Sleepless in Sydney

This is just a quick post to let my blog friends know that I’m still here and I’m sorry I haven’t been around your blogs much lately. I’ve been flat out this past week and haven’t had as much free time as I’d planned. I’m looking forward to catching up with your blogs tomorrow. πŸ™‚

I’ve got back into my writing again, which is the main reason I’ve been busy. I haven’t written much for the last couple of months and I hate it when I’m not writing; I feel restless and start turning things over in my mind, and it’s not a good state. A writer needs to read and write regularly to keep the flow, and I just feel better when I’m writing every day.

I had been trying to do a final rewrite of Shards, but I’m still not that happy with it and I decided I’m going to put that aside until the New Year. So I’ve been planning a new story instead which I hope to have finished by Christmas, or the end of January if I take my time.

It’s called Sleepless. Basically it’s about a man who wakes up from a coma after eight years and how he adapts to his new life. As he undergoes rehabilitation, he finds he has a son who is 7 and it’s their relationship that’s the main part of the story. It’s also a love story; he remembers his relationship with the boy’s mother and it’s told in flashbacks, and it’s a sad love story – we know how it ends before it begins.

It’s more what I used to write a few years ago, and it’s that idea of waking up in a new world I find interesting. What would it be like to suddenly find yourself in a world so different to the one you knew? To know nothing about iPods and YouTube and the War on Terror? To have not seen 9/11, Bali or London? What would we think of our world? I think that’s very interesting territory.

It’s still an early draft and there’s more to it than that, but it’s nice getting back into the flow again, seeing words on the page. It’s more what I want to be writing and that makes a big difference. The flip side is it hasn’t left me much time for blogging (and commenting) this week, but it’s always like that at the beginning. I’ll make up for it over the next couple of days (promise!).

Right now it’s 3.40 AM and I’m sleepless in Sydney, still writing away. But it’s a nice kind of sleeplessness; I know I’m getting somewhere at last and that’s the best feeling a writer can have. Like dreaming in the void.

Startide Rising by David Brin

startide.jpgDavid Brin’s Uplift series is one of the most beloved of science fiction series. The Uplift Saga is populated by an array of strange aliens, characters and worlds, set in a future universe where no species can reach full sentience without the help of a patron race.

The sequence began in 1979 with Sundiver, but it was Startide Rising which cemented Brin’s reputation as a writer. Startide was published in 1983 and won both Hugo and Nebula Awards. It was everything people wanted SF to be at that time: epic in scope, with lots of ideas, aliens, and a pace that propelled it forward.

Reading it now the most striking thing about Startide is that it hasn’t dated that much. Perhaps some of the technology doesn’t seem that different to what we have today (or especially alien), but everything in Startide Rising has a feeling of a history, a past, and that makes it work for the story. The characters also stand out. Creideki, the dolphin captain of Streaker, feels distinctly alien, while Tom Orley and Gillian’s romance is at the heart of their world. The story is very human, set in a strange universe – a level science fiction doesn’t often reach.

Startide begins with the ship Streaker, which has crashed on the world Kithrup and is being pursued by armadas of fierce alien races. Before it crashed Streaker had discovered a fleet of vessels, believed to be the remains of the famed Progenitors who began the Uplift process millennia ago. The Galactics want the location of the fleet and will stop at nothing to get it, leaving Streaker’s mix of human and dolphin crew to fend off their assaults (and a mutiny) as they try to make their escape.

I’d not read Startide previously, though I had read Sundiver, and the first thing that impressed me was how Brin goes straight into his story. He wastes no time with Streaker discovering the alien fleet, or even its crash on Kithrup; he uses this as a backdrop, while other authors might have made another novel out of it. I also liked the depictions of the aliens in the novel. The Galactics are primarily humanoid and their strangeness comes more from their rituals and culture than their physical appearance. In their own way it is the dolphins that are the true aliens; Brin describes them (their movements, battles, rescue fever) almost as another race, and their language of Trinary is unique, a haiku language which is both beautiful and sad. The overall sense I got from Startide Rising was, again, of a very human story, as much about the characters as the science… I found that refreshing compared to more contemporary space opera.

