Monthly Archives: September 2010

Well, fuck me with a Koran while I read Harry Potter

By
3
September 30, 2010

Did I get your attention? I hope so. It’s International Blasphemy Day today and it’s also currently Banned Books Week.

International Blasphemy Day was the concept of the Centre For Inquiry in response to the outrage over the Mohammed cartoons controversy. The Day is designed to commemorate the controversy and to celebrate free expression and everyone’s right to mock, ridicule and blaspheme religions. It’s also important in the face of increasing censorship of free speech, with things like blasphemy laws being passed in Ireland last year, among other places. The problem with this kind of ridiculous law-making is that it makes opinions illegal. Anyone is free to believe what they want, therefore anyone is free to believe that someone else’s beliefs are complete and utter bollocks. This is not a place for law.

The argument is that religious ridicule leads to the incitement of violence. Which is rubbish. Religious belief leads to the incitement of violence in many clearly recorded cases. Ridiculing said religions usually only leads to members of that religion calling for violence against the intolerant. Oh, the crushing irony.

It’s perfectly reasonable to hold any opinion you like. If you go online and tell people to attack any religious group then you are certainly inciting violence and should be brought to justice for that. Just like when the religious call for the heads of the infidels. In the same way that you should be dealt with harshly by the law if you actually do violence against anyone, for any reason. But if you go online and say that you think any given belief is a load of rubbish and that its adherents are a bunch of willfully ignorant losers, then that’s actually fine. You’re perfectly entitled to that opinion. Just like the religious are entitled to their opinion that the Earth is only 6,000 years old, or that a fella that liked nine year old girls was the conduit for god, or whatever.

Would you expect to be jailed for saying that anyone who voted for Tony Abbott in the recent general election is an idiot and should be ridiculed?

Of course not. What makes religion so special that it has to be treated differently?

This crosses well with Banned Books Week, because it’s usually religious wowsers that crap on about banning books. I mentioned Harry Potter in the title to this post as so many Christians in the US called for the book to be banned because it celebrated witchcraft. That still astounds me. It’s okay for them to tell children that a Jewish zombie that was his own father is the saviour of the world AND MEAN IT while it’s not okay for a work of fiction to celebrate a young man rising above adversity and defeating a powerful evil.

Have a look at that Banned Books page (linked above) and prepare to be astounded at some of the books that people have called out. According to the site, “People challenge books that they say are too sexual or too violent. They object to profanity and slang, and they protest against offensive portrayals of racial or religious groups–or positive portrayals of homosexuals.”

Oh no! Don’t let on that the gays are actually, you know, human or something.

The most confronting things in human nature need to be discussed. Taboos are things that cause division and ignorance. Fictional representations of real human issues are often the best way to generate debate of this kind of thing. Unless a book is a direct work of hate, deliberately targeting a given person or group, then there is no reasonable excuse to ban it. Some things might be considered too intense for kids but that’s a whole different debate. You might remember my post about the Taboo panel at Worldcon where classification of books was mentioned. And soundly shouted down. When it comes to kids being exposed to questionable material, that’s a matter of parenting. Know should what your kids are reading and vet anything that might disturb them. (Incidentally, if you’re an especially religious person, I would suggest that your indoctrination of your kids is doing way more harm than any book they’re likely to read.)

Reading and triggering thought and debate is essential. Banning books is just endorsing ignorance. I should declare a certain bias – my own books would certainly be considered blaphemous by pretty much every religious group. But I held this opinion long before I wrote those books. In fact, I’d love a religious group to call for my books to be banned – you can’t buy publicity like that. Come on, you fuckers – come and have a go!

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Versatile Blogger Award

By
8
September 29, 2010

versatile blogger Versatile Blogger AwardLorna Suzuki was kind enough to award me a Versatile Blogger Award today. She said:

Alan Baxter – not only is he a martial arts master, he is a master storyteller! He blogs about writing and business, and the business of writing.

I wonder if she’s thinking about a different Alan Baxter?

This is one of those chain blog awards that you get and then nominate a bunch of other people in a kind of self-congratulatory circlejerk of link sharing. At least, that’s the cynical view. The more optimistic view is that you receive the award from someone that really does like what you blog about and you use that power for good, to share links to other blogs that you really care about.

It’s a bit out of character, but I’m going to be optimistic today. You’re also supposed to list 7 things about yourself, in a warm, fuzzy, get to know the blogger kind of way. Anyone reading here on a regular basis probably already knows far too much about me, so I’ll give you a list of one thing about me:

1. I’m slowly training up an army of Kung Fu Assassins. Some starting from as young as 5 years old. So don’t fuck with me.

