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26 January 2013

It occurs to me to wonder about New Zealand National Television again this year. I wonder about them every third year or so when, over the Christmas/New Year break, their goodwill towards all seems to be in short supply. In what way, you may ask? Take this year. We had movies, :2012 (Mayan Prophecy comes true and wrecks Earth – How fortunate that all the doomsayers were wrong on this one.) Apocalypto( strange goings on by the Maya). Titanic (Icebergs? What icebergs? Lifeboats for ALL the passengers? Why?) Armagedden( the less said the better although I do enjoy it.) And an extremely prompt documentary on Hurricane Sandy entitled Superstorm:Hell or High Water – which turned out to be very interesting.

But every 2-4 years when TV has a solid number of disaster movies and/or documentaries, I’m left to wonder why they pick this time of the year to run them? What is it about Christmas, New Year, and our summer holidays that makes TV programmers feel the public would appreciate a multitude of disasters to watch? This year it was bad enough that there was the (very remote) chance of a real worldwide disaster; without sitting down to watch it all over again on TV. Or did the programmers assume that if it hadn’t happened we’d all be delighted to watch it as fiction? I have no idea, but as this has been a pattern for a decade or so, I confidently expect to see a lot more disaster around 2016 if only on the TV.

 

I got a number of droppers-in over the Xmas/New year break, the one that delighted me the most was my younger sister, Chris, who was able to come down from where she lives in Auckland and spend three days. That didn’t only make my month, it also left Thunder ecstatic. He scurried after her through the house, and when she parked herself on the double bed in the extension to chat to me, he hurled himself full-length beside her and beamed up. They fell in love at first sight and he spent the remainder of her visit glued happily to someone who’d pat, stroke, and cuddle on demand. It’s the very first time she’s been able to get down to the farm and it was very pleasant to be able to show her over my place and the village. But I think I got the better deal. Chris, never one to twiddle her thumbs, made the most of her time in the cat park enjoying the sunshine, by also weeding heck out of the place. She had to leave after that and over the next two days Thunder kept going back to the extension where she’d stayed, peering through the glass door and asking me, in his small rusty squawk, if I was sure she’d really gone? It seems that he too enjoyed her visit and would like her to return soon. Chris, take note.

 

 

Yes, a recent email to say that the true-life tale I offered the Oh Sandy anthology in the USA has been accepted. I did an item on the major quake we had on Mother’s Day in 1990. It was humorous – no real damage anywhere local, and the editors liked it.

And the author copy of Strange Lucky Valentine arrived. Steve has promised to review it for next week.

Guest review by Jan Bishop. Hardcover, published Allison & Busby 2012. (Also contains a novella after main book.)

Like Lyn, I’ve collected this series since it began with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, unhappily I’ve noticed that it has started sliding. The previous book, The Pirate King was still good but a bit weaker. This book is definitely weaker and if this had been the first one of Mary Russell I’d pass it on. As it is I like Mary and it’s a keeper. But if King slips further, I may not be keeping (or even buying) the next book. This book feels as if she’s got complacent, as in “the readers like Mary and will buy anything with her so I don’t have to make a real effort to have a solid plot plus I can use the very weary literary device of amnesia and they won’t mind.” Well, I did mind. I didn’t find the background as interesting as usual either. It read more as if the author had read several books about the period and people and had simply info-dumped.

And the other device, that of having a small boy with (apparently) elective mutism involved as an active conspirator I found rather twee. “Let’s add a disabled child, that’ll get readers.” The only thing it got me was annoyed. The kid is too clearly another plot device, I found the sudden revelation at the end that he’s related to another character (out of the blue, with no preparation, and why, if he has a relative who has a good job and influential friends, hasn’t the child been seen by doctor/s who may be able to say if his mutism is elective or something physical?) The initial part of the story, that of Mary waking to find herself in bed in a strange house, unable to remember who she is, or how she came there, and fleeing into the streets to escape she knows not what, is well, average. I mean, amnesia? Please! It all turns out to be political, but in a perfunctory way. The French Governor (a major character in the book and an actual person of his time in real life) is dropped into the plot as a distant relation of Holmes. One never mentioned in previous books although they’ve apparently met on a number of occasions before. Nor does their interaction feel genuine. In short, this book was a disappointment to me although Lyn liked it slightly better. As for me, I’ll look very hard at the next in the series before I spend my money on it.

What was a good thing about this volume, was the novella included at the end. Beekeeping for Beginners takes place during the events of the first book in the series. It is narrated by Sherlock himself, is well up to quality, believable, with an excellent background, and an engrossing plot. It is available as a standalone e-read in a number of venues and since in my opinion it’s the best part of this entire volume, you might prefer to buy it and skip the main book. This novella I can wholeheartedly recommend as I can’t do with Garment of Shadows..

