Continuum 8, NatCon 51 report

I have to be honest, this is going to be a fairly lame report. Don’t get me wrong, the con was awesome, the programming stream was excellent and huge fun was had by one and all. It’s just that my brain is jelly and there’s so much to do, but I did want to mention a few personal highlights.

As for my own involvement in things, I enjoyed all the panels I was on. The discussions about ebooks and the future of reading devices were both fascinating debates and I learned a lot along with taking part. The New Faiths For New Worlds panel, where we discussed religion in worldbuilding was perhaps my favourite of the panels I took part in. It was a really interesting exploration of how to get it right and what mistakes people make in weaving religion well into their cultural worldbuilding rather than simply slapping it on the side or rebadging our own religions and shoehorning them into the narrative. As a snapshot example, David Eddings (Belgariad) copped a lot of flack for fucking it up and George R R Martin (A Song Of Ice And Fire) got kudos for doing it well.

My workshop on writing fight scenes was very sparsely attended but good nonetheless, and I hope those who did attend got something from it. I have to admit that I was heinously hungover for that, but I don’t think it showed too much. I also had a fairly savage stomach bug, so the start of the con was hard work indeed, but thankfully I came good by Saturday and all was well.

I was on a reading panel with Kelly Link, Jenny Blackford and Tansy Rayner Roberts which was also good fun. I read last and it’s probably just as well, as the three before me all read things that were not nearly as dirty and grim and sweary as my stuff (I read an excerpt from The Darkest Shade Of Grey) and I think I kinda brought the tone down a bit. But I did get a lot of positive feedback from attendees afterwards, so that’s good. People like the dark stuff.

My other official duty was launching the debut collection by Melbourne writer and very good friend, Felicity Dowker. Her collection of short fiction, Bread & Circuses, which I’ve mentioned here before, is brilliant. It was my first time being the official launcher for a book, so I was a bit nervous about it, but I think it went very well. Jack Dann congratulated me on it afterwards, so I must have been doing something right if the launchmaster himself approved. Felicity gave a great reading and then sold and signed loads of books, so the event was definitely a very well-attended win.

In between all that I got to listen in on a variety of other excellent panels and readings – I was always doing something and kept missing things I wanted to see, which is the sign of a well programmed con.

The awards night was another highlight. Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond did an excellent job of MCing the whole thing and bringing it in under time. I’ll post a list of winners at the end of this post. I was nominated, but I didn’t win. I have no concerns about that, though, as I lost to Joanne Anderton, who is a lovely person and absolutely deserving of the win. I even told her she would win, as I was sure she would, but she wouldn’t believe me till it happened.

Otherwise there was much drinking, eating, talking, drinking, laughing and drinking. The usual con stuff. And, as always, it was all over too soon and I felt like I hardly had more than a few seconds with anyone. Well done to the Continuum committee for a superb event and here’s to the next one!

Following are all the Award winners, taken from the Continuum 8 site.

Congratulations to the all the winners of the Australian SF awards, presented Sunday evening.

The A Bertram Chandler Award: Richard Harland

The Norma K Hemming Award: AA Bell, for Hindsight, and Sara Douglass, for The Devil’s Diadem

The Peter McNamara Award: Bill Congreve

The Chronos Awards:

Best Long Fiction:
The Last Days of Kali Yuga, Paul Haines (Brimstone Press)

Best Short Fiction:
The Past is a Bridge Best Left Burnt, Paul Haines (in The Last Days of Kali Yuga)

Best Fan Writer:
Jason Nahrung

Best Fan Artist:
Rachel Holkner

Best Fan Written Work:
Tiptree, and a collection of her short stories, Alexandra Pierce (in Randomly Yours, Alex)

Best Fan Artwork:
Blue Locks, Rebecca Ing (Scape 2)

Best Fan Publication:
The Writer and the Critic, Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond

Best Achievement:
Conquilt, Rachel Holkner and Jeanette Holkner (Continuum 7)

