Still no word on the job front. Not one of the companies I have applied to has said that they don't want me. Mostly they just don't reply, leaving me to work out how long I should leave it before writing them off. More irritatingly, several have said they are considering my application, or considering the results of an interview, and will let me know in due course, and then go quiet for weeks on end. Sigh.
Of course I know why this is. Consultancy is a profession that is high on skill and labour costs, and that means that most such outfits are understaffed and overworked. It is very easy to let a week or two go by without realising it, and with clients yelling at you all the time, being polite to job applicants goes to the bottom of the list. Unfortunately, understanding doesn't make it any the less depressing. At least I do have a definite departure date. I will be finishing my current job at the end of June. This at least means I can make some contingency plans. So...
The farewell (or possibly celebration) party will be at my place on Saturday June 21st. This being Winter Solstice and pretty close to a full moon, the theme will be Paganism. There will be mulled wine, there will be baked apples; there will not be any haggis, but there is plenty of malt whisky left. If I don't have a job by then, all of my furniture and most of the contents of my kitchen cupboards will be up for grabs. No reasonable offer refused.
After that I will head off for the US and spend a week or two there job hunting. I may well turn up at Westercon. And if I still have nothing going, I head on to the UK and hope that the new Labour government passes a law outlawing ageism in employment before I get there. This reminds me of when I left university. I had a job in London, but up until shortly before I started I had nowhere to live. I jokingly used to tell my friends that I'd be living on a bench in Hyde Park. Given that this time I won't have a job either, that seems to be a fair probability. I wonder if you can get benches with power points and phone sockets these days.
In this issue
Science Fiction is alive and well - thanks to David Brin
New Growth - Sherri Tepper branches out
Aussies, Poms & Pollies - some political ranting
DragonClone - Yet another Pern book
Wings of Clay - a look at Banana Wings
Ace of blues - the return of the Amazing Rhythm Aces
Meanwhile, in Melbourne Fandom - the Ditmar nominees
Reflections on Australia - Boot wars - ads are the best thing on TV
Footnote - The End
Science Fiction is alive and well
There are few more embarrassing things for an SF fan than to find yourself talking to a mega-star author whose famous works you have never read. That was the situation I found myself in last year when I encountered David Brin at L.A.con III. During the subsequent discussion we had about Glory Season, I promised David that I would read some more of his work before the next Worldcon. I have finally got round to it, and I'm glad I did. What follows is a review of the first three Uplift books.
With profuse apologies to Mr. Ackroyd, I must admit that I had planned to buy the books in the US. They are, after all, much cheaper over there. I was very surprised at the trouble I had finding them. Kevin and I must have traipsed around half a dozen large bookstores in the Bay Area, all of which had substantial SF departments. They were well stocked with David's other work, but the only Uplift book we could find was Sundiver. At least it was the first in the series. I managed to find Startide Rising in Waterstones at LAX. Back in Melbourne, I immediately rushed to Slow Glass, only to find that The Uplift War was the only one of the series Justin didn't have. I finally tracked it down in a chain bookstore.
Despite Terry Frost's insistence on referring to the books as the Foundation Garment Trilogy, they have little to do with cleavage. The term "Uplift" refers to the concept of races of creatures being raised to sentience and brought into galactic civilisation by friendly aliens. This is a common theme in SF. Compare, for example, Julian May's Galactic Milieu series. But whereas Julian's aliens are supportive and nurturing, with the Krondaku war fleet kept in reserve as a deterrent, Brin's galaxy is full of races which blatantly genetically engineer their Uplift clients, turning them into ideal servant races and chastising them mercilessly if they step out of line. Dare I suggest that May's approach is a maternal one and David's more paternal? I see another robust discussion on the way.
Mankind is lucky enough to avoid all this by dint of the fact that we managed to make it into space without the aid of any patron race. Not only that, but we were already in the process of Uplifting dolphins and chimpanzees when First Contact was made. Having client races is a matter of great status in Brin's galactic society. A race which already had two clients could hardly be refused patron status. But the elder races did not like it one bit.
The main problem is that galactic theology holds that no race is capable of Uplifting itself. Mankind, the aliens believe, must have had a patron in the past, and must therefore have been abandoned by its parent. That is a matter of great shame for the patron race, whoever they may be, and a matter of great trouble for the rest of the galaxy which has to deal with an orphan "wolfling" race that has no idea how to behave in polite society.
The idiocy of this philosophy is easy to see. All galactic civilisations trace their Uplift ancestry back to the mysterious, long-vanished Progenitors. Some species worship this ancestral race with great fervour and long for their return. But if no race can achieve sentience and space flight without a patron, how did the Progenitors get there? I haven't been able to work out whether David actually believes this nonsense, which I normally associate with UFOlogists, or whether he is just using it as a means of making the elder galactics seem fanatical and stupid. However, especially when he started to mention the idea of ancient races having stepped aside from galactic affairs, I began to see parallels with a great SF TV series. Another Babylon 5 influence comes to light.
Given Alan Stewart's criticism of Brightness Reef as obviously only a set-up for a trilogy, I was surprised to find that the first three Uplift books, normally described as a trilogy, are nothing of the sort. All three are readable as stand-alone novels, and there are very few characters common to more than one book. The only reason for reading them in sequence is to get all the explanations of Brin's universe in the right sequence, and to watch his development as a writer.
Sundiver, the first book in the series, is a simple SF crime novel. There is a scientific mystery, there is a murder, and both can only be solved by extensive appliance of scientific knowledge. It is a book that Larry Niven could easily have written. This, of course, means that the characters are more plot devices than people, and the one attempt at understanding a character's psychology seems a little clumsy. But as science, speaking as someone who doesn't know enough astrophysics to quibble, it is fine stuff. David has a doctorate in the subject. I'll trust him to get it right.
Talking of which, I am reminded of a recent discussion on Intersmof, a European con-runner's newsgroup, about attracting professional scientists to SF conventions. Dave Clements, who is a professional astronomer, said that people he knew would not be attracted by a typical UK fannish convention. They would, however, be interested if some of their favourite authors were to be present. Niven and Brin were the names he mentioned.
Startide Rising is the book which won Brin his first Hugo and, in my opinion, is the best of the three. It is a fast-paced adventure story with a fine scientific mystery thrown in for good measure. The story takes place many years after the events in Sundiver and concerns an Earth ship which happens upon an ancient, derelict fleet in deep space. Innocently reporting the discovery over an open channel, the crew of the Streaker soon finds itself pursued by several fleets of alien fanatics, all of whom are convinced that the Earth ship has valuable information about the fabled Progenitors. Their efforts to escape are hampered by treachery within the crew. The book also contains the best example I have ever seen in SF of two characters who are deeply in love.
In contrast, The Uplift War, which supposedly completes the series, is much more philosophical. It deals with a small Earth colony world which is invaded by aliens hoping to hold it hostage in exchange for the information carried by the Streaker. There is action, as Earthling characters set up a resistance movement against the invaders, but the book is more notable for being the first which really begins to explore the ethics of Uplift and the effect it has upon client races. Whereas in Startide Rising Brin discovers quality characterisation, in The Uplift War he discovers that a novel can be far more then a story, it can have a message too. More of this later, but first back to more traditional SF.
