My predictions for this week in US politics
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Wayne LaPierre will blame the audience at the concert in Vegas for not carrying high-powered sniper rifles. A congressman voting to allow everyone to buy silencers will say that if Paddock had used a silencer, people would have been able to listen to at least one more song before evacuating. And the President will meet with the families of the victims, then fire one of his staff because the crowd was too small.

The future of Australian higher education
From GetUp!

"The Turnbull Government is inviting students, parents, employers, higher education providers and peak bodies to consult on its proposed changes to higher education – including slashing federal funding and fee deregulation for flagship courses.

"Let's leave no doubt in the committee's mind what the community thinks about the Coalition's privatisation agenda for public education. Will you make a submission before the deadline this coming Monday 25 July?"

I have written the following email, but not yet pressed send. I'm hoping it's sufficiently polite as well as adequately forceful. While I doubt submissions that aren't accompanied by large sums of money will sway anyone on the committee, Feedback would be appreciated - and please, if you care about this issue, please follow the link above and make a submission of your own by Monday. Thank you.


To the members of the Government Inquiry into Higher Education Funding,
I am a lecturer and tutor at the University of Western Australia and Murdoch University, and I have first hand experience of what has already been done to the universities by making them increasingly dependent on up-front fees. Classes are nearly twice the size they were a mere four years ago, and the number of tutorials per semester has been reduced, purely for budgetary reasons. Rather than pay tutors for the hours needed to mark twice as many assignments, assessment has been reduced from two assignments per semester to one - meaning that students no longer have a concrete indication of their progress in a course until the end of semester, a week before the exam. Tutorials are being replaced by lectures, meaning that students receive less individual attention. Administrative staff have been downsized, and the academic staff have had to shoulder the burden of the extra administrative work on top of the demands of teaching and grading the increased number of students. The current system is already unfair to both students and teaching staff, and the proposed short-sighted changes would make it far worse.
Australia's economy can not afford to rely on mining booms and the demand for its non-renewable resources. As automation reduces the need for human labour, leading to a decrease in job security and rising underemployment, this country will need a greater proportion of educated, innovative people to ensure our future.
Yours sincerely,
Stephen Dedman PhD

Ratfan's Book Blog: North of the Dragonlands; by Stephen Dedman
Originally posted by ratfan at Book Blog: <i>North of the Dragonlands</i> by Stephen Dedman
This book is YA, probably fine for reasonably literate children from around 10 or so through teens, but also readable for an adult. It's very well and clearly written. On one level, Dragonlands is a fantasy novel where a civilization that has domesticated various kinds of dragons tries to take over the territory of another people. These people take slaves as just another valuable commodity for trade, which is how the main character comes into play. She’s a child from a primitive village who finds herself in the wrong place at about the worst possible time.

This is an alternate world to ours, a world where a small population of dinosaurs and pterosaurs survived in sub-Saharan Africa. When people came from Britain to colonise Africa, they domesticated the “dragons’ they found and created a new mythology based on the Dragon as god. The society of the Dragonlords is medieval in nature and there is a lot of ignorance about different races, leading to the belief that golden skinned people with epicanthic folds to their eyes are really elves who can do magic.

Although the young slave girl Zuri experiences some terrible events, the book faces these without dwelling on elements which would not be suitable for young readers. There are several strands of the story, each showing the point of view of characters crucial to events. The first is Zuri herself. The second is the Dragonlords King, and also his identical twin brother, who is in the uneviable position of being born second. That close to being King! It’s got to hurt. The third strand is the samurai Dhan, who has come seeking his son, taken as a slave by the Dragonlords.

These strands come together when the Dragonlord army moves across northern Europe and holds the town of Cavalis , where Zuri is now a slave attached to a scriptorium, to siege. I felt the pace of the story really picked up here, where for perfectly logical reasons, a small group of teenagers are the only people with a chance to get through the siege for help. I’ve read so many YA stories where it doesn’t really make sense that the POV teenager is somehow the “chosen” one with special powers no one else possesses.

