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30 March 2012

I had a letter the other day. It said that a certain National institution didn’t have a copy of one of my books, and, whereas they were charged with having copies of every professional item written by a kiwi, they felt the lack here. I’ve sent them a copy to fill their gap – but after the phone discussion it also occured to me that in order to know what I’ve had appear, they were probably checking my website. And the problem with that is that for years I kept a credit list of books and stories, but not of articles or poems published although for most of those I have an author copy.
But if the institution was gradually collecting everything I wrote professionally – not only are they going to need more shelving (and probably an extra grant for purchases) – they will come to a screeching halt somewhere in 2009 when I stopped updating the story list – while articles and poems were never done at all. So very shortly the monumental task of doing that will begin. Sorting six shelves worth of ‘author copies’ into the categories of Books, Stories, Articles (plus opinion pieces), and Poems, and then by year. And once that is accomplished, adding that lot to my own data base and then to the website.
I’m grateful that books have stayed up to date as have awards, and that I’m only about 3 years out on stories, but as, over the 22 years I’ve been a pro-writer there’s been a few poems, and quite a number of articles/opinion pieces, there’s one thing I do know. It’s that by the time I get the updating done, I’m really going to regret having let this slide in the first place!

“Pat Frank” was the lifelong nickname adopted by the American writer, newspaperman, and government consultant, Harry Hart Frank (born in Chicago May 5, 1908 and died October 12, 1964 in Jacksonville, Florida, age 57, of acute pancreatitis. However he packed a lot into his 57 years. Frank spent years as a journalist and information handler for several newspapers, agencies, and government bureaus and his subsequent fiction and non-fiction work made excellent use of his years of experience observing government and military bureaucracy and its assorted foul-ups. He saw service overseas during WW11, when he worked for the Office of War Information and was a war correspondent in Italy, Austria, Germany, and Turkey.
Frank is primarily known for his post-holocaust book, Alas Babylon, and after the huge success of that he concentrated on writing articles for magazines and advising assorted Government bodies. In 1961, the year in which he received an American Heritage Foundation Award, he was consultant to the National Aeronautics and Space Council and from 1963 the Department of Defense made use of Frank’s expert advice right up until the time of his death..
Frank wrote Alas Babylon while living in Tangerine, Florida on Lake Beauclaire near Mount Dora. Another author who knew Frank then and was familiar with local history, said that “Pistolville,” the name Frank gave to an area near (the mythical) Fort Repose in the novel, was in fact a place just between the southern edge of Mount Dora to the north and Tangerine to the south. According to Vivian Owens, Mount Dora was intended by Frank to be the model for his semi-fictional Fort Repose. While writing this particular item for the series I happened to check Amazon and saw that Alas Babylon had over 300 reviews. Even after so long the work still stacks up for readers as it always has for me. I don’t quite know what it is about the book, perhaps it’s that it is set in a small rural town from which background it never departs. Perhaps because it shows people more at their best than their worst when the worst happens. There are a few jarring notes. Remember when the book was written segregation was still in force, and some people still used pejoratives about black Americans. But Frank’s story denies that in its own way as he shows that the people of Fort Repose, when a huge disaster befalls them, are able to ignore such prejudice and work together.
Alas Babylon is set in the mythical small town of Fort Repose in central Florida. From the context I would estimate the town population to be around 3,000. Randy and Mark Bragg are the sons of an old founding family from the area. Mark is in Air Force Intelligence while Randy lives in the family’s old house and is something of a layabout. Then he receives a telegram to tell him that Mark’s wife and children are on the way to stay with him and using the code words Alas Babylon to tell him that it is almost certain nuclear war is about to break out. Randy meets Mark at an Air Force base when his plane stops briefly, and is given a check for $5000 (a very large sum in the 1950s.) He begins buying items he thinks will be of use as his brother has suggested, Helen, (Mark’s wife) and the children Peyton and Ben arrive and settle in for the night. Randy is woken by his bed shaking hours later, as a growing thunder booms around him. Fort Repose is untouched but major cities all over Florida (and the rest of the United States) have been obliterated, and survival is now the issue. The story is in one way predictable, but there are clever, well-written and wholly believable twists and turns, and I heartily appreciated one of those when two middle-aged maiden ladies become the mainstay of Fort Repose, the town librarian and the lady who runs the Western Union Office.
I (and a large number of other readers) would recommend Alas Babylon, but a reader might also be mildly repaid by the reading of Mr. Adam, (after a nuclear plant explodes every man is sterile save for one Homer Adam -who was a mile deep down a iron mine at the time. This is more a humorous attack on bureaucratic stupidity and interservice rivalry than true SF.) And perhaps An Affair of State, which is an acid look at men in government and those of them who shape America’s Foreign Policy.

