SLOW TRAIN is out in paperback (I think it came out yesterday, but there seems to be a bit of a breakdown in communications about the when of these things). If you've been putting off buying it until the cheaper version (and trust me on this - I understand 100%) it's now available as such. This is probably my most serious (but of course funny too) book. It is a combination between a serious look at the problems of slower-than-light space travel (1: it's slow, 2:if the place sucks when you get there, well, either you're stuffed or it's very slow again to get going to the next place. 3: A small enclosed biosystem is VERY fragile - and the smaller it is the more fragile. 4: Isolation does funny stuff to societies. As far as I know this first sf book to actually try and write about those basic problems, and offer some possible ways out. I've kept it accessable to a wide readership, but tried to come up with really within present science possible concepts. If you're interested in space you ought to read this book. Being me I was not prepared to just leave it at that -- bright ideas with no story -- so there are another two layers to this book. It's a satire (gee - what a suprise. Dave write a satirical book?) looking both at societies and pre-conceptions about them. From the alien point of view it also deals with sex (which, if you aren't human must seem really bizarre. If you are human it's only bizarre.) And of course there is fast moving race against time story woven through these aspects (I think Harriet Klausner just about managed to grasp the last part). And romance, idealism, and that sort of thing. The book might throw out some ideas to you, to make you think and make up your own mind (if you are capable of thinking, that is) as well as entertain you. But it will entertain.
Let me know what you thought of it.

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I'm cross-posting these from - labeled 'life' because people have pointed out blogger can be difficult. If you want the pictures you'll have to go to Blogspot. (yes- I'll work it out, Ian. Time needed)
chicken drawing and oysters
Hell must be to be a chicken plucker with wet-sticky hands, a frantically itchy nose and feather allergy. Well, the level of hell reserved perhaps for lesser sinners, deserving only of irritation. Yesterday - as B said - was a busy one. Having been informed by several people that there were no oysters (or mussels) on the island, we collected our clams and found my imagination. I may tell you that my imagination was delicious fried in garlic butter. Exquiste even. I hope I discover the imaginary mussels too. I have found small ribbed mussels (by ton-loads) out in the bay. I'm sure they'd eat well enough, if we can't find blue mussels. I showed the imaginary oysters to John - one of the people who had told me I was out of luck. "Right! What kind of oyster is it, Dave?" he asked looking at the prize specimen (which was a good one - about 5 inches long.) "You tell me. I'm the bloke from South Africa. You're the local Tasmanian expert." A slow smile spreads across John's face despite his attempts to restrain it. "Right. Then it's a Tasmanian Native Oyster," he said utterly failing at the trusty native guide imitation by laughing. I think they're actually the flat oyster, Ostrea angasi - but I reckon probably Tasmanian Native oysters to us from now on. We were just off to start cutting some fallen deadwood (beginning on the winter fuel collection) with his chainsaw, having been visiting Lisa (who took me straight into a mental mixture of O'Grady's They're a Weird Mob and that Tuscany book. You can see how incredible hard work carved the farm and the garden out a piece of vacant bushland. The walls of the kitchen are hung with fresh and drying peppers. She still has, uses and plainly loves her wood stove. Outside the kitchen there is a sort of big porch area - real working farm style - not a place for sipping sundowners, but where bunches of garlic, more chillies and ropes of onions hang. The perserving cupboard is there too. Opened it reveals rows of spring-top jars, with every color and form of summer stored up. Tomatoes, pears, plums... The garden too fills me with envy and admiration. She's been on the island 50 years... there are fig trees, lemons, pears. The garden doesn't have the expensive Fort Knox appearance - and suffers a bit from possums - but it still has a vegatable fullness and richness that would make most of Salamanca market's barrows tuck up their wheels and creep away in shame. We're by this stage desperately trying to stop her giving more of her produce to us. We still came away with garlic and sweet red onions, carrots and pink potatoes and a bag of big mild chilli peppers(so mild I can actually eat them raw) She has explosive ones but we avoided those.
The chicken drawing (and this unless you are very demented, or name is Pollock, is not art) and plucking are best not written about. I am sure they'll eat well.