There were a couple of things I didn’t like as much. First, I didn’t think the pace was as full-on as other people have said; certainly the novel has a good pace, but there were sections where I found it dragged for 20 pages or so. Some of Streaker’s politics also weigh the story down from time to time. And for as well as Brin writes his characters, one of the more interesting characters, Dennie, is largely neglected during the novel. At times I would have like to have seen more of her point of view, rather than Toshio’s.

Still, these are fairly minor details. Startide Rising is space opera at its best and still holds up well so many years after it was first published. Highly recommended. Just don’t be put off by the fact that it’s book 2 in the series; Startide Rising is where the Uplift Saga truly begins.

5 worst films of all time

I’ve been looking forward to the release of The Golden Compass next month but I’m starting to get a bad feeling about it. His Dark Materials is one of my favourite series and what I like is that Pullman doesn’t dumb anything down for his readers. I’ve never bought into the idea that it’s anti-religious either; to me Pullman’s criticism is of the dangers that come with blind faith and dogmatism, rather than of religion itself.

But director Chris Weitz has indicated that some of the themes have been watered down; religion and God won’t be referenced directly in the movie. To me that’s ripping the heart out of the story; it’d be like having Star Wars without The Force. And it’s hardly avoiding controversy anyway, with the Catholic League calling for a boycott.

I’ll try to keep an open mind and hopefully it’ll be a good adaptation, but it’s made me think about a few films I really haven’t liked… ones so awful that they still leave a bad taste in my mouth. So here’s my list of the 5 worst films I’ve seen. I wonder how many would make your list? πŸ˜‰

5) Waterworld
An over-long, indulgent mess, Waterworld was just a chore to get through. The story makes little sense (where’s the sea life that should thrive in the oceans? And of course there’d have to be a myth of “Dryland” somewhere), it’s preachy rather than cautionary, and the acting is awful, Costner doing his nomadic loner thing again. One example that no amount of money can save something if it doesn’t have a good story first.

4) Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles
I’m not a big fan of the Crocodile Dundee films to begin with, particularly how the series succeeds by stereotyping Australian life. The first film was okay, but II was bad and Dundee III is just atrocious. The jokes are tired and predictable, the son annoying rather than cute, and you just wonder why they couldn’t have left it in the 80s where it belonged?

3) Dude, Where’s My Car?
I know Dude, Where’s My Car? has a cult following but I’ve never got it. I don’t mind dumb comedy like Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure but Dude just feels like one long, stretched out joke… only it lasts 80 minutes. Dude, where’s my car? Where’s your car dude? DUDE, where’s my car? Where’s your car dude?… my head hurts just thinking about it.

2) Swept Away
Possibly the only good thing about Swept Away is that it resulted in Madonna swearing she wouldn’t act in movies again. The whole film feels indulgent; the acting is atrocious, the characters have no redeemable features, the editing is bare and choppy, and any humour that does exist is because it’s so unintentionally bad. And there’s not much of that humour either.

1) Battlefield Earth
I rented Battlefield Earth thinking it couldn’t be as bad as the reviews. If anything it’s worse. John Travolta came incredibly close to career suicide with his one-dimensional portrayal of alien Terl complete with dreadlocks, tons of make-up and villainous cackle. The plot is senseless, its symbolism hits you over the head like a hammer (no more so than when Johnny discovers the Declaration of Independence!), and the score screeches like an animal being slaughtered. I don’t think I could watch it again (or read the book) if somebody paid me. In 2005 the Razzies named Battlefield Earth the worst drama of the last 25 years; that might be being generous – IMO it’s quite possibly the worst film of this century.

Some people shouldn't have children

Do you think we value children enough in our society? I’ve been thinking about that lately and I’m not sure we do. Children should be our most precious resource, but a lot of the time we’re quick to criticise children and their shortcomings without recognising the role we play in their problems. As a society we seem to be fascinated by youth and beauty, but children are a burden, and one we still think should be seen and not heard.

