Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Review - Analog Sept 2001

Hi all,

I know it's not the latest edition of Analog - and I still have plenty of earlier editions to read - but I learn a lot from reading older editions of what is probably the world's best science-fiction magazine.

This time around, the magazine had one novella, one novelette, two short stories and part four of a serialised novel.

The magazine began with the novella The King Who Wasn't by Lloyd Biggle Jr. It was a story about a political researcher who is sent to a planet to explore what seems to be a perfect political structure due to its absence of wars and political unrest. Inadvertently the researcher gets caught up in the politics and finds himself the chief advisor to a newly elected King. I enjoyed the story and its comments on what happens with a compliant and ignorant population. The story was more fantasy than science fiction as it could still have been told if the science elements, space ships and communication devices, had been removed.

The novella was followed by the short story Lost Dogs by Christopher McKillerick, where a probe searches for its creators and someone to report its findings too. The probe has attracted a following of alien worshippers as it travels back towards earth, its origin. Meanwhile an alienated boy runs away from a cruel father and the probe and boy eventually meet. The story is one of the weak inheriting the earth. I enjoyed this soft science fiction story.

Upgrade a novelette by Brian Plante followed. It had a twist at the end, so all of what went on up until the twist is setup. It's a story of how a man eventually becomes so fed up with the materialistic wife that in a fit of rage he causes a car accident which kills her. He then has a brain upgrade which, as has been setup in the story, causes the twist. An okay story, but as I have said before, stories written for a twist at the end are not my favourites.

The second short story A moment of Integrity by Jeffrey D. Kooistra was all tell, hardly any show, as a ship lands on Mars and discovers the remains of a nazi rocket ship. I found the story silly and unbelievable and did not care what I was told had happened.

The last piece of fiction was the fourth part of a novel The Precipice. I found the story very unoriginal in that it was another of those stories where space miners are caught up in corporate intrigue. CJ Cherryh's Hugo Award winner Heavy Time written in 1991 is for me the definitive novel on asteroid miners and since then I have read a number of stories and novels including Moonrise with the same theme. As I was reading the novel, I found the main character too perfect - except for radiation poisoning - this, and his mode of death caused by nanotechnology, really reminded me of Moonrise. It was only when I finished reading it that I discovered that Ben Bova had written it and Moonrise. Apart from the all too perfect heroes and all too cowardly and devious villains whose only goal in life was to become wealthier, in both The Precipice and Moonrise, I don't know what it is about Ben Bova's writing that I don't like. Maybe it's too right-wing. Maybe it's his belief that readers what to cheer for gung-ho capitalists racing to bring back resources from space and choke the world with even more goods. The hero was a fool who risked his fragile health for greater riches. He should have stayed at home and read a good book.

Overall, this is the weakest Analog issue I have read. It only gets two out of five stars, not the usual three or more.


Sunday, January 25, 2009

My writing week 2(4)

Hi all,

We're well and truly into the new year, Christmas seems so long ago. It's Australia//Invasion day and I am watching the cricket. I've read that Mathew Reilly watches the cricket while he writes his very successful techno-thrillers. I am sort of glad Mick Dobson won the Aussie of the Year, as I am sick of sports people and self-serving celebrities winning it. Global warming guru Tim Flannery was a worthy winner two years ago. Interesting that Mick Dobson opposes the current government's Aboriginal intervention.

For the third week in a row I did not meet my writing target of 5,000 words a week. I only wrote 3,800 words, but at least it was more than the previous week. I should have written 17,000 words so far this year, but I have only written 11,600. The deficit grows.

I had hoped to be boasting that I had finished the first draft of the novel I am working on by now, but my dawdling writing pace and developing plot elements have combined to put that eventuality back a few weeks. Chapter twenty-three was supposed to be the second last chapter, but as it drifted over 5,500 words, I decided to end it on an appropriate note of expectation and begin what is now, hopefully, the second last chapter, which I am about halfway through. The novel is now 113,000 words.

