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Monday, November 9th, 2015
2:49 am - Hmm...
"One of the favourite activities of the human mind is to imagine what some day in the very distant future the world and mankind will look like, what scientific miracles will have been accomplished, what social problems will have been solved, how far science and social organisation will have progressed, and so on and so forth. The majority of these Utopias, however, do not omit to be very keenly interested in the question as to what in that better, more progressive, or at least technically more perfect world will happen to institutions which are ancient but perennially interesting like sexual life, reproduction, love, marriage, the family, women's problems, and so on. In this respect the reader is referred to the relevant literature, like Paul Adam, H.G.Wells, Aldous Huxley, and many others."

Karel Čapek - War With the Newts. 1936.

Not sure if it matters whether this is a satirical comment or not -- all those silly social problems that are not supposed to be part of SF... there's been talk for rather a long time about them being in there.

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Saturday, November 7th, 2015
6:15 am - The War With The Newts by Karel Čapek
This is the translation of a book written in 1936 - if the name of the author seems vaguely familiar it might be because he's the guy credited with the invention of the word robot (from the Czech for 'forced labour). Here again the basis of the story is social economics and a source of non-human labour, here however it is a genus of intelligent amphibians. The story of the Newts and human interactions with them is told through a historical viewpoint narrator, in three sections, with footnotes of scientific papers and newspaper cuttings and various episodic chapters and ends with the narration moving to a speculative conversation between the writer and himself on how the story ends beyond the rather bleak ending in the penultimate chapter. There are several actual characters involved, the major part perhaps being that of the porter who grants the slightly piratical sea captain who 'discovers' the newts access to a man of money. He is there at the beginning, takes pride in his creation of history during the middle, and has bitter regrets at the end. Along the way are the sea captain, the zookeeper, the rich kids, the holidaymakers, and a broad sweep of nations and politics.

The back of the book tells me that this is "a darkly humorous allegory of early twentieth-century Czech politics" but it sweeps wider than a single nation, and while the politics of the age (and more than the 30s) is essential to the story it's far wider than politics alone. And I'm not sure about ohe allegory bit, while I don't know enough about Czech history to rule it out it does feel more satirical. Nor is it entirely humerous... wrly in parts, but not laugh out loud funny, and in more than one place uncomfotably dark -- the descriptions of the science applied to the newts and newt in the fairground show, and the s-trade (both legal and piratical... though with an official unofficial blind-eye being turned) ... and the explanation of the stock exchange indexing of newt sales. There's absolutely no humour but sharp observatioon on cruelties we have accepted and in some cases continue to accept. There is science included, and I suspect the author was aware of the results of introducing rabbits to Australia - the newts have the same explosive population enlargement once men transport them around the world and provide them with the means to defend themselves from sharks (who presumably also fare badly by the end of the book).

This is not a book you have to read because it's a genre classic -- it's a book that should be read because it is extremely readable science fiction... and there's some pretty good science (for the day) in with the page-turning not-story (this is not a traditional narrative... being shaped more like a very readable popular history). The title tells you where the story will go, but it is a smart ride to get there, one which leaves you both aware of the crimes against the newts but without it being puppy-kicking... the puppies get very cruely treated, but every bit is believable and if I was writing my version now it probably would include much of what's in here. (I never got beyond the notes for the second set of EO books).

There are no more than a handful of female characters and those much as one might expect from a satire in an age where women are mainly wives (and a wanna-be film star and a socialite) but there is also a headmistress whose influence is pivotal in the start of educating the newts and there's a woman scientist in there (if not more than one) and the wife who is also a poetess... (there is at one point a mention that the influence of the newts causes modernist humans to drop the feminine endings from words). There are also not many featured male characters -- and I've seen plenty of history books with much less representation of what was happening with women.

Warning - the word Negro is used for black people, including black Americans... for anyone who can't read for the age it might be problematic. I should also point out that the newts of the story do not represent other races... American Negros, the Chinese, the Japanese, all have mentions... including American Negro Churches being attacked after the Negros object to newts being lynched and burned. Nor does the author only point out the sins of other nations -- the casual racism of the newts first champion and his interaction with the money-man... who is a Jewish boy he used to bully... are (I believe) deliberately uncomfortable observations (rather than, as with Lovecraft). The newts petty much experience ever crime the western world has inflicted on other men -- except extermination (and there's mention of the American Indians to cover that sin)

The one thing you can't avoid, though, is realising that some of the comments about Germany and war, are made about the past, but also being read post WW2 are no longer speculative warnings but seen from a-ways into he future. Somewhere around the time his book would have ended. Disturbingly, this doesn't make the book feel dated. Compared to some of the Nebula 7 short stories this is more like an alternative time-line story... or even a successful version of Pride and Prejudice with Zombies... If you like thinky stories that come from a seriously different POV, and can deal with the nihilism, this is for you.

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Monday, November 2nd, 2015
4:01 am - The Last Ghost by Stephen Goldin.
Having talked about the girl stories in Nebula 7 now it's the boys' turn.