I don’t mean to suggest that people don’t love their children, but I find it hard to believe that we’re doing all we can as a society to protect them. You only need to open a newspaper to see another story about child abuse and neglect. If there’s one thing I hate it’s seeing a child hurt, particularly a defenceless one, and the people who do speak for children’s rights seem to be silenced all too easily.

The story of Megan Meier’s death seems to have caught fire over the last few days, particularly among bloggers. If you haven’t heard the story, she committed suicide in October 2006 after receiving a flood of abuse from a 16 year old boy on MySpace. She was three weeks shy of her 14th birthday. What makes the story so despicable is that the boy never existed; instead “he” was a persona created by the parents of a girl who had been Megan’s best friend. Megan had received messages calling her “fat” and “a slut”, and the last, her father said, was this: “Everybody in O’Fallon knows how you are. You are a bad person and everybody hates you. Have a shitty rest of your life. The world would be a better place without you.” Megan hanged herself shortly afterwards.

The St. Charles Journal brought attention to the story earlier this month and I’ve been following it since then. It’s one of those stories that you can’t quite believe because it’s so horrible; we all recognise the cyber-bullying tropes in the story, but that adults would be responsible is stunning. I can’t even begin to imagine why they would do it… it’s incomprehensible.

But there’s something else about the story that’s been troubling me, the emotions surrounding it. The news article refused to name the family, which I agree with – but bloggers have. Dozens of blogs have not just named the family, but also their address. One comment was even inciting people to pursue the parents “over and over, until they too take their lives”. The outrage is fast becoming a public lynching.

I’m disgusted and outraged by what happened, but this anger is not helping; it’ll only make things worse. People taking the law into their own hands solves nothing and does not bring justice. What Megan’s death shows more is that there’s a hole in the law that needs to be filled. The parents didn’t tie the noose around Megan’s neck but surely they played a role in her death; there should be criminal consequences for that, consequences which do not exist under the current system.

A change to the law is what Ron and Tina Meier want, but once again it comes too late. That’s what really annoys me: the laws worldwide just don’t seem capable of keeping up with the new advances in technology, of protecting children in our world. It shouldn’t be acceptable that it takes a tragedy to bring about change… but of course, it’s the only thing that does.

It’s a sad fact of life that you need a licence to buy a car or a gun, but anyone can have a child. Perhaps that’s the real problem here. Just because you can have a child doesn’t make you a good parent. To me it isn’t creating a life that makes you a mother or a father, it’s that you care for and love your child, that you provide for them and would do anything to keep them safe. I would hope that’s what it means to most people.

That parents could do this to someone else’s child stuns me. You just have to think that some people shouldn’t have children, and they would be at the top of my list. I hope they come to realise what they’ve done, but more than anything I hope Megan’s family can find some closure, and that Megan can rest in peace.

Do You Have an Addictive Personality?

Your Personality is 59% Addictive

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You may have an addictive personality, but you have it mostly under check. Just don’t start any new bad habits, okay?

Do You Have an Addictive Personality?

Haven’t had time for the post I’d planned today; I’ve got my writing group tomorrow, so I’ve been busy preparing for that. It’s probably going to be the last meeting, but at least I’ll have some of my time back afterwards. πŸ˜‰

So I found a couple of fun quizzes to post today instead. The first one goes along with my post on luck and gambling. It’s pretty much what I expected; my personality isn’t too addictive, but I can get carried away sometimes…

The second one is a lot of fun: The Simpsons Personality Test! Which Simpsons character are you most like? I think Mr. Burns suits me. I’ve always wanted to release the hounds. πŸ˜›

You Are Mr. Burns

Okay, so you’re evil… You have big plans to rule the world, and you’ll destroy it in the process if necessary!
You will be remembered for: the exploitation of the masses.

Life philosophy: “One dollar for eternal happiness? I’d be happier with the dollar.”

The Simpsons Personality Test

When luck smiles on you

I’m starting to think I should buy a lottery ticket. I’ve never been a particularly lucky person; I tend to believe that things happen more when we work for them, or like karma. But lately I’ve felt like my fortunes have improved… and I’m wondering how far I should push it?