I am still reading the extensive notes of the online Other Worlds Writer's Workshop so I have not critiqued anything yet. There is a fair bit of email from the site that I have been reading to get an idea of what the participants are like.

I did a bit of reading last week and I should have a review of an edition of Analog up later this week.

If you're a science-fiction fan in Australia, Foxtel/Austar's Sci-fi channel is screening the first nine episodes of the final series of Battlestar Galactica next weekend. Hopefully my DVD recorder will be repaired and returned by then.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Hi all,

My weekly critters email had a link to a survey on online critiquing.

I completed the simple survey, which I don't think will be that informative for the masters student conducting it, unless a lot of people, like me, write lengthy comments in the comments box at the end.

The survey listened 10 online critiquing groups - I know there are hundreds more than that - including one which I am already a member of:

The names of two others got my attention:

Online Writing Workshop for SF and F
Other Worlds Writers Workshop.

I went and had a look at both. The Online Writing Workshop costs money, $45 (US?) a year and I have an aversion to paying for critiques. It said that if you were really lucky one of their professional editors might choose your story to critique.

The Other Worlds Writer's Workshop guidelines spoke to me, so I went and joined up, through Yahoo, which I try to avoid because of their fascist tendency to hand over information to governments who trample over people's human rights.

Yahoo informed me that OWWW only has 45 members, but hey, they might be committed, and one of the problems with is there are just too many people so it is hard to create a critiquing relationship with anyone.

The other listed online writers groups were:

Absolute Write
Comprehensive Books and Writers Forum
Critique Circle
Internet Writing Workshop
Slushpile (just the name doesn't evoke much confidence)
Short Story Group.

I dream of finding the perfect critiquing group, full of science fiction writers who are committed to giving and receiving quality feedback. This group would have a mixture of published authors and non-published writers and have other Australian members. The members would be informed about what is happening in the world and what is predicted to happen in years to come, and therefore, most of them would be centre to left in their politics, because I find the more informed people are the more concerned they are about the world and where it is heading, and I am yet to meet a right winger who cares much for anything but themselves.

I don't give myself much hope of finding this perfect critiquing group, but I will continue to search. Until then, what I need is constructive feedback on my writing, preferably from people who are familiar with science fiction.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

My Writing Week 2(3)

Hi all,

Last week was a lousy week for writing, so for the second week in a row I didn't achieve my goal of writing 5000 words a week. I got off to a very motivated start, but then on Wednesday our airconditioning malfunctioned on a day that was 43 degrees in Wangaratta. I only risked turning the computer on for a few minutes to quickly check my emails and write enough words to be able to say that I had continued lasts year's goal of writing every day.

My DVD recorder started doing strange things and I spent a bit of time during the rest of the week experimenting with it. It has one of those pain in the arse intermittent problems, which means that now that I have sent it off to be repaired, it will probably work fine for them and only start acting up once again after they have sent it back to me. People not pulling their weight with things like watering and weeding the garden also took away time I could have spent writing.

At the moment I should have written about 12,000 words this year and I have only written 7,000.

Chapter 23 has become a very long chapter, with still a bit to happen. The story started to divert away from the outline so I have had to find another way of building the metaphor that I have been using back into the story.

No critiquing and not much reading, just plenty of perspiring and muttering about the unhelpfulness of others and technology.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Review of Greg Egan's Teranesia

Hi all,

I finished Australian author Greg Egan's science fiction novel Teranesia a couple of weeks ago and have finally gotten around to this review. Egan is probably Australia's most critically-acclaimed, living, science fiction author - more so overseas than it would seem in Australia. According to the list on the front of the book, Teranesia is his sixth novel. I have also read his first novel Quarantine.

Teranesia is set mostly on islands near Indonesia in the near future. It has three main threads to resolve beginning with the bizarre mutations occurring to the local flora and fauna on the island. Then there is the self-loathing the main character Prabir Suresh experiences after his parents are killed: he believes he caused it. The third thread concerns his over protective attitude towards his sister Madhusree.

