Friday, October 31, 2008

Malaysian authors and readings

Last Saturday I went to the readings at Seksan's where Malaysian authors read from their works. It was an especial pleasure to hear both Preeta Samarasan and Shamini Flint give a reading - both are Malaysians hitting the big time internationally, well deserved in both cases, and great to see.

Read all about it from Sharon here on Bibliobibuli, and if you are interested in the KL literary scene, or Asian literature generally, and you don't read Sharon's blog, you're crazy. It is one of the best blogs around.

Oh, and Sharon stuck a pix of me at the event there too. She's a real menace with a camera...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

More thievery

Just learned that there was another armed robbery in our street last weekend - house just a few doors away was broken into just after 5 a.m.

I have lost count of the number of householders threatened with physical violence in home invasions in the past year within our housing area. Funny thing - I never hear about anyone getting caught.

Malaysia is becoming a very, very scary place. Our area is particularly bad because it is basically a Malay area, and Muslims won't keep dogs and don't like their neighbours having them either.

However, I am beginning to wonder about a dobermann...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

How much is a trillion dollars?

This via Jennifer Fallon's blog. Thanks Jenny!

The Huffington Post features a book called "What We Could Have Done With the Money: 50 Ways to Spend the Trillion Dollars We've Spent on Iraq" by Rob Simpson.

Simpson 'calculates $1 trillion could pave the entire U.S. interstate highway system with gold - 23.5-karat gold leaf. It could buy every person on the planet an iPod. It could give every high school student in the United States a free college education. It could pay off every American's credit card. It could buy a Buick for every senior citizen still driving in the United States.'

You can read Jenny's blog or the Huffington Post for more - or you can go to Rob Simpson's website and try to spend that trillion dollars yourself on worthwhile stuff like education and healthcare...

And when you finally realise just how much went into a war that will never be won and which was based on a lie, you can comfort yourself that the final cost has gone up by some estimations. To 3 trillion.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Three things about America that I just don't get

  • Why do toilet doors always have gaps between the door and the wall?
  • Why do Americans always burn their bacon to a crisp?
  • Why, when the country is in a financial, military, environmental and health care mess, with educational standards slipping, unable even to deal properly with a flood disaster like Katrina, would anyone still consider voting for a president of the same political party that governed them for the past eight years?
Honestly, I'm not being facetious: the rest of the world really, really doesn't get it.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Malaysia: the Dark Side... a land of drug addicts and thieves?

Most mornings we go for a walk. We drive to a park, leave the car by the side of the road and walk inside the park (mostly because there are no footpaths in our housing estate). This morning, during the course of that half hour's walk someone smashed the window of our car and took a small amount of money. I believe someone else's car was broken into as well. The good news is that they cut themselves doing it.*

I just spent two months in the USA, including time in the heart of Los Angeles. I was forever carrying my laptop with me. Whenever we parked the car, I carried it. My daughter said, "Leave it in the car! Why do you want to bring it with you everywhere?" The answer, of course, was because in Malaysia it would be almost certainly stolen and I've gotten paranoid about it.

In the US, I was in numerous homes - and not one was surrounded by a tall fence with a locked gate. Not one had bars on the windows. People go out and leave windows open. They don't have dead locks and alarms. They have glass panels in the doors. They never seem to get robbed. They carry sling bags and never get them snatched.

Here in Malaysia the only homes that don't have bars and padlocks, fences and gates, belong to the excruciatingly poor.

During those 2 months in the USA, no one I was staying with, nor any of their friends or relatives, was robbed.

I come back home from the US to find that while I was away some people had tried to enter our house at night, simultaneously with a neighbour's house. Fortunately, we both have alarms and they ran off. The neighbour's fence was cut. My husband and another family member were in the house at the time and you can bet your life the thieves were armed.
It is now averaging out at one attempt a year to break into our home.

Meantime, the family house in the village had all the wiring stripped by a thief - with extensive damage. Everyone "knows" who did it - a neighbour's grandson. A drug addict. In spite of knowing this, and a police report, nothing is done.

And here is a quote from the Malaysian Psychiatric Association website:

"... the potential numbers of addicts in Malaysia is quite staggering, a possible one million addicts in our country of 25 million, or 4% of the populace! In comparison, some statistics from the United States estimate that the number of addicts there is one in 3,000, or only 0.03% of their population."

