Monthly Archives: March, 2008

The Great Debate

It was about the most outgoing weekend I’ve had since… oh, Swancon  ;]

I really wanted to go to some stuff at the Comedy Festival this year, and the Great Debate seemed like a pretty good bet. (I really wanted to go to the Gala, but it turns out the tix for that are available about six months beforehand, and sell out in, oh, a day or so.) When we bought tickets, there was no info about either the topic or the participants. A couple of days before, I found out that Hamish Blake and Cal Wilson were in it – which I thought boded well, because I really like Hamish… Cal I’m indifferent towards.

It’s a very awesome venue, the Melbourne Town Hall: lots of seating but still not enormous; we were in the front row of the circle, and right in the middle which was cool: I worried for a bit that there would be someone in front of us, at the sound desk, but it turned out OK. The compere was Corinne Grant, whom I generally enjoy, and she was very funny. The other funny thing, which was also a bit disturbing, was that we could see the tele-prompter from where we sat: I was very worried that the whole lot would be like that, but only Corinne’s between-participant bits were prompted (and were, frankly, dull).

I was hugely excited when I saw that Paul McDermott was on the bill! I’ve loved Paul since way back on Good News Week and the greatest ever breakfast radio team (Paul and Mikey Robbins. If you don’t remember, you’re too young or weren’t listening to a good station). Sadly, he was probably my least favourite for the whole night. Just… not that funny. *sigh* Hamish, though, was brilliant, as was Stephen K Amos; Julia Morris has impeccable timing; and Patton Oswalt was pretty good too. Cal, as expected, left me a bit flat.

Overall, it was a good night! Oh yes – the topic was “That reality is better on TV.” Which was a very appropriate topic – the cameras and all… it was delightfully meta-something.

James Bond and the MSO

We spent Saturday night at the Pops, with the MSO doing James Bond.

It was freaking brilliant. Absolutely overwhelming and hugely enjoyable (despite some bung notes from the main trumpeter… although I just found out yesterday that he had his face smashed in by some random punk last year, so maybe that explains it). They did all of the theme songs, except Die Another Day and A View to a Kill (and Tomorrow Never Dies as the encore, which was good).
The really good bits:
1. Sitting right in front of the double basses, and watching them do their thing – brilliant!
2. Mary Carewe singing “The Man with the Golden Gun” – so trashy, so funny.
3. Realising just how much work the tuba does in the Bond theme itself.
4. Oh look, basically everything except for…

The average bits:
I hadn’t expected there to be a singer, and I had been trying to figure out whether it would make the night better or not to have one. Mary Carewe sang maybe half the songs – a bit less I think. She did some spectacularly well – “Diamonds are Forever” and “Goldeneye” were up there. But I had three issues:
a) She was way too cabaret/musical theatre for my tastes: prancing around, hamming it up.
b) She sang “Live and Let Die” (and is no Paul McCartney, nor Axl Rose!), and “You Know my Name” (and sure isn’t Chris Cornell).
c) For me, she destroyed “The Look of Love” – one of my favourite sappy songs in the whole world. [1]

Also, my love and I had quite contradictory opinions on her costumes: I thought her first dress – a halter-neck affair – was dreadful, unflattering and quite ugly; he thought it was great. The second I thought was stunning – dark silver strapless, which I thought was very flattering, but he thought made her look frumpy! We both agreed that the third dress was lovely, though.

My laugh for the night was from the souvenir brochure. In part, it had this to say:

“With the recent success of the Die Hard, Terminator and Bourne pictures, Bond had to compete with other action heroes.”

Yup, totally with you there… although I’m not convinced that Bond is competing with Terminator for their audience. At any rate, the next sentence reads thus:

“As the Bond series has progressed, contemporary artists such as Wings, Duran Duran, Sheena Easton, A-ha, Gladys Knight and Sheryl Crow have been drafted in to keep up with the times.”