The girl stories were mostly names I'd not really heard of or read before - four of the boy stories are by names I recognise. So of the total eleven stories I'd heard of five of the writers (and I will admit I'm more aware of Joanna Russ as the writer of How to Supress Women's Writing). Part of my personal name recognition is, perhaps, because I live in the UK and until the age of the internet could only shop in local bookshops (or on the occasional trip to London) . Mac, who was in charge of adult SF department ordering at WHSmith, did order in women writers - but I didn't buy that many mixed short story collections (because mixed collections are more likely to have total - personal - duds) so I would only have become aware of a writer if they wrote novels and were 'important' enough to be published in the UK (or have their books imported). Mac might not have been sexist (and also used to have little chats with the teenage me to discover which authors I wanted more of) but he was limited to what was available for order -- but even if further up the line there was a belief that women didn't write SF... there were women on the bookshelf for me to buy. And, I think, back in the seventies, more women available than there are now (with ever more limited and centralised ordering in all the chain shops).

Anyhow, first up in the volume is Queen of Air and Darkness by Poul Anderson . It won the novelette category of the nebulas (and was the winning novela in the Hugos... where Kathrine Maclean didn't make the short list). It's lead character is a Holmesian private detective and there's a mildly Shakespearean tone to the faerie characters. The detective's client is a woman who won't be put in her place and the ubervillain is the queen of the title (who may or may not actually be female). It's an excellent story about colonisation and literary archetypes. In the seventies the choice at the end would probably have been equal opportunity optimism, but today I'm more likely to think the colonists will choose the darker path.

Sky by R A Lafferty. Is a drug story. While the drug itself could be considered SF, perhaps, it is pretty much a fantasy story that ends where you think it will with just a little oddness along the way. It's a pretty enough read but there've been a lot of drugs stories over the years.

Mount Charity by Edgar Pangborn is well enough written but doesn't really hit any high notes for me. It also has the heavy late sixties/early seventies certainty that the younger generation would be better people than their parents. From four decades on that is either wryly amusing or heart-breaking. The story is also told at great distance with the characters trying to explain themselves in what is almost a framing story but without the picture in the middle. It's a set of ideas loosely knitted into a narrative which amounts to 'we'd like you to help us in our great work but... oops' (And the only female character was killed six hundred years earlier). And yes, it is one of those where you think it could be good and are disappointed.

Good News From The Vatican by Robert Silverberg is a story that shouldn't be past its sell-by date but is. It's built round the idea of a robot being elected to the Papacy and... well that's the entire story, a small cast of characters waiting for the announcement with some opposed and some for and... maybe because we have a black president of the US and maybe because challenging Catholisism is less of a potential hot-button issue, it doesn't really feel like a nebula winning story should, indeed the end feels a lot like a cop out.

Horse of Air by Gardner Doizis plays with tense a little... and starts out feeling as though it will go somewhere, but as I read on either I lost the plot or the plot lost itself. I am not, in general, fond of stories which throw in any form of 'it was all a dream' into the last paragraph... In many ways it struck me as a set of circumstances that the writer tugged into a middle but couldn't find an acceptably entertaining ending for. The patches that were added would work as social comment back then but don't have the supporting chords to strike now. And I don't think I'm sad about that :P

Heathen God by George Zebrowski is another very period piece... (think of movies like Silent Running and you get an idea of what I mean by period although this isn't an ecological story). We're back with religious comment and big wide questions about what happens when man kills god. It has an idea. It has a barely there female character who carries a briefcase for the POV character. As with pretty much all of the preceeding stories the characterisation is given less weight than the circumstances. This one is pretty much how you think it will go and hope it won't and does feel a lot like it is built round a single idea... one that doesn't seem like enough to carry the wordcount these days but may well have way back when.

As before I've used the title of my favourite story as the subject for the post. In this case, however, it wasn't a winner. The Last Ghost is a post-singularity story and it made me really feel for the main character. There are only two characters, one of indeterminant gender (a ghost that has forgotten almost all of itself) and a woman who has been part of the machine world for thousands of years and, due to an impossible glitch, has died. It is, even for a non-singularity fan/believer like myself... a heart-breaking story of human need. If you can find it and read it do so...

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Sunday, November 1st, 2015
3:37 am - Revenge of the Butternut Squash
(the moustache is a slug getting in early for a hot meal)

Last year the pumpkin scared the butternut squash (they were a Laurel and Hardy of fat fearsomeness and tall thin distress)... this year the butternut squash is taking revenge for that scare -- by eating the pumpkin alive! So internet.

There was a bunch more to this post -- me being particularly forthcoming about why I was nervous about doing my usual Halloween witchery and what convinced me to go ahead, and how the only fireworks of the night went off suddenly at the moment I lit the candle (not to any clock but my own) and how the sky was bright and noisy and then silent not just while I did the rest but until now.

I am sitting, wrapped in the smell of smoke, feeling mellow and at peace with my sadness. Mother was the only one who paid attention to this side of me (I can't imagine my brothers don't know but they don't talk about it - John frex drove me out to get something I needed from a particular tree but neither made a fuss nor asked why).

In the end any doubts I had about working magic while sad, and purposeless, and weak, were eased from me by a combination of my finder bringing back several lost things and a curious dream I had last night in which my mother came back to life - died again eight hours or so later -- then, after I was struck numb with grief again and wishing I'd spent less of that brief life questioning the miracle, she came back to her body once more and this time I knew to enjoy the hours, to spend the time wisely, and accept that there would be pain and uncertainty when she quietly faded away again.