The rules of this particular award say you should list 15 recipients to pass the award on to. Screw that – I can’t sit here and think of 15. So I’ll just list a few that come immediately to mind. And no, I’m not taking this very seriously. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very touched that Lorna thought of me when she was taking her turn at this – I’m just not very good at joining in. “Doesn’t play well with others” was often found on my school report cards. Perhaps that why I make a career out of fighting while I wait for the writing to start bringing in the big bucks.

So I’ll award the Versatile Blogger Award to (in alphabetical order):

aNadder – Michael Fridman blogs here about all sorts of things, in a most philosophical way;

Angela Slatter – other than being an awesome writer, she’s been doing a series of drive-by interviews of other writerly folk that have all been dripping with awesomesauce;

ASiF – Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus. Excellent reviews of Aussie SF;

Evolving Thoughts – John S Wilkins on all things evolutionary, biological, religious and so on;

52 Stitches – A blog of short horror fiction, the versatility being in the variety of stories;

Horrorscope – The Australian Dark Fiction blog;

Metamagician and The Hellfire Club – Russell Blackford’s blog of all kinds of stuff to make you think. Also, Russell has teh awesome dance moves;

S F Signal – a beautiful melange of all things SF;

The Creative Penn – Joanna Penn blogs about all things writing related. An especially useful resource for building your author platform, if you’re that way inclined.

That’ll do from me. I hope you find something new and interesting among that lot.

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See a bald editor to help cure cancer

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2
September 28, 2010

farr See a bald editor to help cure cancerRussell B Farr, editor at Ticonderoga Publications, is doing a great shave for charity. Look at those russetty locks and that fulsome beard (pic nabbed from Kirstyn McDermott’s blog). It’s all coming off, hair and beard, to raise money for cancer research. Says Russell:

The ACT Eden Monaro Cancer Support Group have given my mum a great deal of support. The work they are doing is first rate. It isn’t easy being in Perth while she battles cancer in NSW, and to have this support group helping her when I can’t be there is a great relief.

To show my appreciation for this I am prepared to look like an idiot.

If you look at the photo, you can see that I’m looking rather hairy. When I reach my target, I’ll shave it all off – that is beard and hair.

While I’m hoping to reach my target by 1 November, I’d like to reach this earlier if possible. This will give me time to grow some hair back before I visit mum again in December (she doesn’t like shaved heads).

You can do your bit to help the hair come off by clicking here and then clicking the Donate button. Go on, it’s a worthy cause.

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Adjectives intensified with obscenities

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0
September 27, 2010

I love xkcd.com for so many reasons, not least of which is the effort and research that goes into some of the comics. Coupled with an awesome concept, we get absolute gems like this:

adjectives Adjectives intensified with obscenities

A bit of geeky fun for the Battlestar Galactica fans

By
4
September 27, 2010

I was reading the paper over the weekend and this story caught my eye. The story is basically about a plan to start coal seam gas drilling and there’s controversy because it’s going to be near the Warragamba dam, which holds a lot of Sydney’s drinking water. The controversy comes from the fact that the company plans to use “the fracking technique.”

Fracking, apparently, is hydraulic fracturing, which involves pumping a mixture of water, sand and chemicals deep underground to shatter rock strata and force coal seam gas to the surface. That gas is then refined into natural gas to be used as fuel.

Well, frak me.

fracking 1 A bit of geeky fun for the Battlestar Galactica fans

fracking 2 A bit of geeky fun for the Battlestar Galactica fans

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While you wait for book three, authors die!

By
8
September 26, 2010

The title of this post is slightly sensationalist, but in a literary sense it’s actually very true. I mentioned recently that I’ve finally started reading A Game Of Thrones, which is the first book in George R R Martin’s A Song Of Ice & Fire series. This comment lead to a few discussions in various places that has subsequently lead to this post.

When I mentioned that I was finally getting around to reading A Game Of Thrones a lot of people assumed that also meant that I’d only just bought it. Especially when, in answer to the question, “Why has it taken you this long?” I replied, “I was waiting for the complete story before I started.”

A lot of people do this, and fair enough. When you notice a big old fantasy series that you think catches your interest, it’s reasonable to assume there’s going to be a whole story told. Often these days a writer will sell a trilogy (or bigger series) to a publisher and that publisher will set a publication schedule to release those books over a relatively short period of time, maybe even inside a year.

However, if no one buys the first book, it’s very possible that books two and three will never see the light of day. An author survives on their sales figures. If they perform poorly at the checkout, the publisher will discard them like a greasy burger wrapper and think nothing of it. That’s business. It’s fucked, but it’s business.

Going back to Martin’s series, when people started telling me how awesome it was, I started buying the books. They’ve sat on my shelf for ages. I wasn’t going to read them until there was a whole finished set, but I bought them to ensure that Martin showed solid sales figures and stayed in favour with his publisher. (I ended up starting to read recently because of the forthcoming TV series, and I wanted to have read the books first).