For me, one of the acid tests of a good SF novel is the quality of the aliens. We have come a long way since Heinlein's Bugs. Terry Dowling and Gwynneth Jones are two authors who have put considerable effort into developing believable alien races, and I think Brin has a little way to go before he matches them. Then again, there are two books in a new Uplift series that I haven't read. Judging by the improvement that takes place through the first series, I may be in for a pleasant surprise. In Sundiver the aliens are largely plot devices. The teddy bear like Pila, with their passion for the great Galactic Library, would be a stock joke character were it not for the fact that they are clients of the vicious, draconic Soro. All I can say about the other alien is that he is an essential part of the mystery.
Startide Rising introduces a plethora of other races and is a classic example of the Niven technique of basing alien species on Earth creatures. The Thennanin are reptilian and are slow and ponderous. The bird-like Gubru are skittish, the insectoid Tandu repulsive, and the possum-like Synthians timid and cautious. There is little exploration of the alien cultures, and all of them are bad guys.
In The Uplift War, Brin gives us a detailed insight into Gubru society, making it an important plank of the story. He also introduces the Tymbrimi, a species which is friendly to mankind and which is much more original. As well as using speech, they are able to communicate using empathic "glyphs" which express emotional states. These are generated by a corona of small tentacles on the Tymbrimi's head. The effect of such effective knowledge of each other's emotional state on Tymbrimi society, particularly upon child care, is also explored.
Parallel to Brin's improving treatment of aliens is his increasingly imaginative use of earthly races. In Sundiver there is a single token chimp scientist, but the Streaker is crewed largely by dolphins. David tries hard to make his "fin" characters distinct from men, even inventing dolphin languages and a philosophy that they have developed to guide them through the rigours of Uplift. For the first time he considers the effect of accelerated evolution on the society of the Uplift clients, and there is racism between different dolphin species. However, the dolphins still end up relying largely on their human colleagues to get them out of their mess.
In contrast, in The Uplift War, most of the human population of the planet Garth is captured and imprisoned early in the book. This leaves the chimps to run the resistance almost on their own. Not surprisingly, their sudden responsibility leads the brightest amongst them to ponder whether they are really worthy to hold up their heads in galactic society, or whether, as the Gubru seem to think, they are just a bunch of talking monkeys.
All through the series, however, one theme is constant. Humans, and the species they have trained, are flexible and smart, whereas most other galactic races are conservative, hidebound and fatally handicapped by their dependence on the ultimate collection of galactic wisdom, The Library. Only the Tymbrimi, with their penchant for practical jokes and ability to adjust their bodily shape, seem to have any of the spark you would think necessary to make a major civilisation. Perhaps this is deliberate. After all, the "chalk and talk" philosophy that most alien species use in their Uplift practices is bound to lead to client races which are not trained to think for themselves. To create races like humans you have to let them learn in a more active manner. If David is making a point about educational methods here, I am impressed.
On the other hand, the views of galactic civilisation are so prevalent that it is difficult not to come away with the impression that Brin approves of them. In Sundiver he describes the political debate on Earth between those who those who defend Earth's claim not to have had a patron race and those who follow galactic tradition: the Darwinist and von Danikenist parties. By The Uplift War, which is set a hundred years or so later, he says that the von Danikenist view is almost universally believed on Earth. I have an awful feeling that at some point he is going to reveal mankind's long lost patrons.
Why is that bad? Because it is essentially abdicating responsibility for our own evolution. Invoking alien visitors as an explanation for human civilisation is no better than blaming creation on some all powerful God. Inevitably, both philosophies lead those that believe them to stop looking for answers themselves and wish instead for some sort of divine intervention. God won't step in to solve our problems; aliens won't come and help us through them; King Arthur won't rise again to put the world to rights; and we won't all be suddenly carried off to paradise on the back of a passing comet. Brin accepts as much when he portrays the Earth races as having pride in their wolfling status, but a lot of the time he seems to be sitting on the fence.
Suspicion as to where David's sympathies lie increases with The Uplift War because he finally starts revealing the good side of galactic Uplift policy. The argument goes like this. Galactic civilisation is a very long-term structure. Typically, client races are indentured to their patrons for a few thousand years, and the Progenitors are known to be billions of years into the past. In that sort of time scale, new species have time to evolve towards pre-sentience and become potential clients for Uplift. Given that the process of Uplift is the major religious activity of the galaxy (essentially it is following the example of the God-like Progenitors), it is therefore a particularly serious felony to eliminate any species that might, one day, become sentient themselves. The Uplift philosophy is thus a profoundly environmentalist view of the universe.
For the most part, this does not manifest itself in the books. David makes passing comment in Sundiver to how lucky mankind was not to have exterminated chimps and dolphins prior to First Contact. But it is not until The Uplift War that we come to realise just how firmly this attitude is embedded in galactic philosophy. The planet of Garth, which humans have been allowed to settle, has, until recently, been under quarantine to allow it to recover from the depredations of the Bururalli. They were the previous occupants and they exploited the planet mercilessly, exterminating most of the local fauna in the process. The punishment meted out to the Bururalli by the rest of the galaxy was severe. They were wiped out, and their patrons were busted back to client status as a punishment for Uplifting such vicious criminals.
There are two scenes in particular in The Uplift War which bring home the religious nature of Uplift to the reader. The first concerns the Thennanin ambassador. Marooned in the wilds of Garth after his escape vessel was shot down by Gubru fighters, he spends his time examining the extent to which Garth is recovering. The picture of the hulking reptilian with a gruff, humourless nature hand-feeding a native squirrel-like creature, and practically weeping for joy that such an animal exists, is very moving. The other episode is towards the end of the book. In it, the daughter of the Tymbrimi ambassador, together with a small force of chimp insurgents, win a battle with superior Gubru forces by simply making themselves an easy target. The Gubru realise that the Earthling army is making a statement: knowing they are hopeless the outgunned, they have chosen to sacrifice themselves to a quick, clinical strike rather than risk any further damage to Garth's fragile ecosystem. The Gubru forces turn away in shame.
Brin's philosophy is not the soppy environmentalism that is so prevalent these days. He does not believe that killing any creature is morally wrong, nor does he condemn carnivores because of their nature. I can't imagine him feeding pet cats and dogs vegetarian food. He does not claim that all creatures have equal rights to sentient ones. He doesn't even claim that all species have a right to survive - events such as ice ages and comet strikes do occur and may be part of the evolutionary process. But he does claim that it is the responsibility of sentient species to ensure that they, who should know better, are not responsible for any extinctions. It is one of the more sane and workable environmental philosophies that I have seen.