Magic, in the real world, is literacy, and here this is a rare talent indeed. Zuri can read and write because her trader grandfather taught her and this power will be what saves her. It also leads to my favourite line in the book:

"He [Brother Dantius, Zuri’s supervisor] says people who love books never have any

So true. Painful, but true! While the story does have a definite ending, there are enough loose threads to be woven into another book. I hope that happens.

Trip Report: Japanorama
groove, by martinlivings
Hiroshima, Himeji, Miyajima and TokyoCollapse )

Trip Report, Fit the Fourth
groove, by martinlivings
Hiroshima, Mon Amour

The flight from San Francisco to Tokyo on Philippine Airlines was reasonably pleasant, and the stopover in Ninoy Aquino Airport in Manila was mercifully brief. I caught a train from Narita to Tokyo, then two more trains to Hiroshima. Finding the Reino Inn wasn't quite as easy, but after one bum steer, a helpful local guided me to the right street, and the hostel was well signposted. Better still, my room had everything I needed, and there was late night place two doors away that made a pretty good tonkatsu, and two blocks from Hiroshima Peace Park (it was also only a few metres from a tram stop on a direct line to the train station, but I didn't realize that until later).

I'd chosen Hiroshima because of its history, its reconstructed castle, and its easy access to the even more impressive castle in Himeji. It's also a singularly beautiful city. The memorials to the victims of the bombing range from haunting to horrific, but many are adorned with fresh chains of brightly coloured origami cranes: the locals do not want anyone to forget what happened here, and that it should never happen again.

I was impressed by the number of Japanese tourists in the Peace Park, on Miyajima and at Himeji Castle - though this was partly because I'd unwittingly timed my visit to coincide with a national holiday and long weekend (at least I didn't make the same mistake as an old friend of mine who tried to visit Hiroshima on August 6th 2005 and wondered why the trains and accommodation were booked out). This meant that I had to return to Tokyo on an unreserved coach and was standing for part of the trip - though if I'd spent the weekend in Tokyo before heading down to Hiroshima, I'm not sure I could have caught a train back to Narita in time to make my flight home.

My minimal grasp of the language wasn't often a problem. I delighted a vendor on Miyajima by knowing the word "ebi", and had to explain that I understood almost no Japanese that wasn't related to food (apart from a few terms I picked up writing for Bushido). When I became slightly lost in Tokyo, it proved awkward when none of the very polite cops in the koban I stopped in spoke any English, but they could read romaji and were able to look up the address of my hostel and assure me that I was on the street I needed to be on.

After Hiroshima, a Monday in Akihabara seemed rather drab, and I wondered whether Tokyo had lost some of its mojo or whether it was just me. Spending Tuesday in Harajuku largely reassured me. But I really should learn some more Japanese before I return.

The flight home on Thai Airways was okay, though after having spent close to ten hours in Bangkok's airport while en route to London last year, I was glad that I was only scheduled for a 90 minute stopover. Unfortunately, because the plane was delayed by a strong headwind, I had barely ten minutes to get through the airport, most of it spent going through security theatre twice! Getting through Perth airport, however, was astonishingly hassle-free, and soon I was home.

Was it worth it? Hell yeah! When will I go back to Japan? I don't know, but I doubt it will be as soon as I'd like.

(Picspam to follow: photobucket playing up)
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Trip Report, Fit the Third
groove, by martinlivings
Going to Carolina in my Mind

Atomacon 3 was a small regional con, but it was at the right time and had the right guest, my old friend Robert J. Sawyer (okay, so he's a few months younger than me), so I volunteered for some panels and flew from New Orleans to Charleston, South Carolina (via North Carolina. Go figure).