The really weird thing about the addicts is that a staggering disproportionate number are Malays and therefore Muslims.**
I wonder what the connection is? (The answer, of course, is usually to suggest more religion and more onerous religious restrictions as the cure-all, although that patently has not worked in the past and may in fact be part of the problem. I guess it's easier than looking for causes...?)

Malaysia loves to present itself as a land of Asian values (whatever they are), full of people who would never cheat on their taxes, let alone be drug addicts and thieves.

Malaysians can't even obey the law on the little things - every time there is a festival of any of the cultural groups, I hear illegal fireworks going off all over the place. The police turn a blind eye. Yep, everyone breaks the law and expects their kids to grow up with respect for the law.
But that's not how it works, mate. You start with the little things.

We have become a land of thieves and drug addicts.
___________________________
* I hope they get gangrene.
**One figure I read was 97%, although I don't know if that is accurate as it was hearsay on a blog, supposedly via a ministry official. Other figures I have heard - in 2005 around 66% of drug addicts arrested were Malays, figures for Kuala Lumpur - a city which has a high population of non-Malays. This figure is often touted as applicable to the whole country. I doubt anyone knows. Malays make up about half the population, although this is also a difficult figure to pinpoint as there are many other non-immigrant people of different but similar ethnicity who are Muslims.
All this has led to a sad joke to explain the sometimes 60-40 ratio of Malay women compared to Malay men in institutions of higher learning: the women are in university, the men in drug rehab.
Yay to Malay women, I say.


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Summing up San Francisco

This photo says it all really. Study it carefully...I love San Francisco.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What makes a book sell

I have read some very fine genre novels lately, all of them Book 1 in a longer trilogy or series. Take a look at the "books I have read" list on the left hand bottom sidebar. The authors include Joe Abercrombie, Patrick Rothfuss, Kate Elliott, David Coe, C.S.Friedman. Every single one I thought a great read - and I'll be buying book 2 of each as soon as it comes out, if I haven't already done so.

And reading those books got me to thinking about what makes a good read, and why some good books don't sell and some not-so-good books sell like icecream to kids on a hot day at the zoo. And then I read this excellent interview with an American editor, Chuck Adams.

And I thought Patrick Rothfuss's book "Name of the Wind" summed it up beautifully for me. I'll get back to that in a minute.

First some things about my own writing:

---I like complex characters who change as the book progresses. People who learn things and - as talented as they may be - are never great at everything.

---I like "subverting" the tropes. Genre is full of "tropes" and sometimes you get reviewers making snide remarks about goatherders who turn out to be the lost prince or great warriors, etc etc - see yesterday's post. I like to use established tropes to lull the reader into thinking something is going to happen, and then give the trope a twist. I love surprises.


---I like world-building and making my worlds different as well as complex and realistic within the rules of that world. You won't find too many medieval castles in medieval towns with ordinary medieval things going on in my books.*

Those are probably the three aspects that govern my intentions at the beginning of each of my books. Conversely, I am often bored when reading books that adhere too strongly to tropes, or where the story revolves around a Mary Sue or Gary Stu*, or it's all set in a world where there is no "wow, this is cool" factor in the world itself or, at the very least, in the magic of that world.

I might add, that - given my age - I have read an awful lot of fantasy, and ideas which appealed to me 20 years ago as new and fresh, would now bore me to tears as done to death. Readers relatively new to the genre might find lots to excite them in books that bore me.

So then I read "the Name of the Wind". There were 722 pages of it. It had the worst Gary Stu I've ever come across - no, wait. Maybe that should read the best Gary Stu I've ever come across. By the end of the book he is just 15 years old and the list of his accomplishments reads like an unrealistic wish list that most of us had for ourselves as an internal fantasy at one stage or another.

It was full of the usual fantasy tropes; there weren't any real surprising moments where I sat stunned and thought, "Hell, I didn't see that coming!" There was nothing about the world or the plot twists or the magic that made me think, "Wow, that's really neat!" or "I wish I'd thought of that!"

And yet.
I loved this book.
I couldn't put it down.
When I finished, I wanted to reach out and grab Book 2 immediately.
There may not have been a huge "wow" moment for me, the somewhat jaded fantasy reader - but there was never a dull moment either. I didn't skip a single word. Nor did I even notice how the book had been put together or the mechanics of the writing. I just read.