(no subject)

I'm cross-posting these from - labeled 'life' because people have pointed out blogger can be difficult. If you want the pictures you'll have to go to Blogspot.
The March of Zucchini

And so it begins... The march of the Zucchini.
There is another one that needs harvesting today. The wildlife however is adding a new dimension to it - something had been digging up seedlings, so I set two traps. Well, this time around they caught 2 mice. The second I spotted in the torchlight at about 9.30 pm, when I suddenly relaised I'd forgotten to cover with plastic cups the surviving beans - my night-garden looks like a disgruntled kids tea party, with added nightmare elements as the gut section of the mouse had been eaten. I retreated to put on boots - which I was an idiot not put on in the first place.

This morning there was evidence of a wild and busy deadly night out there. Firstly the gate had been knocked down. Secondly there was a large dead rat in a bloody puddle between the beds. Cause of death - undetermined. Could it have been post- election violence, Australian style? Have I become a sleep-walking raticide? Was this the effect of cannabilistic excess?

The garden is - despite the depredations, coming along. My tyre-tower potatoes are nearly ready for another tyre.

We went to a harvest festival and barbeque on one of the farms on Summer road today. As it was spattering with rain, the entire thing took place in the farm shed. Corrugated iron... and it rained. It was rather like Nottingham Road's annual carol service (held in the sale-hall - with real sheep and calves and any kid under five that showed up dressed as either an angel or a shepherd in with them. Last time one of the angels got her hand sucked by a calf... it was one of few bellows that was louder than the inevitable drumming of the rain on the tin roof). This too was drowned out by the rain that bucketed down. Good thing too: the farmers need the rain, and I was singing. The rain stopped and we cooked snags (see, I learn. They are called sausages elsewhere) - we talked, kids rode bikes (a unicycle yet! I WANT one) a couple of chooks looked in and we were a world away from Africa. Or Venice, that I must now return to.

So do you think they're getting the idea?

I see Macmillan - or specifically TOR as part of it are taking aim at a blog/community type website if I understand this right.*8367B3E3C10183FC

Now for many years the industry's reaction to Baen seems to have been to say "oh, that is working for them! Whatever we do we mustn't do THAT." And instead of taking what Baen have done with tiny resources and multiplying it by financial muscle, done the opposite. Baen (almost entirely because of Baen's Bar) is probably the ONLY publish house out there with a PUBLISHING HOUSE LOYALTY from readers (authors have a sort of obligatory loyalty, at least in public. A great many, I suspect, feel less than fond in private. If that's OK with you as a publisher... well, don't expect loyalty one day when you really need it).

The oncoming e-books saga continueth, with shots from Random House and Harper Collins
seeking to lock in rates approximately equal to paper versions. (Sigh) With authors with substantial followings and publishers (as in a reader going in and buying a book because it is by XYZ publishers, not XYZ author) with almost none... maybe they're realising just what popular writers are likely to do to them, offered those terms. Ergo, try to lock them in forever, and maybe begin to see that Brand loyalty has an actual value.
Of course establishing brand loyalty requires understanding that loyalty is a two way street.

life -on ant safari

I'm cross-posting these from - labeled 'life' because people have pointed out blogger can be difficult. If you want the pictures you'll have to go to Blogspot.
On ant safari
Patiently, silently with hardly a yell to the porters for another Gin and Tonic the great white hunter stalked his prey, his eyes fixed on it as it moved through the undergrowth... (Barbs, approaching quietly from the rear) "What on earth are you doing?"

Me - still on my aching haunches peering intently at grass-stalks. "I saw one of those jack-jumpers on the kitchen veranda. I'm trying to follow it to its nest. Need to find it before Chris's kids get here."

"Oh. So do you actually want a gin and tonic? Because we don't have any gin. Or any tonic."

I lost it the bottlebrush tree, having painstakingly followed it across 10 yards of grass. Fortunately Barbs found the nest - and some bigger bull-ants (I think they also have a toxic bite) today when she was mowing - about a yard from the bottle-brush, as plain as could be. Normally I'm pretty live-and-let-live, but 5% of people react very badly to them, and with kids I am not prepared to take a chance.

The island is small enough that, if you can deal with getting up early enough, you can see dawn over the ocean and sunset over the ocean on the same day. I wasn't that heroic and all I saw this morning walking back was this.