 


 

Melisa C(orrina) Michaels was born in America in 1946 (yup, another of that fine vintage decade.) There isn’t much available on her, but what I do have is that at various times she worked as a Private Investigator, and a singer, backgrounds she uses to great effect in some of her books. I know she lived with her husband Richard in Hawaii for some twenty years, and they ran Embiid for many years. She’s a cat lover and I believe she and the cats later moved to somewhere in rural Pennsylvania. In 2007 she received the SFWA Service Award – and that’s about it.

Back in 1986 I picked up a secondhand copy of Skirmish, (a.k.a. Skyrider 1.) This is a good reason why writers shouldn’t fuss over their books ending up sold and resold as secondhand, because I loved the story, the plot, and the characters, and promptly shot out to my favorite bookshop see if there were other books available. There was, the second and third in the series were in the shop, I bought them on the spot, and put in an order for any more. Over the next couple of years I ended up with all five of the Skyrider series, plus an excellent stand-alone, Far Harbor, and then the author’s writing went into hiatus for some years.

Melacha Rendell, a.k.a. The Skyrider lives in the asteroid belt, delivering supplies to prospectors and others who live on the various rocks, and in between runs she’s kicking back and starting fights. She’s a great character, and the books can be classified as military SF since right through the series either there’s a war about to start or there’s a war or skirmish going on. The Skyrider has no illusions about people. She understands that the majority believe everything they hear/see from government sources, that they will follow the demands of anyone in authority, and, that while insisting they are individuals, they never want to stand out from the crowd and will follow each other like sheep to make sure of that. Thje Skyrider books are clever, amusing, and well-written and I only wish that there were more.

Far Harbor is a variation on the child raised by wolves, in this case an alien baby raised by humans on her world who teach her that she is ugly, clumsy, stupid, and a waste of food. She is starved, beaten, and overworked until she rebels and flees into the forest. There she finds that she can survive, that she isn’t as stupid or clumsy as she’s been taught, and when she rescues a kitten of the large wild cats she has a friend. The story ended neatly but with hooks that suggested if a publisher had asked, there could have been more books continuing the story and I’m sorry there wasn’t.

I’m even more sorry that the Skyrider series didn’t have the final three books that 10 years ago Melisa said she had originally planned. But the lack of any real advertising of the series meant that they didn’t sell as well as they should have and the publisher dropped them and her – after the fifth. A real shame but since they’re 20+ years old now, it could be that they will be picked up for reprint sometime and then maybe the other three can be added to the series – and the world of Emerald Starling of Far Harbor expanded as well perhaps.

However a decade later Michaels started a new series and managed to sell two of that. Cold Iron was the first, an excellent hard-hitting book that takes an urban fairy background and turns it feral. This world has elves, and the author never felt a need to go into long-winded explanations. The reader is just presented with the world and, this is how it is Many rock bands in this world are what is known as Magic metal and Cold Iron is one of this type of band that’s huge. Rose Lavine, a PI joins them at the request of a groupie who believes that someone plans to murder the front man (elf) and Rose becomes caught up in the glamour and hard-living that surrounds the band – the drugs, the sex, and the constant touring. The band background of this book was savage, brutal, and very very believable. There are several deaths, which are initially assumed to be accidents, but Rose is suspicious and rightly so as it turns out. But the outcome is not what she or the reader is expecting.

As a final note on Melisa Michaels books, she has not always been well-served by the covers used for her books, Cold Iron in particular, don’t be put off.

Bibliography

Skyrider books

Skirmish (1985) Tor Books

First Battle (1985) Tor Books

Last War (1986) Tor Books

Pirate Prince (1987)Tor Books

Floater Factor (1988) Tor Books

Rosie Lavine

Cold Iron (1997) Roc – Nebula Award Nominee in 1998, a year of very strong contenders including Jack McDevitt’s Moonfall, Connie’s Willis’s To Say Nothing of the Dog, and Harry Turtledove’s How Few Remain. It was actually won by Joe Haldeman’s Forever Peace. (Although IMHO Jack McDevitt’s Moonfall was better.)