So how did this writer do all the things that usually bore me to tears, and get away with it?

You see - Rothfuss is a fine writer who creates atmosphere and tension well, and even more importantly than that, or maybe because of that - he is a great storyteller. None of the other stuff - tropes and Gary Stu and such - none of it matters in the hands of a consummate storyteller, one who just entertains. I hope that as Rothfuss gains experience he will veer away from the Gary Stu and subvert the tropes too; then he won't just be a brilliant storyteller, he'll also be a brilliant writer.

Let's go back to some of the things Chuck Adams had to say in that interview.

"The first thing is the voice. If it's got a strong voice, I'm going to keep reading. And if a story sneaks in there, I'm going to keep reading. To me, those are the two most important things. I want a voice and I want to be hooked into a story. I believe very strongly that books are not about writers, and they're definitely not about editors—they're about readers. You've got to grab the reader right away with your voice and with the story you're telling." ...

"I think beginning writers tend to not think about a reader. They tend to think about themselves. They think about making themselves sound smart and good, and they forget that this is really all about telling stories. I used to joke that I was going to put a big sign over my desk that said, "Quit writing and tell me a story." The problem is that they just write. They fall in love with their own voice. They write and write and write, and they lose sight of the fact that they're trying to entertain somebody. You have to reel them in." ...

"There's a tendency of publishers to pooh-pooh books that are really commercial. You get this at writers' conferences sometimes. "Oh, how can you edit Mary Higgins Clark?" People just shiver because they think she's not a great writer. I'm sorry, she's a great storyteller, and she satisfies millions of readers. I'm all for that. Again, Harlequin romances—give me more of them. (...) I think literary fiction is great, and the ideal book is one that is beautifully written and tells a great story, but if it's just a great story that's written well enough to be readable, that's good too."

So my advice to anyone who likes fantasy: Read "The Name of the Wind" for damn good storytelling.

And my advice for anyone trying to write publishable fantasy: read "The Name of the Wind" once just to enjoy, and then read it again to try to suss out how he does it. How does he turn age-old tropes, a Gary Stu, not terribly innovative magic and a fairly ordinary world, into something that you want to know about? How does he make you want to keep turning the pages? Because that's what you need to learn.
_________________________________________________

[*Oddly enough, some reviewers are so caught up in the idea that fantasy books are set in medieval worlds that even when you write something that is palpably NOT medieval (The Isles of Glory - set in an early 18th century sub-tropical islands being discovered by mainland explorers) the reviewer will still refer to the medieval setting!
]

[*A quick word about Mary and Gary - this is where your main protagonists is head and shoulders above everyone else in, well, in just about everything. They are beautiful, talented, wise beyond their years. They are save-the-world-before-breakfast people. All the other characters revolve around them and talk about them. They are shining heroes. Often this makes them sickening, but in the hands of a good writer they can be wonderfully heroic as well as interesting: e.g. Francis Lymond in Dunnett's Lymond Saga. See the wikipedia entry for more.]

Website problems

My website at www.glendalarke.com is having some problems.
It will be back online soon...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Fantasy tropes, memes and clichés

Fantasy writing gets mocked a lot for sticking to certain tropes of the genre. You know: Dark Overlords, goat-herding boys who end up being the hero and so forth. There are lots of fun sites about it; see here and here for a start. I even read two books back to back with exactly the same beginning - a boy goes out into the woods to do something or other, comes home to find his whole village/family wiped out by the villains of the piece. And they weren't the first books I had read chronicling that identical event, either - or the last.

A beginning writer, on reading URLs like those above (apart from laughing like mad), is likely to despair. How do your write a fantasy that doesn't tread old, much-travelled ground? Well, the answer is that you don't let it bother you.

And here's one reason why not:

A long time ago, when I was thinking about writing a new novel - the one that was to become The Aware - I was chatting to someone who began to mock fantasy. Yeah, he said, castles and forests and wolves and riding off on quests. They are all the same. I was so mad at his dismissive, scornful attitude, that I thought to myself, Right - no castles, no forests, no wolves, no horses... Damn it, there won't even be a tree in this one!

I suppose it would have been easy enough to set the book in a desert, but I thought that was the easy way out. Besides, it had been done before. No, I wanted something that had never been tried, and so I created Gorthan Spit. No trees, no castles or wolves or brooding forests - but a fascinating place nonetheless.