Sadly -although I took a torch down, the tide was still covering the flats, and the wind-chop made wading and looking impractical. And cold. Did I mention cold? And wet too. What a woos I am. So I came home, before the first signs of the election today. By next time I hope we'll be able to vote. I'm still faint but persuing with Australian politics, but I am looking forward to it.

Someone asked for a picture of the house so here it is.

Not exactly Finnegan's Wake - but houses like that are probably once in a lifetime experiences (Finnegan's Wake was built by an Irish cabinet maker called Murphy as his dream house. It was built on a sinstral spiral and had very few straight walls, most being curved). We're renting it until we buy and build so... we'll see. In the meanwhile it's well built, weathertight, roomier than we expected and, most importantly, we have a home. A place for me to write, and a base for us to explore from.

Life - P-plater crabs and dawn walks

I'm going to cross-post these from - labeled 'life' because people have pointed out blogger can be difficult. If you want the pictures you'll have to go to Blogspot.

P-Plater crabs and dawn walks

Someone (naming no names) omitted to tell my legs that this getting fit idea involved them. Actually, that same someone also forgot to mention how hard it is to get out of a nice warm bed, from next to cuddly wife to go out into the pale predawn and take a brisk walk. I'll find him one day (this someone) and we will have words. Anyway, as you can see by the picture I did this thing. It's about 2km down to the beach, and a lot of it is down a little back track.

There was a spectacular loniliness to the beach - Mr Somebody had obviously forgotten to tell anyone else. The sky was grey and overcast, and the tide was already fairly far out. The diffuse soft light made it look like the opening shots for one of these angsty movies... except they would have some gulls or peewits or some fowl creature doing haunting cries, or played suitable mood music. Instead we had the Black Oyster-catchers making noises like off-pitch elderly cricket phones. I'm a biologist and a forager (and I am never too sure which trumps which) so sand and mud-flats and low tides hold a fascination for me, and I put the fitness walk back on hold for a wade-and-fossick. The sand above the tideline was suspiciously dimpled. Now sand patterns are caused by the washing of the waves... and the sea, well she has no sense of humour. A very serious thing is the sea, and don't you forget it. She'll leave ripples or fans or layers on the sand yes, but dimples no. Dimples mean something is living there, and neither the biologist nor the forager minded me digging. I like to understand these foodwebs (because what looks like desolate mud is a seething arcology of life. Some of which you don't want to eat, and some which you don't want to know. Digging and sorting produced some tiny wedge shells - too small for dinner for me, but considered utterly yummy to some tiny pea-crabs (which should maybe be called p-crabs (you have p-plater drivers here in Tassie), because when they get bigger they'll be crabs. At the moment they're just greedy clam-eating hoons, so busy scoffing the free grub that they didn't even notice me pick the shell. When I put it down they were very embarrassed and shook down into the sand, just eystalks protruding. So I left them to get over it and walked on. The shallow water is full of little pimple-mounds with holes in the top, that something must live in. There are different burrows in between, and every now and again, scooped out basins of slightly deeper water, with scatters of shells - stingrays methinks. I need to get down there earlier, with a torch. Yes, now that you mention it, a lot of people do think that I am barking mad. This is not true. I leave all the barking to Roland -Old English Sheepdogs just do it better.

I lifted some drifts of seaweed from pools saw a couple of tiny translucent shrimp shaking their nippers and yelling "Homewrecker" at me before I put it back and walked back through a few spatters of rain. There were snails out on the driveway - I didn't have to walk to the beach to find molluscs, so it thought I'd better check the veg before settling in to write. The mouse that had been digging up my pea-shoots had had me set a trap inbetween them.

Unfortunately, he must have brought big brother along, because the trap was conspicuous by its absence. And to pay me back for my impertinence, it had dug up a round dozen broad beans that had just germinated.

So: Once I found the trap (on the far side of the garden) I planted some more, and went back to my desk job. Spies in 16 th century Venice right now. Talk about shifting worlds. But it's actually come out well this morning so maybe the walk did me good.
Posted by Dave Freer at 6:51 PM 0 comments
Labels: broad beans, Flinders Island, mice, pea crabs, wedge shells

for the cities were deaf...