Other than buying a lottery ticket with her numbers, today has been one of acceptance of the now and the what is. No answers, because I didn't ask any questions... I am not magically unsaddened, just wrapped in smoke and feeling the universe turn.

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Friday, October 30th, 2015
4:25 am - The Missing Man - Katherine Maclean
Having picked up a copy of Nebula Award Stories 7 (same charity bookshop) I started by reading the girls... and yes that's plural. The Nebula Awards featured here are for the year 1971, a year when (according to the introduction) 304 SF books were published against 269 the previous years, and the first tower of the World Trade Centre reached its final height. Also SF was gaining academic respectability, most SF magazines were losing circulation, and Apollo astronauts named a lunar crater 'Dune'. The Clarion writing workshop was held for a third year and Vonda N MacIntyre came second in the first New American Library annual prize contest.

There are 11 stories in the collection and (at least) 4 of them are by women. There always has to be some doubt when identifying women writers because sometimes the men turn out to be women writing under pseudonyms. And I can bring that up because some of Katherine Maclean's early stories were published under men's names.

I've noticed that quite a lot of the TV shows from the seventies are somewhat abbreviated compared to their modern counterparts. These days I suspect there would be a lot more scenes filmed and a lot fewer assumed with a line of dialogue (for proof -- there aren't many half-hour episodes of anything except sit-coms)

There's some evidence of that compression in these stories too. It doesn't really surprise that successful novellas were very often turned into novels -- there's always plenty of room for more without it becoming padded.

Joanna Russ's story 'Poor Man, Beggar Man' is somewhat more of a historical tale with ghosts (and the editor's introduction tackles why some of the stories are in an SF anthology with the kind of happy dismissal of complaint that would lead to epic fail wars now -- glorying in the genre's infinite variety is not entirely fashionable). Alexander is plagued by a ghost who leads him to the famous quote about weeping because there were no more worlds to conquer. The story would never make a favourites list for me, and Roxanne won't win any strong female character awards.

Doris Pitkin Buck wrote 'The Giberel'. A post-apocalyptic tale which touches on a few ideas I've met elsewhere in sixties/seventies era stories. There's a deliberate obscurity that I suspect would not win any fans now - frex which of the two kinds of people are human, or most human, or becoming human, or... The lead characters are female, and in amongst the world-building is a story that made me worry about what would happen.

Kate Wilhelm wrote 'The Encounter'. Her introductory paragraphs make a point that while she is married to Damon Knight her 'individuality is as distinctive as her writing'. She also, apparently, appeared on the ballot four times, which was a record at that time. (She didn't win a Nebula however). Her story features three women, although almost entirely through the eyes of a man whose judgement of others is continually questioned. Again I'm not sure any science fiction magazine would be able to take this story today... it being, maybe, a little bit horror and mostly a dissection of a man's character. Again it has a seventies style... which is harder to read and tends to slip from current events to the main character's various memories without so much as a line break of guidance. The ending is not open, but it does beg a few questions... and I wasn't entirely convinced by the slip back to Korea, as a source for his coldness, so as to make his fate deserved. I suspect if I was writing the story for myself I would have been happier to make the outcome an inevitable part of his journey (and possibly the writer did the same and was edited). It's a readable story that is a little rushed in the climax but has some very nice subtle character.

So to the nebula winning novella - The Missing Man. Which has only passing appearances by women, could do with the expansion I hope it got when it turned into a novel, and is the best of the girl stories. Seriously, it page turns, and has a wonderful moral uncertainty that I'm pretty certain is meant -- opportunistic terrorism by a kid who is fighting against a society that has a deal of freedom for those who can find jobs but requires people to pay to have their ability to have children restored. The title is also multiply meaningful, which I always like (and, okay, tend to like when my own titles turn out that way) -- the top layer being that the opportunity for terrorism arises when a group of outcast kids find themselves in possession of a grieving 'computer man' whose job is to predict the tiniest flaws in systems that can make, for example, an undersea city explode, and they (or more precisely one smart revolutionary) use his drugged ramblings in a cunning plan to turn the city on itself. It's a story with deep world-building (the kind that happens organically and grows around you until you're deep enough in to wonder who you'd be) and lots of neat ideas, and enough action that it would make a really neat movie. (Although it only has two disasters and no ticking clock at the end...) It's a story that hasn't aged badly (yes the mobile TV screens people have instead of books would be more like ipads, but they are not jarringly unlike ipads) It's a story that might even get published as SF now. And I really enjoyed it. Including that the lead character, George, is not the smartest man in the room, or the toughest, or the prettiest -- indeed no one looking at him would assume he would ever have a job (in a world where that means never having children or a place within most of the communities available). His 'handler', Ahmed, is a 'friend' from childhood, who sometimes has to be deliberately misled, and who becomes more likeable as the relationship unfolds but also more complicated. And it's a story which ends with an interesting philosophical position that is still relevant now, possibly more relevant. Liked it a lot.

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Monday, October 26th, 2015
2:07 am - Pride and Prejudice and Chipmunks. Part 3
I mentioned ignorance bordering on the offensive, didn't I...