There is, of course, a lot left untold. We still don't know if the Streaker ever made it home, or what it was that they discovered. David has a new trilogy in production. The first two books, Brightness Reef and Infinity's Shore, are already published, though the latter is still only in hardback. They may contain further clues to Brin's views and development of the Uplift philosophy. Based on the improvement evident in the first three books, they are likely to be very good. And this is what SF should be all about. The science is good, the story is good, the writing is good, and it poses questions about how we view the real world. There is even humour (I particularly enjoyed the section in The Uplift War where two of the chimps are held prisoner by spherical droids which they promptly name "Rover"). There are no prizes for guessing which two books are now high on my want list.
Sundiver, Startide Rising & The Uplift War - David Brin - Bantam - softback
Thanks to one of those bizarre twists of fate that make fanzine writing such a joy, I find I have a link from the previous article into this one. When David Brin and I were engaging in robust discussions over Glory Season, one of the matters on which we singularly failed to reach agreement was my admiration for writers such as Sherri Tepper, Margaret Atwood and Joanna Russ. David, being an arch pragmatist, takes exception to the fact that most feminist SF uses the assumption of some sort of global disaster as the basis for explaining how society came to be different. His main objectives with Glory Season were to explore how a feminist society might rationally come into being from our own, and how it might be organised. I don't think I was ever able to come up with a coherent refutation of his complaint, but I have a number of areas of concern.
Firstly I see no reason why a writer should have to justify the origins of a social system in order to use it to set an interesting story. We don't ask that all SF writers justify how their ftl drives work, or that all fantasy writers justify magic. Second, I think women writers can be forgiven for thinking that it will take some sort of major catastrophe to change the way the world works. Changing it by political action seems kind of difficult. And finally I guess I think that some sort of expression of anger is legitimate. I'd far rather women worked out their frustration by killing off men in books than by taking to the streets with Kalashnikov's, which is what Tepper, with some justification, says that men would do if they felt they were losing their social dominance (see Gibbon's Decline and Fall reviewed in Emerald City #16).
There. Now that will have got me into trouble. It is also an inexcusably long side track of an introduction to a review of Sherri Tepper's new book. So without further ado...
The Family Tree opens with Dora Henry, a detective sergeant with the local police, coming close to having a nervous breakdown at her front gate. The source of her distress is a weed disfiguring the neatly paved path. Not that Dora cares, but her husband, Jared, will be furious. Jared is tidy and organised; obsessively so. Provided that everything in his life is in its place and in order he is happy. Should anything be usual, such as Dora failing to serve dinner at precisely the right time and providing exactly the right meal cooked exactly as Jared's mother would have cooked it, he gets very angry. So far, a typical Tepper.
But wait, the second chapter takes place in a harem in a fantasy world which, we later discover, exists 3000 years into the future. It tells how Opalears, an orphaned servant girl, is selected to accompany Sultan Tummyfat's favourite son, Sahir, on a journey to the far off monastery of St. Wheel, ostensibly in search of a cure for the Prince's mysterious illness. What is going on here?
Two things seem obvious immediately. First, this is one of Tepper's little side projects. It has the same, light, humourous touch as Beauty, and that may just mean that it is not quite as depressing as usual. It also seems certain that the two storylines, which alternate chapters for much of the first half of the book, will eventually merge. And so they do, at which point...
Were I am American I would say that Tepper throws a curve ball. But Americans, being innocent of cricket, know little of the magic that can be achieved with a raised seam, a part-polished surface and the option to let the ball bounce. Most of them have never even heard of Shane Warne. What Tepper does is the literary equivalent of the Shane Warne Mystery Ball. Having seen it, you are consumed with the need to go back and watch the replay again and again to try to figure out how she did it and why you never saw it coming. But you know that no amount of study would save you if another one came your way. It is just too well disguised.
There's not a lot more I can say about the plot because to do so would completely spoil the surprise for you. I can, however, address the usual questions one would ask about a Tepper novel.
First the good news. This is the first of Tepper's novel for ages which treats the sexes fairly. There are male characters who are perfectly normal, even nice. Abby McCord, the biologist, and Prince Izakar, the young sorcerer that Opalears and Shair meet on their travels, are positively charming at times. Even the awful Jared turns out to have an excuse of some sort for his behaviour. Equally importantly, there are stupid and bad women. Dora's mother spent her life rushing from one pregnancy to another, partly on the grounds that being pregnant excused her from having to look after the children she already had. The police lieutenant says his wife won't feel safe from animals until the whole world is paved over. Jared's mother is clearly the source of much of his obsessive tidiness. It is, at last, a book full of real people rather than sex war stereotypes.
The bad news is that the Great Disaster is still with us. Jared's weed shows no sign of wanting to be killed, and is soon taking over America. Izakar's history tells him that his pseudo-mediaeval society came into being after a great plague destroyed most of mankind. I think I have run out of excuses. Tepper really does believe that most of us deserve to be sentenced to death for crimes against the planet.
The ending of Gibbon's Decline and Fall worried me. In it, Carolyn was given the opportunity to make a fundamental change to the nature of the world, something that would affect every single human on the planet. She appeared to make her choice with very little thought of the morality of what she was doing. In Plague of Angels we saw only the aftermath of such a decision, and in Shadow's End it was God who decided so the moral question was moot. It is about time that Tepper faced up to the consequences of her politics. In The Family Tree, at last, she makes a start.
I think one of the reasons I enjoy Tepper's book so much is the consistency of theme and the constantly developing moral theories. This one, however, has a lot more to recommend it. It is light-hearted, amusing and lacking in much of the obvious nastiness of her other work. Only in the tail is the sting discovered. Highly recommended, especially to those of you with an interest in animal rights.
The Family Tree - Sherri Tepper - Avon, - Hardback
Aussies, Poms and Pollies
Politics has been much in my mind of late. I guess it started with the trip to Brisbane because I was staying in a suite of executive flats with a common breakfast room. This meant that for the first time in ages I found myself watching breakfast TV: half an hour of solid, unremitting news. In such circumstances, politics tends to worm its way into your consciousness.
The immediate item of note at the time was, of course, the imminent Anzac Day celebrations. Apparatchik readers will already have seen Perry Middlemiss and I have a little disagreement over the way that Australia celebrates its "military victories". It amazes me that a country with so little military history, and whose major claim to fame is being the victim of one of WWI's worst strategic blunders, should be so gung ho. The Aussies take this sort of thing far more seriously than most people do in Britain or America, and now that we have a Liberal government there is even an official schools campaign to ensure that all Aussie kids are well versed in their country's glorious military past. Still, at least this time I didn't get subjected to anything like the nonsense that went on at the tennis on Australia Day where the TV announcer proudly told us how Australian cavalry had been instrumental in helping their country win the Boer War.
You might perhaps assume that Australia is able to get away with this sort of thing because it has fewer consequences. Britain, after all, is now part of the European Union and being able to treat the French and Germans as civilised human beings, rather than rabid monsters whom we've fought too many wars with over the past few millenia, is a useful political trait. But Australia has the same problem. It is now, whether it likes it or not, part of the Asia-Pacific economic system, one of the most powerful members of which is Japan. Australian troops played a significant part in the Pacific War, and the Japanese got close enough to launch bombing raids on Darwin and sneak submarines into Sydney harbour. Some people don't forget.