"... and the waters were still, and the mountains stood empty, for the cities were deaf, long long ago..."

Magna Carta Lord of the Ages.

Was just playing this to try to get back to writing my word-quota for the day, and drowning in the power and richness of the simple words.
That's all


To re-quote two pieces from the article:

"I think part of the reason we're seeing adults reading YA is that often there's no bones made about the fact that a YA book is explicitly intended to entertain," said Lizzie Skurnick, 36, author of "Shelf Discovery," a collection of essays about young adult literature from the 1960s and 1970s.

"YA authors are able to take themselves less seriously. They're able to have a little more fun, and they're less confined by this idea of themselves as Very Important Artists. That paradoxically leads them to create far better work than people who are trying to win awards."

(sigh) What sort of odds does anyone want to give that instead of looking at the success in YA and children's books - often being read by adults and saying 'gee... maybe that's what we need to do in the adult market'... there will be a steady drip 'Oh we have to have more graphic sex in teen novels. We need to explore issues more. There really needs to be more political message in these stories. What about bondage?... that'll make it interesting!SM for teens. Maybe even pre-teens. And really if these kids can understand it at first try and not be bored how can it be real literature? Let's find something turgid, tragic and very PC and almost universally hated by kids and give it a major literary prize. We'll SHOW them what they must love.' And YA will follow Adult publishing into the tubes...

To prove my precience, to quote later in the article - 'Many of today's young adult authors were born and raised in the 1960s and 1970s, when YA began to move beyond the staid, emotionless tales of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys in favor of more adventurous work from Judy Blume, Madeleine L'Engle and Robert Cormier. Now, they're turning out their own modern masterpieces.' (run away, screaming, holding hands in a cross) Has no-one pointed out to this writer that Harry Potter - the start point in this success -- is an Enid Blyton style boarding-school hijinks book with a bit of magic? That was so unpopular that it flopped with the reading public didn't it?

Oh well. Back to writing something which is explicitly to entertain (for adults but accessible to most YA readers) and which will never win a literary award, and um, have quite a lot fun or at least wry humor in them. I'm a small midlister. Publicity is minor and my publisher seems to face huge distribution hurdles - still my paperbacks have consistantly sold 80% - 90% of what is available (which is a LONG LONG way above industry standard - especially if you compared apples with apples. Simply looking at the gross sales numbers is comparing porcupines with the volume of methane on Saturn. Really revealing.) But from my sell-through alone this little set of home truths is obvious. A large number of readers (the ones bouying those YA numbers) - especially in rough times - like to be entertained. They actually WANT something familiar with a little twist or addition - a boarding school story with magic. They don't want new for the sake of new - what they often want is 'new' old... They want escapism. They want books that re-affirm their own values and leave them uplifted and feeling the world could be better place tomorrow. Yeah, there are the few who will want grunge, a pot of message, and a hopeless crawl into a corner and die of misery literary masterpiece. Yes, you will get an award for it. But you won't grow your readership. If you want a message or artistry in writing (and Terry Pratchett for eg manages both AND fulfils the criteria above) you need authors who can stealth them in, so they do not detract from entertainment but enhance it.
here endeth the rant.

"I may make you feel, but I can't make you think..."

I've had a batch of bleak - finding myself far from the place I used to call 'home'. This is the start of spiny-lobster diving season there - and a time when the lemmings (my brother a friend and I) used dive. It was physically hard and made for a tight bond... I had a look in SA papers - an ambulance got called out for a burned child - the paramedics arranged to meet the parents at a familiar rondesvoux - and they were waiting with another guy and the injured child. And as they were dealing with it a pair of lowlives came up chased the guys off at gunpoint and, and raped the one paramedic, and were trying to rape the second when the chased off guys returned with cops. So the bad guys stole the ambulance. The kid is in hospital and so are paramedics. And it appears these two pieces of sweetness and light are still out there. I miss SA. But I wish instead I had my brother and friends out of there.

Anyway, life on my little island continues quite well ( ) if you're curious - with no real issues except a spot of homesick. It is a little isloated. Writing needs to gear up again after the interruption of the MUCH FALL OF BLOOD proofs.