Obviously someone like George R R Martin doesn’t need my help, but the same thing applies across the board. For example, I was on a panel recently with Paul Cornell and he talked about one of his comic series being cancelled. There was conjecture that the series was cancelled because so many people these days wait for the trade, rather than collect the individual comic books. If no one buys the comic books, the story is considered a failure and there’ll be no trade.

The same applies to big series of novels. If no one buys the first book, the author/story will be considered a failure and there’ll be no release of the rest of the books. The people that read the first one are denied closure, the people that were waiting for a whole series have missed the opportunity and, most importantly, the author is dropped and never has the chance to expand their career. This is a very sad result of market forces and it’s actually a false result.

So if you see the first book of a series that you think you might like, buy it! You don’t have to read it right away – consider it an investment in your reading future. Buy the subsequent volumes as they come out and you’ll end up with a solid reading experience once the whole series is finished. And you’ve done your bit to ensure the success of an author and their literary vision. Hopefully you’ve had a good read too. If you put off buying that first book, you could have actively participated in the failure of an otherwise awesome story and potentially stellar career. No pressure.

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Starfish by Peter Watts – review

By
3
September 24, 2010

starfish Starfish by Peter Watts   reviewWhen I posted my review of Raft yesterday I realised that I hadn’t written a review of the book I’d read before it, which was Starfish by Peter Watts. You’ll remember that I’ve talked about Peter a bit here recently, and you’ll probably remember the picture of me pretending his Hugo award was my own. I had the pleasure of hanging out with him a bit during Worldcon, and felt that I should read some of his work. There are so many people out there writing amazing things and I wish I had the time to read them all. It’s just a simple fact of life that I’ll never read all the books I want to. I made that realisation some time ago and I’ve since come to terms with it. And it’s something of a relief to just accept that fact, however sad it is.

However, when I’ve actually met someone, talked about all kinds of stuff, discovered what an awesome person they are and so on, there’s an added impetus to read their work. Especially when it’s so well regarded. So I picked up a copy of Starfish, Peter’s debut novel, at Worldcon and got him to sign it for me. I read it on my return.

Starfish is an incredible novel. It’s the story of Rifters, people with the special skills needed to run power generating stations three kilometres below the surface of the Pacific. The back cover blurb is an excellent description of the book:

[civilization] recruits those whose histories have preadapted them to dangerous environments, people so used to broken bodies and chronic stress that life on the edge of an undersea volcano would actually be a step up.

These people are fitted out for high pressure depths, with one lung removed and replaced with a water/oxygen processing unit and various other biotech adaptations to make them able to survive outside their undersea home in nothing more than the Diveskin they habitually wear.

Watts manages to create such an incredible atmosphere that the life of the characters at the bottom of the Pacific is utterly believeable. His story is partly a study of the human condition, partly a near future thriller. His understanding of the science of life in the deep and the creatures that inhabit this unusual, volcanic area is stunning. Rarely has a book so totally immersed me in the environment I’m reading about.

The main character of Lenie Clarke is someone I want to read more about, which is good, because there are more Rifter books – the whole thing has become a trilogy with Maelstrom and Behemoth as sequels to Starfish. I’ll definitely be picking up those books to read.

Starfish is hard SF, Watts experience as a marine biologist clearly evident, but it’s also incredible storytelling, amazing characterisation and brilliant worldbuilding. I’m so glad that I met Peter and subsequently read this book, because it’s without a doubt one of the best things I’ve read in years. I’ll rarely go so far as to give something 5/5 on a star rating, but this is unquestionably a five star book. And one that won’t just appeal to SF fans. This is superb literature that anyone will enjoy.

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Raft by Stephen Baxter – review

By
2
September 23, 2010

raft Raft by Stephen Baxter   review I don’t read an awful lot of hard science fiction, but do occasionally get the urge. I love Iain M Banks’ work, but I wouldn’t classify that as especially hard or sciencey. It’s just awesome, and usually as hard as I like it (oo-er, Mrs). But now and then I like to read something by someone with real science chops, like Alistair Reynolds or Greg Egan. I’d never read anything by my namesake, Stephen Baxter (no relation), so when a friend was selling some books on the cheap recently, I grabbed his copy of Raft.

It was Baxter’s debut novel and all the blurbing is quite effusive. And fairly reasonably so. The story basically revolves around a few thousand humans, surviving after being cut off from the rest of humanity some five hundred years before. Back then a spaceship accidentally crossed into a paralell universe and the crew managed to survive in a gaseous nebula. They turned the ship into a kind of massive raft, surviving as best they could by mining the tiny short lived stars around them for iron and expanding their raft as their numbers increased.

These people live in utterly different conditions to anything we’d know, where even their own body mass exerts a gravitational pull that others around them can feel. There are strange lifeforms in this nebula, like flying trees that the humans have pressed into service, and so on. The trouble is, the nebula they’re in is dying and something needs to be done.

