off.
Yesterday I went down to the village, the dog was napping on his lawn while his owner chatted to someone. I smiled at his owner as I passed and we both nodded, The dog never stirred, my scooter was categorized and all is well – which is how it should be.
(I make an effort to see that a dog understands my scooter isn’t a danger to him or his, it’s just transport, and always so far, once s/he understands that, the dog isn’t bothered. I do it to preserve canine nerves, but also to preserve the nerves of those other people who use such scooters, may be afraid of dogs, and may panic if a dog rushes at them. having met a scooter of this type once they seem to be immunized against worry over others – and that too is how it should be.)

Hardcover, published march 2011, Ace. 6th in the Mercy Thompson series.
This book came courtesy of a competition. No, it wasn’t the prize, but I did the competition, received a $100 as one of the winners, and promptly used the cash to buy a couple of yearned-for hardbacks. I love serendipity.
Again this book is a good solid piece of work AND what is more, despite Mercy having married Adam, there’s no resultant sag in the story. That’s something I often notice in a series – Tv or book. That once a couple of main characters marry, things go south so far as interaction is concerned. The author just can’t resist making the story much more about their relationship, and a lot less about the events to which they should be paying attention. I don’t read SF/F for romance, I read it for action, sure romance can be part of that, but it shouldn’t be the majority and over-intrusive.
Here the author isn’t making that mistake. Mercy and Adam are on honeymoon in a very-retro caravan borrowed from ‘Uncle Mike.’ Adam has access to a new campground that isn’t open yet, they go there, park near the river, and Mercy finds an utterly terrified and injured man in a small boat. They rescue him, and things get really hectic from there on.
During the course of which events Mercy finds out about her birth father, interacts with other ‘walkers’, and Adam accepts that she can’t always be protected from things she has to do.
I’ve loved this series from the beginning. In fact I like all this author’s work, some books more than others, but all are good. It seems that she may have been busy elsewhere last year because instead of a new book out this year, the next won’t appear until 2013 – and when it does, I’ll be waiting. Series recommended.

5 February 2012

This isn’t quite a Farside item, it’s more a Farside Really Regrets item. My favourite bookshop has closed. The stock is being sold (I’ve bought my share and possibly more) and then it will be gone. They’ve been an institution for New Zealand readers of SF, mysteries, and romance for many years, they’ve run a Romance Writer’s Award, and attended and sold in the huxter’s room at many SF conventions. I loved being able to ring up and list the books I wanted. In a few weeks they’d be in my mail-box, but it wasn’t like a chain shop – what’s your name again? They knew me, what I liked reading and they’d recommend a new book, “You’ll like this one.” And almost invariably I did. That’s how I started buying at least three series, one in 1999 (I now have over thirty of them,) another in 2003 (eleven of.) And the third in 2009, (two so far and I’ll keep buying.)
I loved being able to visit the shop when I was in Auckland, cruise the laden shelves, stop and gasp, I hadn’t known the new book was out, a quick grab, that one was mine! To come reeling out after two or three hours with several dozen new books and a depleted bank balance. But, to misquote, “I often wonder what bookshop owners’ buy that’s half as precious as the goods they sell?” And bookshop owners that know their stock and genres are pearls beyond price.
Sadly from now on it’s no more catalogues with carefully chosen lists. From now on it’s all impersonal – e-readers, having to trawl through mountains of books displayed in store or on-line to find the books you want to buy, (missing out on new authors because you don’t have time to look and there’s no one to tell you about them) and no friendly shop where you can glance at other shoppers and smile at each other in understanding. It’s no more Barbara’s Books – and we’re a lot the poorer for it.

