May 23, 2005

Dreaming down under/ Edited by Jack Dann & Janeen Webb

This book has an interesting preface from acclaimed SciFi writer, Harlan Ellison. His following quotes alludes to the quality of the book:
"...I had no idea of the depth of richness that existed in the pool of Australian fantasists... I grit my teeth in frustration at how powerful a collection they have put together..."

The stories truly do not dissappoint. Each story begins with a short introduction to the author, and ends with a short note from the author on how they story came about. Some of the stories are really gritty (as most good Sci Fi is, it seems to me) so what I do is to read one story, then move onto to another different book that's of a lighter read.

NLB Call No.: DRE (Adult Fiction section)
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To give a review of each story would warrant several posts, so I'll just list them with brief annotation:
  1. Entre les Beaux Morts en Vie (Among the Beautiful Living Dead)/ Sean Williams - Deals with concept of immortality; what it means to be 'Alive' as opposed to 'Living'. Futuristic setting, where only the unbelievably rich (with generations of wealth to support their immortal lifestyles) get to become immortal, through a process which essentially turns them into self-conscious living dead. Great for class discussions.
  2. The Dancing Floor/ Cheery Wilder - Quite a complex story. More to do with societal norms about kinship and family than Science per se. Set in a off-world colony, about the investigation of an Alien species whose culture seems to be based on a dance.
  3. Descent/ Cecily Scutt - Very short story that changes your view of death and Hell. More Fantasy than Science. About a girl's visit to her deceased grandmother who's residing in a Hell that's more like an institution than the fire & brimstone stuff.
  4. The Soldier in the Machine/ Russell Blackford - Reminds me of "Ghost in a Shell", although the story isn't like that. I'd call this a SciFi-military-techno-thriller. Centres around an augmented human who hires himself out as a bodyguard. Has concepts like body morphing/ augmentation, personality uploads, high-tech devices, something called "Flickdancing" (you've got to read it to appreciate it). Interesting stuff, and easily turned into a book.
  5. Matilda Told Such Dreadful Lies/ Lucy Sussex - One of my favourites in the collection. This story gives a new twist to the "Waltzing Matilda" lyrics. Told from the angle of the "swamp spirit", it narrates what actually happened to the swagman, the jumpbuck, the squatter...
  6. The Womb/ Damien Broderick - Told from two perspectives -- (1) the woman whose father was a cult leader and proclaimed UFO-abductee; (2) the father, who tells his own story of being abducted and confined by the government. In the end, the story suggests that the father really was abducted, and the woman was the creation of the alien experiments. Weirdly wonderful storytelling.
  7. A Walk-on Part in the War/ Stephen Dedman - Another of my favourites. The Trojan War (of the Illiad), told from a different perspective. This time, it strips away the glory and myth, and makes the whole story very believable. There's still a Trojan Horse, but it's role in the breech of the city of Troy is something down-to-earth, but very different from what we've read in popular texts and stories.
  8. Wired Dreaming/ Paul Collins - A detective story set in the future. The detective investigates a crime, where perverts watching VR porn seem to be dying off under mysterious circumstances. In order to learn more, the detective forced himself to watch the video. The crime was solved in the end. There's an interesting twist to the story in the end (which could be a bit subtle) -- the detective was supposed to have died after watching the VR disc, but didn't...
  9. The Body Politic/ Tess Williams - This story is really about socio-political issues. It's the kind of SciFi stories that I like, where the background context (about the world, the characters) is slowly revealed in the telling. Set in the far future where humans are modified and augmented to have specialised roles. In this story, the woman is a prostitute of sorts, hired by the client but in the end, the client got more than what he bargained for. Nothing sexual or perverse, which makes the story even more interesting.
  10. The Truth About Weena/ David J. Lake - A different version of H.G. Well's The Time Machine that delves more into the parts about Eloi and Morlocks. Specifically, the young Eloi girl (the love interest of the Time Traveller) was brought back to Industrial-age England, and thereby subtly changing the course of European history (where Hitler was a famous painter instead).
  11. The Marsh Runners/ Paul Brandon - A horror Fantasy. Set in rural Australia, it's about a girl who's abused by her father, and how she finally escapes from him.
  12. Prelude to a Nocturne/ Rowena Cory Lindquist - The Nocturnes are a class of humans who have not been modified at the genetic level to not suffer from puberty (i.e. the Preluders). A group of renegade Nocturnes has kidnapped a senator who's a Preluder. They attempt to force her to change back to being a "normal human". It's a story about family conflict and relationships; about class and prejudice.