The Japanese Prime Minister paid an official visit to Australia recently. Trade visits like this don't come much more important, and the Australian government was at pains to get across the right message. As the red carpet rolled out in front of the Japanese aircraft, a military band struck up a jolly tune. They played Colonel Bogey, the theme tune from the film Bridge over the River Kwai.
To his credit, the Japanese Prime Minister maintained an air of calm dignity throughout. I think he knew what was coming and that he would have a chance to get his own back. Japan will shortly be hosting an international conference on global warming at which, it is hoped, targets for reduced CO2 emissions will finally be set. Australia, which has substantial reserves of coal and gas, and whose heavy industry includes a lot of energy-intensive stuff like aluminium smelting, is not looking forward to this. The government wants special treatment. So who does our glorious leader turn to for support? The man he has just insulted. The man whose country has fewer fossil fuel resources than just about any country in the industrialised world. The honourable visitor could probably be seen smiling slightly as he told Australia, in as polite a manner as possible, to get stuffed.
Which all goes to show, as Terry Frost delights in pointing out, that if all John Howard's brain cells were laid end to end, an ant could jump over them with ease.
The subject of jingoism also brings to mind the unwholesome spectre of Pauline Hanson. For the benefit of readers who've missed my ranting about her before, she can perhaps be described as Australia's answer to Enoch Powell or George Wallace. A fish and chip shop owner, and now independent member of the federal parliament, Ms Hanson is the figurehead for Australia's redneck politics. Her speeches are the usual inflammatory nonsense, aimed squarely at the gut fears of white Australia and, if possible, at inciting violent response. She hasn't yet mentioned "rivers of blood", and probably doesn't even know who Enoch Powell is. Judging from her TV appearances, she makes John Howard seem like an intellectual giant. She doesn't write books either. Nor I suspect, does she read them. If she did, it might have occurred even to her that allowing her supporters to put out a book in her name which claimed that aboriginals were cannibals was a little tactless. And as for calling for a substantial repeal of the new gun laws, mentioning specifically as sadly missed the weapon that Martin Bryant used in the Port Arthur Massacre, words fail me.
But, as I have said, the people behind her, who undoubtedly are smarter than the average redneck, are as much interested in provoking response as anything else. And sometimes in not provoking it. The last time Ms Hanson caused a big furore, Howard pointedly refused to condemn her. He claimed that if he ignored her she would go away. Everyone else assumed that she was just saying what he would say if he thought he could get away with it. This time the government has reacted. Both the Foreign Minister, who is getting it in the neck from Asian countries over her comments on immigration, and the Treasurer have issued ringing condemnations of her views. Mr. Howard only entered the ring once his stooges has proved it was safe.
One of the main reasons that Ms Hanson is so popular at present, especially in her home state of Queensland, is something called the Wik decision. Following the pattern of the US, Australia has belatedly tried to acknowledge that its native peoples did own the country before white settlers arrived and that they might just have some legal claim to it. The usual practice is to allow them partial title to some goddess- forsaken stretch of desert miles from anywhere. If that happens to be on top of some rather juicy deposit of gold or uranium well so much the better. The mining company would probably rather pay a small fraction of its profits to the Aboriginals than be told that they can't dig the place up because it is too pretty. Besides, the only people who are inconvenienced are the board of the mining company, which may be a foreign-owned multi-national. That is important.
The significance of Wik, which is a High Court ruling, is that for the first time it has been suggested that Aboriginals may have a legitimate claim on some pastoral land. This means that they might be able to take land from ordinary, salt-of-the-Earth Australians (read as froth-at-the- mouth redneck National Party supporters). This isn't too much of a problem in WA and NT as much of the land is desert and scrub. Queensland, on the other hand, is predominantly tropical forest, or cleared tropical forest, or rich-sub-tropical grassland. Queensland also has an interesting history of Aboriginal relations. It wasn't that long ago, certainly well into this century, that the state officially regarded shooting of Aboriginals, not as murder, but as a legitimate bloodsport.
Incidentally, if any of you are interested in Australian history, the ABC recently produced an excellent series on the Aboriginal Wars. Called Frontier, it is available on video and will doubtless turn up on Channel 4 and on one of the more obscure US cable channels sometime soon. I was in the US for most of the run, but I did catch the final programme on Queensland. The programme made no attempt to sanitise Aboriginal culture and freely admitted that white settlers were sometimes robbed, raped and murdered. But it also pointed out that the local police allowed white men to rape Aboriginal women with impunity and that, if an Aboriginal did retaliate, the usual response, in pursuit of truth, justice, happiness and a Christian way of life, was to massacre the entire village from which the miscreant came.
On Wik at least, with threats of international trade sanctions over his head, Mr. Howard is attempting to practice politics. Despite his government being dependent on National Party support, he has so far restricted their calls for the Native Title legislation to be scrapped. Instead he has issued a ten point plan for ensuring that any such case is resolved quickly, fairly and with a minimal amount of chance for lawyers to drag the process out in search of additional fees, whilst at the same time making the whole thing somewhat more difficult for the claimants. This prompted the cartoonist of The Australian to depict him as Moses with his ten commandments proclaiming "of all the indecisions I have made since taking office, these are the most important".
All of Australia waits with baited breath to see if Mr. Howard will have sufficient backbone to be decisive about his indecisiveness.
And then, of course, we all got excited about the Pommie election. Australia as a nation, rather than Australians as people, still seems to have sufficient nostalgia to care about what happens in that small, unhappy kingdom adrift in stormy, ice-bound seas somewhere off the north-west coast of Europe. Until recently, we hear, it suffered badly from being ruled by the Wicked Witch of Finchley, an evil woman who brought Ruin, Despair and Economic Rationalism upon her hapless subjects. She was eventually murdered by her own ministers, but the treacherous ones proved no less evil, and a good deal less ruthless or competent. Eventually, a bold Aussie adventurer by the name of Prince Rupert of Murdoch took pity on these poor people and, proving conclusively that the printing press is mightier than the sword, laid the entire, odious mob low with the simple phrase, "The Sun Backs Blair".
Speaking as someone who has never voted Labour in her life, and will probably never do so, I took perverse delight in reading the election results. The closer you are to politics (and I saw rather too much of it in my student days), the more you come to realise what unpleasant little shits most politicians are. (Massive exception here for our own, beloved Race Matthews who is a most charming fellow.) To see so many of my least favourite people losing their seats (though sadly not their jobs: for most of them politics is only a useful hobby) was quite heart-warming. To pick a few at random, Michael Portillo, David Mellor, Norman Lamont and Michael Forsyth have all been expunged from the House. It will, I proffer, me a more civilised place because of this.
In their place, we have an unprecedented 101 female MPs and a Labour majority bigger that the total number of Tory seats. Of particular note is the fact that the Conservatives did not win a single seat in Wales or Scotland. Also, Sinn Fein leaders, Jerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, are now MPs. What does this portend for the country to which I may shortly be unceremoniously deported?
