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23 December 2012

Currently I’m flat out. The raspberries have gone slightly mad so I’m out there picking first thing in the morning and again in late afternoon most days. Short story plots have been breeding like rabbits, and I’ve written three new stories in the past week with another three to go which I hope to clear in the week between Xmas and New Year. Immediately after that my sister arrives to stay a few days, and once she departs I plan to start my new standalone disaster book while also working with a collaborator on a different project which may take up much of 2013. I have two articles for magazines that I want to write in the next two weeks as well and some farm work also requires my attention. So, I’m taking a break from blogging for a few weeks so that I can clear most of that lot without distraction. After which I’ll be back – probably around January the 18th. I hope you had a pleasant Christmas, a fun New year, and may 2013 be a productive and lucky year for us all.

It forcibly occurred to me the other week just how often surplus items are another person’s treasure. Back in 1978 I purchased my first home. It was a two-bedroomed cottage a block from the local beach and as partt of the purchase deal it was partly furnished. I moved in and discovered that three of the items I’d taken over were pretty but empty tea caddies. I shrugged, I could use them for loose tea, tea bags, and coffee, and I placed them in a line on top of the fridge where they sat for 10 years, being used for exactly that. What I hadn’t anticipated was that having three caddies would lead friends and acquaintances to assume that I collected tea caddies. From then on every so often I was given another. Some pretty but empty, some full. I didn’t mind having them, I just didn’t actually need twenty tea caddies.

I sold that house in 1988, moved to my farm, and occasionally I was still gifted with another caddy – twenty-seven by now. Then I saw an ad in our newspaper. It advertised a new Tea Museum and Art Gallery and asked for donations of suitable items. I phoned and offered some of the tea caddies. The owner’s very pleasant brother arrived and left with two bags full of tea caddies. I’m happily down to seven now – just the right number for loose tea, tea bags, coffee sachets, and a collection of small items I use on the farm and in the house – and the Tea Museum has had its display of tea caddies substantially expanded. (The museum is in Stratford in Hawkes bay, and if you’re passing I recommend a stopover for an hour or two there.) The nice thing is that I can see the caddies again any time that I wish by simply accessing the Tea Museum’s website at www.gypsyroseteashoppe.webs.com/

21 December 2012

Dream Park- 1981

The Barsoom Project- 1989

and Dream Park:The Voodoo Game 1991.

By Larry Niven and Steven Barnes.

Back in 1981 a brilliant book appeared. Dream Park was set decades into the future (the 2050s) when technology had enabled the creation of real-life role-playing games. It was a wish-fulfillment epic, because back then we were playing D&D on a table, rolling dice, and talking scenarios, and Dream Park took everything we’d ever wanted in this field and offered us a reality. In one way we now have that via computers and virtual reality on-line. But in another way we still don’t. Dream Park was physical. You went there, and in an enormous gaming area, complete with actors, holograms, stage settings, with a Lore Master, huge computer input, and companions, you live out an adventure in physical reality that was augmented by all the other things. In effect it was reality. You sweated, learned, shared the adventure and danger, and came back after 1-10 days, physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted and exhilarated by your achievements. It was something many gamers in the book saved all year to do. That few days was the culmination of their year. And I can see why because if there was a real Dream Park and if I had two good legs I’d be saving my heart out. But the book wasn’t just as some others of this type were; a recounting of one of the D&D-type games. It told the story of a number of characters in depth. You liked some, didn’t much like others, and you shared the adventure with them. You understood why they did it, what they got out of it, and you wished with all your heart that a Dream Park really existed. I remember discussion at the time about how long it might take before we could have that reality. Some of us hoped for it in our life-time. But that was over 30 years ago and we aren’t there yet.

More of us hoped there would be a sequel to this book, and at least we had that because after a gap of 8 years the second one arrived in 1989 The Barsoom Project. This was the mix as before. SF, computers, gaming, and murder. In my opinion it wasn’t quite as good, but that still made it a terrific book. However they had the problem that sometimes happens with a series that’s spread out or long-running and where they’ve used a real background. In the original book it was stated that in 1985 there had been a massive quake in California and the damage was described. Problem was the book two was in the same setting, but now published four years after the claimed quake, and whoops, there hadn’t been one, so they upgraded the quake year in book two, to 1995. This book’s background is still in the 2050s, but it was still looking unlikely that in another 60+ years we’d have a real Dream Park.