Every so often some city acquaintance asks me what I do all day. They ask in that tone which indicates they expect to hear that I do nothing much, that they’re sure I’m usually bored, lonely perhaps, and that I wish I lived in a city. Yes, well. I consider the ten days I had a few weeks back and recorded at the time to have been a definite reply to that sort of question.
Friday – (apart from all the usual stuff like farm work and emails which I have every day) hurtle into town with a friend, shop, buy a new washing machine, return to a phone call saying I can’t have the machine I chose, and chose another from its description on the phone. That should arrive in two weeks. Have an idea for a new story and write a few notes, interrupted by two phone calls and a visitor.
Saturday – three phone calls, write the short story, visit neighbors to discuss sharing grazing – and endure a change of lock on the bathroom door with much hammering while comforting Thunder who seems to think he’s being shot at.
Sunday – shop in the village, and return to work for a couple of hours on a precis of my writing career plus list of awards I’ve received, to email to a possible market that wants it, phone an acquaintance for directions to a mutual friend’s grave – and answer a host of odd questions for a survey company rep. who phones me.
Monday – make a phone call about my printer which has gone uncooperative, work all morning on two articles I’m writing for our small local daily newspaper, a neighbour is away so I’m over there caring for her cat in the afternoon, shoot out and rescue a screaming chick that’s got trapped – and cope with its mother who was convinced that I meant her offspring a lot of no good and is in very active defense mode.
Tuesday the nice house manager I have appears and cleans the place, while I zoom to the neighbour’s to look after that cat. More work on the articles, two phone calls, a very late lunch – and…
Wednesday – zoom down to our health center to have my B12 injection and drop more of my lemons into the basketful in their waiting room, which basket I keep filled for those who don’t have a lemon tree – and may have a cold.
Thursday – go to our local school library to discuss some of their plans for library books. Come home and write a short ghost story, and answer the phone – no, I have no spare lambs to sell.
Friday – into town to get a number of photos done onto a flash drive and get that into the post to the publisher. Shop for groceries, visit the library and six other shops and stagger home to Thunder my Ocicat – who is asking where the heck I’ve been and why I was gone so long?
Saturday – tear off to a garage sale at a farm down our road. Come home with four books, three hooks for hanging things up on, two cat ornaments and a shovel, and write my third recent story, the first’s been sold.
Sunday – complete the articles and email them to the newspaper.
So in the past ten days apart from doing usual farm work and emailing, I’ve had/made 12 phone calls, seen 3 visitors, made 2 trips into town, written three short stories (sold all three now) and two articles, (ditto) sorted out my CV, cared for a friend’s cat, enjoyed a garage sale, discussed local school’s library books with the school principal and librarian, bought a new washing machine, had my printer fixed, rescued livestock, and picked and given lemons to a good cause. Bored? Lonely? Wish I lived in a city? Yeah, right!

1 February 2012

Hardcover, published Bantam 2011. reviewed by Lyn McConchie.
I received this as a Christmas present, with delighted me as I have always enjoyed this sequence of King’s work. Pirate King is the eleventh in the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series by the author. This one is a lighthearted romp with Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance as background. It’s convoluted, slightly mad, and a lot of fun to read. The work is what I have called in the past ‘crime inconsequential.’ Meaning that while there can be crimes, even quite serious ones, the work doesn’t really focus on those so much as on the background and characters.
There certainly are crimes in Pirate King, with drugs and weapons sales, kidnapping, and a number of deaths. But the focus is on a movie company making a skewed film version of Pirates of Penzance. And the police have noticed that wherever this film company goes, sales of various illicit items follow. Mary and Sherlock are asked to look into it and it seems that the best method of doing this is for Mary to join the company as a secretary-assistant.
After that the company sails to France, becomes involves with a wide range of characters from the upright to the exceptionally dubious, and then sails for, first Portugal, and then to Rabat in Morocco where the company is promptly kidnapped by the men that had been hired to be ‘authentic’ pirates. They were all too authentic and now Mary is locked up with the other females of the cast, in a harem. How she escapes, and how she and Sherlock deal with the pirates, discover who has been using the film company as cover and selling illegal items, and how Mary may have discovered a second career, is great fun and a read that kept me hooked to the end. The author has described this book as a ‘Novel of Suspense,’ I would rather call it a divertissment, and I was certainly diverted.
I enjoy the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series, they run the gamut from serious crime and spies backgrounds, through to this sort of froth and frolic, but all are well-written, backgrounds are solid, and often genuine – if sometimes quite obscure – characters sneak into the supporting cast. I recommend the series, since Laurie King manages to make Mary’s marriage to Sherlock believable and their verbal interchanges have a real ring of verisimilitude. Series Recommended.

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