The story is incredibly well realised. The nebula these humans inhabit is tiny on a comparative scale to anything we’d consider a nebula. Baxter manages to make this environment quite believable and his toying with the gravitational struggles of daily life is fascinating. The trials of life against this totally weird universe are convincing and Baxter doesn’t shy away from the realities of life in such a harsh place. He does a great job of exploring the nature of humanity in adversity as well as crafting a truly mind bending universe for the story to take place in.

The writing bothered me sometimes, like often using “Now” at the start of sentences. As in, “Now the tree tipped towards the core” or something. Well, yes, of course it’s now. We’re reading it now. The tree tipped towards the core. That phrasing in particular cropped up a lot and started to really bug me, but otherwise Raft is an excellent adventure really well told. If you fancy some very hard SF wrapped around an adventurous yarn, you could do with giving this one a go.

Now I’m moving back into a big, fat fantasy read. I used to read BFFs all the time, but these days I tend to wade through one every year or two. Last time it was Brent Weeks’ The Night Angel Trilogy, which I enjoyed immensely. This time I’ve finally got around to George R R Martin’s Song Of Ice & Fire and last night started on the first book in the series, A Game Of Thrones. This is partly because people have been telling me for years that I should read these books, but also because I met Martin at the recent Worldcon and he’s a stellar guy. And HBO are making a TV series of the books, which I’ll be keen to watch, but wanted to read the books first. I’d been putting this series off because it was unfinished, and I like to know there’s an end in place when I start on these big reading endeavours. But Martin seemed in good health and good spirits when I met him, so I’m hoping he’ll be inclined to finish this thing off at some point.

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Aussiecon4 / Worldcon link salad

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0
September 23, 2010

I know I said before that I’d done my last Aussiecon4 post. I’m just going to stop saying it now. I’m worse than John Farnham on his last ever tour ever honestly this time, there’ll be no more. Till next time. Anyway, this post is not so much from me, but just to direct you to a truly awesome list of links for all things Aussiecon4/Worldcon. @illegiscrib on Twitter compiled this list of everything you could imagine – blog posts, photos, podcasts, audio, video and more from the con. There’s more stuff here than you could shake a whole collection of sticks at. The list is compiled neatly by Gary Kemble on his blog:

Everything you could ever want from Worldcon 2010.

Awesome work, guys – well done.

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Language, please don’t abuse it

By
3
September 22, 2010

I’m a stickler for getting things right. We all make mistakes, we’re only human, but some things are not mistakes. They’re ignorance. One of the most pervasive forms of ignorance, and one that really bothers me as a writer, is the incorrect use of language. The other day I was having a conversation with someone online. I won’t go into details about who it was or the exact subject of the conversation, but they hit me with this line:

“Irregardless, I could care less.”

I nearly had an aneurism. I managed to end the conversation and move away quietly without ripping their virtual head off, which was quite an achievement for me. There is so much wrong with that single sentence.

There is no such word as “irregardless”, people. It makes no linguistic or grammatical sense.

re·gard·less
–adjective
1.
having or showing no regard; heedless; unmindful (often fol. by of ).
–adverb
2.
without concern as to advice, warning, hardship, etc.; anyway: I must make the decision regardless.
—Idiom
3.
regardless of, in spite of; without regard for: They’ll do it regardless of the cost.

When people say “irregardless” they mean “regardless”. Simple as that.

The phrase “I could care less” actually says exactly the opposite of what the person means. They are trying to say that they care so little about the given subject that it would be impossible to care less about it. Therefore, the expression is “I could not care less.”

I’m sure that anyone reading this hardly needs the explanations above. Right? Anyway, that brain snapping comment lead me to post this on Twitter/Facebook:

It should be legal to punch people in the face when they say, “irregardless”. And when they say, “I could care less.”

Not that I could punch someone in the face over the internet – even my skills don’t stretch that far – but you know what I mean. That post triggered a flood of comments on all the other things people say that are just mind-achingly wrong. That conversation eventually lead to the phrase:

“I literally [insert thing you didn’t literally do here].”

Such as, “I literally died.” If only. Sadly, that’s not true. Which lead to my friend Damien Smith pointing me in the direction of this excellent comic from The Oatmeal – a website I love. (Click for a larger image.)

literally oatmeal 269x1024 Language, please dont abuse it

Yes, I’m afraid this whole post, other than being very valid, was so that I could post the awesome Gayroller 2000. Brilliant. Go and spend time The Oatmeal and enjoy yourself.

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Welcome

The website of author Alan Baxter

Alan Baxter, Author

Author of horror, dark fantasy & sci-fi. Kung Fu instructor. Personal Trainer. Motorcyclist. Dog lover. Gamer. Heavy metal fan. Britstralian. Zetetic.

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