Let me say upfront that I enjoyed the con. As well as catching up with Rob, his charming wife poet Carolyn Clink, Janny Wurts (who remembers Perth with affection, and would love to come to another Swancon) and Don Maitz, I met science comedian Brian Malow and a lot of local writers and fans, all of them delightful people. The venue was a good size and convenient to the airport (if not to much else), and the staff were very helpful. There was a lot of excellent cosplay, and the program was generally well-organized, with set panel rooms for literary, science, costuming, etc.

It wasn't until after the con that I discovered why the literary panels were so poorly attended. The same weekend in Charleston, there was a Young Adult Book Festival where guests included Brandon Sanderson, Rachel Caine, Gail Carriger, Mercedes Lackey, Richelle Mead, R. L. Stine, Scott Westerfeld and Jane Yolen. And on the Sunday, Bernard Cornwell was in town signing books. No wonder the Diversity in Genre Fiction panel, despite featuring Janny Wurts and four other writers, had an audience of... um... me. The huckster's room, similarly, had tables selling toys but no-one selling books other than one second-hand book dealer, Janny Wurts and Don Maitz selling backstock rescued from a defunct publisher (though self-published authors and small presses were selling books in the hall outside).

Despite this (and despite my making a cringe-inducing gaffe while moderating a panel on Pirates, Rogues and Blackguards), I did enjoy the con, and possibly should have stayed in Charleston a little longer; instead, I flew to San Francisco.

I love San Francisco, but this visit was a little disappointing, because the friends I'd made plans to see were sick or dealing with family emergencies. I did, however, get to do a little shopping at Borderlands Books, Amoeba Music, City Lights Bookshop and in Chinatown, and managed to grab a crab chowder in a sourdough bread bowl from Fisherman's Wharf while avoiding the nastier tourist traps. Then it was back to the airport, and off to Japan.

PicspamCollapse )

Bibliography Update.
groove, by martinlivings
BibliographyCollapse )

Trip Report, Fit the Second
groove, by martinlivings
Sober on Bourbon Street.

I’ve loved New Orleans since I attended World Horror Con here in 2013, and wasn’t about to pass up an excuse to spend the week between WFC and AtomaCon enjoying the weird and often macabre history, the architecture, the live music, and most importantly, the food in this unique city. My visit could have been timed better – there was an omelette festival the weekend before I arrived, a gumbo festival the weekend after I left, crawfish were out of season and Johnny’s Po-Boys was still being repaired after a fire in October – but even so, the place was still fantastic.

As well as three excellent walking toursfood, ghosts and voodoo-themed – I visited the aquarium, browsed the shops, ate too much (at least, too much that wasn’t crawfish etouffee or catfish: if you want to read my restaurant reviews, check out TripAdvisor), and took in a voodoo burlesque show at Déjà Vu on Bourbon Street... which was great fun, though I could have done without the last dancer wearing a live boa constrictor as a g-string, and was very glad that my front row seat had wheels so that I could retreat out of range. Hats off to the geek spruiker outside another of the strip clubs, who recognized the artwork on my T-shirt from five metres away and told me there was free entry for Blade Runner fans (possibly the same man who spotted my Shadowrun t-shirt in 2013 and enthused about having played the game): I wore my Seven Samurai t-shirt the next night to see whether he would recognize that as well, but he wasn’t there.

Even as a teetotaller, I really enjoy the party atmosphere in the French Quarter, which starts in mid-afternoon even on weekdays, and was probably still going when I caught my shuttle to the airport at 4 am.

One minor quibble I have about the French Quarter is the shortage of bookshops: I’d hoped to pick up one of James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux novels to read in situ, but I discovered only one bookshop in the quarter (accidentally, while on the ghost tour), and they didn’t have any Burke, nor any of Barbara Hambly’s Benjamin January series (though the ghost tour guide was a huge fan, and collected the entire series in first edition hardcovers). Another good way of enjoying the city vicariously is the film The Big Easy. But unless it comes with gumbo or crawfish etouffee, there really is no substitute for the real thing.