Excuse me while I hold my sides, because I’m laughing so darn hard.

And it was recorded for ABC Classic FM, so I reckon if you looked hard enough you’ll be able to find out when it’s on. In fact, I might do that too….

[1] If you’re confused: it was used in the original Casino Royale, which was a spoof with David Niven in it.

Run for the Kids

So we had a delightful ride down to the Gardens, this morning – my darling came with me, to cheer me on and make sure I didn’t get lost in finding the right place. Fat chance of that – there was a gazillion people standing around. Seriously; there were more than 25000 people, I think, in the race.

We then stood around for a while… which was kind of fun, but also a bit boring after a while.

It was very odd standing in such a huge group to begin with, and to be honest it was quite a pain. There were two groups for the short course, which I did: green and white. Green was for “active and semi-active” runners and joggers; white for slow joggers and walkers. I went in the white group, because I signed up weeks ago and I thought was realistic. I really ought to have been in the green group, and I should have pushed further to the front, too. It was madness to begin – I crossed the starting line 7 minutes or so after it officially began – and it took a while to push through people to get a clear run. And, really, I don’t feel like I got a clear run until maybe the 2km mark. Damned walkers! I was still passing walkers for aaages, and they got in the way for quite a while.

My aim was to complete the run in under 35 min, and to do it continuously. I did manage it in under 35 – only just, and I reckon I can claim a minute or so of time because of the faffing at the start! – but I didn’t quite manage it continuously. I walked for maybe a minute, half way up the heartbreaking hill that is Anderson St; then a minute or so on the other side as well, because I couldn’t catch my breath. Still, I think that’s a fairly good result! I’m pleased.

Now, to be able to do the 8km of a double Tan in a reasonable time…

Amazon eats its young: from an author-friend

You can read more of the gory details over here, but here’s an excerpt:

“By making a just-about-compulsory link with BookSurge (Amazon will continue to list books, apparently, but will turn off the ‘buy’ button), Amazon ensures that small publishers can’t go elsewhere. On top of this, they already demand (and apparently have no intention of changing their demand for) 48% of the published price for any small press books they sell, and they also apparently want small press to pay delivery charges. If publishers don’t do all this, they won’t see their books sold on Amazon. For books not currently listed, publishers will also have to pay a flat fee of $50 a book, just for processing.”

Sounds to me like Amazon is getting even more ambitious, and putting it some cost-cutters that it probably really doesn’t need to.

We love Nazi symbolism, right?

… are you offended yet?

Two bits of symbolism I feel like commenting on:

1. The Swastika
Not, as some people insist on calling it, a “broken cross,” implying some link between Nazism and Christianity; Nazis persecuted Catholics for their religion, too, you know.[1] It’s become about the most enduring symbol of the regime, and if I see my students drawing one (has happened once or twice) I just about hit the roof. But, of course, the Nazis did not invent it: as a symbol it’s been around for centuries, mostly in non-European settings. So I think it’s sad that it got appropriated by the Nazis, and is basically beyond hope of redemption.

2. The Olympic torch relay
Not, as is sometimes presumed, an aspect of the long-dead Greek games that’s been reintroduced for the modern ones. No, instead this is something that was – you guessed it – invented for the Munich games, to look good in Leni Riefenstahl’s movie. Don’t believe me? Mary Beard wrote it, and she’s a Cambridge classics scholar. This, I think, is the most insidious of Hitler’s legacy – neoNazi skinheads are nutters, but everyone turns out for the torch relay, don’t they? (Well, except for objectionable people like me.) We might spout things like cultural appropriation here, as with the swastika, and hope that that makes it better – but we’ve also given the ceremony a pseudo-history to make it seem ok. As an historian, I find that objectionable; as a moral human bean, I find that whole situation repugnant.

