Welcome to CJ Writer

CJ Writer is my new site, home to my fiction, news, reviews, and general tidbits. It started out as my LiveJournal, but I realised I needed a separate space, a window to reflect my thoughts on writing as well as a range of issues including news, technology, culture and entertainment.

So I created this site. I want it to be a way of looking at life from the other side, away from the spin we’re all surrounded by these days. I hope it’ll be something refreshing, so let me know if you have any ideas, and I hope you enjoy your time on the site. 🙂

Nation of convicts or second chances?

You know, some people really should learn to keep their mouths shut. But maybe Sheik Hilali isn’t capable of it. He went on Egyptian television, saying that Australian Muslims were more entitled to be in Australia than Anglo-Saxons because they hadn’t come here as convicts. This coming from the man who had previously compared immodestly dressed women to “uncovered meat” and suggested they invited rape.

Should we even listen to him anymore? He hasn’t even got his facts right; South Australia was never a convict colony, so that’s an entire population he’s excluded. The problem is that Sheik Hilali is the leading Muslim cleric in Australia and even if the majority of people don’t take his comments seriously, others still will. His words can only serve to ostracize people when we need to be building unity. And the convict comment wasn’t even the worst of it; his implication that there’s no freedom for Muslims in Australia could be far worse.

Thankfully it doesn’t seem like many people are taking Sheik Hilali seriously. Spokespeople for various Islamic organisations have come out and condemned Hilali ‘s comments, saying that they and the vast majority of Muslims in Australia do not agree with him. That an Australian spiritual leader would go on foreign television to denounce Australia is unbelievable, though. Obviously we want free-speech, but maybe it’s time Muslims thought about whether they want Hilali to still represent them. I think any spiritual (or political) leader making derogatory comments about their country should step down.

It’s been strange watching the reaction in the media too. They’ve really gone after Hilali – but it was the media who built him up to begin with. One good thing Hilali did was to try to intervene in Iraq when Douglas Wood was kidnapped and the media were quick to praise him then. Now they’re attacking him just as quickly. They seem to have forgotten the role they played in the beginning.

And it’s strange as well that a lot of the language on this regards Sheik Hilali, not his views per se. Because the idea that we’re somehow “embarrassed” by our heritage is completely incorrect. We’re proud of our convict heritage. It doesn’t represent something ugly; it says instead that Australia was founded as a land of second chances and we value that. That’s a quality we want to keep as a part of our society and if anyone can’t accept that, they should stay overseas. And maybe learn to keep their mouths shut.

Irwin honoured at G'Day USA festival

Crocodile Hunter’s Wife Accepts Life Time Achievement Award

It was nice to see Steve Irwin honoured at the G’Day USA festival. His death was so sudden and sad, and it’s right that he be remembered for what he did best – promoting Australia and Australian values.

Am I the only one finding what’s happening with Bindi Irwin a little troubling, though? It seems like there’s a different news story about her every day in the media over here, and Channel 10 are even showing the David Letterman episode with Bindi Irwin and her mother in primetime, 7.30 pm this Thursday.

Who am I to say what’s healthy for her, but I just hope the media aren’t pushing her forward to replace her father… she’s not ready. She’s 8 and her family is still grieving. Perhaps her commitments were already in place, but surely any organiser would understand a postponement? She seems like such a mature girl, though… she’ll find her way forward, at her own pace.

Spin by Robert Charles Wilson

spin.jpgRobert Charles Wilson has a knack for starting stories with a bang. In Darwinia, for instance, Europe disappears. Spin is no different: a shield suddenly spreads around the Earth, blocking humanity from the universe. What’s striking about Wilson’s work, however, is that Spin is as much concerned with the human impact of its story as its science. It asks not just why has the Spin happened, but what impact does it have when people suddenly see the stars go out?

Spin starts with three children, twins Diane and Jason Lawton and their friend Tyler Dupree, who one night see the stars go out. At first they don’t know what’s happened, but soon the world realises that a shield has mysteriously appeared around the Earth. The “Spin” still allows life to continue, but outside the Spin time seems to be accelerating – so much so that for the next 30-odd years, 300 billion years will pass in the outside universe. Spin follows Tyler, Jason and Diane through these 30 years, showing the human reaction to the Spin, a mix of panic, hope, awe and fundamentalism that creates a very different world when the Spin finally drops.

I was impressed reading Spin. Wilson isn’t an author that I’m overly familiar with, but I can see in Spin why so many people enjoy his work. Wilson’s ideas have a huge scope, from the Spin itself to terraforming Mars and a drug that elevates a person’s intelligence; yet for how epic his ideas are, Wilson never loses sight of his characters either. At its heart Spin is a very human story, one that creates human situations out of scientific events. Tyler, Jason and Diane spend the novel trying to find ways of understanding what has happened to their world. Jason escapes into science, creating projects to explore the limitations of the Spin, while Diane finds religion and meaning in an otherwise bleak life. Tyler hovers somewhere between them both, using their friendship as his anchor against the Spin. And beyond them the world itself struggles to find understanding. At first people ignore the Spin before panic and fear set in, giving rise to numerous cults, violence and mass-suicides. It’s this sense of reality in the novel that transcends Spin beyond ordinary science fiction; it’s as much a psychological novel, focusing on the human condition.

Spin is beautifully written as well. Wilson’s prose is easily accessible, yet expertly crafted; it flows even while describing the science that makes the Spin possible (no easy feat) and some of the narrative is so graceful, so subtle, that it lingers at the back of your mind. There’s one passage in particular where Tyler watches the Lawton’s lawn being trimmed, thinking how the blades had “arisen over centuries” while outside the Spin “empires rose and fell”; that passage stayed with me for the rest of the novel. The way Wilson depicts religion is interesting as well. The New Kingdom Christians Diane becomes involved with are very much a cult, but despite their Ekstasis, they’re not some completely bizarre extremist sect; rather, they’re trying to make sense of the changes in the world, finding contentment in their faith. Again it feels realistic, showing belief, fanaticism and the politics behind faith, and makes Diane’s storyline more than just a counterbalance to Jason’s pursuit of the Spin.

To say that I was impressed by Spin isn’t to say that it’s perfect, though. On the whole I enjoyed the first two-thirds of the novel more than the last third; the tone of the novel changes slightly, the world getting stranger as more time passes within the Spin. One thing I wondered about as well was why Wun Ngo Wen would have brought photos with him from Mars; they’re supposed to be digitized, but the Martians are many millennia advanced from humans – that they would have any technology that could still interface with our own seems a stretch. Also some of the politics between Jason and his father, fighting for control of Perihelion, feels more stretched-out than necessary.

Still, Spin is greater than its flaws. It’s a novel as much about people as science and that’s something there isn’t much of in science fiction. It’s also a timely examination of human reaction and fear (some could see the Spin as a parable for 9/11, an event that changes the world forever in only a moment) and with so many layers it’s easy to see why Spin won the 2006 Hugo Award for Best Novel. Highly recommended.