Sunborn Bookbub Blast

Sunborn by Jeffrey A. CarverIn conjunction with the good folks at Bookbub, I am knocking 83% off the price of my Sunborn ebook, for a limited time only! If you’ve read the first three books in The Chaos Chronicles and want to keep going with the fourth book, this is your chance. (Or if the dog ate your ebook copy or you’ve lost it under a pile of unpaid bills and requests for political contributions, and you need a new copy.)

That’s $.99 for a book that Library Journal said “ensures [Carver’s] place among the most inventive of contemporary authors of hard sf and speculative theory. Filled with startling ideas and ingenious plot twists, this sf adventure (along with its series predecessors) belongs in most sf collections.” Continue reading “Sunborn Bookbub Blast”

Comfort reading

The other day, we were chatting, in the usual Treeehouse way, about one of our favourite topics. The question we asked each other was not “Which books do you like?” but “Why do you like this book in particular?” We were talking about elements of a book where the author had put the finger on something so precisely that that author and that trait give us pleasure, even years after we first read it. We decided that when one of us remembers something about a favourite book, we might write about it here. We all need comfort right now, after all, and comfort reading is right up there with chocolate as something worth sharing. I’ve eaten some excellent chocolate today and I have a cup of tea at my right hand.

The book I want to share is one that’s really not very well known these days. I’m not sure it was even published outside Australia. It’s by Ray Harris The Adventures of Turkey. Boy of the Australian Plains. I have the 1960 edition, but didn’t read it until some years later. My school library had an earlier edition. I learned about space travel in that library and dreamed of becoming a science fiction writer. I learned about history in that library and dreamed of having history as part of my life. I watched the moon landing in that library, in 1969, when I was eight, and I read The Adventures of Turkey in that library.

Turkey was a schoolboy who lived outback, in an Australia I thought I visited on holidays. When I was a teenager, I was on a school exchange programme and discovered that almost everything in the novel either never existed or was in the past. Mostly in the past. I spent a lot of my early history quests trying to find out about Turkey and his life.

What is it in this book that still grips me? It’s a perfectly created world. It’s what most fantasy novels dream of being, but it chronicles the apparent everyday of school children from way out Woop Woop or from back of Burke. This is an Australian fantasy place, where the climate is tough and the people tougher, and where snakes are dealt with calmly and the real hero is a lanky boy who looks like a bush turkey.

The conversation us Treehousers (I’m now stuck in Australian English, sorry) had, was about writing techniques.

What writing techniques did Harris use that makes me dream about this non-existent Australia every time I read the book? (Do not ask how often I’ve read the book: I’ve owned this copy for about 45 years. We are talking about ultimate comfort reading.) This is not about what the book gets wrong. It’s about what it gets right.

One of my favourite openings of novels is in Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising. In the first paragraph we learn so much about a family that everything that happens to Will Stanton happens in that family context. The events are more startling because we know his family, intimately, from Will’s reaction to them in that first paragraph.

Ray Harris uses a similar technique.

“Turkey, me toe’s sore!”

Without speaking, the lanky fourteen year-old slid his school bag in front of him and took his small stepsister pick-a-back. He carried her easily enough. She put her perspiring cheek against his not neck, pushing his hat on one side. He made no protest.

 

It’s at once very Australian and very simple.

Everything in the novel is Australian and simple. We were just getting used to the idea that we could use our own dialect for protagonists in the 1950s and 1960s, so Harris used a voice even in that opening paragraph and that voice is what comforts me.

It’s my father’s voice.

Dad was brought up in country towns. I’m very much a big city person and I’ve never spoken the way Turkey does. I use a bit of dialect (‘Strine’ is its official name) now and again, to tease people, but I actually had to learn it from others as a child. The Adventures of Turkey was one of those others. It helped me to understand my father’s jokes. It helped me to see that there was an Australia outside my suburb and that I wanted to find out more about that Australia. It did all this by presenting the often-humorous life of Turkey, one day at a time.

While as a school story Turkey was new to me, the humour wasn’t. My father’s jokes are in it, and the entire novel lovingly embraces the narrative style of CJ Dennis (The Sentimental Bloke is another story I visit and revisit when I need comfort – it’s an Australian retelling of Romeo and Juliet) with hints (mere hints) of the adventures of Bunyip Bluegum (Norman Lindsay’s The Magic Pudding) and the short stories of Steele Rudd about Dad and Dave.