I actually found myself more concerned about the relationship aspects of the story then the science fiction aspects until the last third of the story where the mutations threatened to end any hope of Prabir resolving his issues. This is were Teranesia differs from Quarantine, which was all about the ideas. There is also less science jargon and information in Teranesia resulting in it flowing better.

I enjoyed the humour in Teranesia, whose exaggerated feminist academics reminded me of a couple of academics and students I ran into during my masters, where instead of discussing how a piece of feminist writing was constructed, they preferred to sprout on about the issues.

In the end though, I found Teranesia didn't quite deliver on the expectations I had from reading Quarantine. In Teranesia the relationship aspects were resolved and they discovered the implications of the mutations, but I had hoped for something more and, although his writing was stronger in Teranesia, I prefer the fantastical implications of Quarantine.

I received Egan's latest novel for Christmas so it will be interesting to see how much further his writing has progressed.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

My writing week 2(2)

Hi all,

I have proved that my new year's resolution of 5,000 words a week is going to be a challenge as I only got to 3880 words, give or take a few hundred, last week. I had a bad start on Monday, really got going on Tuesday, but petered out at the end of the week. I will make the target this week.

Being one of those males who is into numbers and statistics, I have records of my word count per day for the past few years. I had a suspicion that Tuesday was my best writing day, my records confirmed this. There is a substantial drop in word count on Wednesday and Thursday, and a further drop to Monday and Saturday. Friday and Sunday are my worst days.

I am very happy with the progress of the novel. I am well into the second last chapter and it is coming together well. When walking home from work this morning I was writing the final chapter and a half in my mind and I had to rush inside to scribble down a few pages of notes. I should be finished sometime next week.

I've just read another article in The Age by Jane Sullivan that reckons the American publishing industry is going into meltdown with some people in the industry even questioning whether literature is finished. Perhaps some of the people who have been buying up publishing houses should get out of the creative world and go and flog vacuum cleaners.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Books and Writing

Hi all,

Last weekend The Age had an article showing the Bookscan figures for the biggest selling books in Australia for 2008. I had been glancing at the bestseller lists every Saturday in The Age so it came as no surprise that Stephenie Meyer's young adult vampire/romance series dominated the top ten sellers taking out second, third and fourth spots. Each sold just over 200,000 copies. Another young adult novel Brisingr (141,000 copies), by Christopher Paolini, was number ten and JK Rowling's Tales of Beedle the Bard (201,000) came in at number five. So it looks like writing speculative fiction for young adults is the way to go.

As usual, Bryce Courtenay topped the adult fiction list with his latest selling 127,000 copies, just beating Tim Winton's Breath that sold 126,000 copies. Mathew Reilly wasn't in the list for a change.

I had a look at the blog, Pub Rants by a literary agent Kirstin from the Nelson Literary Agency in the US. In a post at the end of the year, she displayed the following statistics for her as an agent:

books sold

number of new clients

estimated number of queries read and responded to (and yes, that is up from last year)

full manuscripts requested (up from last year)

number of projects currently on submission

So from 35,000 queries she only requested a full manuscript from 88 writers and then only took on two of them as clients. Not very promising figures for any writer trying to get an agent. But her blog would add to the number of queries. As far as I know she doesn't take science fiction.

In another post on her blog, an author Simone Elkeles told of the rap video she had made for her young adult romance novel Perfect Chemisty, a modern day Romeo and Juliet (and they say originality is dead). Most of the comments were positive, but on reflection I began to think whether a rap video is appropriate for her potential market, after all, the majority of rap listeners are young males, while the majority of romance novel readers are female. Perhaps a pop song by a Britney Spears lookalike would have been more appropriate. I then began to think that if the author has got this aspect of youth culture wrong, then how relevant to young adults might the novel itself be. But maybe I am wrong and there are enough teenage females into rap music to make it an effective marketing tool.