Last week was the Melbourne Cup. It’s Australia’s biggest horse race – and an excuse to party. They call it The Race That Stops A Nation because it’s watched by millions; work stops (or people call in sick), most schools pause, it’s a public holiday in Melbourne, and everybody at the track dresses up and drinks champagne. Most of the outfits are good; some are tragic. Of course they’re the memorable ones. πŸ˜‰

Usually I don’t bet, but I make an exception for the Cup. And this year I won! Efficient became the first horse since Phar Lap to win the Victoria Derby/Melbourne Cup double. Incredibly I got the quinella as well, which is a first for me. I’ve won the Cup six times now, though I know nothing about racing.

Winning was a nice surprise, and since then I’ve had small things go my way. Nothing major, but still the kind of things that don’t happen for me that often. I thought I was going to be late for a bus and it arrived just as I got there, which never happens; I heard from a few friends I hadn’t heard from in a while; there was an unadvertised sale at one of the music stores and I got 2 DVDs and a couple of CDs I hadn’t been able to find for years, and on sale. And just today a letter which I thought I’d lost or thrown away turned up when I decided I’d have one last look for it. I swear I’d looked through that drawer a hundred times, but today, there it was.

Of course all of these are probably just coincidences, but I can’t help feeling like I’m on a bit of a roll at the moment. And I think that’s the most likely reason. Winning put me in a good mood and I think if we feel happier, then often it has a roll-on effect; more good things seem to happen to us and we don’t notice the bad in the same way. We make our own luck.

The thing which worries me about that feeling is I can see how easily it can fuel addiction. I’m not a big gambler at all, but it’s a great rush when you win; it’s the thrill of beating the odds, of having luck with you, and you wonder if you can do it again. And again. Before you know it, suddenly you’re in debt, or worse you find you can’t stop. I imagine that’s how it feels for any addiction; gambling, alcohol, drugs. Perhaps that’s how addiction begins; a simple win betting $10 on a horse and something clicks in your mind, and from then on there’s something inside you that you can’t be rid of, hard as you try.

I don’t have an addictive personality, so I’m not worried about that myself; I only bet once or twice a year and I’m rarely tempted to gamble in other ways. But I do think it’s a problem for a country that one of its most celebrated days be dedicated to gambling. The week before the Cup, there’s so much coverage that you can’t escape it; for that week we glorify gambling and any ads or warnings are scarce. The Cup is part of our national heritage; we embrace it as part of our nature, but we don’t want to deal with the consequences of that – the ugly addictions beneath the surface. I’m not sure what that says about our culture.

But it is a great day, one of the few days that really does unite us as a nation, and for most people it’s just a chance to let their hair down and have some fun. That’s what it is for me. I’m still amazed I won, and that Lady Luck has been smiling on me since. So what do you think? OZ Lotto‘s up to $8,000,000 this Tuesday. Should I buy a ticket? πŸ™‚

Are you afraid of death?

I’m not sure why but I’ve been thinking about death a lot lately. Maybe it’s that we’re getting closer to Christmas and my mind’s been turning back towards the past, or that we observed Remembrance Day on Sunday and it’s been lingering in my thoughts. It’s not unusual for me to think about death; I’ve always thought that death, though sad, is a natural part of life and there is beauty to it, if you know where to look. But for some reason it’s been different this time.

I wouldn’t say that I’ve felt depressed, but my thoughts have lingered more on the process of dying than they usually do. I’ve had people I’ve known and loved in my life pass away before their time and it was painful; they didn’t seem like the same person and it was very difficult seeing them like that. Peaceful certainly isn’t the right word for their passing, but it was almost a relief to see them go in the end, their agony relieved. We had a chance to say goodbye, something a lot of people don’t have; for many people death comes suddenly and everything that they wanted to say or do is suddenly out of reach. That’s the kind of death I think must be the most difficult to adjust to, for everything to be normal, and then suddenly so different.

