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. 🙂

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? 😉

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.

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.