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24 October 2013

Screaming gales on and off this past couple of weeks. No real damage, although I came out on Tuesday morning to find that the big door on the woodshed was wide open back against the shed’s side. Apparently the wind had managed to get under the edge of the door and rip the catch open. A few branches off the shelterbelt trees here and there, and the gutters full of debris. But the two Yellowhammers arrived cheerfully to share the hen’s wheat, and all the other small wild birds seemed to be okay as well. And precipitation continues in steady amounts. We’ve soared past two inches for October thus far as look likely to be more yet. That’ll keep the grass growing. (In fact it has, if the geese don’t eat faster I’ll have to bring the sheep onto the big front lawn for a week.)

Diabolic Publications has contracted my short story, TRAPPED for their Ether World anthology. I note too that their contract is fair, and easily read and understood. More and more small press publishers are cleaning up their contracts to this standard and it’s good to see.

Softcover Titan Books, October 2013. Fifth in the Collegium Chronicles.

A Valdemar novel and good as always. With the one proviso that you really need to read this series from book one to know what’s going on, and that applies to this book more then even the previous ones in the series. Mags has managed to escape from kidnappers who claim that he is related to them and as Mags is an orphan he couldn’t be sure if that information was valid or not but in this book it becomes clear that it was. It’s just that Mags is sure he doesn’t want to be related to his kidnappers and is worried that someone might feel he could be disloyal to Valdemar. Instead the Collegium decides to accelerate his training by sending Mags and his friends out into the field for a year of on-the-spot training and while this is underway more kidnappers appear with a repeat in mind. How Mags, Bear, Amily, and Lena cope, Mags growing relationship with Amily, and the resoution of the long-time trouble between the young folks mentors, Herald Jackyr and Bard Lita makes an entertaining read, with an ending that makes it clear there will be at least one other in this series. I look forward to it. I have always preferred the author’s Valdemar series to anything else she has done, and was delighted when this new series began. Recommended as a series.

11 October 2013

Why do I think that? because yesterday I had a helicoper hovering more-or-less overhead, and the farming sections of the newspapers are all warning about setting your tractor on fire. And those items aren’t as odd as they sound in combination. The helicoper is on rook patrol. The birds form huge rookeries and are a complete pain in the neck as well as a foreign – and unwanted (what idiot imported them? ) – species. So the local council in rural areas sends out people in a helicopter, and while the helicopter hovers over the rookery, someone goes down on a winch and encourages the rooks to depart – and no, I’m not getting into specifics, the rooks are a nuisance but I’m an animal lover and I don’t want to think about just how the rooks are ‘encouraged.’ I don’t have a rookery on my property – or I’d really be torn on the subject – but the chap over the road has one on his place and this happens every few years.

And then there’s the tractors on fire. That’s also birds, starlings usually. A motivated, hard-working and energetic pair of starlings can build a nest in 18 minutes. And – for reasons known only to idiot starlings, they like to do that in tractor engines as being the ideal sheltered spot. So – farmer spends an exhausting morning ploughing or whatever, goes off to lunch, returns, fires up tractor and …wow, pretty flames shooting out from the engine. Because tractor engines get hot fast, starlings use very dry materials, and bingo – Combustion! And while a farm’s barn cat/s do a pretty good job, they do it mostly in the barn/s, not in tractor engines and a tractor in use isn’t usually put in the barn until the job is finished. Why is why a tractor more often goes up in flames right after lunch. Because you may think to check after it’s been tucked away for a whole night, but it’s something that often doesn’t occur to the driver when the darn tractor has just been sitting in the yard for 30-90 minutes.

I have my own problems with the chimney flue for my freestanding enclosed fire. That isn’t rooks, it’s mostly starlings, and fortunately for us all I’m very aware of the speed with which starlings can build and the dangers of them doing so in the flue. My damaged leg doesn’t like the cold or damp, so it’s not uncommon for me to have a fire going every few days to Christmas to make sure the place stays dry. That’s normally enough for the starlings to get the message. But some years – this one is showing as a possibility – the weather is warm and dry early and I may stop lighting the fire more than once a week just for a few hours. And if so, then the starlings decide that the flue would make a good nesting spot and start to build. However and fortunately a) they do this in daylight only, and b) my bedroom where I often work is close enough for me to hear the fluttering, chattering discussion, and scrabbling in the flue and I can race outside and yell, toss the odd small stone, and get the message across that the flue is not a good nesting spot. It doesn’t make me popular, but it’s better than fried starling/eggs/nestlings when next I really need to light the fire. Over the years the starlings have mostly passed on this message so it’s rare for me to have the problem unless a new pair are desperate for a home and gamble. In which case I’m outside again throwing things and describing their ancestry, intelligence, and probable destination…the latter being all too likely right here if the weather chills down and I light the fire without realizing I have tenants. So, as I say, it’s moving into summer, we’ve already had the rook helicopter, and any day now I expect to see a small plume of smoke rising as someone forgets to check a tractor engine….