Dream Park:The Voodoo Game was back to as good as book one. The mix as before, but with the competitive level ramped up with five teams of gamers competing in a dangerous environment, all of them highly experienced and combative. And back of that was one of the gamers with his/her own agenda – industrial espionage. To my delight there were a number of gamer characters back from book one when this third book was published in 1991. The action was fast, the characters convincing, and the background fascinating. The sad thing is that I’m now writing this at the end of 2012. The original book was written in a well-established setting that was 70+ years in the future but with clear indications that Dream park had been in existance already for a couple of decades.. It’s only another 40+ years to go now, and still no indications that we’ll have a Dream Park any day soon. Of course, California can be grateful that they haven’t had that quake either, but in other ways some of the Dream Park scenario has come true. We do have virtual reality in a number of the ways Niven and Barnes described years before they became (virtual) reality. Our computer wizardry and hologram technology is closing in on that of Dream Park. But I wonder, in the next 30-40 years, if a Dream park was established, would the young gamers of that future be interested in the very physical activity that gaming there entails? I think so, because LARPing (Live Action role-playing) is well established in some places, and I also hope, rather wistfully, that I’ll live to see a Dream Park established and gamers competing there. And if that doesn’t happen, at least there were these three books to show me what might have been and what could still be if someone keeps the Dream alive. I recommend all three books and suggest they be read in order although they can be read as standalones. Copies are still out there. Find them and enjoy.

 

 

20 December 2012

 Hardcover published 1975. Farming Press Ltd. (UK)

A friend very kindly bought this book as a gift for me since she had an amazon account and I didn’t. I wanted it because a) it was the first in the series, and b) I already owned two of the author’s later books and they made me laugh every time I read them. To sum up, the author worked in advertising before he and his wife decided (like a lot of other people in Britain – perhaps influenced by The Good Life TV series) to buy a smallholding or larger farm and take up that lifestyle. And no, while I did love the TV series, it wasn’t why I bought my farm in 1989. James started with a pig farm and the story of how ‘any fool could be a pig farmer’ is rife with misunderstandings, mad pigs, odd events, even odder neighbours, and wildly funny outcomes. (He went on four years later to be a dairy farmer and can only be described as a glutton for punishment.)

The book started with an incredibly accommodating bank manager, moved on to learning about pigs by buying all of a local pig farmer’s livestock and gear, and – well, at this point I was chuckling loudly because James was planning to learn on the job since he’d begun the entire project knowing nothing about pigs, farming, or anything much else in that area. Having begun in a very similar way myself in 1989 I was aware of all the pitfalls he’d discover. After all, my own first book about this sort of thing (Farming Daze, published in 1993 and still selling with – currently – five sequels and a sixth due out in 2013) has some very similar descriptions. And I can say that three sorts of readers buy this sort of book. One is an experienced farmer with a large farm who reads this and howls at the idiot and his blunders. The next is the city person who reads this and howls at the idiot and his blunders while thinking that it would happen to him/her too under those circumstances. Then there’s the third, the person who has a smallholding/farmlet and nods sagely, yes, that’s exactly how it was for them and they’ve had many of same things happen to them too. Which, since that trio of reader types cover a wide area, may be why these books (including mine) continue to sell and I suggest you buy one of the books in this series and join the flock.

19 December 2012

My rural delivery people, Cath and Denis, are wonderful. They deliver mail, groceries, hen food, odd items from Mitre 10, and never fail to deliver me a Christmas card personally from them to me. But the best thing is that they aren’t bothered by my gaggle. I have five geese, that is, three girls, plus Stroppy the gander and his 2IC, Sonny. Any mail delivery to the mailbox is announced with screams from the geese, if the mail car needs to come up the lawn then it’s surrounded by the gaggle as soon as it clears the gateway, all of them giving an excellent impression of the Apache after a wagon train. Sometimes when carrying a box down the lawn instead, Denis has had to dodge smartly, (my gander is an expert at ambushes.) But does my rural delivery ever falter or fail? Not on your life. I live alone on an isolated farm and they’ve been my mainstay for years and all I can say, is long may they continue to do their job and the huge amount over and above that they’ve always done as well. Because I don’t think our area will ever get anyone better.

 

18 December 2012

There’s been a fair amount of natter recently about the world ending on December 21 according to The Mayan Prophecy. Reading some of the stuff about it I gather that it’s unlikely; that this wasn’t actually a prophecy, that it’s more likely they just did the long cycle and left it at that because to them it was a heck of a long way into the future and someone could get around to doing the next cycle in a few hundred years and that the current Mayans aren’t anticipating any such thing. Ignoring the whole ‘world ending on the 21st thing,’ my question isn’t so much ‘is it going to’ as ‘when is it going to?’