An Affair of State (1948)
Mr. Adam (1946) adapted as a play and performed in 1949
Hold Back the Night (1952)
Forbidden Area 1956 (aka Seven Days to Never – London 1957) This book is not quite SF but it is an excellent read none-the-less and I recommend it.
Alas Babylon 1959 (A TV version was broadcast on Playhouse 90 in 1960, and this was adapted as a play in 1963.)

paperback published by TOR Books, August 2011.
This book was another not bought, but, in this case, given to me. The author very kindly sent me a copy and I put it aside for a couple of weeks until I could read it in one uninterrupted sitting. Which I did, becoming so engrossed by halfway that I sat up until well after midnight to finish it. Not that I’d expect less, while she has a lowish output it’s all quality and this is a standout. I haven’t seen the movie, and don’t expect to until it appears on TV in another 3-4 years. But if it’s anywhere near as good as the book then once I’ve seen it I’ll be buying the DVD to keep – just as the book has been filed in my ‘permanent’ section to be reread and reread over many more years.
There’s no time wasting in this work. The reader is pitched into action within seven pages. Not that the first six are boring either, far from it. Not when they start with a man lying unconscious in the desert, no boots, no horse, no gun, no food or water – and no memory. All he has is what appears to be a strange metal bracelet about his wrist. Three men and a dog appear, it’s kill or be killed, and the guy survives in an explosion of violence. To the winner the spoils, and mounted on one of their horses, now with food, water, weaponry, boots – and a dog – he rides for the nearest town, one they’d mentioned. A town named Absolution.
And in Absolution he finds more trouble when the town and its people are attacked by strange raiders out of the sky. People are kidnapped, killed, and buildings torched by the blue fires of the aliens – and the lost man finds what his bracelet is and can do. But what is he to do when he finds that he may be an outlaw with a massive price on his head? When he sees the man who tended his injuries slaughtered before him? And when he begins to fear that he may have committed one of the most reviled crimes in the old West?
He finds odd allies, old colleagues, and a woman who may not be what she appears to be, and he sets out to discover where he came from and what – or who – took his memories. And in doing that he’s going to change into something he never thought to be. I cried as I read the final 56 pages, and I shut the book with satisfaction. The finish was everything it should have been. It tied off loose ends, it explained everything that needed explaining, and it gave you hope for the characters. For the man who was there at the start of the book and at the end in particular.
If you see the movie and like it, you may well like the book even more, and if you didn’t like the movie, buy the book, I suspect that it’s better. And while you’re about it, take a look at the author’s other work, because that’s all good too!

author copies have just arrived this week for WHERE THERE’S SMOKE:The Fire That Changed the Law. This is the book that my friend and collaborator Linnette Horne and I have spent several years researching and writing. It covers four fires that occurred in Wellington over the four years from 1967 to 1971, one of which killed seven people and which resulted in major changes and improvements to National Fire Safety Regulations.
It shows the progression from almost no regulations at all, to an ongoing desire to tighten these to a point where no more lives will be lost in fires at boarding houses, old people’s homes, or nursing homes.
It’s a book I’d always wanted to write. Seven women died in the main fire, which I have always believed to be arson. There were also a number of peculiar events surrounding it and the subsequent inquest. Discrepencies in evidence given, major anomalies in quoted times, and what seemed to me to be to be deliberate cover-ups abounded. And the inquest conclusion – that those involved could find absolutely no way in which this fire could have possibly been started by accident …therefore it must have been an accident, baffles me to this day.
I have always hoped that one day the case would be reopened, and that the seven who died could have some kind of justice. Linnette, who was herself a victim of one of a series of 21 arson attacks in Wellington over the late 1990s, with no perpetrator ever charged, was keen to work with me on this story. As we have seen very recently in Christchurch, arson is immensely destructive, personally horrifying, and very costly. It is too often discounted as a prank with no malice intended. We would like that to charge and we’d like to see the main fire – Sprott House in July of 1969 – reconsidered as a cold case by the Wellington police of today.

22 March 2012

paperback from TOR Books, published October 2011.

