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26 May 2013

A friend recently admired a long line of UK non-fiction magazine issues that I get twice a year and then looked at the price and blinked. “Wow, they cost!” Yes, they do, because although they aren’t gloss-covers, they are over 80 pages in foolscap per issue, feature some very well-known names in mystery fiction in both the letter column and contributed articles , and at that size postage from England is a fair amount. But they’re useful in keeping me up to date with the field, I love most of the articles and reviews, the pages covering people in the field who’ve recently died are often handy, and all in all they’re worth every penny. Then too, I very rarely pay for my copy. Instead I write reviews and articles for them and receive my current copy in exchange. And this may be something other writers can do if they like a magazine of this type. Swap your writing for copies of the magazine. Okay, most of us are used to doing some of that with fiction, but some factual magazines will do it too, where else do you think semi-pro get their contributions? My connection with this magazine dates back more than a decade – for most of which time I’ve been trading writing for copies. It’s been a good deal on both sides and I not only recommend it, I hope to continue for the life of the magazine – or mine – whichever comes first.

Published Hardcover, Piatkus 2004.

Some weeks ago I read that it it illegal to enter Michigan wearing a chicken on your head. I had quite a bit to say about that which, when attending a library sale the other day, inclined me to purchase the above book. This has provided both a lot amusement and food for thought. One of the meals being how often odd laws continue unrepealed. They aren’t enforced any longer, but for some weird reason they remain on the books, why, heaven only knows. But there they are, still in force. Announcing in England that it is illegal to bait bears in the metropolitan areas. (Always supposing you can find a loose bear to harrass.) That it is an offence to ‘impute unchastity or adultery’ to any woman in England, Ireland, or Wales. (Apart from, these days, what the woman is likely to do to you for saying that let alone what the law may do and I’m wondering why you can impute unchastity in Scotland with legal impunity?) Also still in force is the law that in Parliament MPs are not permitted to wear armour (although I bet a few feel that that law should be repealed when their colleagues get more difficult that usual,) and in London a taxi driver may still fall afoul of laws that require him to ask each passenger if they have smallpox or plague, (none of them ever asked me that) while being reminded that s/he may not carry corpses or rabid dogs. (giving you a very good insight into the lives of earlier cabbies.) And it is expressly forbidden for them to make ‘insulting gestures.’ (And if the police ever start enforcing that one, there won’t be a taxi-driver left on the roads of London!) And in case you thought that this sort of law always dates back a long time, it doesn’t. From the Outer Space Act of 1986 I find that ordinary citizens are prohibbted from launching ‘space objects,’ (schools with an interest in rocketry could be in trouble) and that Under Section 9, a magistrate is empowered to issue a warrant to turn back an alien invasion and yes, they really do mean little green men, not refugees. And on that note, I shall say that I thoroughly enjoyed this book and will keep it to re-read. The section on what the town of Congleton won’t allow is particularly funny. Recommended.

21 May 2013

Last year it occurred to me that now I’m officially retired and on a pension a short-term job could be interesting. I’m single, and I don’t mind taking the occasional risk. So, discovering that a special type of security firm is situated an hour’s drive from here I applied to them and offered to accept a short-term contract. Amongst other work, they supply crews for ships traversing the zone where many are taken by Somali pirates, and some companies put in a temporary crew over this section – some of those supplied by this local firm. I emailed twice offering to be a clerk in such a group. No response either time. I’m not sure if they felt I wasn’t qualified – and what would qualify one to be a clerk on such a voyage – or if they felt that I was too old – and frankly I feel that an older person would be better able to cope in such a situation unless they want me to be a ninja – and I don’t feel that they’ll find many ninja clerical workers.

Not yet deterred, this year I discovered that a private company in the USA is seeking an elderly couple to go to Mars, and volunteered. I pointed out that sending one person would be far cheaper. That I’ve lived alone for almost forty years and I like it that way, and that I would be happily occupied with writing books and short stories and transmitting those and less likely to suffer psychological problems – if you ignore that some friends feel I’m nuts already. No reply. Sigh. Just in case they didn’t get the first email I plan to send it again, updated and revised. But what is this? Keep the old folks at home? There is a growing pool of us out there, we’re more expendable, many of us wouldn’t mind taking a risk now and then for a solid financial return – or even the sheer fun of it as per going to Mars. And while we may be on various medications, if you’re shot by pirates, or your spaceship decompresses explosively, age or the medications you’re on won’t make much darn difference. Oh, well, I can’t say I didn’t give it a try.