If you find the common elements in all of these, you will see what gives me comfort in The Adventures of Turkey. Whimsy walks alongside stern practicality. There’s an acceptance that even simple prose can be used to share the reality that ordinary life is tough but still worthwhile.

All of this was communicated through a writing style that supported resigned humour. The comfort comes from Strine itself, in a way. When I first discovered it, I was reading British school stories and dance books and horse books and I was reading about Anne Shirley and Laura Ingalls Wilder. I was reading science fiction and fantasy and anything that contained history. None of them gave the firm foundation that Turkey did.

It’s the sense that the everyday can be story, I think. Even if it’s an everyday that is so unlike my own that it felt ultra-real.

That opening says it all. Susan Cooper’s opening said that the everyday can be turned upside down and inside out. Harris said that the everyday didn’t have to be turned upside down and inside out to make good story. This is the comfort.

How Not to Win an Award

Each month, I ask my patrons what they’d like for their new essay. They vote. This month the vote was split, and I chose the one I wanted to write about, because no-one was asking me and I had stories to tell. You’ve seen the announcement here – that I won a prize for one of my novels. A not-unimportant prize. It struck me as odd that only my patrons want to know why I wrote this novel. Or maybe the oddness is that people are curious, but have not asked. Either way, I wrote that essay and it will go out tomorrow or Thursday.

The story of the novel may be cool, but I thought you’d like the story of what happened on the night of the award ceremony. It was the beginning of what promises to be a very interesting year.

The Ditmars are the Australian equivalent of the Hugos – awards for writing and art and criticism and more voted by SF fans. My novel was one of the finalists for best novel. I assumed I wasn’t going to win because I could see no reason why I should. I was fully expecting Eugen Bacon to win, in fact, so I didn’t worry too much about the award itself. My brain pushed all deep thought and lists of debts owed to the side, although I did wonder when the announcement would be made.

I only heard about the award ceremony three hours before, and that was a form invitation that all the finalists received. It was already Rosh Hashanah. My New Year.

If it hadn’t been for the pandemic, I wouldn’t even have kept the computer on. Work was out of the question and for me, that award ceremony was work. It took me a while to puzzle this out. I did it on Facebook with many contributions from friends. I discovered then that a lot of people go to award ceremonies for fun. I don’t. I love it when people I care for get recognition, but I find the ceremonies themselves hard work. Speaking to a big audience about a topic I love, however, that’s fun.

I finally puzzled my way through the whole problem, sent an email to my publisher, and sent an apology to the organisers. The only reason it took me that long was that I was dealing with medical issues all that week. I had to decide through a haze and it was not comfortable physically or emotionally. My mother was happy with my decision, which was the big thing. I couldn’t tell her about it until afterwards, however. Three hours is not a long time.

When the three hours were nearly up, I was spending my new year with two of my close friends. Yaritji Green, in the middle of our chat, asked me if I knew someone and I told her they were on the Ditmar committee. I asked her if that meant she was at the online ceremony. Not only was Yaritji at the online ceremony, but she was willing to stand in for me if needed. 

She asked me for some dot points, in case. I didn’t take the need seriously, for that whole day had turned improbable three hours before. I told her “This was an impossible work and the award is in an impossible year and it’s impossible for Gillian to be here cos it’s Rosh Hashanah.” I tried to think about it more but, “I have heaps of things I would say, but I can’t think of them tonight. My brain is outside work zone.”

She asked me about the nomination and I explained, “I had my heart stuff then wrote that novel the following October/November, BTW, so it’s very appropriate that you’re (as a doctor) my sub.” (I’ve cleaned up the impossible typing – everything looked impossible at that moment.) “I cogitated on the conditions for the novel for 20 days in hospital, then while I was recovering, then when I found myself with no paid work because the uni was leading up to sacking me and then splurged and I wrote it very quickly. You don’t need to say any of this – I’m just remembering that this was the first time I sorted out HOW to turn garbage into fertiliser. Fruitcake was the first flower in my new garden.”