Another book where i didn’t just stroll into the bookshop and buy it. This one was a gift from my TOR editor (Jim Frenkel) who kindly sent me a copy when I said I’d really like to read it. (having seen the blurb elsewhere.)
And basically if you see a review on my site you can bet that either I liked the book, or whichever friend reviewed it did. I see no reason to post scathing reviews of books I loathed. So yes, up front, I did like this book. That said – it’s seriously weird.
I got confused about ten pages in, stayed that way for almost all of the book, and only realized exactly what was going on at the end. But the journey was great, a rollercoaster of a read that is sweet, funny, and wickedly true to what I imagine is the genuine life of a 13 year-old boy in New York of the 1940s sometime.
I say ‘sometime’ because internal evidence from the book using the dates of cited films, place the main character anywhere from 1941 to 1948. I also suspect that portions of the book are direct from the author’s own experiences, but there’s no drawback in that. The other main character is ‘Jane’, who pops in and out – also up and down, yes, on one occasion she is said to have levitated in a movie theatre – and who appears at various ages, once at 5, several when she is apparently 13, and again in her thirties. However those appearances are not sequential, and therein lies a clue. One I can’t explain because if I go deeper into the theme I’ll spoil the story.
And it’d be a shame to spoil this book for any would-be reader. I read it bemusedly, wondering on what ride I was being taken, where I was going, and who would be clipping my tcket when I got there? I can tell you that much. The author punched my ticket, made me like it, made me add the book to my ‘keep permanently’ shelves, where it is waiting for me to come back and read it again, around 2015 -when my season’s ticket will be punched for the second time.
The author’s name didn’t ring a bell for me originally, I’m not a great fan of his other type of work, and it’s probably just as well I didn’t realize because I could have been put off this book – and that would have been a pity. It’s a great book, gentle, warm, and kind-with a killer ending. Go read it!

20 March 2012

Or it’s SOMETHING anyway. Yesterday the country was advised that a second weather bomb was approaching. batten down the hatches, move the livestock, tie down the hens, and prepare to be blown or washed away. Now I’m a realist. I’d rather look a fool preparing, than be a fool by not preparing. So yesterday my house manager hauled in stacks of firewood, I checked that the sheep, calves, and poultry would all have some shelter, and that the gutters were cleared.
Lunchtime yesterday it began to drizzle. That kept on… and on… and… until by mid-afternoon today we’d had about two inches of rain – while the drizzle continues still. However, as per the last time this isn’t a startling amount of precipitation, nothing at all that the area can’t handle, and so far the promised screaming gales have not only not eventuated, we’ve had no high winds at all – although judging by the TV, (also yet again) while we’ve been fine, a lot of other portions of the country have been taking a solid hammering.
All of which seems to reinforce something I said to a friend after the last ‘weather bomb’ hit everyone but us. We normally get such awful gales, that when the whole country is due for the same, sometimes it appears that we don’t get them, simply to compensate. (Not that it does really, but it’s something.) It’s unusual to have two weather systems like this hit the country weeks apart. Makes me wonder if they too may come in threes if and there’s one more still to arrive in April…

A friend is about to do a review for the DG Awards, and it reminded me that he was at a convention here in New Zealand quite a few years back now. He was a man who adored a good joke, and while at the convention he told me the following one –
A kiwi decided to take a holiday in Australia, he’d drive all over, cross the Nullabor, and finally catch a plane home. He picked up a rental car, and on the way across the Nullabor he found that the car had developed a mechanical problem and he was stranded. At first he remembered the advice he’d been given, to stay with the car, but he’d run out of food, he was running out of water and he began to panic.
He recalled that about a mile before where he now was, he’d seen a thin thread of beaten track heading off from the road and had wondered who lived out here to make it. He believed that this was his only chance of survival, so taking the last of his water he walked back down the road and found the track. He followed that the rest of the day, slept until first light, drank the last of his water, and started off again while it wasn’t too hot. By mid-morning he found a little shade, waited until the heat was less and began walking again. Towards sundown he came over a rise and below him he saw a small township.
He was frantic with thirst and he reeled up to the first house. The owner emerged and the kiwi pleaded with him. “I was standed back there, I’m dying for a drink, give us a whisky will you, mate?”
The elderly man drew himself up in horror. “Sir, this is the township of Mercy, founded by a good and pious man, we do not believe in spirits.”
“Then what about a beer, the kiwi begged, “Can you give me a beer?”
The elderly man drew himself up again. “Sir, this is the township of Mercy, founded by a good and pious man, we do not believe in any type of alcohol.”
Desperate the kiwi looked around and saw cows grazing down the valley. “What about a drink of milk then?”
The man shook his head. “I’m sorry, there’s been a drought and we dried the cows off early.”
“I’m sorry, with the drought, the water is quite undrinkable.”
“Hang on a mninute,” the kiwi said. “What do you people drink if there’s no alcohol, no milk, and no water?”
“Ah, said the man.” Our founder taught us how to manage. We brew a wonderful herbal tea in the pouches of koalas.”
The kiwi is desperate by now and he’ll try anything. “Okay, give me a glass of this tea.”
The old man goes inside, comes out with a large glass of tea, the glass is frosted and the tea is deliciously cold. The kiwi drains the glass to the final drops then spits vigorously several times.
“Geez, mate. You were right, the tea’s wonderful, but why on earth don’t you strain the fur out of it first…”
And the old man draws himself up indignantly. “Sir! The koala-tea of Mercy is not strained!”