The Infinity Award, for overwhelming contribution to Australian SF: Merv Binns

The Ditmar Awards:

Best Novel
The Courier’s New Bicycle, Kim Westwood (HarperCollins)

Best Novella or Novelette
“The Past is a Bridge Best Left Burnt”, Paul Haines, in The Last Days of Kali Yuga (Brimstone Press)

Best Short Story
“The Patrician”, Tansy Rayner Roberts, in Love and Romanpunk (Twelfth Planet Press)

Best Collected Work
The Last Days of Kali Yuga by Paul Haines, edited by Angela Challis (Brimstone Press)

Best Artwork
“Finishing School”, Kathleen Jennings, in Steampunk!: An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories (Candlewick Press)

Best Fan Writer
Robin Pen, for “The Ballad of the Unrequited Ditmar”

Best Fan Artist
Kathleen Jennings, for work in Errantry ( including “The Dalek Game”

Best Fan Publication in Any Medium
The Writer and the Critic, Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond

Best New Talent
Joanne Anderton

William Atheling Jr Award for Criticism or Review
Alexandra Pierce and Tehani Wessely, for reviews of Vorkosigan Saga, in Randomly Yours, Alex


Sometimes the story’s NOT the thing!

Following the daft church sign posted previously, I thought I’d stick with religion after reading this today at Michael Fridman’s blog. Seriously, sometimes humanity makes me want to drown things…

People Believe a LOT of Nonsense on Evolution, Creationism, Religion

I’m not talking about creationists, that goes without saying. I’m talking about the fact that a very high percentage of arguments by people who claim that evolution and religion are compatible are in fact nonsense. Via Jerry Coyne, an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education that made me lose my faith in humanity just a little more. In terms of both the article and the comments. It’s a microcosm of the kind of muddle-headed thinking that often comes up when evolution and religion are discussed together. Here we go:

The article is about a theory advanced by Dan McAdams (a professor of psych specialising in narrative psychology) about public acceptance of evolution is so low in the US. According to McAdams, humans make sense of their lives through narratives. We constructing them about ourselves and also respond to them when others advance them. Evolution may be a wonderful and elegant explanation, but it’s a bad narrative. No purpose, no quest, no protagonists/antagonists. “You can’t really feel anything for this character—natural selection,” McAdams says. Sounds like a great parody on the Onion but he’s serious! And according to this analysis, evolution will always be an uphill battle.

The biblical story of creation, in contrast, couldn’t be richer. Talk about drama! Characters who want things, surprising reversals, heroes, villains, nudity. There’s a reason it outsells On the Origin of Species, and it may be why scientists haven’t had more success at moving the needle of public opinion.

Without denigrating the field of narrative psychology, this is beyond ridiculous. Thankfully the whole article was succinctly demolished in the third comment so I don’t even have to do anything:

Surely the obvious comment is that the US is anomalous among developed (and relatively highly educated) countries in its high level of skepticism about evolution. This argues strongly against explanations grounded in universal human psychology, but supports religious explanations, since the US is also highly anomalous in its level of adherence to Biblical religions.

Of course the other obvious point is that plenty of other scientific theories are just as unnarrative without people having a problem accepting them. Again, a stray commenter’s few sentences are right on target.

Poppycock. Does gravity require a narrative? Do magnets require character development? Do people inquire about agency and plot development before taking medicine? The need for myths and legends may be powerful – but if it excludes the acceptance of science, it’s the culprit not the solution.

It goes on and Michael does a good job of covering the whole topic. It’s interesting stuff from the point of view of storytelling and so on, even if it is vexing. Read it all here.