The Orientalism squicked me a fair bit... but hit a peak where the housekeeper in charge of Mr Darcy's stately home is 'shuffling about' on bound feet. Leaving aside that Mr Darcy and his relatives are Japanese trained and look down on the Chinese traditions of martial arts, and that a servant with bound feet would have had to have them first broken and bandaged before she was seven years old, she could hardly start off as a housekeeper... and would be too crippled to rise through the ranks to that position. Might as well have thrown in that all the household's female servants were circumcised to stop them chasing after the young gentlemen of the family... Lotus -feet are not just a bit of orientalist scenery.

Anyhow, Elizabeth Bennet continually raving about killing people for imagined (or real) slights - so not having absorbed any of the philosophy of a martial art. Her physically assaulting Darcy to emphasise her rejection of his proposal. Mr Bennet worrying about marrying his daughter to a man who is merely her equal in the 'deadly arts' since unless she marries someone who is her superior the marriage is doomed. Elizabeth's acceptance of servants being beaten (in ways that in reality would kill) yahdah yaddah it's all in good fun. She repeatedly kills pairs of Lady Catherine's ninjas (including pulling out the heart of one) presumably as evidence that she's better at ninja-ing than the ninjas, but murdering oriental servants is again a laugh.

The climactic battle of the book is not against zombies but Elizabeth versus Lady Catherine (fifty years her elder) in fight to the death that... ends with both women surviving (although Lady de Bourgh does some of her best work with a knife in her guts).

After Lydia runs away Darcy cold-bloodedly (as part of the marriage agreement) beats Wickham into paraplegia -- and the book subsequently takes pleasure in the now 'lame' man soiling himself on multiple occasions. Indeed it suggests that he does so at times deliberately so as to punish Lydia... The bits about disability aids is also laugh out loud funny "whenever Wickham's studies required the purchase of a new hymnal for the lame, or lecturn for the lame, or altar for the lame; either Jane or herself were sure of being applied to for some little assistance towards discharging their bills."

It feels like there's a lot of low-level ism-ing that builds up through the book to the point where ignorance doesn't feel quite enough of an excuse for it.


I think I'm now defining a bad book by how many bookmarks for OMG NO I simply discard because I've already killed, behead, and buried the corpse of the book and there's only so much stomping you can do on the grave before you're actually churning the damned thing up again.

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2:00 am - Pride and Prejudice and Chipmunks. Part 2
I read on, slowly and painfully, regularly turning away to do just about anything else but read on... and got to the end.

It got worse. There's boring. There's boring and stupid. And then there's boring and stupid and ignorant bordering on offensive (which side of the border being a matter of opinion).

It's hard to illustrate boring, so let's go a little with stupid...

"... after a moment a second chipmunk scurried across the road with equal alacrity. It was followed in short order by a pair of weasels, then a skunk, then a fox and her pups. More creatures followed, and in ever increasing numbers; as if Noah himself beckoned, offering refuge from some unseen flood."

The glaring errors are Disney - chipmunks and skunks in the UK, foxes with pups not cubs... A large number of panic-stricken creatures running from zombies as if there was a forest fire. So let's stay with Disney, because Chip and Dale teach me that chipmunks climb trees. So do squirrels. When there's a predator in the woods the squirrels run up trees. If a zombie was capable of climbing a tree, which seems doubtful in this book, the squirrel would simply hop to the next tree, and the next. Why would a chipmunk run away from a predator on the ground and into the open if it can climb trees?

A writer can get away with stupid errors and dumb world-building if they're writing a page-turner... but it helps to make a book a page turner if you cut as much unnecessary stupid and dumb as possible.

Next up, probably the most vividly described bit of zombie mayhem, where some chewy zombie goodness actually happens...

"She kicked open the door and sprang atop the coach. From here Elizabeth could appreciate the full measure of their predicament, for rather than one hundred unmentionables, she now perceived no less than twice that number. The coachman's leg was in the possession of several zombies, who were quite close to getting their teeth on his ankle. Seeing no alternative, Elizabeth brought her sword down upon his thigh -- amputating the leg, but saving the man. She picked him up with one arm and lowered him into the coach, where he fainted as blood poured forth from his new stump. Sadly, this action prevented her from saving the second musket man, who had been pulled from hi perch. He screamed as the dreadfuls held him down and began to tear organs from his living belly and feast upon them. The zombies next turned their attention to the terrified horses. Elizabeth knew that she and the present party were all doomed to slow deaths if the horses should fall into Satan's hands, so she sprang skyward, firing her musket as she flew through the air, her bullets penetrating the heads of several unmentionables. She landed on her feet beside one of the horses, and with her sword began cutting down the attackers with all the grace of Aphrodite, and all the ruthlessness of Herod."