9 October 2013

Victor Kelleher (born 1939) is a often classified as an Australian author but was in fact born in London and moved to Africa with his parents, at fifteen. He spent the next twenty years in Africa, before moving to New Zealand. Kelleher received a teaching degree in Africa and has taught in Africa, New Zealand and Australia. While in New Zealand, he began writing part-time, but moved on to Australia in 1976, and taught at a NSW University before moving to Sydney to write full-time. Since the majority of his writing was done in Australia is may be that this is why they classify him as ‘an Australian writer’ although at least one of his books – Taronga – was set in NZ He’s had four Ditmar nominations and one win, and won the Australian Childrens Book Award.

His work falls mainly into the older children/YA SF/F category by library classification but I have found when reading his work that it reads very well on an adult level as well (and the one I have is well up to word count with some 70,000+.) The book of Kelleher’s that has been retained for many years now in my permanent library is The Hunting of Shadroth. This is typical of the books of the period (1981) for older children/YA in that it falls into the pre-history sub-genre as did many others for this age group – where they didn’t fall into the retelling/rewriting of classic legends.

Tal and his clan have lived so long as their memories run on the Slopes that overlook the Greenlands below. Until a strange and dangerous evil threatens them and if they are not to fall beneath its power Tal has to travel down to the Greenlands to find assistance before he and his clan are destroyed. How Tal finds aid for his people and more then he expected for himself makes a neat package. I loved the Feln, Tal, and the background and while many reviews I’ve seen on the book seem to think that it’s best suited to boys around 10-12, I’d disagree. This old lady still enjoys it. Kelleher is a darn good writer and if you like this sub-genre (and cats) take a look at The Hunting of Shadroth at least.

Novels. a partial list.

Forbidden Paths Of Thual (1979)

Voices from the River (1979)

The Hunting Of Shadroth (1981)

Master Of The Grove (1982)

Papio (1984)

The Green Piper (1984)

The Beast Of Heaven (1984)

Taronga (1986)

The Makers (1987)

Baily’s Bones (1988)

Ern’s Story (1988)

The Red King (1989)

Wintering (1990)

Brother Night (1990)

To The Dark Tower (1992)

Micky Darlin’ (1992)

Red Heart (1996)

Storyman (1996)

Slow Burn (1997)

Into The Dark (1999)

Born of the Sea (2003)

Dogboy (2006)


I have omited the work for younger children from this list, but the author is on Wiki should you want to look up his series and other books.

8 October 2013

Very large softcover, September 2013. Publisher David B. Riley.

Reviewed Steve Johnson.

Not usually keen on Steampunk, but there’s some very good stories in this issue. Fade of the Innocent by O.M. Grey deals with a killer for hire who has his own rules and sticks to them, and in doing so finds he has a problem. One that ends up providing him with something he’s never realized he needs and will end up cherishing. Quincy Allen’s Family Heirloom was an excellent ‘going back in history’ with the real kicker as you realize at the end just who is telling the story. Lone Star Jackson – Outlaw is one of Lyn McConchie’s ‘awww’ stories as she puts it and she’s right, it’s also a darn good steampunk tale for someone who writes very few of them. And Moshito Masquine, a Sam Knight and Rhye Manhattan collaboration is an interesting steampunk vampire version that goes unexpected places and takes in some clever new angles on the way through.
The cover of this issue – by Wayne Miller –  has colour, professional quality work, and is wholly appropriate to the theme, something in which some anthologies fall down. And let’s not forget the article – What We talk About When We talk About Steampunk Fashion by Carrie Vaughn. Not only is this very lucid article useful for those of us who weren’t that sure what the term really did mean,  but I’m wondering if this is the Carrie Vaughn who writes the ‘Kitty’ series. If so, then that was a bonus as I have all of the books bar the first and love the series. Yes, for someone who isn’t usually that keen on Steampunk I got a lot of enjoyment and good reading from this issue, and I don’t mind admitting it.