Friday the 13th

Friday the 13thToday is Friday the 13th. Ooooh, cue Twilight Zone music. Of course, it’s all superstitious bollocks, like being afraid to walk under a ladder or thinking a political agitator died two thousand years ago for your sins. I mean, really? Get over yourself. But why is Friday 13th considered unlucky? Folklore and superstition is some pretty interesting stuff and it’s great fodder for stories. The more we draw on existing mythologies and folk tales, that have endured over centuries for a reason, the more we can make our own stories feel authentic and convincing, thereby helping readers to suspend disbelief and enjoy a fictional journey. And who knows, maybe in two thousand years there’ll be a group of weirdos attending the Church of RealmShift, praying to the god Isiah for absolution. That would be quite funny, but we really should have grown out of this stuff already, so considering another two thousand years of it is a bit sad.

Anyway, Friday 13th – where does that particular bad luck superstition come from? Well, the answer, as is so often the case: No one knows. But there are a lot of theories. Interestingly, this particular superstition seems to be quite young, with no real references before the 20th century. Going to the fount of all knowledge (Wikipedia, obviously), we get these possibilities:

1. In numerology, the number twelve is considered the number of completeness, as reflected in the twelve months of the year, twelve hours of the clock, twelve gods of Olympus, twelve tribes of Israel, twelve Apostles of Jesus, the 12 successors of Muhammad in Shia Islam, etc., whereas the number thirteen was considered irregular, transgressing this completeness. There is also a superstition, thought by some to derive from the Last Supper or a Norse myth [more on this later – Alan], that having thirteen people seated at a table will result in the death of one of the diners.

2. Friday has been considered an unlucky day at least since the 14th century’s The Canterbury Tales, and many other professions have regarded Friday as an unlucky day to undertake journeys, begin new projects or deploy releases in production. Black Friday has been associated with stock market crashes and other disasters since the 1800s.

3. One author, noting that references are all but nonexistent before 1907 but frequently seen thereafter, has argued that its popularity derives from the publication that year of Thomas W. Lawson’s popular novel Friday, the Thirteenth, in which an unscrupulous broker takes advantage of the superstition to create a Wall Street panic on a Friday the 13th. Records of the superstition are rarely found before the 20th century, when it became extremely common.

It seems that there were existing superstitious issues regarding both the number 13 and Fridays, so it seems “logical” that Friday the 13th is doom with extra tragic sauce.

JasonAnother theory is that Primitive man had only his 10 fingers and two feet to represent units, so he could count no higher than 12. What lay beyond that — 13 — was an impenetrable mystery to our prehistoric forebears, hence an object of superstition.

That doesn’t really take into account toes, though, so seems like a dodgy idea to me. Not to mention that surely there would be no evidence of anything beyond 12, thereby nothing to be scared of. It certainly wouldn’t have been called 13… or would it? That one makes no bloody sense at all.

Here’s another interesting idea from David Emery at Urban Legends:

Still other sources speculate that the number 13 may have been purposely vilified by the founders of patriarchal religions in the early days of western civilization because it represented femininity. Thirteen had been revered in prehistoric goddess-worshiping cultures, we are told, because it corresponded to the number of lunar (menstrual) cycles in a year (13 x 28 = 364 days). The “Earth Mother of Laussel,” for example — a 27,000-year-old carving found near the Lascaux caves in France often cited as an icon of matriarchal spirituality — depicts a female figure holding a crescent-shaped horn bearing 13 notches. As the solar calendar triumphed over the lunar with the rise of male-dominated civilization, it is surmised, so did the “perfect” number 12 over the “imperfect” number 13, thereafter considered anathema.

I quite like that theory, not it’s got just enough bastardry in it to make it an enduring myth, and enough impetus for men in power to keep pushing their agenda. It would explain a lot about why 13 is so consistently recognised as a “bad” number if it meant men could retain some patriarchal power. Of course, it also means that superstitious feminists should embrace Friday the 13th, and that might give rise to some brain implosions.

