Saturday, May 25, 2013

Okay or not OK?

I was happily reading the Age the other day, thinking everything was okay with life when I spotted an article titled “You don’t need to spell it out, OK is okay in anyone’s language”. WTF? Had someone gone and changed the language rules without telling me?

The article itself is more about the origins of okay than a debate over which way to spell it, but it does say that it is okay to use OK instead of okay. And I had changed every use of OK to okay in a manuscript I recently edited (sorry Chris).

Just to make sure, I checked out the online Macquarie dictionary. It informed me that OK, o.k. and okay were all OK. Unconvinced, I searched for an online style guide. The only one I found that would let me in without having to stuff around registering or paying, was for the Guardian newspaper in England. It says: OK is OK; okay is not. So it looks like okay could not be OK here sometime in the future.

Has U Gone Missing?

OK got me thinking, what other spellings might have changed lately? Is it no longer acceptable to put a u in colour or labour? The Macquarie dictionary says: In Australia, as in Britain, the most common spelling of these words is with -our, although -or is often used and certainly occurs consistently in a large number of magazines and newspapers. That got me checking.

I know Divine, who I write, for uses colour. And the Age still uses Labour except when referring to the Australian Labor party. Interestingly, my word spellchecker, set to Aussie English, wants me to keep the u in Labour.

Do you Realise?

What about s or z in specialise or realise? For Divine we use an s instead of a z. The Macquarie dictionary says both specialise and specialize are OK. A quick check of the Age found specialise but not specialize. And the word spellchecker accepts both spellings.

Perhaps it is time to buy or subscribe to a new Australian style guide. After all, the one I have is ten years old. A website that details recent changes to accepted Australian English would also be very handy.   

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Past Future of Publishing.

When most writers think about the future of publishing they think about a world where the ease of e-publishing leads to the market being flooded by millions of wannabe authors. How is a new author going to get noticed in amongst all those books?  But what if the 2050 bestseller list looks something like this:

Global Best Selling List 2050

1. I Married my Pregnant Android – Bob Katter.

2. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – JK Rowling

3. A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens

4. Stalking Tigers – Graham Clements

5. Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien

6. 9.11.2001 – Stephen King

7. Don Quixote – Miguel de Cervantes

8. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

9. Fifty Shades of Grey – EL James

10. The Corrections – Jonathon Franzen.

What if the bestseller list is dominated by books from bygone eras? Couldn’t happen, you say. Surely we would be writing better stuff than that in the future, you say. Well I reckon it could happen and the web and ebooks are the reason why.

Every book that is published on the web is going to be there forever, or at least until civilisation collapses sometime later this century.  Harry Potter is going to be there forever. The Di Vinci Code is going to be on the web forever. That crappy story you just uploaded is going to be illegally copied onto some ewebumsucker’s website who is desperate for content and stay on the web forever even after you delete it from your website.

Before the web came along books went out of publication or were just not stocked by bookstores. A new book only had to compete with all the books in that bookstore. With the arrival of the web a new ebook has to compete with all the other ebooks on the web. I’ve already thought of that, you mumble. But wait, there’s more.

Every generation has its own books. They are usually books written that say something to that generation. That will probably continue to happen. The future will have many Catcher in the Ryes. But usually once a child matures into adulthood they start searching for particular books that inform and entertain themselves, that challenge their brains, or excite them. The future generations will do just about all this searching online. They won’t be limited to what is in their local bookshop or library (that probably closed down years before anyway). Get to the point! You yell.

As a reader searches they will discover authors new to them, but not new to the world, authors like Charles Dickens, Agatha Christie, Tom Clancy, Neil Gaiman, Patrick White, Margaret Atwood etc. These authors and their books will be as new to them as any new ebook published for the first time in 2050. 

What’s more the publishers of hugely successful book series will probably decide to relaunch the Hunger Games or Fifty Shades every 15 years or so, so a new generation can get excited/sucked in by them. After all, it will only cost the publishers the price of marketing and royalties to the estates of the authors.

So in the future a new book’s major competition might not come from other new books, but from all the classics and million sellers of yesteryear. Good luck to any new author trying to compete in that market. 

I’m sick and taking multiple drugs to get better, so I have an excuse for any typos in this week’s post, unlike all my other posts. I also have an excuse if my ramblings on the future of publishing don’t make any sense.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A review of the Russian novel - Roadside Picnic.

Roadside Picnic, by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, has one of the most interesting and original premises I have read. Aliens land at several locations on Earth. They have no interest whatsoever in humanity and use alien barriers to ensure they are not bothered by humans. The aliens only stay for a short time and after they depart, they leave alien trash scattered around the locations, as if they were a bunch of bogans on a camping trip.

Some of the trash has amazing properties, like batteries that never run down. But much of the trash is dangerous, and many who venture into the areas are killed. So the authorities fence the areas off, making them no go areas except for those desperate for the money that retrieving an alien artefact brings. These people are called stalkers.