A little later the writer discovers the name 'Brown Bess' and uses that interchangeably with musket and the Brown Bess was indeed a military musket used during this period. It is not a musket that fires multiple 'bullets' without needing to be reloaded. Both servants, the middle-class Bennets and the super-rich Darcy carry Brown Bess muskets... in an age where the rich man's servants would more likely have fowling pieces, and he himself a finely made one-off (or a set, with matching powder horns). Amputating a man's leg with a single sword cut will not have saved him since she then allows him to bleed out. The two hundred zombies are clawing at the coachman's leg without paying attention to the horses until it becomes plot-worthy. If they don't want the horses until they've finished with the people, why do they not swarm Elizabeth and the coach before turning their attention? Why are the zombie hordes constantly referred to as being Satan's horde? Pride and Prejudice is set in the early 19th century not the 17th. Where the heck have 200 zombies come from, and how do they not overwhelm a single woman with a musket and sword, however high she can jump? Instead she drives them back, 'leaps into the driver's box', cracks the whip, and drives the horses forward... presumably through the regrouping zombies.

And yes, I have considered that it is meant to be funny... but if so it lacks any comic beats or timing thereof. There are sad bits of double entendre (over fingering and balls mostly) but they're pale ghosts of humour for a culture that's loved such lines since Chaucer.

Elizabeth makes a statement that she has travelled to the 'darkest reaches' of the Orient (aka China) twice it being 'frightfully long and fraught with bears'... and in case you'd thought it was metaphorical, she later repeats that she and Darcy will take their children to be trained via an overland journey.

Although why after fifty-five years anyone is still going abroad to learn rather than establishing training at any number of boarding schools... even if you allow that oriental martial arts make any sense in fighting shambling monsters who're demonstrably easy to trap (and there are men making money catching and delivering them to burning ground).

By page 200 the writer himself has tired of the zombies and they don't pop up again until the end of the book... where Darcy and Jane battle some who're crawling on the ground biting cauliflower heads (because they look like brains...)

Indeed, the level of zombie mayhem in the whole book made me think of Plants Vs Zombies a lot.

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1:45 am - Pride and Prejudice and Chipmunks Part 1?
I wrote the following when I got to around page 70 in the book...

Now and then, having judged a book by it's cover - or concept - I eventually end up trying to read it. So running across a really nice condition copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith, in the local British Heart Foundation bookshop, seemed like the universe giving me a little prompt to test my previous pre-judgement and my general reading matter selection skills. (Second-hand or remaindered is generally the way to start these challenges because that way I don't have too much of a monetary investment to weigh against the text).

My initial impression was that the idea of combining a classic romantic novel with zombies was liable to be a concept worthy of a comedy sketch, or possibly a movie -- which means in text about the length of a short story to a novella --so a book of 300 pages seemed... way way way too much. Still, I've seen smart and clever books written from smaller starts... but this was not one of them, by page 70 I was quietly wondering why prejudice has such a bad rep... and trying not to roll my eyes every time the writer had someone vomit. There was also considering how many of the copies sold to make it a New York Times Bestseller got read to the end, whether twelve year old boys have that much buying power, or if I am in any way contractually obligated to read to the end before posting these comments about it.

The writing is faux... an attempt at a historical voice that suffers from an overuse of the wrong word in the wrong place. The characters have names but neither their original personalities or remade ones -- much as there's the echo of the original story but story and plot and purpose have leeched away.

Still, what makes this particular book bad isn't how it fails to be as good as Pride and Prejudice (and I'm not a mad keen Austen fan) but that it promises 'violent zombie mayhem' and to 'transform a masterpiece of world literature into something you'd actually want to read' and then hands out a work that's a harder slower read and totally fails at zombie action.

Seriously, you have to look at the illustrations for any real zombie action. Yes, zombies make regular appearances but not unlike targets in an '80s video game... or cardboard cut-outs in the shooting ranges beloved of films and tv shows from the last century. They're not even jump scare level. There's no gore, no horror, no dripping rot or foul stench, not a lot of lovingly described zombies or their bloody mutilated victims. And, like early video games (I haven't played anything even vaguely recent and assume they've improved) there's not the slightest bit of reason to the way zombie incidents punctuate the text. Zombies appear, killing off-stage or with no emotional impact on the reader, and Mr Darcy or the Bennet girls kill them (except, since this likely is a gamer-boy book, where the Bennet girls forbear killing a zombie baby, because... maternal instinct).

Imagine watching someone else play a shoot'em-up with seriously long expositional video between bouts of zombie ho-hum. It leaves way too much time to think about the plot holes in the zombie story-line and how the Bennet girls got out to China for martial arts training... not to mention why, since years of training would be pretty much wasted on killing zombies.

Elizabeth's continual desire to murder people for insults, without going through the proper form of duelling tends to make me believe that Mr Smith has very little knowledge of the other side of the polite society he's trying to parody. Much as with his having chipmunks and skunks roam the English countryside.

When someone tells me zombies have been rising for the past half century, on and off, I end up with thoughts such as 'why not cremate the dead or quietly behead them before burial' or 'if the zombies various stages of rotting reflect their freshness how come there are so many fresh corpses to rise decades after the plague first hit' or 'why does anyone give a damn about the apparant age of a zombie infant' or 'why, in an age of public executions and of lengthy imprisonment for relatively minor crimes and of bedlam style psychiatric care, one would allow someone who'd been infected by the plague to marry and continue as part of the community... and not tell anyone because you'd promised.'