My poem from a few days ago is about death. I tried to write it in such a way that the reader could take what they wanted from it, but my inspiration was death. I had been thinking about what it must be like to know you’re dying, to know this or tomorrow will be your last day. What must that be like? Can any of us really know until we’re facing it ourselves? I think if it were me I would be trying to remember the moments of my life, perhaps the regrets as much as the achievements, the friends I had and hopefully would still have around me, and taking the chance to say goodbye.

I think under those circumstances death would be peaceful; perhaps still not something I would be ready for as I’m not sure I ever could be, but at least surrounded by family and friends I would hope it would be a time of remembrance rather than sorrow. Respectful. But to be honest I’m not sure if I believe that’s what would happen. I’m not sure what I believe any more.

I’m not afraid of death. If for some reason I learnt tomorrow that I only had a few days left to live, I wouldn’t fear it; I might be angry, or sad, or any of a thousand different emotions that I couldn’t possibly describe, but I wouldn’t be afraid. I consider myself a spiritual person rather than a religious one; I don’t know if there is something after death, but I would like to feel there is. But even if there isn’t that’s not something I would fear; death is natural and as long as we meant something to someone, that they held us dear in their hearts for a time, then I believe we live forever.

What I am afraid of is leaving people behind. Of leaving things unfinished… of starting down a path and finding I can only follow it a certain way. That to me is the scariest possibility of all. People say it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. I don’t believe that. Does anybody seriously believe that? It’s certainly better to have experienced than to have experienced nothing, but to have loved and lost is to have left someone behind… perhaps someone who depended on you, and needed you, and suddenly you aren’t there. Yes, if you’re the other person, you can love again and the pain will ease in time, but the relationship is different. Not better, not worse; just different. There’s something lost you can’t get back.

I suppose my one greatest fear in life is that I won’t measure up to my own standards. I look at myself and I’m relatively happy with who I am; I won’t lie and say that there aren’t things I wouldn’t change, moments I wouldn’t live again, or friends I wish I had stayed in touch with and miss dearly, but I take all that as a part of what makes me who I am. But no-one knows what their future will hold and I don’t know where I will be in twenty years. I hope I will be successful in the ways that matter; earning a respectable living, being a good person. I’d love to have a novel published, obviously, and to be secure in where I am. But I’m not sure I will be that. I feel like I’m at a stalemate right now that might last awhile. And if that’s true and I don’t achieve what I want, will it have been worth it?

I don’t know. That’s the one thing I can’t answer and that’s not me being negative, it’s simply that I do not know. How do you weigh what your mind says is possible against what your heart says it wants to achieve? By what measure do you weigh the soul of a man? By the life he has lived, the sights he has seen, the people he has loved? I would hope it is that, but is it really? I lost a friend when I was very young. It was a senseless death, just one of those things that happens for no real reason. I think she would have been a great person and I often wonder what she would be like today. We’ll never know, but I often think of her. And maybe I hold myself against that sometimes, even though I don’t mean to.

So I think that’s what I’m afraid of; not of death, but of what death represents, the measure of what you leave behind. Of course in the end there’s not much anyone can do except to live and value each moment, but I don’t think a lot of people do. I think a lot of people really are afraid of death, or if not death then of the unknown. They push it back as long as they can; they destroy their bodies in the pursuit of youth, they create conflict, they try to be remembered. We have an unhealthy relationship with death, particularly in Western culture; it’s a part of our lives but we try to ignore it or not think about it. And when we are touched by death, we grieve, which is natural – but we don’t always remember. We don’t see beauty, memory, life. And if we don’t do that, I’m not sure we really live.

My favourite poem is Kipling’s If. If you can dream-and not make dreams your master; if you can think-and not make thoughts your aim. I love those two lines in particular; I think they say so much about being creative, but also for how we should treat each other and value life. To dream, but not to dream so far that the dream becomes bitter when it doesn’t become true, in relationships, in life. I think that’s a good way to live and that’s what I try to do. I think most people probably would too, if they thought about it. It just saddens me when I turn on the news and all I see is… death isn’t the right word. Carnage. There’s nothing natural about what we’re seeing on our TV screens every night and that’s why I think it’s all the more important to hold onto some of the more peaceful aspects of death, if we can find them. That’s what I tried to represent in my poem.