Sister to the Rain (1998) Roc

Novels

Through the Eyes of the Dead (1988) Walker & Co Mystery

Far Harbor (1989) Tor Books

World-Walker (2004) Five Star

Anthologies containing stories by Melisa Michaels

The Best Science Fiction of the Year 9 (1980) Del Rey

Horrors (1986) Roc

Short stories

In the Country of the Blind, No One Can See (1979)

A Demon in My View (1981)

19 January 2013

Got the usual Christmas cards away in December and got the usual bunch back. And looking at one of them it occurred to me that in some areas I can be startlingly conservative. I’m not used to thinking of myself that way, and in most ways I’m not, but in this thing I am. One of the cards went to an old acquaintance. Originally he was married to someone I liked, a pleasant, intelligent woman who died some years back now. Originally my cards were always addressed to them both by name, but since her death I address them to him by name and add ‘and family’. Why, when he has remarried, don’t I include or use her name? Once I’d thought seriously about that I realised that it’s because I was never happy about the speed of his new relationship. He and his wife had been very happily married for several decades. But within what seemed to be only six months of her death, there he was with another woman. It made me vaguely uncomfortable, as if the many years of devotion had been a sham, as if his wife whom I’d liked had been cheated in some way. If he’d loved her so long and as much as he apparently had, then how could he forget her so quickly? It’s possible that if you have a very happy, very long relationship, then when you lose that you may want to find another as quickly as possible. But it still seems wrong to me, and I’m uncomfortable using his new partner’s name in place of his first wife’s. In fact it occurs to me too, that it was his wife I really liked and her to whom I sent the card. So maybe next year I just won’t send one and that’ll fix everything for me. But I’m not sure of it’s my getting older, or if feeling this way about the situation is reasonable, or maybe I really am getting more conservative as I age and if so, thinking about it, that bothers me too.

 

2012 was the year in which I was twice thumped by a sheep. Once just before our National SF Convention, and again by that darned ram. (Both thumpers have now gone the way of all flesh. It does not pay to thump your shepherd.) But on New year’s day I opened my newspaper to see that I had actually been lucky. On the one day they had stories on: a man who drowned when the Waiohine River flash flooded. A woman whose car was hit by a train when she drove onto the tracks without looking – she was incredibly lucky and survived. A fisherman was left in agony on Riversdale Beach when he was stung by what was probably a stingray. It looks as if we’ve lost one tramper while finding another, a jockey died in a fall from her horse, one is dead, and two others badly hurt in different car crashes, and some incredibly low-life beat up an old lady for cash which she didn’t have and stole her car. Okay, I don’t go tramping, canoeing , fishing, or horse-riding (any more) but I do spend time being driven places and considering holiday traffic that’s always a risk. And anyone can open their door to find themselves attacked although to do that a would-be attacker has to get past Duke the pitbull next door (who loves me) and my five geese (who adore savaging intruders) and our local policeman who lives directly opposite my front gate – but it could easily happen. Considering all of which, I think I prefer being thumped by sheep, it’s less painful – and a lot less hazardous to my life and health.

A nice new anthology arrived from America over New Year, containing two of my Sherlock Holmes tales, The Fury and The Button-Box. Several years ago inspired by an idea I sat down and wrote 14 new SH stories… and then couldn’t find a publisher who wanted a short story collection. I kept being told that there was no market for short story collections. On the other hand since each story stands alone I finally decided to start selling them separately, and that’s two down, twelve to go. It’s a nice anthology too, cover is very well-done as fifties pulp, and (as I’d expect from Gary Lovisi of Gryphon Books) the editing is excellent. It’s out from Wildside Press and anyone who likes Sherlock Holmes stories should take a look. It’s also been reviewed on this site by a friend who borrows most of my ‘author copy’ anthologies, but repays that by often reviewing them.

 

softcover from the Borgo imprint of Wildside Press USA. 245 pages, 12 stories plus Introduction by the editor, with acknowledgments and About the authors at the end. Gvery good 50’s pulp-type cover.

 

Reviewed by Steve Johnson.

Not a bad anthology. I like Sherlock, read more of the SH pastiches than I keep, but still have a very re-readable few on my bookshelves. I’ve ordered a copy of this anthology from The Book Depositary because it’s one of those I’d like to have. Very sensibly too, the editor hasn’t limited himself to one story only from any contributor. Where he’s been offered two good stories, he’s accepted and published them. Lyn’s duo I found particularly excellent, right in period, solid plots, and the genuine feel of Conan Doyle’s tales. Magda Jozsa’s duo were also very good, The Dentist was clever and well-thought-out, as was Bad Habits, although I liked the former story better on a personal reader level. Gary’s Lovisi’s Sherlock HolmesStymied, was, I thought, clever but I didn’t like the character it imputed to Holmes. While Marvin Kaye’s A Memo From Inspector Lestrade is an excellent take on an old character. All up a convincing anthology, there was only one minor point that I disliked. That was Watson or Holmes referring to someone as “old boy.” This is Wodehousian. They would rather have used “Old man” or “Old fellow” and the ‘old boy’ grated each time I read it. But as I say, a minor quibble, and I hope that this publisher will produce another Holmes and Watson anthology in the near future because all in all, this was solid work.