On the plus side, Blair should be able to pass a whole stack of worthwhile reforms with ease. We are promised a Bill of Rights, a Freedom of Information Act, ratification of the EC's Social Chapter and forward movement on Scottish and Welsh devolution. With such a big majority it may even be possible to pass a few bills that would normally be considered impossible for fear of the reaction of the tabloid press. I'm thinking in particular of granting a few human rights to British transsexuals, but I'm sure there are many other minority groups that Blair could do a lot for if he wanted to.
On the Irish front, no longer having a minority government dependent for survival on maniacs like Ian Paisley will help greatly. I doubt that Blair can deliver a final solution to a problem that is centuries old, but things should get a lot better.
Conversely, a majority of that size is a dangerous thing, both for the country and the party that wields it. "New Labour" campaigned on a platform of having set aside the ideologies of its past, but the polls suggest that few voters actually believed this. The election landslide was the result of deep dissatisfaction with the Tories, not any great approval of the alternative. The true nature of "New Labour" will not be known for a while yet. And even if Blair manages to hold the line, there will be many in his party that feel safe to speak out against him because his majority is so large. Labour has won a lot of seats that party managers believed to be unwinnable. How much care they put into selecting the candidates for those seats is debatable.
But the most interesting aspect of the election from my point of view is what Blair will do to cement his position. When I was in university and Thatcher was just coming to power, the talk of the Tory right was all about creating a society in which electing a Socialist government would be unthinkable. It worked. Traditional Labour voters were made better off by Thatcher in ways which, she hoped, a Socialist government might reverse. They got lower taxes, they got shares, they got home ownership, and they got scared of losing these things. What Thatcher hadn't reckoned on, however, was having to fight an election against a Labour party that espoused Thatcherite policies.
So where does Blair go from here? He can't retaliate by giving voters traditional Socialist perks because he can't get the money for vastly improved welfare without taking away what Thatcher had given. In my view his best chance lies in electoral reform. The first past the post system in UK politics can give governments massive majorities with less than 50% of the total vote. Blair can use his majority to put into place the sort of society he wants, and can then use electoral reform to ensure that no future Conservative government ever has the power to change things back. We shall see.
Why do I do this to myself? Every time I see a new Pern novel I know it is going to be awful, and I always read it anyway. Red Star Rising is perhaps the worst of the breed so far. It is simply a collection of standard Pernese plot elements strung together to no particular purpose. Surprise: there is a brave, handsome young dragonrider, a strong-willed weyrwoman, a spunky teenage girl who runs away from home and Impresses a dragon, a charming, highly talented artist, and an evil Lord Holder who doesn't believe in threadfall. I could have written the damn book myself. I could have written a computer program to do it, and churn out thousands more like it. Why does she bother?
Money is the obvious answer, but I her defence I note that McCaffrey does still write the Pern books herself. Most of her other output is co- written by others, which probably means that Anne comes up with an idea, the co-writer does the hard work and Anne gets most of the money. The Pern books are an exception. They might, of course, be a bit better if someone else were let lose on them, but at least it shows that the author cares.
There is other evidence of emotional attachment as well. As a novel, Red Star is an irrelevancy: the plot is abysmal, there is almost nothing in the way of message, it isn't even really that important to the history of Pern. It is, however, evidence of a determination to fill in the blanks and to justify the Pern we first came to know and love in terms of hard history and science. Somewhere out there, there is a nit-picker who insisted on an explanation as to why the Pernese knew so little of their ancestry and why their education was carried out by harpers. Now we have more explanation. Thanks Anne, just what I always wanted. Of course few books are entirely bad. When you have an event like Impression to describe, you can hardly go wrong. It never fails to move me, no matter how many times McCaffrey re-writes it. I'd also like the applaud the open acknowledgement of the strong prevalence of homosexuality amongst dragonriders - something which has been hinted at before but in Red Star is brought very much to the fore. Here's hoping it causes a few readers to stop and think.
Such token PCness, however, is not enough to disguise what is basically a pastoralist fantasy flecked with redneck philosophy. For example, McCaffrey states with pride that no lawyers are needed on Pern because what cannot be settled by negotiation is settled by trial by combat. I also took exception to the fact that the sensible, sensitive young weyrleader was unable to get anywhere with his partner until she wound him up so thoroughly that he got angry and domineering. It wasn't quite a bodice-ripping scene, but it came very close. That isn't the sort of image of female sexuality I like seeing portrayed, nor is it the way I would go about encouraging assertiveness in a man.
To sum up, if you are a Pern fanatic you will buy this book and not even notice how bad it is. If you are not, save your pennies.
Red Star Rising - Anne McCaffrey - Bantam - softback
Wings of Clay?
During my last visit to the UK I chanced upon Mark Plummer and Paul Kincaid at The Tun. Since they are involved with one of the UK's highest regarded fanzines, I impudently thrust an Emerald City at them. Much to my delight, Mark offered to post a copy of Banana Wings to me. It recently came thudding into my post box and I perused it with interest. First port of call was Paul's fanzine column. This was party for the usual egoboo reasons, and partly because Paul is a close friend of Bruce Gillespie, which suggests he will be a very good writer. My faith in Bruce's taste was not misplaced. Though I ended up disagreeing with a lot of what Paul said, I'd recommend his work to anyone. Thoughtful, literate writing like his is rare in fanzines. Besides, seldom do I have so much to argue about.
Unfortunately Paul managed to get on my bad side almost immediately, and went on to say many of the sorts of things that make me cringe every time I hear the phrase "fanzine fan". This was partly my fault. The issue he had was the one that was written for Potlach. It thus concentrated more on a US audience, covered too many books in too little space, and worst of all found me referring people to the web page. The reason for the latter is that yet again I found myself having to explain that the 'zine was nothing to do with Seattle, the place which Americans think of when you mention the Emerald City. I'd done this several times before, and don't like boring the rest of you with stuff like that and my editorial policies, not to mention the fact that many of you pay to download your copies by the byte. So I've stuck it all on the web page. Paul read my comment and somehow managed to interpret it as meaning that the paper version of the 'zine was a pale shadow of what appears on the web.
Just to put the record straight, the text of Emerald City is the same in all versions. The web version does have a hyperlink contents section, but there's not much point in putting one in the other versions because it won't work. Also there are sometimes photos on the web page. There are no other differences.
Thankfully Paul didn't say that the 'zine wasn't real because it was distributed electronically. He did go on to say a lot of other stuff, and it soon became clear that his mistake about the web version came largely from his finding the 'zine rather alien. This was partly because he doesn't know most of the people in the US and Australia that I was talking about. It was partly because Emerald City is unashamedly a personal 'zine and it takes a few issues to get to know me. But mainly it seemed to be because I exist in a different fandom from Paul.
When I go to conventions, I do so to meet old friends, make new ones and have a good time. I got the distinct impression that if Paul ever goes to a convention he sits in a small room with a few fellow fanzine fans and complains that things are not what they used to be.