Grant David Callin was born in 1941. Callin graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1963, and retired from the service in 1984. He holds a bachelor’s degree in basic sciences, and advanced degrees in space physics, physiology and biophysics. From 1986, he worked for Boeing as a research analyst, and was also involved with work on the NASA Space Station programme. He is currently in retirement in Washington. And in 1986 and 1987 while doing that, he also had two excellent books published. I discovered A Lion on Tharthee in 1987, bought it, read it, and added it to my permanent library, since which time it’s been read half a dozen times, with enjoyment each time. This however, is (sigh) a case of an author who wrote very well, but who for some reason, produced a miniscule amount of work over a short period, and then ceased writing. Callin had two books and four short stories out between 1982 and 1992 and that was it. His two books were listed as \The First and Second books in the Saturnalia series, which to me implied there were intended to be more, but maybe Baen Books decided against that, or perhaps the author lost interest. But it’s a real pity as his characters, plots, and dialogue were great. (I’m still hoping to lay hands on a copy of Saturnalia some time if anyone out there can offer one free or for moderate price?) Of course it isn’t too late for Mr callin to write more, he’s only in his early ’70s and SF authors have a long tradition of producing books much later than that.

A Lion on Tharthee tells how it was discovered that a space ship was waiting to be found once Terrans ventured far out from Earth. Then it offered a ride to another planet where they might find friendly allies. The offer is taken, and the book details who was chosen and how, and then tells of the trip to Tharthee. The Lion of the story is the captain, the oddly named Kurious Whitedimple. The race they find when they arrive are called Hexies by the Terrrans, who find that the two races have both a lot in common and some interesting differences.The depiction of the Hexies is great, sufficiently alien to be believable, and sufficiently ‘people’ to be fascinating. The crew of the High Boy are a mixed bunch, all highly intelligent and educated, but they have their own personalities, and the minor frictions and the ultimate trouble on their return are very well depicted. Callin clearly used all his technical and scientific knowledge in writing his work and it shows, there is such an air of solid believability about this book. Recommended.



Saturnalia (1986)

A Lion on Tharthee (1987)

Short fiction:

The Turtle and O’Hare (1982)

Deborah’s Children (1983)

Saturn Alia (1984) – the short story upon which the novel was based.

The Carhart Shale (1993)

also The Didactics of Mystique (Part 2 of 4) (1984) [as byFlash Richardson a pseudonym of Callins. This title suggests that it is one of a series, in fact it was a one-off parody and the other three sections never existed.]


16 May 2013

Temperatures dropped solidly for last Friday and Saturday, and – every ready to be cyclic, it’s supposed to do it again this coming Friday/Saturday. But with cold snaps I get mice. It’s a given that farms have mice. And as soon as it chills down, the farmhouse has mice. Last weekend both mousetraps sprang into action. The one called Thunder caught two mice each day, while I with my plastic gadget caught another one each night. 6 in two days is an unusual number of incoming mice. Must have been the long, hot, dry summer that’s done it. So as pre-emptive action I’m setting the trap in different place around the house each night. Thunder hasn’t had another since last Saturday, but I’ve had two. That makes us even. And now for this weekend…

Yes, The Third Floor sold to Ray Bradbury Tribute anthology – Dandelions of Mars – coming out soon from Whortleberry Press.The thing about the story is that I originally wrote it back in 1987 for a competition being held by the Australian SF Foundation for Best Unpublished Story. That was allied to their National Convention which I attended that year, and my story won. I proudly display the medal on the wall (along with my five Vogel Awards, and half a dozen Muse Medallions from the International Cat Awiters Association) and it’s pleasant to see how well the story is holding up.

8 May 2013

Recently I received a grocery catalogue and as usual read my way through – to discover an offer that appealed to me. I was offered two bags of cat biscuits by a manufacturer whose products I usually buy in a different brand. The two bags were offered at a slightly lower price for the duo but more attractive still was the offer of a cute tin with cat pictures on it. If I accepted the offer I would get cat biscuits that I needed to buy, but I’d get the bonus of an attractive tin as well. So I arranged for a friend to go into the shop and pick up cat biscuits plus tin and drop them off to me. I was annoyed to receive the cat biscuits, but not the bonus tin.