I mean, they just said the current long cycle ends on the 21st. And that’s fine for them. Presumably – if they were noting the end of the world – they knew when the event activated. I happen to live on the other side of the world, we’re currently in daylight-savings time, and we’re hours ahead of South America even before that. So when exactly should I be outside staring up at the sky and watching for – well, whatever is going to happen. Knowing that any question like this will have not only been asked before, it will also have come up on several hundred internet sites, I googled “Mayan Prophecy” and “New Zealand.” Guess what? I was wrong, there were five thousand plus and I wasn’t about to check out that number.

I considered and added to that “actual time” which dropped the listings to about 250+, and I discovered that, yes, my question had been anticipated. So far as I can ascertain from a world clock calculator, 6pm on December 22nd will see us uplifted or struck down. I only hope that whatever happens is uplifting rather than an end of the world disaster – otherwise I’m going to miss Antiques Roadshow at 7.30, the book I’ve been saving for Christmas Day, the roast turkey ditto, and Thunder my Ocicat is going to be seriously displeased. He doesn’t like disasters unless he’s caused them. And in view of the fact that every cat I know feels that way, I suspect there won’t be a disaster, because the combined disapproval of every cat in the world is going to prevent it! Which is excellent because I plan to write three books over 2013, and that too is something I wouldn’t want to miss.

 

13 December 2012

Back in late October I sold a standalone Young Adult book entitled Flying Free. The publisher seems to have decided to bring it out very promptly because initial revision arrived only a couple of weeks back. I’ve done that, returned it and am now waiting for possible further edits. But if both sides continue at that speed, it’s likely the book will be available to readers well before Easter – and I’m finding the pace exhilarating.

I came back from a Christmas luncheon yesterday to find Ellie-Mae the sheep standing by the fence staring at the entire gaggle – who were staring back, shrieking abuse, and looking as if they were about to attack. I halted to watch, and after a couple more screams at Ellie they wandered off. I haven’t the faintest idea what she’d done or why the geese took it so amiss, but they didn’t see what I saw after they’d turned and waddled away. Ellie opened her mouth, thrust out her jaw, and crossed her eyes after them. Possibly a comment in response, but she looked quite crazy and all I can say is, that it’s just as well that the wind didn’t change. I wouldn’t want a sheep around that looked like that all of the time.

There seems to be a perception that practical jokes and prank phone calls are funny. This is two-sided. To the perpetrator they are hilarious, they may be regarded as funny for bystanders, but for those who are the butt of such events, no matter how much they they may appear to be entertained by their own fright or humiliation and good sports about it, they are rarely honestly amused. Again for perpetrators there seems to be a perception that practical jokes are harmless by their nature, and that no matter how dangerous that event is, no one will be harmed. Over the past thirty years I can recall a number of times when as a practical joke someone has been set on fire – and severely injured. A recent case in Hawkes Bay where several youths held down a boy, poured petrol over him and set him on fire resulted in a sentence of three years for the ringleader and rightly so. This was done to a sixteen-year-old who was still unwell at the time (effects of a serious illness) bystanders stood around laughing, and refusing to help him, and he was left alone to bicycle home in considerable pain, and horrified at what so-called friends had done to him. The fire has left him permanently scarred and most probably also short on the ability to trust people in future . My comment would be that I’m very very glad I don’t have “friends” like that.

Then there was the hoax call by Mel and Malcolm from a Sydney radio station to the hospital in which Kate Middleton was ill. Pretending to be members of the Royal family they gained access to private information and they then broadcast the call and information. To achieve this result they lied to two nurses one of whom appears to have taken her own life as a result. Alternatively she may have been so distressed by her part in it that she self-medicated and accidentally overdosed. Apparently the practical joke was hilarious until then with the hoaxers posting on Twitter, and finding their actions clever and the verbal discussion of their call wittily amusing. All the way up until the nurse’s death was announced and then abruptly, the pair are on leave out of respect.. Oh please. They’re on leave while their employers find out how big a row this is going to cause. In fact as I understand it, what they did breached Australian Broadcasting standards. What part of, medical information is private? What part of, you’re risking the jobs of these two women? What part of, this is in breach of the laws of your own authority didn’t they understand?

A journalistic scam can be for the public good. Watergate, discovering that a prince’s ex-wife is prepared to sell introductions to him to all and sundry so long as the money is right, uncovering a politician or media personality who stands loudly for family values while sexually abusing small children, all of that is legitimate. A prank call where the station checks with the pranked that they are still okay with the call being now broadcast, and they agree to it, that’s fine too. But hoaxing a nurse into putting you through to a ward, where you hoax the private medical details of a current patient out of another nurse, is far from the public good. It calls into disrepute every journalist of integrity.