This is clearly brought out when he turns his attention to the Apparatchik and the row over the UK Corflu bid. For those of you who don't know, Corflu is an annual US convention dedicated to fanzines. A group of British fans had offered to run the 1998 convention, and this led to some controversy. Paul quotes Ted White in Apak as saying "All of fanzine fandom is now a sideshow at modern Worldcons" and "Our center of focus as a community in fandom is now Corflu". Paul bemoans the former, and decries the latter. Why? Partly it is the usual xenophobic nonsense about US cons being totally different to British ones, but mainly it is just the usual fanzine fan whinge.
Fanzine fans are not alone in being a sideshow at Worldcons. Almost everything is a sideshow at Worldcons. Do the costumers or the gamers or the furries or the Trekkies complain? No. In the main they are happy to be there and be able to show off their interests to fandom at large. They also have their own conventions at which their particular activity is the main focus. Ted, quite sensibly in my opinion, was suggesting that Corflu be used as an international focus for fanzine fans.
Of course it is true that Worldcons were started by fanzine fans, and if you have been around fandom for the last 50 years you may well look at a modern Worldcon and think to yourself, "all this used to be ours". But fandom has grown, and fanzine fandom resolutely refuses to do so. They have the same silly arguments now over electronic 'zines as were happening about litho when I first started publishing. And if they are banished to a small back room at Worldcons it is probably because they are not prepared to promote themselves, or because they have nothing interesting to say.
I'm all in favour of an international focus for Corflu. Let's celebrate fanzines, let's promote them, let's proselytise. Paul, however, won't want to do that, because he thinks most modern fanzines are crap. The focus of the column comes from a remark made at Attitude: the Convention to the effect that fanzines are toilet reading material. I can understand that irritating him. He goes on from this to postulate that this belief is not commonplace in fandom and that it is leading fanzine editors to produce rubbish. He finds Attitude uninspiring and Plotka irrelevant. He is kind enough to praise Emerald City's inclusion of book reviews, and then complains that they are lacking in depth. (Is this issue any better, Paul? More to the point, have you ever read the book reviews in Thyme?) At this point I started muttering about people in glass houses and went off to look at some of the rest of the 'zine.
Next port of call was the SF column written by Paul's partner, Maureen Speller. Sadly this sufficed only to remind me that there are sections of British fandom wherein, if you do not have a doctorate in Eng. Lit. from Oxford or Cambridge, you are judged not only incapable of reviewing SF, but unfit to read it as well. Maureen spends much middle-aged angst worrying that her teen reading was somehow inappropriate and pondering whether she can do anything to rectify the situation at this late stage. She wonders, for example, if she would have read the great SF of the time had she known about it, whether reading it now will cure the flaw in her education, and whether it was, in fact, any good after all. The whole introspective fascination seems to have been brought about by her having been publicly castigated for not having read Bester's Tiger! Tiger!. Thus are the reputations of serious SF critics ruined.
In all this we learn a small amount about Maureen's life and see book and story titles flash past at breakneck speed with barely a sentence or two to recommend them. There are some nice anecdotes in there, such as Gardner Dozois being told he would be hounded out of SF for having the temerity to like that awful radical, Gene Wolfe. But after almost eight pages of writing I felt that I had been told very little of interest and was inspired to read only a handful of the many works mentioned. Indeed, Maureen herself says at the end, "I haven't been exactly set on fire by most of what I've been reading". If only she had read Tiger! Tiger! as she was told.
Meanwhile, back to the start of the magazine and Mark's co-editor, Claire Brialey. My previous experience of Claire had been on various smoffish newsgroups in which she complains at great length about what a disaster Intersection was for her and for UK fandom, and why, therefore, she thinks another UK Worldcon would be a Very Bad Idea. With Paul's comments about Corflu fresh in my mind, I was beginning to think that I had stumbled on the Eurosceptic wing of British fandom. However, having read a few of Claire's articles, I realised that I was wrong on two counts.
Firstly, it is not just Worldcons that Claire dislikes. I think that she might actually hate everything. Her contributions to this issue of Banana Wings includes eight pages moaning about the state of British politics, four pages detailing the failings of various convention hotels and seven pages decrying every form of transport that she can think of. At one point during an extended rant on the evils of crowded railway carriages she confesses, "I am by nature an intolerant and impatient person": I believe it. The article on hotels was actually potentially useful, being designed to warn new conrunners of the dangers they face in picking a site, but it was so shot full of gloom and despair I was almost put off reading it. If ever Australians want the image of the wingeing Pom confirmed, they need only read some of Claire's work.
The other mistake I had made was in thinking Claire's net posts lengthy: for Claire they were positively economical.
When I was in school I remember one teacher going into rhapsodies over how Dickens had made the first sentence of one of his books (Tale of Two Cities, I think) more than a page in length. At the time I was of the opinion that Dickens used far too many words, and was far too depressing, and tried to avoid reading him whenever possible. Even now my interest in him as a social commentator is marred by a fear of having to wade through oceans of turgid Victorian prose. That sentence, for me, epitomised everything that was wrong about Dickens.
Later in life, having become an evil, bloodsucking consultant, I had to learn how to curb the excesses of what my boss called my "colourful metaphors" and try to write clear, concise reports. One thing that was drummed into me very early on is that lengthy sentences are bad. Few things are worse for promoting lack of interest in a piece of writing than if the poor reader gets to the end of a sentence and finds she has forgotten what it was about. The same rule, of course, applies to good journalism.
Claire works for the British Civil Service, that vast, amorphous, secretive organisation charged with the carrying out of each and every whim of Her Majesty's Government thorough the practice of many and varied ancient traditions handed down to them from the time of William the Conqueror, and perhaps beyond, even as far back as the Romans and which, under the careful gaze of legions of gray-suited Sir Humphrey clones, passing silently through hushed marbled offices between serried ranks of fluted pillars which stand guard over the workers like giants wraiths guarding the portals of Hades's gloomy kingdom, are carefully honed through centuries of experience to produce, at the end of all due process and consideration, precisely, and unequivocally, and at great length so as to ensure that no question has been left unanswered, no stone unturned, no mystery unresolved, nothing.
Enough, I'm getting flippant. But hopefully you get the idea. Banana Wings is produced in a two-column A4 format. One of Claire's sentences occupied 35 of the 54 lines on a page: a total of 257 words (yes, I did count them). My little offering above is only 140 words. How does she do it? Why does she do it? That issue of Banana Wings was 65 pages long. Someone had to print and collate it all.
Mark's contributions are thankfully lighter and shorter: humourous even. I particularly liked his whimsical take of Gary Farber's visit to Croydon. It ended with the heart-warmingly cheery supposition that Gary does not, in fact, exist. Perhaps he is indeed a figment of fandom's collective masochistic fantasies. Although of course it could well be argued that if he does not exist it would be necessary to invent him.
As for Mark's extended tale of tight socks, political demonstrations, and the screw under the kitchen table... I can see why Mark finds himself getting nominated for the Nova Award for best fan writer. It was very funny. Just the sort of thing, in fact, for leaving in the smallest room in the house for the edification of visitors stuck there for extended periods.