Anything that promises a modern-classic horror monster, such as zombies, should give you zombies. Unless you're writing Twilight-style and your zombies are moody and sparkle in sunlight. (Yup, it's lack of imagination that's this books biggest fail). Yes, zombies can be funny... there are movies that do that... but these zombies aren't. They not creepy, or horrible, or funny... just cardboard.

So yes, now I want to write a couple of zombie stories. Sometimes you really pay for giving something a go. (If you also want to read something that might make you want to do better by the undead and un-departed I suggest that you borrow or buy a reading-copy second-hand. A little damage and scent on the pages can only make the experience more worthwhile)

Story aside there is another annoyance lurking in the pages of this book, though, that like the idea people vomiting is wildly funny, permeates the text with gamer-boyishness. The Orientalism. You know, the not so good kind, where the important points about those cultures are that ninjas are amazing warriors and martial arts are taught by inscrutable masters through incredible feats of endurance and excessive punishments. There's nothing terribly wrong with that kind of ignorance, though maybe there is something a little wrong, but I get just a little bit more uncomfortable by how often fictional heroes, and here five young girls, spend a couple of years under such tutelage and thereby become full trained Jedi... uh ninjas... um... This book, possibly because of the boredom factor, really kicks you in the face with the stereotype and leaves you enough time to wonder if the use of the term magical negro isn't misdirection.

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Sunday, August 30th, 2015
6:31 am - Because It May Have Dodo-ed
There was fail when I tried posting this to there ---->


JC - I know you've left the building, but for anyone else considering that requiring semi-regular attendance at Worldcons before a member can nominate or vote etc. I'd like to reply from my own experience.

I live in the UK. I have made it to two US cons in my entire life (my only trips to the US). Only one of those was a Worldcon. I have, however, bought a supporting membership simply to vote.

For a US fan to attend a Worldcon once every five years would be inconvenient and a bit expensive (ruling out at least one section of the annoying people that Pup... no I can't say puppies, puppies are cute and like me, SPs and RPs are not as cute as puppies) but for Non-US fans? Worldcon tours, but even when it comes to the UK it tends to be a bit pricey to attend and even then because the location is decided by vote there's no certainty it will be close enough to the majority of international SFF fans for them to go enough to qualify under your proposed rules.

In my own case, I have chronic illness problems, and both times I went to the US I was ill when I got on the plane home, and had a full blown chest infection by the time I got off the other end. As I've said to friends - I probably won't be going again unless I've transformed into a writer, with panels and readings and stuff, rather than as a fan.

Not everyone who wants to feel part of the process can attend let alone attend regularly. While the problem is magnified if you live on another continent, I'm fairly certain there are US citizens who would also suffer for your rule change and so oppose it rabidly.

There is an easy and peaceful answer, though...

"This gets back to the core disagreement of whether the Hugos are an award given out by a small Worldcon Community or any and all of SF/Fantasy fandom who care to vote."

Here's the thing, if you disagree with the fact that the Hugos are what they have always been - awards given out by the small core of fans who attend and support Worldcon - go start an award that can be voted on by "any and all of SF/Fantasy fandom who care to vote" (although don't the Locus awards do that?) Instead of wasting all that money buying supporting memberships to game an established award use it to promote your own. Have a kickstarter. If you create your own award you can, as with the Nortons, the Dicks, the Triptree etc, make your own rules about voting and what qualifies. Have your own categories and your own traditions and trophies (and be prepared to smile bravely when whoever cares to vote ends up voting for the same things that win Hugos or for a paranormal romance)

If a cross-head screwdriver isn't fit for purpose you don't spend time and money buying a file and scraping away the offending metal so as to make a flat-head - you go buy another screwdriver.

Why piss in the Hugos paddling pool when you can have a pool entirely of... writers whose fans are not the kind of people who normal give money to Worldcons?

And it didn't vanish - it stalled and then got repeated... *facepalm* It kept telling me not to try and post it...

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Friday, August 28th, 2015
5:56 am - My Funeral Directing.
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I have a thing. This is not now a part of thinginess.

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Monday, May 4th, 2015
5:42 am - For Nothing Now Can Ever Come To Any Good
Warning -- the following involves the death of a major character.

I didn't say much in the week before Christmas, when I was told my father had cancer and would be dead within four to six weeks. He died on January 23rd... my brother organised the funeral -- it was cookie cutter and the celebrant got confused and thought I was the second wife.

Life went on. I resold one story and sold another. I won my DWP tribunal. My mother got ill and better and started to get over his death (they were divorced and he'd remarried but he was still the person she'd been married to for forty years and his death rocked her confidence)

Only it wasn't just that her confidence was rocked. Around this time three weeks ago I went down to check on her. She was a little odd in her manner, but not too much more than she sometimes was when half asleep. Her O2sats were a bit slow to rise, but I'd had the doctor out on Friday (he'd presecribed antidepressants) and while he'd been casual, the respiritory nurses were calling in five hours so I figured they'd catch anything serious. Four hours later I went down to wake her, and she was already sitting on the edge of her bed. She asked for her nightie... I asked if she wanted to go to the loo first but she said she'd been. She had a small tear on her arm that had bled. I got her in her nightie/dress and checked her sats. They were low. She--

Cutting a short story shorter... I called the GP, she decided to wait on the nurses... they arrived, my mother was able to reply to them but little more and they called the ambulance. She'd never wanted to go to the hospital again but the nurses were sure she'd just need IV antibiotics and fluids and it'd be maybe a single night's stay before we were home. We ended up in the cold clinical world of the hospital... where the senior doctors were not particularly enthused about her chances of survival, and proved themselves right. But they wouldn't let us leave. I stayed with her the day and night and she died at about 4am on Tuesday morning. I was the only person with her for the hours before and until I fetched a nurse. (A doctor didn't do the official stuff till three hours later)

She shouldn't be dead. She was strong and reasonably healthy and died of the chest infection/pneumonia we couldn't get the GP to take seriously.
She shouldn't be dead, but downstairs in her bed, feeling better and celebrating the birth of a new princess.