Practical joking is not funny most of the time. It relies on the pain, humiliation or distress of another person. I have a sense of humour certainly, (and I have seven published non-fiction humour books – the first published in 1993 and still selling – to prove it ) but I don’t find the pain, fear, or humiliation of someone else that amusing. Nor do I find possible outcomes – a heart attack, emotional distress that can last for days, actual injury, or loss of trust in those you believed to be your friends, something to strive for. It’s probably unlikely, but I hope this pair lose their jobs, I hope the Australian Broadcasting Authority brings charges against the radio station people who cleared this, and most of all, if it is definite that their hoax was the direct cause of this nurse’s death, I hope that her family sue vigorously. And I hope that whatever the legal outcomes, that the death of Jacintha Saldanha is a lesson to those who think that practical jokes, prank calls, and hoaxes are funny, without penalty, and without consequences. Because all too often they aren’t!

And a week later – The aftermath on this phone call continues. The DJs in question appeared on TV to make a public apology which certainly seemed to me to be very much a case of crocodile tears for public consumption. The Station claims that they tried to call the UK hospital five times to no result. Tried isn’t the point! They should not have broadcast until they’d succeeded and received clearance on something this intrusive and as we can all guess, they wouldn’t have got it, which may be why they accepted an “inability” to reach the hospital, and went ahead. And on the list of those who need a reality check has to be the station lawyer or lawyers. How could they have felt that this call was okay to broadcast? It is looking more and more likely that there will be legal action, even possible criminal charges as a result of this event. I wonder who’ll stand up to accept that they had some part in this tragedy? The hospital who seem to have been short staffed and allowed a nurse (untrained in protocol) to work the switchboard, and who also seem to not be assisting the grief-stricken family? The Radio Station Djs, lawyer/s, and administration? The station has now offered the family a large sum in compensation. They’re damned if they did and damned if they didn’t on that one. I’ve already heard someone ask if they offered the money to get ahead of a possible court case for a lot more – something that also crossed my mind when I heard of the offer.

And I notice that now too there are claims the nurse must have already had mental problems to be so distraught. That’s possible. What’s also possible is that a naive woman, deeply venerating the royal family, feeling that she had betrayed them, betrayed her nursing ethics, and brought disgrace upon her family, might have simply been so distressed that she reacted. She comes from a country where honour is everything. She may have seen her act as a necessary atonement and no, that isn’t crazy, just a different mindset. But whatever the ultimate outcome of all this, I hope that it will result in a tightening of regulations that cover this type of phone call, with clearer guidelines and stronger penalties. Because I’d like to see this event as the last one of its kind, and the last injury or death that results from what was supposed to be a screamingly-funny practical joke and ended up as anything but amusing.

hardcover, Ace, November 2012,

I love Jack McDevitt’s books, so I grabbed the chance of reading this one although I wasn’t initially certain I’d like it. It is a departure from his ‘SF, well into the future” novels, and seemed to be along the lines of a conspiracy theory-type plot. However the mail arrived in the morning, I had to go out soon after and got back late that afternoon – to pick up the book around 5pm. The 6pm news started, I glanced up, punched in the video to record and kept reading. At 8.30pm a TV programme that I really like started, I punched in the video to record and kept reading. I finished the book around ten o’clock and I can say that it’s good, better than that even… it’s very very good and I enjoyed it immensely.

And it has something that may already be showing the first indications of a trend in reality. That private enterprise may end further out and more effectively in Space than NASA and Governments. Jerry Culpepper is the front man for a NASA that in 2019 has been trimmed back to where they have no space programme and they’re mostly left with PR, speaking engagements, displays of past glories, and awards to past staff members. Until something happens and Jerry starts to wonder about the original moon landing. No, not that it was a hoax on a sound-stage, but if it was possible than it actually happened earlier than the world has ever known. And while Jerry asks questions and finds that he doesn’t like some of the answers, Bucky Blackstone, self-made billionaire with an eye to space exploration for profit, is asking some of the same questions and getting distinctly odd answers that send him in a similar direction to Jerry. A direction that indicates an ancient and well-hidden mystery, an American/Russian conspiracy – and something that if uncovered and made public might be utterly disastrous.

I’m not giving away anything more, go and buy the book, but I recommend it, it’s a beautifully blended mix of very-near-future-SF, conspiracy theory, politics (interesting, believable) and NASA background mixed with what may well happen with private space flights/travel, in the next decade or three. This is near-future writing at its best. Even if it doesn’t happen that way and when we reach 2019 we may know it, still we read Clarke’s, The Deep Range, or The Sands of Mars, knowing that they didn’t happen as and when he wrote either, but many of us still re-read the books and enjoy them for the fine writing they are. So in 2020, even if none of The Cassandra Project‘s events have occurred in reality, I still expect to be reading and enjoying the book on which both authors have done a great job, and I can’t say fairer than that.

 

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