[1] Please, please note: I am in no way implying that this was in any way commensurate with the Nazi persecution of the Jews. And I know there are some suggestion that the then-Pope didn’t do as much as he ought to, to help the Jews (and the current Pope, too, seems to have copped a bit of that flak). That’s not the point of this post, though![2]
[2] No, I’m not Catholic; I’m a set in stone, dyed in the wool, Protestant. Again, not the point.

Sunday was good, too

Yeh, overloading on the old blog, ain’t I?

Sunday I did not run. I was tired, and wanted to give my knees a rest – having a room on the first floor, and being terrified of the lifts after hearing about them breaking down all the way back at last year’s natcon, gave the knees quite a workout!

I went to another academic panel, On the Historiographic in the Fantastic. It was primarily about the engagement between history and fantasy. The presenter – whose name I’ve forgotten – made an interesting point to begin with: for a genre proud of transgression, it’s also obsessed with its own categories and delineation. Very true. Anyway – she said fantasy is always engaged with history: using ‘real’ historical stuff, and/or making up its own history. Post-Enlightenment, history came to be posited as rationalist, scientific, positivist, etc – in contradistinction to ‘romance’, myth-making, and so on, which is where fantasy is situated (or has been situated). I wrote down a lot more, but won’t put it here because at least some of it doesn’t make sense to me anymore! – suffice to say all this got me thinking about Geoffrey of Monmouth, and those other ‘historians’ whose works we read today as fantasy. Big crossover there.

After the panel I went to City Church of Christ, which was awesome – a very diverse group of people; the minister preached the gospel loud and clear! It was embarrassing to be from an Anglican church, though; there are some vocal Perth Anglicans who don’t believe in the physical resurrection of Christ which is just, like, stupid (if you’re a Christian).

Got back in time to go to Mark Bould’s talk, which I think I will blog separately because it was so damned cool. Anyway – then lunch with , and onto one of the highlights of the con: Rob Shearman and Ian Mond doing a live commentary on the Dr Who episode Dalek! We got front row seats, and it was fantastic. Had a drink with some friends – went to dinner with Kathryn, “MacDog,” and Matt… sorry we stooged you with the bill for a while there, guys!!

Then… oh then, it was Ditmar time. I won two of them! – well, the Snapshot team and my cohorts and I won one. You can see a full list of winners here. My row was the place to be. And didn’t we just love it!

Then, finally, the mother of all room parties. I don’t know how many people there were over the night – lots – probably 20 or 30 at any one time. Sean provided some mighty fine tunes, and someone else provided The A-Team theme. I kicked everyone out, finally, at about 2am. People keep making a big thing of me doing that, so I’m left wondering: do room parties never get moved on by the room’s inhabitants? Or did I do it in a particularly memorable way?

Saturday #2

So after Dedman came Helen Merrick, who was also fascinating, talking about the science in women’s SF – which is something I’m enthralled by, having been a science-y type at school (I struggled all through year 12 over whether to do science or history at uni… no one told me it was possible to do both!). Anyway, to start with she looked at why women write SF in the first place: that many grew up reading it, and also have a background of science. It also allows women to engage with science, and critique it. There’s apparently been very little research done into the science in female-authored SF. Her take, though, is that the science can be liberating for women; it can be critiqued for social/ethical consequences, as well as critiquing the institution, methodology and hierarchy; and show ways of ‘doing science’ differently. In essence, the talk was Cool, and gave me a list of reading I should do….

Then, I ditched the academic programme, and went off to hear about The New Space Opera. Have I mentioned how much I love space opera? I love it. Anyway – this panel also gave me things I need to read, which is so totally fine. Despite not having any time for reading. Possibly my favourite quote of the entire con was Ken McLeod talking Ian Banks: apparently he said he wrote his Culture novels intending to “conquer the moral high ground for the left.” Yeeah! Anyway, a lot of the panel was more about the panelists talking about their own stuff and why/how it’s space opera, which was a bit of a pain when I hadn’t read any of it. Interestingly, you can make heaps more dough in writing fantasy that in scifi; didn’t know that. The panel did, though, pose an interesting question: can space opera survive modern technology and science? It started amidst the optimism about science of the 1920s and 1930s; can the pessimism of the 00s make us set space opera aside? I wonder whether we’ll keep reading it, but with a nostalgic rather than optimistic view.