16 March 2012

Yup, Penumbra emagazine has taken THE DOMEN for their May issue. And I’m delighted about it for two reasons. The other – apart from a good sale to a well-done site – is that as a member of the (International) Cat Writer’s Association time was getting short for me to have a published specifically-cat story, available for the 2012 awards. This one has just come in under the wire, (although I already have one sold that will be eligible for the 2013 awards) and as it’s a story I really liked writing I’m very happy it will be an entrant.
Oh, you didn’t know there WAS an International association for people who write about cats? Well, there is, I was one of the early members. Go look it up at

7 March 2012

I’ve been rereading several SF books that were originally published in the 1980s, and ran into a problem for writers of SF who are using the background of our own earth but setting the book in the future.
This one gives a time-line at the start of the book.
1969: Neil Armstrong sets foot on Earth’s moon.
1990: Series of Treaties between Inited States and Soviet Russia created the CoDominium.
2008: First Interstellar drive tested.
2020: First interstellar colonies created. Great Exodus begins.
And that’s the trouble with time-lines. And something I’ve noticed about SF for years. SF writers seemed to assume we’d move into space far faster than we ever did. I know after the moon landings there was a huge surge of optimism, a belief that now we’d left Earth the only way was up and that’s where we were going – right now!
But we didn’t, and it looks to me of late as if we’re going backwards. As if we’re slowly retreating from Space and all its possibilities. In the 1960s SF writers thought that in another 30-40 years we’d be out in space in real numbers, building domes on the moon, colonizing Mars, moving outwards as we identified other possible earth-like worlds and looked them over.
And none of that has happened. All we have is a shabby space station, shuttles stood down, less money allocated, and fewer politicians interested. They say you can extrapolate from previous events, well, judging on the past few years, by 2020 we won’t be creating those “First interstellar colonies and the Great Exodus won’t be beginning.” Instead we’ll have abandoned the space station, built no more shuttles or rockets, and even astronomers will be fighting for funds to do anything at all.
I know it costs money to explore space, and it would cost even more to set up just a small colony. I know there are people starving on earth, I know welfare and health benefits are important, but I wonder – what happened to the dream?
In my lifetime I’ve lived to see men and women go into space. I’ve seen the discovery of planets, like Earth – and completely unlike earth. On my TV screen I’ve watched rockets climb out of our gravity well and humans step out of them to set foot on places that are so far from Home. Now, before I die am I going to see all that abandoned, space empty of humans, and no country caring any longer about what could be? I hope not, I hope with all my heart – but I’m a realist, and I fear that that may be our reality and our future.

I have no idea where/if I’ll sell these, no idea how many my subconscious is planning, and no idea what started it. But last week I was seized by a flash fiction story, you know, the sort that run around 800-950. I wrote it, revised, spellchecked etc. and filed, before turning to write several letters I owed friends. A couple of days later just as I sat down to email an editor, I was seized by a second story and discovered that I appear to be writing a series with a set background and two main characters. Sf/humour, and quite fun. I wrote the third one yesterday immediately after I’d revised a story that MAY now sell with the revision. I’m not sure where to offer the three, or if there’ll be more. But I don’t mind doing them, they’re fun to write and I like the characters. They’re daft light-hearted tales, and I’d like them a lot if I read them elsewhere – so I’ll just have to hope that an editor somewhere feels the same way.

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