Why? Because the shop had run out and that was just too bad because the catalogue clearly stated that the tins would be supplied to buyers of the two bags – “While stocks last.” I phoned the shop to clarify that. This offer had been intended to continue for a week of seven days. How long had the bonus tins been given away? Interesting answer. They’d run out midway through day three. Hang on, the makers know that cat biscuits have a very large sale in New Zealand. They know that variations of their brand sell very well. They know that the offer of a free tin with attractively depicted cats on it will boost sales still further. Why then, would they supply only sufficient tins to cover less than half the promotion week?

And the answer may be that, while putting in the phrase “While stocks last” may make it legal, could it be that the cat biscuit manufacturer knew more than this? That they knew the tins would run out, but that people wouldn’t know this had happened until they got to the checkout, and that most people would then be too embarrassed to say, “no tin, no sale?”.Had I been the one to buy I probably would have. It wasn’t the slightly lower price for two bags that attracted me to see if my cat would like a new type of cat biscuit. It was the tin. Just how many people, attracted by this offer, accepted it, and didn’t receive the bonus item for which they’d bought the original units?

And to dig a bit deeper into this phrase,“While stocks last”.In my opinion it’s a come-on which has very little clarity. “While stocks last” depends on how much of the stock was supplied in the first place. As an ordinary consumer, an offer that says this, to me should mean that if the offer lasts a week, I’d expect the bonus item to be available into the second to last day. It’s fair enough if the tins were on offer from first thing on Monday and ran out around midday Saturday, or even late on Friday evening, but I feel that for it to be a genuine offer the tins should either be available for most of that promotion week OR the catalogue should have said that they would be a bonus offer “To the first X number of customers.”

What the weaseling phrase “While stocks last” does, is hold out an offer while committing to nothing more than – as an extreme example-  a bonus item to the first customer. After which “stocks have run out”.The shop is not to blame, and they were apologetic, but they were given an allocation of bonus items and when they ran out, that was it. But the phrase is a way to persuade customers to buy an item they might not otherwise buy while at the same time cutting the costs that would eventuate if they had supplied sufficient tins for every customer who met the criteria to receive one. It may be legal, but in effect you’ve been persuaded to buy something by an offer that more than half of you were never going to receive. Politely, legally, but unfairly, you’ve been had!

How can you get around this? When a bonus item under the “While stocks last” system runs out, the shop could put up a sign noting this against the items you have to buy to obtain your bonus item. If they don’t you could simply tell the checkout operator when you arrive with your groceries, that you feel the manufacturer making the offer has not dealt fairly with you, and reject the items you have to buy to obtain the no-longer-in-stock bonus. You can consider twice in future any item that that manufacturer sells. Or you could go to the fountainhead of this phrase, and ask the government to clarify it. So that “while stocks last” becomes “the first X number of purchasers will receive…” That way customers-  and shops – know exactly where they stand. And manufacturers do not find they have produced either far too few or far too many of the bonus item. But as it stands, the phrase is a way to legally trick customers into buying products, and I resent it, both for me, and for all those other people out there who wanted a pretty tin and were disappointed. It’s just not good enough!



Yes, he had a great week a couple back.  A long lost relative (and partner) arrived and to my spotted friend’s delight they were cat lovers. He landed joyfully on the settee between them and was cuddled, scratched, stroked and petted for an hour and a half. When they left he followed them to the kitchen door, and beamed approvingly after their departing figures. That’s how visitors should be! (For me it was very nice to see them too even if for some reason the email address I have for them  may not be going through.) That was the Monday. Tuesday a friend dropped in and paused to cuddle him, Wednesday my next door neighbour dropped some stuff off and he had a chin scratch, and Friday I went to a bookarama with a friend – who paused after giving me a hand in with my books to, yes, cuddle my ever-hopeful pal.  Saturday he had my house manager who always cuddles him too, so that on Sunday he flopped. Fast asleep on my bed the entire day, cuddled out. But he’s been a very happy cat, and if he could command circumstances, I think he’d like a lot more weeks like that one.

the revision for my collection of SF/F cat stories, now officially titled Katalagein, progresses, but as I’m also scrambing to clear articles and reviews owed in several places, it’s keeping me hopping. One of the most recent articles has been a furious “While Stocks Last”  legal Trickery, which appeared in our local newspaper recently and which I’ll shortly be posting on my own site and offering to a major site to which I belong.