Then.. oh my! It was our turn to do a panel! Me, Ben, Alisa, and Jonathan (with Tansy a noticeable absence), talking about that crazy Last Short Story thing. People were there! And asked questions! And seemed genuinely interested in the answers…. There were a few odd comments, but that’s ok. It was far more enjoyable than I had expected.

Another book launch that night… Alisa and Kathryn and I went out dinner after, and I had the hottest prawn and onion salad in the entire world. Followed by a reading from Rob Shearman’s new book Tiny Deaths, which I bought and made him write in and am happy to recommend to people having only heard the two stories that he read at the con. The kids roaming the room were a bit of a pain, though. This was followed by heading back to my room (notice a pattern?), and watching Claire McKenna’s movie Liminal, which I saw last year and wasn’t nearly as good on a computer screen sans speakers. Basically we talked over the whole thing, commentating, which was funny in its own way. Once again, I managed to kick people out at midnight.

Saturday #1

… when I went running again, but this time only for 40 min or so because my back started hurting. Hopefully pilates will help with this.

I went to some of the academic panels, and by goodness they were great.

Robert Savage’s “Paleoanthropology of the Future” (which can mean at least two different things, as far as I can read) was awesome – about 2001, and how scifi looks at the development of Human. He made a link between the hero-journey (which I remember from doing classics) and the development of man: needing some sort of external shove, for instance, to get started, and how at the end the hero/man is the same but different. He posited that Moonwatcher, Floyd, and Bowman are all fundamentally the same character, but (I think) different aspects (I could be murdering his whole premise here, of course). Women, in this story and in the story of Man’s Development (in the classic model), are removed – and I hadn’t really noticed that: the three women in the story are a little girls and two stewardesses: they are there to provide comfort and that’s it. The bit I really liked was the idea of how 2001‘s narrative arc follows the arc suggested by paleoanthropology. The latter requires evolution or similar, which doesn’t really fit in with narrative requirements, so Clarke has the extraterrestrial influence, which fits in with the idea of “the donor” from the hero-journey arc. A couple of other interesting points: the development of Dave into the star-child // conception, when the pod goes into the sun (so the hero is the father of the child, and so is still recognisable). Also, that HAL // the leopard in the opening segment as an external motivating influence. And of course, the other possibly conclusion to the story is that HAL goes through the monolith, and comes out as… IBM? :)  There’s also the parallel between HAL being shut down and Dave in the hotel room, at the end, regressing. So Dave and HAL are very similar, even (and this is my take) aspects of the same idea.

(Dr) Stephen Dedman’s talk on Captain America was quite fascinating, too – I know nothing about the superhero, so it was interesting to hear about his development and mutations over time. Especially as he was born out of a Congress request for publishers to put out stuff that was in line with the government’s policy on war! The (ab)use of comics would make a fascinating book, I think. The change from all-American hero fighting the dirty Hun, to whether he should be shown fighting the Vietnamese at all, to finally fighting Americans in thrall to an evil American general is quite some development.

And then there was Friday

It was great running on Good Friday morning: almost no traffic, and almost no people! I ran down to and along the Esplanade – they have a huge bloody river in Perth! And fountains… I don’t remember when there were working fountains in Melbourne. Oh – and that was after waking up at 5.30am Perth time, which my body was insisting was 7.30 for us, despite having gone to sleep at about 2am for us (midnight in Perth). Very confusing… fortunately my ability to doze off again seems to be reappearing.

Hung around with Alisa, Ben and Tehani for a bit of the morning – they were setting up their table to flog their wares (primarily 2012 and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine – Australia’s pulpiest magazine! (I adore it).