And from the same source, here’s that great Norse yarn, mentioned earlier:

Twelve gods were invited to a banquet at Valhalla. Loki, the Evil One, god of mischief, had been left off the guest list but crashed the party, bringing the total number of attendees to 13. True to character, Loki raised hell by inciting Hod, the blind god of winter, to attack Balder the Good, who was a favorite of the gods. Hod took a spear of mistletoe offered by Loki and obediently hurled it at Balder, killing him instantly. All Valhalla grieved. And although one might take the moral of this story to be “Beware of uninvited guests bearing mistletoe,” the Norse themselves apparently concluded that 13 people at a dinner party is just plain bad luck.

David also points out that there were 13 present at the Last Supper, one of whom betrayed Jesus and triggered the Crucifixion. And that crucifixioin allegedly took place on a Friday. The bad news is just stacking up for the mythologically-minded.

David Emery’s entire article makes for great reading on the subject, so maybe you should just go there and read the whole thing. I’ll wait here.

Good, wasn’t it?

Here’s an interesting extra tidbit, though:

The Dutch Centre for Insurance Statistics (CVS) on June 12, 2008, stated that “fewer accidents and reports of fire and theft occur when the 13th of the month falls on a Friday than on other Fridays, because people are preventatively more careful or just stay home. Statistically speaking, driving is slightly safer on Friday the 13th, at least in the Netherlands; in the last two years, Dutch insurers received reports of an average 7,800 traffic accidents each Friday; but the average figure when the 13th fell on a Friday was just 7,500.”

It’s a small difference, but I do love me a bit of irony.

Anyway, if you really want to test your superstitious credulity this is the year for it – there will be three occurrences of Friday 13th in 2012, exactly 13 weeks apart. OH MY GODS WE’RE DOOMED!

Not that everyone needs to worry. The Spanish and Greeks consider Tuesday 13th bad luck, and the Italians are concerned about Friday 17th. You see, it’s all bollocks.

On the upside, we do get some brilliant words from the superstition:

The fear of Friday the 13th has been called friggatriskaidekaphobia (Frigga being the name of the Norse goddess for whom “Friday” is named and triskaidekaphobia meaning fear of the number thirteen). Seriously, say that word out loud and see if you don’t love it. FRIGGATRISKAIDEKAPHOBIA! Now, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to use that word today in casual conversation. Best of luck.

There’s also paraskevidekatriaphobia a concatenation of the Greek words Paraskeví (Παρασκευή, meaning “Friday”), and dekatreís (δεκατρείς, meaning “thirteen”) attached to phobía (φοβία, from phóbos, φόβος, meaning “fear”).

My preference definitely goes with friggatriskaidekaphobia, though.

Regardless, the only real bad luck I’ve ever heard of relating to anything directly related to this stuff is a stunt in the US many years ago. A guy was going for a bungee jump stunt where he would bungee off the side of a building and pick up a can of soda from the pavement. Extremely careful calculations were made, regarding his weight, the bungee rope, the distance and so on, to make such a dangerously accurate jump. Finally ready, he made the jump and smashed his head into the pavement and died. Why? Because many US buildings don’t have a 13th floor, skipping from 12 to 14, so the calculations of the building’s height were out by one storey. So 13 was definitely unlucky for that guy, but in a rather ironic way. Of course, all that could just be an urban legend, but it’s a great story nonetheless. And good stories are the best thing about all superstitions.


Guest post at The Great Raven

My dark fairy story, The Everywhere And The Always, was recently published in the Mythic Resonance anthology. One of the other contributing authors, Sue Bursztynski, has been having a series of guest posts about it on her blog. My post is up now, wherein I talk about mythology, folklore and the beauty of storytelling. Among other things. Tis here.


RealmShift Audiobook now out

RealmShift-audioIt’s a little bit later than we hoped, but I’m very pleased to say that the audiobook edition of RealmShift is now available. You can get it from here.

It’s a full and unabridged narration and runs to nearly thirteen hours. It’s narrated by Matt “Bentley” Allegre and he’s currently working on MageSign, so that should be out hopefully in the next couple of months.

So if you or anyone you know is an audiobook fan, please spread the word.