My mind didn’t have much time to dwell on the irony in what I’d explained to Yaritji. In fact, the moment I finished typing it, I sent it and two words arrived from Yaritji.

You won,” she typed.

She had been speaking on my behalf while I was trying to get my mind around why it was impossible to think lucidly about this novel. My immediate reaction to “You won” was “Wait…what!!!” Yaritji knows me very well and sent me a picture of her computer, with the announcement writ large on the screen.

That’s the end.That’s how it happened. I suspect I won’t believe I actually won until I see a trophy.

 

Head to the Spaceport and Book Passage!

Forget Covid. Forget politics. Go outside tonight if you have any kind of clear sky and a view to the southeast and southwest—even if it’s between the trees and buildings. To the southeast, Mars and the Moon are about to fall into a dangerous, non-distancing embrace. They are spectacular together, with or without city light pollution. And to the southwest, Jupiter and Saturn continue to dance brightly (well, Jupiter is bright, Saturn is less so) at arm’s length.

I saw them all while walking the dogs (I couldn’t even see any stars), and was thrown right back to the 1950s and early 1960s, when the solar system was a simpler place, and we just knew that in another fifty years, we’d be able to head down to the Atom City Spaceport and hop on a luxury space-liner to any of those places. Those were the days! The Golden Era of Space Travel (as it should have been)!

Stand by for Mars cover

 

Gillian Polack Wins Ditmar for Best Novel

The Year of the Fruit CakeTreehouse writers are thrilled to report that fellow resident Gillian Polack won Australia science fiction’s 2020 Ditmar Award for best novel for The Year of the Fruit Cake. The book was published by IFWG Publishing in Australia.

Since Gillian was unable to attend the awards, Yaritji Green and Gerry Huntman accepted on her behalf. The Ditmar Award has been given at Australia’s national science fiction convention since 1969.

Gillian said on Facebook, “I was so subversive in this novel that I still have trouble believing fans voted for it. This gives me a ridiculous amount of hope at a time when hope is not everyday.

In The Year of the Fruit Cake, five women meet up by chance when they end up sharing a table in a café. They are all very different, and one of them — though we’re not sure for a long time which one of them — is an alien from a culture of multiple genders in which the beings change genders several times over a lifetime. On Earth, however, she is trapped in the unchangeable body of a menopausal woman and has a confused mass of memories about who she really is.

The book is available internationally.

Working Together

It’s time to let go of the myth of the lone genius. It carries too much weight in our world. In real life, nothing gets done by one person.

There are visionaries and leaders, don’t get me wrong. But they can’t accomplish things without a team. A lone genius who doesn’t have support from others cannot change the world.

This is true whether the goals are good or bad. The people out to do evil don’t do it alone, either. Trump would not be in power without all the people who jump to do his bidding.

Take energy – a significant issue since it is so tied to climate change (and right now here in the Western US, we are well aware of climate change). Right now there are millions of people world-wide working on thousands of ways to produce energy from renewable sources and also on thousands of ways of improving the efficiency of the necessary appliances and tools that we use. Continue reading “Working Together”

Dragon Con Greeting in Virtual Space—with Imp!

Author with imp

Dragon Con Virtual is underway this weekend! As a scheduled program participant for the torpedoed-by-pandemic real-life con, I was asked to shoot a two-minute video greeting about why I love science fiction and Dragon Con. It’s probably up on their site somewhere, but blast if I know where, so I’m posting it here.

In the course of shooting the video, an imp appeared in the corner of my screen during one take. Where’d she come from?? It wasn’t my best take, but the imp was too charming not to keep. So here’s the Outtake—with Imp:

Or directly on YouTube: https://youtu.be/oY6WWvkOtZY

If you want to see my actual best take, here it is (but no imp, alas):

https://youtu.be/L9R4RRL1w5A

Thinking Generationally

I’m working — slowly — on a book that includes a generation ship. (The way I’m going it may take a few generations to write it.) The other day on social media, a friend observed that the extended lockdown made it clear to him that he wouldn’t be happy on a generation ship.

I think I would be. Being stuck on a space station with just a few other people – which I find more similar to lockdown – wouldn’t make me happy, but a well-set-up generation ship with a thousand or so other people has the potential to provide one of the things I value most in life: community.