The first panels I went to were about the history of Dr Who – the pre-production stuff, like how Dr Who basically started because the BBC had an opening in their scheduling, and the fact that its producer was the first female producer and the youngest producer to boot, at the BBC. That’s cool. Interesting to hear that it seems like lots of people wanted Dr Who to fail, for a whole range of reasons! It also seems that TV people stuffing around with their programming has been going on for as long as TV has existed (and probably happened/happens in radio, too) – changing series lengths, etc. The soundstage they had to deal with makes it seem remarkable they managed to make anything, frankly, and seems a testament to the actors and the crew. And then – to top it all off, and to drive home what they’d been talking about – the panel did an overview of the first season of Dr Who, which was very cool. Those guys clearly know their Who trivia, which was fun…. It was fascinating to hear about the growth in viewers (up to 10 million for the episodes with the Daleks!), and about the interaction of the actors – and development of the characters, too.

Zara’s talk on “why we love children’s SF” was fantastic – a survey of 900 respondents, asking when they started reading scifi, what they liked as a kid, what they didn’t like, etc. I really must take the time to read The Inter-Galactic Playground. It sounds like a very cool project Zara has got herself involved in! – and gave me a list of books I really ought to chase up, too…

Anyway… then went and had a drink with a few people, then it was the launch of 2012 and Workers’ Paradise, both of which I can highly recommend. After that, another book launch! – Magic Dirt, a collection of Sean Williams’ stuff. Rob nearly choked on the little packets of magic dirt (actually gravel or something similar), and blamed me for it…. Eventually had a bit to eat at the Indian restaurant around the corner at about 9pm, then back to the hotel bar, then nearly went to a room party… but it was too loud and hot, so I bailed and went to bed. It was, after all, midnight.

So that was Swancon…

I am still a bit dazed at the fact that I flew across the entire darned continent for a long weekend, to go to a nerdfest, where I knew two people (at the start) and had met maybe two others. That seems weird. Doesn’t it seem weird? Whenever people asked my husband where I was for the weekend, and he explained, their immediate reaction (apparently) was to ask: do people wear capes??

Anyway, it was bloody brilliant. I enjoyed myself immensely… especially once I realised that I could do whatever the heck I liked, that there was very little expected of me and that I didn’t have to wait for permission to go to panels or whatever. That’s a fairly obvious thing, but sometimes I still get caught up in trying to please others when that’s not necessary, or being scared to do something a bit different. Hello!! It’s a nerdfest!!

Anyway#2 – I took copious notes, as is my wont; partly for my own sake, partly for my husband, and partly so as not to fall asleep during panels after too many late nights. Don’t worry, I don’t plan on putting it all online…

I actually quite enjoyed my flight. The shuttle ride not to much – I was the last to be dropped off, and was getting quite impatient towards the end (why, I dunno; no one was expecting me!). The hotel had my name wrong, which led to a near-heart attack thinking I didn’t have a room (how would I host room parties?? was my first thought). It was very, very funny seeing the TARDIS in the foyer.

Went for a walk around Northbridge – scoped out potential places to run – it’s a lot like Richmond, I decided, with its proximity to the city (closer than Richmond, actually), and preponderance of Asian stores and restaurants.

Girliecon was in my room that night – Alisa’s scheme for getting all the best people in the one room at the same time. Of course, my room was tiny, but we still managed to fit about 30 people in there that night. With pink drinks and everything! A magnificent time was had – by me, anyway – got to meet Kathryn (finally!), and Dirk and Tehani; catch up with Ben and of course the inimitable Alisa… and a whole bunch of other people, too (sorry, all the parties are blurring together in my brain…). I think I even kicked out the Special Esteemed International Guest of Honour, Rob, when I made everyone leave at about 11pm because my body said it was 1am and wasn’t that time for sleep?