Anyway, to anyone who’s got this far, sorry if this seems like a darker post… I’m just in a bit of a melancholy mood at the moment. I’ve said more here than I intended to, more about myself than I usually do… and that’s okay because increasingly this blog is becoming a window to my thoughts on life, and I can’t do that without investing some of myself into it as well. And it’s helping me sort through things more than I expected.

But I’ll have something lighter for you tomorrow.

We all need some randomness

Don’t you think we all need some randomness in our lives? I know I feel like that sometimes. I don’t like letting everything become too similar and expected if I can help it; I like following my instincts, and if I do then usually anything that comes along feels natural.

So it was a nice surprise when sulz tagged me earlier. And this tag is fun because it’s 7 weird and random facts about me. sulz asked for my weirdest facts, so I’ll do my best! First, the rules…

  • Link to the person that tagged you, and post the rules on your blog.
  • Share 7 random and/or weird facts about yourself.
  • Tag 7 random people at the end of your post, and include links to their blogs.
  • Let each person know that they’ve been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

1) I got my first computer when I was 10. It was a Mac Performa 630 with a whopping 33 MHz processor and 250MB hard drive… brings back memories. Now everyone seems to have a laptop before they’re walking.

2) I’m obsessive about jigsaw puzzles. I have dozens and most of them are over 500 to 1000 pieces. When I start one, I have to finish it, and nothing will get in my way.

3) When I was younger I was in love with Martina Hingis. Now she’s broken my heart. Cocaine? Why, Martina, why? 😯

4) When I was 3 years old my best friend was a drake named Quing Quang. He lived in the park near where we lived. Only problem was, he didn’t exist. I didn’t have an imaginary friend, I had an imaginary duck. Quack friggin quack.

5) I have more questions than I have answers. And when I do find an answer, it just creates more questions! I often wonder if I’ll ever have more answers – and if I’d want to?

6) When The Phantom Menace opened in ’99, I went to one of the midnight openings for the merchandise (John Williams’ score). But I didn’t see the movie at a midnight screening; just on the first day. Even weirder – I don’t hate TPM the way a lot of people do. Just Jar Jar Binks.

7) I love SavageGarden, but for weeks when Truly Madly Deeply was out I was convinced that “I want to lay like this forever until the sky falls down on me” was really “I want to lay like this forever until this guy falls down on me”. I couldn’t understand what I was hearing wrong until someone printed out the lyrics. Major embarrassment.

I’m supposed to tag a few people here, but I’m going to bend the rules a little as most of the people I’d tag have already been tagged by sulz or Muse. So instead I’m going to open this up to anyone who wants to steal it (or has blogger’s block) – on one condition. Feel free to take it, but please include a link to FreeRice.Com on your blog, which is a great new site I found out about from ellaella and sulz. It’s a vocabulary quiz which is sponsored by some of the world’s biggest companies (Apple, American Express, Toshiba); for every question you get right, the companies provide funds to buy 10 grains of rice to feed the hungry. Definitely an initiative I can get behind; so far I’ve donated 2,000 grains of rice over the last two days. I’ve included a link to it in my sidebar and if you wanted to mention it in a post, or with the tag, that would be a wonderful way to show your support too.

And if you’re wondering how many of the words you’d know, it has 50 levels of difficulty; I’ve got up to about 48 so far. Brachypterous tripped me up today. 😳

The smallest of truths

Image from Stock.Xchang

The smallest of truths
Hidden in a field of lies
Towers over all

Beauty without form
Colder than a frozen heart:
Only anger warms

A forbidden kiss
Reflected in candlelight:
My heart remembers

Memories of life
Strongest before the darkness
Fade away with dawn

A final goodbye:
A time for joy and sorrow
Time enough for love

Leaves falling to Earth
Branches reaching to Heaven:
Finally at peace

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