The novel takes place in an unnamed country, but most probably the US, at an undated time. Its main character, Redrick Schuhart, is a stalker, who at first retrieves items from the prohibited areas for a local university to study. I found him a difficult man to empathise with as he had no qualms about the potential consequences of what he was doing, even though he did it because he needed to support his wife and genetically deformed daughter. He needed the money, and everyone else including fellow stalkers, but except for his family, didn’t matter.

The book was originally written in Russian and then translated into English. It has a strange atmosphere to it, like they are living in a bleak totalitarian regime that is waiting to pounce on them, with little hope for the future. It actually reminded me of the atmosphere of 1984.

The alien artefacts don’t seem to offer a great future for humanity either. In the hands of more right-wing writers, the trash would have either been a great boon or great threat to humanity. But in this novel it is like the trash is neutral, leave it alone and no harm will come, but some people just need the money.

There is little joy in the lives of the characters. One of the authors admits in the afterword that they were trying to make capitalists appear unhappy, but the unhappiness of the characters, to me, was more a reflection of the downtrodden Russian society at the time the book was written in 1971.

The prose itself is bleak and unpoetic. I found the climax clouded as hope lead to deadly delusions of a better world.

But if you are after a novel that is different in both premise and style, Roadside Picnic is worth a read. I have seen it on a list of the 50 best modern science fiction novels.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Speculative fiction I have been watching.

If much of the time you are too tired to read or write science fiction, like me, the next best thing is watching it, or some good speculative fiction. Fortunately I have Foxtel and an ipad, because if I had to rely on commercial television for my science fiction fix I would be one unhappy trekker.  

My favourite speculative fiction show at the moment is a toss-up between Eureka and Misfits. I always seem to make time to sit down on Tuesday nights and watch Eureka on Foxtel, and after watching the last episode of the first series of Misfits, I immediately downloaded the first episode of the second series.


Eureka, if you have not watched it yet, is set in a top secret town devoted to science and geeks. Each week someone’s science experiment seems to have unforeseen consequences, or the scientist involved decides he wants to be noticed. The main character is an unscientific sheriff who is more into intuition than science in preventing these experiments becoming disasters. It is very tongue-in-cheek and real pop-corn stuff, but I am addicted to its light-hearted exploration of way-out-there science ideas.


Misfits is more fantasy than science fiction. It’s a British show where five twenty-somethings are doing community service for various misdemeanours. One day a shower of small and seemingly harmless meteors lands in the river beside the community centre they are working in. As a result, they all develop semi-super powers that accentuate some element of their personality. For example, one guy who doesn’t fit in and is ignored by others, can turn himself invisible. Another who is a track athlete can travel into the future and influence it. In the hands of an American writer these characters would immediately become crime fighters taking on evil super dudes, but not in this award winning show. If you have an isomething, you can download the BBC app and, last time I checked, watch the first episode for free.

The Fades

I really enjoyed the six part horror mini-series The Fades which was recently shown on ABC2. The spirits of the dead can no longer ascend to wherever they are meant to go, so they hang around on earth. No one can see them except for a group of special human angels, and a teenager. The dead spirits discover that if they eat human flesh they can return to human form, something the angels and teenager try to stop.

Doctor Who

I have been disappointed with Doctor Who ever since Russell T. Davis stopped producing and writing much of it. Since he left they seemed to have dumbed it down for kids, where the thing that really struck me when it was remade, was that it a lot more adult than the original series. But maybe I have just seen too much of it.

I think one of the major problems, besides its lack of suspense these days, is the Doctor can’t die, so at the end of each episode you know the doctor will save the world/planet. In the X-Files they often did not get or even stop the baddy, not in Doctor Who. In The Walking Dead just about any of the main characters could die, without any fanfare, during an episode, not in Doctor Who. Eureka has a lot more suspense than Doctor Who. In Misfits they might accidentally kill their supervisor. Nothing surprising seems to happen anymore in Doctor Who. The last episode of Doctor Who I really enjoyed was the first one of the current interrupted series with the Dalek who thought he was human. It was more slowly played, had a bit of suspense, and surprised me by allowing me to empathise with a killing machine.


And then there is the really bad. A new series has started on Foxtel called Defiance. It is set on the Earth after a war in which the planet was terraformed by aliens. Eventually the surviving humans and multiple alien races called a truce, and live in an uneasy peace.

The main character (Aussie Grant Bowler) is a scavenger of resources. About ten minutes into the pilot episode I thought this guy is going to drive into town like Clint Eastwood, and be asked to save it, which he will decline and leave, but then decide to come back and save them. And WTF?, that is exactly what happened. It is just a western with aliens instead of Indians, Star Wars on Earth. Each week we will have a story about a scramble for power between the town and various baddies, with the man with the biggest gun and/or American righteousness winning. Whoopee. Right-wing crap.

You are better off watching Hell on Wheels if you want to watch a western series, or Game of Thrones if you want to be engrossed in the politics of power.