She shouldn't be dead. No one who knew her (including the nurses) was expecting her to die.

But she is dead.

She was my North, my South, my East and West, My working week and Sunday rest, My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song; I thought that love would last forever; I was wrong. The stars are not wanted now: put out every one; Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun; Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood....
Saturday, March 21st, 2015
4:00 am - Eclipses Are Magic
I went out to see this morning's -- just for the impressive twenty minutes or so -- with the sky nicely cloudy so the show was visible when the thinner cloud patches opened on it. Which was pretty much for all the sliver parts. There's the weird light, the mildly confused birds, the odd person looking up, some just because you are. (The four seagulls deciding that the weirdness was clearly caused by the red kite and mobbing it till it was forced to let the sun come back). People griped about the cloud cover. I really prefer it... because I'd rather keep glancing up and watching the actual sun and moon than looking at a shadow play in a pinhole camera or through a collander.

I stood for a while in the moon's shadow. And it was cool.

[My personal world went a bit bad after the last eclipse I watched. I'm hoping that since my personal world has been a bit bad up until this week... well New Years haven't been working so maybe partial eclipses will draw lines. So although not being social has become a habit already, I'm posting this. Now. Before I consider waiting for the tax year or something -- I probably shouldn't because I've a lot of OMGWTF this is evil/stupid stories from the last week, let alone the last three months, but maybe I'll just tell people about the reading experiment... although so far that also contains a lot of OMG/That'sracist(tm)/Wholikesthiscrap? sadness :D]

So hey, there was an eclipse. I'm posting to lj. One's not going to happen here again for 90 years, the other might happen again sooner... you never know.

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Thursday, January 1st, 2015
3:28 am - Happy New Year!
Because it's that time of year again!

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Sunday, December 7th, 2014
3:56 am - #5 It's Easier If You Can Live With Contradictions & Apparant Contradictions
The universe, and writing advice, is full of contradictions... some of which may later resolve themselves as being apparant contradictions but that doesn't always make them less bemusing. If you can't cope with holding two contradictory statements as being of merit (and often equal merit) you'll only be able to write, or live, along one set of guidance notes, and any problems you have will have fewer (or no) solutions.

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Saturday, December 6th, 2014
3:33 am - #4 It's All In Your Mind
Everything you ever write comes out of your head. Every piece of fiction. Every non-fiction article. You are indelibly stamped on your writing -- whether it be your ideas, your word choice, or your selection of facts. Your world view, your experience, your imagination, shape what you try to say and what you do say.

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Friday, December 5th, 2014
4:19 am - #3 It's Out There
Yesterday I was walking back from my father's flat in darkness and I happened to glance up at a building in town I'm familiar with and there was a light on and in the window was a man, looking down and across the street, mobile phone in hand, in outdoorish clothes, and behind him on the wall were photos in what looked like a wall of stalk... or surveillance.

Today on the news there was an item about how many young people were now couch surfing -- a form of hidden homelessness.


If you pay just a little more attention to the world around you there'll be a story waiting...

(But not the conversation that made my skin creep in which a woman was telling her young son about family betrayal and never trusting anyone because they would use you and... The backstories for your sad, mad, and bad are out there too)

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Thursday, December 4th, 2014
4:09 am - #2 Binary Code

At first glance story telling is full of binaries -- positive/negative, happy/sad, good/evil, right/wrong, friend/enemy -- but unless you're like the kid who can glance at a tray of many stones and then list them in excruciating detail... a first glance is more about not seeing what's there.

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Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014
4:41 am - #1 From the Ashes of Disaster

Pretty much all the best writing tips are also useful life lessons. In writing you can learn from your own disasters, but often it's easier to see what went wrong with someone elses.

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Saturday, July 12th, 2014
4:51 am - Umm -- Mr Odd Got Odder
So quick morning meeting with the plumber this morning at the flat to discuss options etc (I think this is his way of saying he's nearly ready to do the job and I need to order stuff). Then, while we were chatting and deciding stuff in the bathroom I heard a sound out in the hall, and as I started moving to look someone said 'hello!'... as I stepped into the passageway to find the upstairs neighbour stood there. And I mean there right in front of me. Inside the flat. A good two metres inside the flat. Past the entrance hall portion of the hallway inside the flat.

And the first thing out of his mouth was something like 'I wasn't thinking it was you'. Then he got past that surprise phase and started asking about buying the toilet again. It only occurred to me after that it might not be me he's not expected to see but that the plumber had just come out of the room behind me.