I thought I had a few other things on writing hanging around my office, but can't find them among the piles of newspaper clippings and web print outs. If I eventually locate them before the silverfish eat them, they will be the subject of future posts.


Sunday, January 4, 2009

my writing week 2/1

Hi all,

The new year has begun and, like most writers, I have been thinking about my writing goals for this year. I obviously want to finish the last three chapters of the first draft of the novel I am currently writing. I then want to tidy it up so I can put it out into the critiquing world. While it is being critiqued, and to sit on it for a while, I want to rewrite a novel I wrote the first draft of before I did a few writing courses. Finally, I want to redraft the novel that I have had critiqued.

To achieve all this I am going to have to increase the amount of writing I do. Last year I had the goal of writing every day, which I did, but I think that became a self satisfying goal, rather than the quantity/quality of writing itself. So this year I have decided that I don't have to write every day, just complete a weekly word tally. Originally I was thinking of 7000 words a week, but with a target like that I would probably try and write 1000 words every day and fail miserably. So I have decided to set a word count of 5000 a week, which hopefully allows me a day off writing a week.

If I stick to writing 5000 words a week, on average, I should finish writing the first draft of the novel I am working on and have time to tidy it up by the end of January. I will then give myself six months, to the end July, to rewrite the other novel. This leaves five months to write a second draft of the novel I am currently working on.

I am still writing every day. I though as soon as I hit new year's day I wouldn't go near the computer for a few days, but it seems to have become an addiction.

I am nearly finished chapter 22, with still just the two chapters remaining.

I have read a lot of interesting stuff on writing on blogs and in the papers in the past couple of weeks that will be the subject of another blog later this week.


Thursday, January 1, 2009

Graham's best of 2008

Hi all,

Well it was a lousy year for film, especially in Australia. I didn't read many novels and commercial television in Australia kept on refusing to run or cut short some of the better science-fiction series going around. At least I have the sci-fi channel on cable - the limited Australian version anyway. Having said that I am still going to list the best of what I read and viewed this year.

Novels - Cormac McCarthy's The Road was easily the best novel. It was filled with tension from start to finish and I really cared about the characters, even though I knew their situation - wandering around during a nuclear winter - was hopeless. The best science fiction novel I read this year was Matt Browne's The Future Happens Twice, a hard science fiction adventure with plenty of suspense to keep me reading. For a first time author this is a great novel and I am looking forward to the sequel.

Non-fiction book - The World Without Us by Alan Wiesman. When I finally get around to writing a novel set in a post apocalyptic world this book will be a great reference. Wiesman travelled the world and interviewed many scientists to try and give a picture of what the world would be like if humans suddenly disappeared.

I have reviewed these books in previous posts this year.

Movie - the two contenders were both screened at the start of this year. I am Legend and Cloverfield. As Legend is a remake of the Charlton Heston classic The Omega Man, Cloverfield wins on orginality. I especially enjoyed the hand held camera shots of shoulders and boots while people were talking.

Television - As channel bloody ten in Australia sat on both the second series of Torchwood and the third series of Battlestar Galactica, the fourth series of Doctor Who won easily. Fringe looked promising but channel bloody nine showed the first five episodes, pulled it, brought it back for another three episodes and then pulled it again. On cable I have just started watching the first season of Eureka, which shows promise and enjoyed the second seasons of Kyle XY, but it is starting to get a bit too soapy.

Not an Australian in sight. Perhaps next year Australia will make a decent genre movie like Dark City, the Cars that Ate Paris or Mad Max. All is not lost on the reading front because I still have some novels by Australian George Turner to read and I got a Greg Egan novel for Christmas. I must get Adrian Bedford's time travel novel too. As for television, perhaps if someone wrote a script about android doctors who investigated crime in a beach suburb full of white people, then maybe an Australian commercial television channel might commission it and run it for a couple of weeks until Australia's Funniest Breast Implants knocked it off the air.