  13. Real Men/ Rosaleen Love - Well in some ways, I got the story and in some ways, I didn't. I don't know how to describe this. The author explains that the story was written in response to the 1997 Melbourne Grand Prix.
  14. The Latest Dream I Ever Dreamed/ Norman Talbot - This is Hi-tech Military SciFi! About "Corporate Medical Espionage Teams" who raid dreams to scavenge secrets. Where the theatre of war really resides in operating theatres, or specifically in the minds. Funny twist at the end.
  15. Ma Rung/ Steven Paulsen - Set in the Vietnam War, 1968. A "unexplained happenings in times of War" type of story. Reminds me of a Lucius Shepard story that I read before, that's also set in the jungles of Vietnam...
  16. Dream, Until God Burns/ Andrew Enstice - Oooh, this one is really morbid. I'm afraid I'll be giving away the story if I explain what it's about. Let's just say you are in a coma, and actually you are conscious but no one knows...
  17. Night of the Wandjina/ Wynne Whiteford - Another horror-fantasy story, about how a group of geological explorers disturbed a spirit in the Australian Outback.
  18. To Avalon/ Jane Routley - Set in Glastonbury Tor, where Avalon (of the King Arthur fame) is said to have been. A couple of people holidaying there, and well, they see sheep disappear... (sorry, I'm being flippant).
  19. He Tried to Catch the Light/ Terry Dowling - It appears to be high-tech SciFi, but it really deals with the issue of cultural notions of god and religion. Nothing controversial, I think. It's the kind of SciFi that I enjoy, where Science is used to set the context of a larger social topic.
  20. The Third Rail/ Aaron Sterns - I really didn't get this, inspite of 2 readings. Not bad, except that I didn't get the story, so I can't really describe it here. The author says the story is "the dreaming of a lonely Australian amidst the dirt, destitution, and death of the archetypal city."
  21. Jetsam/ Kerry Greenwood - A story involving the myth of the Greek god Dionysus. Woman finds this strange half-drown stranger, who goes away as mysteriously as he appeared.
  22. And Now Doth Time Waste Me/ George Turner - Apparently, this story didn't manage to be completed as the author died of a stroke before it could be completed. The story is about a couple who managed to reverse the effects of ageing, and could live very long (but still equally human). They squander their wealth and that's when their longevity becomes a liability. Basically it points that having a long life isn't enough in itself. Too bad the story is left hanging.
  23. The Man Who Lost His Shadow/ Isobelle Carmody - Nice in its own way. But I didn't get it. Well, the man lost his shadow! He didn't find it. Maybe you read it and tell me what it's about.
  24. Unborn Again/ Chris Lawson - Not exactly a horror story. Maybe more a story where justice is served. Woman has Parkinson and goes for treatment (outlawed in Australia). Treatment supposedly involves the stemcells of aborted foetus. Then she starts experiencing residual memories of the people whom she received the stemcells, and realises the stemcells might be of developed babies. She gets her revenge for herself and the dead babies.
  25. The Evil Within/ Sara Douglass - Set in the Dark Ages, it tells of a village plagued by demons. Interesting tale that suggests how the stone Gargoyles came to be a familiar sight on top of buildings.
  26. Two Recipes for Magic Beans/ Rosaleen Love - No real point to the story (as the author explains). A fun piece that strings some familiar fairytale characters together.
  27. The Doppelganger Effect/ Dirk Strasser - Something about parallel universes, and how it merges together. About the life of this man -- in one, he seems to have killed his wife (by accident) and being punished for it; in the other life, he's part of a team riding an alien-craft hurtling through space. Their paths seem to merge. Can't say I really understand the entire thing. Quite intellectual in a way.
  28. Tamed/ Robert Hood - More horror fantasy stuff. Something about the monsters becoming uncontrolled, and this girl turns out to be the one who could control them.
  29. Queen of Soulmates/ Sean McMullen - A sort of SciFi story in a Fantasy setting. A "recurring atomic bomb" of sorts called Weapon being discovered and detonated, to detrimental effects.
  30. The Last Dance/ Ian Nichols - More fantasy than Science, but entertaining nonetheless. Fans of rock music from the 70s & 80s would identify with this. A small-time rock band playing a gig in a small rural town find themselves literally playing music to save their lives.
  31. With Clouds At Our Feet/ Simon Brown - Interesting twist to the Vampire genre. Set in modern times Australia. Two brothers, half-human and half-vampire, spend a few days with their father (who's a true blue vampire). A kind of "coming of age"/ "self-discovery" story. Sensitively written and very believable.