And yes, the plumber thought it was odd too. Odd enough that he helped me back the guy out of the door and will be careful about him while work is in progress.

He's one of the younger residents I've met so far, closer to the minimum age (55) than most of the rest. Not a doddery old gent.

Or as my mother said -- I should maybe lock the door when I'm round there on my own, especially if I'm working and wouldn't hear an intruder over the noise. Even if it's nothing and I'm over-reacting at least then I won't have to repeat myself about when we'll be selling the toilet (which is *after* we have another toilet in place or, as the plumber suggested, after most of the workmen have finished around the place so they're not using the new one)

Which reminds me... I need to get a plasterer round to fix the holes in the kitchen wall we discovered after removing the units. If I can get the water pipes cut back to where the sink is actually going to be so new holes don't get made after the plasterer does his bit.

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Friday, July 11th, 2014
4:11 am - It's A Cruel Cruel Cruel Summer
The cold that introduced me to chocolate-snot for four or five days (no really that's the expression you get introduced to when you Google a more delicate description) and took three weeks to pass has left me a bit weak.

Other things have happened.

But at least, after a break for 'if you talk to the workmen you will only give them this cold and they will hate you forever' I got back to the remodeling of the flat we bought my father. (That took five months longer to buy then we were expecting and is taking longer to get ready as well)

So Tuesday I was round there with the electrician (who does not think my ideas for the kitchen will work because they do not involve counters all the way round the room...) to discuss the changes to the job because of the immovable pipe discovered during the demolition of the existing counter-all-the-way-round units. So it's back to a slightly modified plan B (I really liked plan C... or possibly it was D but... immovable pipe). All was well when I left.

Wednesday I go round with my brother to dismantle the last bit of fitted kitchen and pushed through the letter box is an envelope with the spare keys to the windows and french doors that I'd asked about already but been assurred probably didn't exist. The note said the previous owners had dropped them off with the manager and she'd popped them through the door. Okay. Good enough. And go me for not having been entirely paranoid about missing keys.

Then the neighbour from the flat above comes down and starts telling us about how he's heard drilling (???) and warning us that the steam from cooking in the kitchen can strip paint from the ceiling unless you get a boxed-in system with an inline fan... and to explain he walks us into the kitchen. Where he seems entirely unsurprised that we've ripped everything out and... asks if we're selling any of the stuff. I say selling or recycling (if possilbe). He asks if he can buy the extractor fan if we're not keeping it (having just told us an extractor fan is vital and that the existing one doesn't work too well). He doesn't offer a price but I say we'll definitely get back to him. Then he goes into the bathroom, saying we're probably working in there too... explains that bits on the toilet break, and can he buy the toilet from us? Again I say very probably (though wondering why he'd think changing a bath for a shower would mean changing the toilet... though we are because it's really low). I notice a bit of mess and assume the plumber has been in to recheck his plan against reality (the electrician and plumber have been 'discussing' regulation versus convenience for a couple of weeks over the immovable extractor fan and the placement of the shower). The neighbour leaves, and I glance back and see the hall carpet has dark footprints on. I assume the plumber forgot to use a drop-cloth and hope the footprints will clean off because we're planning to keep the hall carpet. And then I walk into the range of the dark footprints again and realise that now I'm making a squelching noise. I check in the bathroom and there's water on the floor in the area where the bath was -- I didn't notice because it's held in a small square pool but once your're looking... The water has also seeped into the kitchen. It's at least nine square metres of wet floor four of those carpeted. And then we realise that the water has been turned off at the stopcock.

By this point the only non-creepy explanation I have is that the plumber was doing some work, had a problem, and has gone off to get a mop. It's not a good explanation but... I call the plumber but can't get hold of him until four hours later.

More than a fortnight after we took possession of the flat, and after I'd been round making certain all the wondows were locked, I'd found two windows in the living room unlocked. Which was when I went from wondering about the missing keys to suggesting someone was still letting themselves in. (If you were coming in by the french doors in the bedrooms you'd want to give yourself an escape route through the windows in the living room because anone coming to the door would block your escaping the way you'd come in)

Plumbing can, of course, go wrong all by itself. But plumbing can't turn off the mains supply by itself. I'm grateful someone did that, because otherwise the damage might well have been much worse (including reaching the stuff that's been bought and waiting to be fitted, like the solid wood kitchen counters... yes there are some counters) but chances are the person who turned off the water is the one who caused the damage in the first place.

I went by today and the plumber's made all safe and been an angel and vaccuumed the water out of the carpet... but the floors are still soaked and the place smells like a wet dog by a radiator. And, of course, no carpets or vinyl can be laid in the bathroom or kitchen until the concrete has completely dried out. And since I can't spend long over there because of my mother (she had a panic attack over this incident) airing the place is not going to be straightforward.

And... there's just that teensy worry about going round there on my own, as I've done a dozen plus times, and this time finding I'm not on my own. I am too old and tired for this shit. (Twenty years ago I'd have been secure in the knowledge that I'm usually carrying a handbag of doom, capable of felling a small mammoth when swung with feeling, instead I worry because I've been leaving a few tools, including a claw hammer, in the broom cupboard.)

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