So, where does this leave Paul? Is he going to start reading Banana Wings on the toilet? I doubt it, there is some good stuff in it. But neither is it quality literature. So what is his problem?
A possible clue comes from his having a go at my publishing the BASFA Hugo recommendation. Paul obviously believes that the Hugos are completely bankrupt. It is tempting to suggest that this is just jealousy - Langford has won lots and he hasn't won any - but I have more respect for him than that. He does, after all, agree with most of our choices. And most of our choices didn't get on the ballot.
Personally I like the Hugos. I think they strike a nice balance between the brilliant but difficult books that only people like Paul and I read, and the populist rubbish that comes out in the tie-in series. BASFA publishes a Hugo list because NESFA does, and we think we have better taste than them. It also gives us a good opportunity to discuss SF at length at a meeting. I publish a Hugo list because I like to encourage people to read stuff that I found good. Paul, I suspect, dislikes the Hugos because the stuff he likes doesn't win. Hugo voters are not highbrow enough for him.
And here, at last, we get back to fanzines. Only the most fanatical Timebinders member could possibly believe that the majority of fanzines are great literature that has to be preserved for posterity. At best they are a unique record of a small and somewhat eccentric community that may be of interest to future sociologists. A few fanzine writers are very good. None of them hold a candle to, for example, Iain Banks, Gene Wolfe or M. John Harrison.
When I think of fanzines I do not think of great literature, I think of newspapers and magazines. The average daily broadsheet might contain a good piece of journalism or some insightful political commentary. A weekend paper might carry a couple of really good columns. The rest you throw away. It is ephemeral; meaningless after the moment for which it was written has passed. Much the same can be said of fanzines.
There are undoubtably 'zines which are the fannish equivalent of The Sun and are not even fit to use after a visit to the toilet, let alone during it. There have been a few fanzine articles which were so good I remember them years later. Pete Birks once wrote an entire article on the bizarre thought of a UK budget introducing a tax on "religious sex", stream of consciousness onto stencil, before realising that what the radio announcer had actually said was "religious sects". That was about 15 years ago, and I still crack up thinking about it. But very little fanzine writing is that good, and to pillory modern fanzines because they don't live up to a ridiculous target is, in my view, plain silly. By all means, Paul, encourage people to improve. By all means come down heavily on anyone who says that all fanzines are crap. But don't expect to find a tiger in an ecological niche best suited to a ferret.
Ace of Blues
So there I was wandering through town one Saturday morning when my eyes fell upon a poster advertising Basement Records. It said, "The Amazing Rhythm Aces, Today, Live".
Means nothing? I'm not surprised. Many of you are too young to have been buying records in the early 70s. If you were, then the chances are you were bopping along to the likes of Slade and Sweet, or else pondering over the meaning of Genesis lyrics (in those days they might actually have meant something). OK, so I did these things too. But I've always been an eclectic record buyer. Much of my listening centred on the US, from the hard-bitten New York sound of Lou Reed to the jaunty, jaundiced California pop of The Eagles and Steely Dan. And in between, there was something called Southern Rock.
Many of you will probably have heard of Lynyrd Skynrd and the Allman Brothers Band, who were at the hard rock end of the spectrum. Those of you with a good musical education will also have heard of the more country-influenced Little Feat. The Amazing Rhythm Aces sat astride these two streams, combining a strong, thumping blues sound with country music's passion for social observation in the lyrics. They also had a damn fine sense of humour. The two albums of theirs I owned were favourites. Then came punk, and I never heard of them again.
Until a week ago, when they turned up out of the blue in one of Melbourne's more music-conscious record stores. This was too good an opportunity to miss. I hurriedly finished my shopping, dashed off to the office to dump the barramundi and roo mince in the fridge, and sped off for Basement.
They were late, of course. The boys had played a gig on the Friday night and had gone from there to Melbourne's new casino (sorry, "entertainment complex", as we are being encouraged to call it). They had finally got to bed at 7:00 am. In their defence, Jeff Davis claimed that the casino has 73 ways in and only one way out. He was probably right.
Anyway, peering delicately through his hangover, Russell Smith played a short acoustic set whilst Davis and Billy Earheart mimed their instruments where instrumentals were required. It was very silly. It was very good. Russ played several of my favourite Aces songs. I found myself alternately bopping along or in tears. For one of the songs I even remembered most of the words.
It turned out that the band had re-formed last year and had a new album out. Goodness knows what they had been doing in the meantime. Drinking and smoking their royalties, probably, and playing session on everything good that came out of southern studios. I bought the album. The shop said that none of their old stuff was available on CD, and my two albums were amongst the pile of vinyl I had left with my brother when I moved to Australia. I think some web research is required here.
There was another gig due that night. I called a couple of friends who I knew were keen on good music and bought some tickets. I think I was lucky, because the place was pretty packed. Almost everyone there was my age or older. Pause on that a minute. Here is a band that hasn't put out an album in 25 years and hasn't been on popular radio in that period. They turn up in Melbourne, half a world away from their home, and play to a full house of people who remember them fondly. Impressive, huh?
We were not disappointed. They played for 2 hours. The first half comprised the whole of the new album, the second half was all old stuff. I was relieved to discover that I wasn't the only one who remembered the words to the songs. And yes, they did play it all. No backing tapes, no drum machines, no session musicians hidden at the back of the stage. Great stuff. This is what music should be all about.
Out of the blue - The Amazing Rhythm Aces - Breaker Records
Meanwhile, in Melbourne Fandom
On May 9th the Melbourne Science Fiction Club celebrated its 45th birthday. Despite not having publicised it very well, we managed to attract 70 people to the birthday meeting. Included in the turnout were founder members, Race Matthews and Dick 'Ditmar' Jenssen. Bruce Gillespie, Australia's leading fan writer, was also present, and Perry Middlemiss took advantage of the opportunity to do some PR for Aussiecon Three. This was, as far as I know, the first major PR Aussiecon Three has done in Melbourne since winning the Worldcon. I'm pleased to say that Perry said all of the right things. Here's hoping the convention goes forward positively from here.
Some of you will know that Australia's SF awards were named after Dick Jenssen. By coincidence, Dick's re-appearance in Melbourne fandom was followed swiftly by the announcement of this year's nominations. We also got the list for the ASFMAs, the media fandom awards. Here's the complete list, courtesy of Marc Ortleib's SF Bullsheet.
Australian Science Fiction Achievement Awards (Ditmars)
Best Australian Long Fiction: Dreamweavers - Paul Collins (ed); The Memory Cathedral - Jack Dann; Scarlet Rider - Lucy Sussex; Metal Fatigue - Sean Williams.
Best Australian Short Fiction: The Sword of God - Russell Blackford (Dreamweavers); The Ichneumon and the Dormeuse - Terry Dowling (Interzone 106); Borderline - Leanne Frahm (Borderline); The Stray Cat - Steven Paulsen (Lothian).
Best fanzine: The Communicator - Derek Screen; Emerald City - Cheryl Morgan; Oscillation Overthruster - Sue Ann Barber; Pinkette - Karen Pender-Gunn; Science Fiction - Van Ikin; Thyme - Alan Stewart.