Keywords (to search in OPAC):
. fantasy fiction, australian
. horror tales, australian
. science fiction, australian

The Reef/ Nora Roberts

Not my typical read, but I wanted to know why it was so popular with women readers. This was the first Nora Roberts book I read and it's not bad.

Click here or here to check for item availability.
NLB Call No.: ROB (Adult Fiction section)

Main characters:
  • Tate Beaumont - the heroine who's in love with Matthew. She's got the looks, the brains, and is gutsy to boot.
  • Matthew Lassiter - the hero, a treasure-hunter who's got almost nothing to his name but his pride.
  • Buck Lassiter - Matthew's uncle, who after losing his leg to a shark, grew despondent and became an alcholic. But he recovered.
  • Silas VanDyke - Billionnaire, egomaniac. The bad guy who murdered Matthew's father and is obsessed with the "Angelique's Curse".
  • Marla Beaumont - Tate's mother. Great cook and seemed to be the perfect mother and wife. She came up with the idea to deal with the evil Silas VanDyke.
  • Raymond Beaumont - Tate's father. A millionaire in his own right. An amateur teasure-hunter who turned out to be great friends to the Lassiters.
The story & plot, in brief:
The "Angelique's Curse" is a richly jeweled amulet that went down with a Spanish ship. Legend has it that the woman who wore it was wrongly accused of murder and burned at the stake. And though it was found a few times throughout history, the owners always suffered mishaps.

The Lassiters are treasure hunters of ancient sea-wrecks. Matthew has a vendetta against VanDyke, whom he believed killed his father. The Lassiters meet the Beaumount and end up as partners. They find treasure. Matthew and Tate falls in love. Then bad luck struck -- a shark maimed Buck. VanDyke took the opportunity to steal all the Lassiter's and Beaumont's teasure. Matthew and Tate break up with misgivings.

A few years later, the Lassiters and Beaumonts get back together to find "Angelique's Curse". Matthew meets Tate again and they have yet to find closure and they get together, they break up, they make up... ah, it goes on. VanDyke is in the background, plotting to steal from them again. Matthew is adament about killing VanDyke.

Then Tate and Matthew finds and amulet. VanDyke kidnaps Tate and sends someone to kill Matthew. Tate escapes, Matthew survives. Marla comes up with a simple plan to entrap VanDyke. They succeed. VanDyke doesn't give up and confronts Tate, and he almost manages to steal the amulet...

The last part alludes to some mysterious happenings with the amulet, so I shan't give it away.

To quote a page from the last chapter: '...You've got murder, greed, lust, scarifice, passion, sex--'

The sex scenes, to me, seemed to have been thrown in for good measure because it was a Romance book. More like the garnishing to a dish (i.e. didn't matter if you didn't eat it anyway). The book has a credible plot and storyline, and has enough twists to sustain till the end.

May 17, 2005

How to draw and sell comic strips for newspapers and comic books/ Alan McKenzie

Found this to be a practical book on drawing comics for newspapers and comic formats. Even if you don't draw comics, you might still find it useful as it covers (briefly) the development of comics in newspapers. I learnt how comics came to be syndicated.

There's a section that shows the step-by-step development of the story, storyboarding, preliminary drafts, layout planning, inking and lettering.
How to draw and sell-- comic strips-- for newspapers and comic books!
More details at
NLB Call No.: 741.5 MAC
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It also covers the tools used, the type and choice of materials. Also the technical aspects of submitting comics for publication. For instance, that you have to draw in larger formats which is then resized down -- I forgot what the term was. Also about colour-separation.

The book was published in 1987. I suspect with current computer technology, some of the more tedious and manual aspects is made a lot easier (like lettering and inserting speech bubbles).

Anyway, if you think producing comics is easy work, read this and think again.