I’m talking way more community than we get in our modern lives. I mean, I live in an apartment building with thirteen households, and while we’re mostly friendly and cooperative (except for one asshole), we never have each other over for dinner. We do things for each other in a pinch, pet each other’s dogs, chat in the lobby or in the back yard, but we’re not a community.

When I was at Clarion West all those years back, living in a dorm with sixteen other students up and down the hall, I was happy most of the time, because I was surrounded by people with common purpose. I’ve felt that way in Aikido dojo, though I didn’t live there and have as much community as I would have wanted.

But our modern lives are not well set up for community. Also, since I grew up in a small town where the ways in which I was different would have made me more and more miserable as I got older if I’d been stuck there, I know that communities are not always good.

But the generation ship that I’m developing for my book could be a very happy place for me. Continue reading “Thinking Generationally”

Exams and Cheating

At the beginning of R.F. Kuang’s novel The Poppy War (which I just started, so this isn’t a review), the main character Rin must strip naked and be patted down before taking an exam. She can’t even wear her own clothes into the exam room.

I immediately harkened back to reports that the Texas Bar and those of several other states were prohibiting those taking the bar exam from bringing their own tampons or pads with them to the exam. Since those reports came out, the Texas Bar has relented to the extent that it will allow women to bring their own products in a clear plastic bag (a la the ones you use for your liquids at the airport).

In both cases, the authorities are obsessed with preventing the test takers from cheating. I don’t know if there is a good argument for the exam in the world of Kuang’s novel, though given the amount of ugliness and corruption hinted at so far, I suspect the test is mostly a tool for keeping out the riff-raff, and might not be the best way to determine who should receive higher education.

But I have taken a bar exam – the Texas one, in fact – and can tell you that it is essentially a hazing ritual, a tool to make you put in a lot of wasted hours studying for the test, which is not the same as studying how the law works, so that you can show you are willing to do a lot of meaningless work to put “Attorney at Law” after your name.

When I read about the tampon rule, my first reaction, even before reacting to the misogyny and silliness, was “they’re giving an in-person bar exam during the pandemic? In Texas, where the pandemic is pretty much out of control right now?” Continue reading “Exams and Cheating”

Three Very Different Books

I’m as behind on my reading as I am on everything else, but I have managed to find space for some excellent new fiction. Herewith, my thoughts on three very different books — an anthology of stories based on ancient tales from the Mediterranean, a fantasy that incorporates menopause and life as a college professor, and fast-paced science fiction featuring a very angry and capable construct.

Retellings of the Inland SeasRetellings of the Inland Seas, published by Candlemark and Gleam, achieves something many anthologies aspire to, but few attain: There’s not a bad story in it. That says a lot about the concept — using ancient stories from the Mediterranean as a jumping off point for something new. It says even more about the skill of the editor, Athena Andreadis, who not only came up with the idea, but found the stories.

Fellow Treehouse Writer Judith Tarr’s [ story, “Between the Rivers,” is rooted in the tale of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, but it’s set on a far-off habitable planet and all is created by the genship Ninsun. It’s a wonderful story even without the tie to an ancient one, but knowing something about the original gives you some added depth.

Two of the stories, “Hide and Seek” by Shariann Lewitt and “The Sea of Stars” by Genevieve Williams, come out of The Odyssey. Both are science fiction, Lewitt’s story being told from the point of view of a navigator on a ship traversing the Asteroids, while Williams’s is a first contact story set in the distant past.

My favorite story in this wonderful anthology is “Out of Tauris,” by Alexander Jablokov, which is based on the story of Iphigenia. The Iphigenia of this story is the aged priestess of the Temple of Artemis and accepts sacrifices from men whose wives, who were once girls at that temple, have died. At the end, she observes, “This has always been the greatest torture men inflict on women, to take away choice and then make them pretend that the choice was always theirs.”

But your favorite might be very different. Other authors in this book include Melissa Scott, A. M. Tuomala, James L. Cambias, Christine Lucas, F.J. Doucet, Kelly Jennings, Elena Gomel, Dimitra Nikolaidou, and Andreadis. Read them all and figure out which one you like best.

Continue reading “Three Very Different Books”