PicspamCollapse )

Trip Report, Fit the First
groove, by martinlivings
From the City that Never Sleeps, to the City that Likes to Sleep In

So here I am in San Francisco, and I thought I'd take advantage of the way it seems the only businesses that open before noon are there to sell you breakfast (to be fair, there are three 24 hour places in this city block; I can recommend the Omelet Del Mar at Lori's Diner) to write a somewhat belated trip report.

The flight on Etihad was remarkably pleasant, despite the best efforts of the small child who sat next to me on the trip from Abu Dhabi to JFK (after spilling water on me, he whined repeatedly that he wanted my window seat; I refrained from suggesting he'd have an even better view sitting on the wing). Tne inflight entertainment system enabled me to cross Ant-Man and Terminator: Genisys off my Quickflix list, quickly confirmed my suspicion that I didn't need to see the Fantastic 4 reboot or San Andreas, and also showed Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, which AFAIK wasn't yet showing in Perth.

Security theatre at Abu Dhabi was intense - I've never seen anyone so worried by a compressed t-shirt - but considering that the TVs were showing newscasts about the Russian airliner being brought down by a bomb, it was easier to understand than usual. Best of all, going through this procedure in Abu Dhabi meant that I didn't have to do it all again at JFK: I could just pick my bag off the carousel and catch the subway to Penn Station, which gave me a few hours to stomp around midtown before the train to World Fantasy Con.

I liked Saratoga Springs, though I was disappointed that most of the trees had lost their brilliantly multi-coloured foliage by the time I arrived: it was chilly at night, but at least the dire predictions that it would snow before the con was over proved wrong. The motel, two blocks from the convention centre, was pleasant, as were the locals I met, and it was wonderful catching up with so many old friends - including Gay and Joe Haldeman, Ellen Datlow, Jim Minz, Beth Gwinn, Rob Killheffer, Scott Edelman (far too briefly), David Hartwell, and the large contingent of fellow Aussies who I don't see often enough, including Garth Nix, Marianne de Pierres and Janeen Webb. I also met people who I'd only known electronically, including artist Kathleen Jennings and my Zombies v Robots editor Jeff Conner. It was an unusual WFC in that there were frequently more attendees at the panels than there were in the bar, possibly because the bar was unusually small (the hospitality suite did its best to compensate, and there were some wonderful parties after the panels were over.) I signed a lot of books (mostly anthologies, and many of them for book dealers who seemed to optimistically believe that my signature might add to the saleability) but it was wonderful that there were so many people there who remembered who I am, or at least who I was. Having my ARCs of North of the Dragonlands to show people, and being able to promise them that my expanded thesis on American SF and the US military would be published next year, made it even more enjoyable.

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The trip back to NYC on Adirondack Trailways was less so. The drivers apparently realized that the only reason we caught the coach was that the trains didn't run often enough for us to get to the city when we wanted to, and acted like drill sergeants reduced to driving school buses. Then it was a rather frantic scramble for the subway to JFK, and Jet Blue to New Orleans, which I will cover in Fit the Second.

The Visible Man
groove, by martinlivings
I will be traveling for much of November and attending World Fantasy Con and AtomaCon.

I will be appearing on two panels at WFC: Collections: Useful Tools, Private Archives, Grendel-like Gloat Hoards or Manifestations of Disease, on Friday at 2pm, and moderating Dark Carnivals on Saturday at 4pm. I will also be giving a reading on Saturday at 1pm and attending the mass autograph session on Friday evening.

After spending the next week in New Orleans, which should remove any need to eat for the rest of the trip, I will be appearing on four panels at AtomaCon: Pirates, Rogues and Blackguards: Why Writing Bad Guys is Fun, on Friday at 9pm, Erotica Writing on Friday at 10pm, Short Stories: The Road to the Next Great Novel on Saturday at 9pm, and Using Real Places and People in your Fiction on Sunday at noon.

I will then be in San Francisco from the 15th to the 18th of November, and Japan from the 20th to the 25th. I should probably book a ticket for the Miyazaki museum, neh?
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