Best fan writer: Terry Frost; Bruce Gillespie; Ian Gunn; Cheryl Morgan; Karen Pender-Gunn.
Best fan artist: Ian Gunn; Steve Scholz; Kerri Valkova; Phil Wlodarczyk.
Best professional artwork: Trudi Canavan for art in Aurealis 17 and Eidolon 22/23; Norm & Margaret Hetherington for Mr Squiggle - ABC TV; Elizabeth Kyle Cover of Dreamweavers; Shaun Tan for artwork in Eidolon and the cover of The Stray Cat; Jason Towers for Valdo Over Evora cover Australian Realms 28.
William Atheling Jr. Award for Criticism or Review: Russell Blackford for The Tiger in the Prison House in Science Fiction #37, Reviews of Distress in Science Fiction and NYRSF and Jewels in Junk City in Review of Contemporary Fiction; Alan Stewart for reviews in Thyme; Janeen Webb for Post human SF: Lost In Cyberspace (The Festival of Imagination Programme Book).
Australian Science Fiction Media Awards (ASFMAs)
Best Australian Fan Fiction zine: Alliance - Cavell Gleeson & Jeremy Sadler; Babyloney 5 - Peter Reilly.
Best Australian fan newsletter: The Communicator - Derek Screen; Frontier - Katharine Maxwell; Oscillation Overthruster - Sue Ann Barber; Thyme - Alan Stewart.
Best Australian media fan writer: Sue Ann Barber; Paul Ewins; Ian Gunn; George Ivanoff; Karen Pender-Gunn; Margaret Walsh.
Best Australian media fan artist: Ian Gunn; Tracy Hamilton Steve Scholz; Kerri Valkova; Phil Wlodarczyk.
Best amateur audio visual production: Enterprise Web Site - David Barker http://www.aba.net.au/people/susien/enterprise/; Star Trek 30th Anniversary Tribute Video - Danny Heap; Zero G 3RRR Radio Program - Robert Jan.
Not quite so many stupid nominations this year, although it looks like the professional artwork and Atheling awards had difficulty drumming up sufficient numbers of nominations for any one item. There is also a lot of overlap between some of the awards. Last year Terry and I were nominated for best media fan writer, which seemed a little strange, but the overlap in the fan artist category is genuine - what few fan artists we have get used everywhere. There will be a motion before the business meeting at Basicon to combine the two sets of awards and cut out the duplication. This seems very sensible to me.
A few eyebrows have been raised around town at the fact that George Ivanoff, who is administering this year's ASFMAs, did not rule himself ineligible for them (though not the Ditmars which Marc Ortlieb is doing). Indeed, had this been the Hugos, we might have expected Kerri Valkova (George's partner) to bow out of the ASFMAs and the Gunns, who are co-chairs (and everything else on the committee) of Basicon, the administering convention, to bow out of both. Not that I have the slightest worry about anyone's ethics, but this sort of thing just serves to bring the awards further into disrepute.
Personally I am in favour of awards, particularly for fan achievements. Most of us do this for the love of it and get precious little feedback. But, given Australians' antipathy towards awards of any type, and the fact that the electorate is so small that ballot stuffing is very effective, I don't hold out much hope for this lot.
I am, of course, deeply honoured to have been nominated. I don't think I will win either category. In the fan writer category, Terry and Bruce are both clearly better than me. Best fanzine is more interesting. Communicator will get a big block vote by dint of being the club 'zine for the local Trekkies. It may win on first ballot. If it doesn't, the lit fan preferences will start to re-distribute and it gets interesting. I suspect Thyme will win if that happens.
Then again, someone might persuade a lot of their friends to vote. If you wish to vote in the awards you must be a member of Basicon. Send cheques, cash or Clangers merchandise to the value of A$20 to Ian and Karen at PO Box 567, Blackburn 3130.
Reflections on Australia - Boot Wars
I don't watch much television. When I do, I often find that the adverts are far more interesting than the supposed main programmes. This is not quite so much the case in Australia because the markets are not big enough to warrant high quality ads. When we do get them, they are normally campaigns which have been imported from the UK or US. There is, however, one industry in Australia which seems to generate sufficient revenue to warrant big companies tailoring their material to our market. Can you guess what it is? Yes, this is Australia - it is sports wear.
The action started at the beginning of the current footy season (for the benefit of confused foreigners, that's Aussie Rules). Nike had signed up Wayne Carey, the captain of the reigning premier side, North Melbourne. Now North's side is known as the Kangaroos. The Nike ads focused on one of Australia's great mysteries: the legend of The Roo Boy. There exists an old black and white film of a Mowgli-like boy running with a mob of roos. The substance of Nike's ad was a nerdy footy fan who believed that this lad had grown up to become Wayne Carey. Could he not jump higher than any normal human? It led to some very daft lines, such as, "somewhere out there, there is a pair of very proud old kangaroos". It was all done very seriously, and was very silly.
Unfortunately for Nike, Carey was injured in the first game of the regular season and is still not playing. Here was an opportunity. Enter Adidas. They signed up Anthony Koutafides, a star player from Carlton who were premiers the previous year. The ads weren't very special, but the Adidas man was playing and the Nike man was not. Something had to be done. So Nike bought Carlton.
Well, not exactly. What they did was offer the club a massive sponsorship deal on the condition that all Carlton players wore Nike boots. Poor Koutafides was suddenly faced with losing his sponsorship deal or losing his job. I think there is still some mileage in this story, but in the meantime Puma got in on the act.
The Puma ad wisely refrains from using any one player. They present a montage of clips featuring several famous players from different clubs who use their boots, but the main thrust of the commercial gets back to animals. Pumas are, after all, strong, graceful and elegant. They are very effective killers. The ad ends up as follows: "And when he spots a roo, boy there's gonna be trouble. Whose boots would you rather be in?" Thank goodness for footy. With B5 having just finished a season, without it there wouldn't be anything worth watching on Australian TV.
Still no news. People keep talking to me. No one makes me an offer. There is, however, a glimmer of hope on the immigration front. The federal government has just announced substantial changes in policy. The thing everyone is focusing on is a cut in overall numbers. Howard will say until he is blue in the face that he didn't respond to Hanson's popularity, but no one will believe him. More importantly from my point of view, they have radically changed the balance of types of applicant.
Australia defines three types of potential migrant. A small allocation is put aside for humanitarian cases - political refugees and the like. This has been left pretty much unchanged. Previously, 20% of the allowed total was for skilled people requested by Australian industry and the rest was for family of existing citizens. This has now changed. The family allowance has been cut drastically and the skilled allowance increased slightly so that it is now slightly more than half of the total. Tough for people with spouses or sick, aged parents trying to get in, but better for me and, I suspect, better for the Australian economy.
Next issue: God, physics and feminism, all in the same book. Also some Australian fantasy writers: do we have anyone as good as Maggie Furey, or as bad as present day McCaffrey?
Love `n' hugs,