1 October 2013

Recently I was reading articles on the Columbine school shooting and it seemed to me that the authors made two errors. One was to assume that this was the first school shooting of its type. The other was that they seemed to believe that such things happened only in North America. On the first, I recently saw a partial list. It began in 1974 when a boy brought a gun to his New York High School and started shooting. He killed three of his schoolmates and wounded nine more. Only a year later another boy (and it almost always is boys) killed a teacher and a student, wounded thirteen other students, then committed suicide. (suicide of the perpetrator/s has increased.) The other increasing item, is that while the actual number of school shootings isn’t rising much, what often is, is the number of dead and wounded. That’s because as time passes the perpetrators are using guns that produce a greater level of firepower. They are automatics or semi-automatics that pour out a stream of bullets and require little aim. Just point in the vague direction and hose. If a direct hit doesn’t get someone a ricochet may.

But the assumption that this happens only in North America is based on reality. That in America the weapons are available to children, not always because they own them, but often because their parents and neighbours do and they can be stolen quite easily. Yes, in some states gun-locks are required, gun safes, or chained guns. And in what family do you think a teenager won’t know exactly what the gun-safe number  is, where to find a key for the chains or safe? And if the neighbours like kids and have known them all their lives they don’t hide keys and combinations from them. Because it just never occurs to them to do so. So when the day comes that the kid next door snaps, he has an arsenal at his disposal – let alone those weapons that he can buy on the Internet.

But what triggers such attacks? And that’s where New Zealand can stop smirking that ‘it never happens here.’ No, it doesn’t, because most kids here can’t lay hands on that sort of gun, not because the triggers don’t exist. At least one of the major motives behind school killings in America is bullying. That can be physical or mental. The boy who is brought up by a family that don’t have sufficient money so that he wears op shop gear, can’t go to optional classes or events, may find it hard to have clean clothes for each new day, and may always be hungry, so that his school work suffers and that constant empty feeling enhances anger issues. Does he get sympathy, understanding and support? In some schools, yes. In others, he becomes a target, the weaker member of the herd, to be driven out, and harassed. And yes, most kids who live that way won’t become school shooters, but now and again, one who feels he has nothing left, that he can’t live in the atmosphere of constant fear and rage will snap and reach for a weapon. It’s been occurring in North American for at least fortyyears! What makes us think that eventually it won’t reach New Zealand? And the answer is that we smugly assume ‘it’s an American problem.’ No. It isn’t.

What often triggers shootings in America is that feeling of having nothing, no rights, no power, no redress no hope or chance. Many of those who kill at schools are those who are seen as ‘outcasts’. They aren’t a jock, a cheerleader, one of the popular, pretty, wealthy, attractive, privileged kids and they’re reminded of that every single day by those who are. They’re tripped, shoved, have lockers vandalized, are called names, denigrated, embarrassed, and humiliated, and often without teachers, even when they see this clearly, taking any action against such events. Here such feelings seem to produce suicides, and of recent years there have been sufficient of those to show very clearly that constant, brutal and ongoing bulling in schools does exist. And the lack of shooting  may be because someone being constantly bullied to snapping point at school here doesn’t have the ready access to weapons. What they do have, and I believe it may only be a matter of time, is access to the internet. Where they can find out how to make DIY weaponry or bombs. They watch TV and see that the powerless can use IEDs to gain power. And if we continue to ignore the brutal effects of constant bullying that goes on relentlessly for years, one day we’re going to wake up and find that just like America, we can have a ‘Columbine.’ 

Everyone has a breaking point. One day I’m afraid that we may see the results of bullying in schools and a breaking point combine here and on that day we may discover our very own ‘Columbine.’ After which we’ll do as has been done elsewhere, we’ll blame the parents, ‘irresponsible, poor, solo, stupid, useless’. We’ll protest that other kids are bullied and didn’t do that. We were bullied and got over it. And it wasn’t as if it was anything much. A few insults, heck, I get worse than that at work. And the ‘cool kids’ who triggered it will be bewildered. “geeze, I only called him a fag a couple of times. I only tripped him.” Yes, they were wrong, I’m not saying they weren’t. But you try living in fear, not just for days or months, but for years – and to a kid, a year is forever. We’ll stigmatize the one responsible as ‘crazy, different, or evil.’ Instead of, guess what, they were just someone who couldn’t take it any more, who knew what was being done to them was known, seen – and ignored so kit will go on and on and…. Who were afraid to tell their parents because that usually makes things worse, afraid to tell the teachers because nothing would be done  (they’ve been seeing it for ages and done nothing anyway) and mostly, just afraid, because they couldn’t live any longer with the constant fear, that clenched-stomach-waiting for the next insult, the next casual trip or shove or after-school beating. (With the headmaster protesting that it was out of school hours and nothing to do with the school – except that most of it is in school hours and ignored and the one abused is all too aware of that.) And because finally the one who snaps doesn’t care if they live or die but it would be so pleasant to see terror at last and in turn on the faces of those who’ve done that to them for far too long…Bang!