But then...where did I go from there? Well, my first scene in the book was set in an inn.
And guess what: a book opening in an inn is such a fantasy clich
é. It's a great place to start, you see. You can gather some of your main characters together - have them meet one another for the first time. You can introduce so much of the background, politics, the world, in the conversation of the people sitting around having a drink. And you can write the first bit of the nastiness that is going to overtake your protagonist - the monster/villain who comes to the inn door in the middle of the night, or the soldiers riding up, or whatever piece of villainy that is going to confront your hero or heroine.

My point is this: using fantasy tropes is not altogether a bad thing. They have become tropes because they make a good story. It's how you use them that counts. Think about mainstream literature - how many coming of age books have you read that all follow similar paths? Does it matter? No, because in the long run what counts is the story. And how well you tell it. Each coming of age story is different. Each writer's way of dealing with the same issues is a different take on the same theme.

More about good storytelling tomorrow...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Going south for winter

Winter begins to close in on the north.
And down here, in Malaysia, we know.
We know because the birds start arriving...

Saturday I was one of the presenters at a raptor identification workshop. What better than to spend a day in the company of a group of maniac birders? Great fun for me, anyway. Probably utter confusion for some of the beginners.

Sunday we followed up with an early morning trip to Bagan Lalang, where we got to hang out on a bund (those are mangroves behind us) and watch the bypass of Oriental Honey Buzzards - a few hundred - and Chinese Goshawks, also a few hundred. And an Osprey for good measure. All as they travelled south through the Malay Peninsular, seeking warmer climes for the next few months.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Malaysia: land of possibilities

...as we enter day 4 without water. Well, we did get a bit last night. In fact, quite a lot. Trouble was it was so brown it was opaque. Just the sort of thing you'd like to bathe in and wash your clothes with. Quite frankly, I wasn't sorry when it suddenly stopped running again.

But here's the interesting thing. The reason WHY we have no water.
Us and 425,ooo other households and hell knows how many people, certainly over a million of us. Oh, and that includes KLIA airport.
  • Three pipes were broken by sand-miners.
  • These sand-miners had been mining for five years, according to a nearby villager.
  • The sand mining is (as far as I know) illegal.
  • Yep, that's right - in Malaysia you can, quite openly, do something illegal for 5 years, make a fortune tax free selling something that didn't belong to you in the first place, and the only reason you get stopped is because you were silly enough and brazen enough to break some major water mains.
Bravo all the people who ignored the mining going on under their noses. (One wonders - was anyone paid to turn a blind eye, or are they just stupid and indifferent?) You don't do sand mining with buckets and spades and sneaking around in the dark. It involves pumps and heavy machinery and trucks. Lots of trucks. Lots of noise.

A police report has been made. Will anyone be brought to court on charges? Well now, what do you think?

My guess is that no one even noticed - in 5 long years - who was responsible. If they did, then I bet they get a slap on the wrist and a fine that isn't even 1% of the clear profit they have made - after the taxes they didn't pay - over the years.

P.S. The water came on long enough to fill the house tank. Now it has vanished again. We progress.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Yesterday...

Yuk. One of those days.
Woke to find no water in the taps. In fact, there was no water in the evening the day before, either. No water the whole day long yesterday, and none today...so far it has been two and a half days.

Fortunately, as a matter of course, I keep a huge container of water filled in the second bathroom, as we are subject here to water cuts without warning - for the past 28 years. Of course, they don't call it water cuts - they say it's just that we live on top of a hill. And that makes it a) our fault and b) none of their business.

About a year ago they actually decided to do something about it and started replacing the silly little "pipes" with something the proper size for a huge housing estate. Oddly enough, it made not much difference. Evenings and weekends, there is often only a bare trickle into our kitchen.

Apparently, though, this time it was a real water cut: they used a TV announcement (we don't watch TV, ever, so guess what - I had no idea) to say they were cutting the water as from today for 3 days. So now I haven't got the faintest idea when we will get our water back. And seeing as they cut the pipes a day and a half earlier than they said anyway, everyone has been caught on the hop.

Anyway, all that meant I was lugging buckets of water from bathroom to kitchen, and pulled a muscle in my shoulder, the pain of which kept me awake most of the night.

I dropped by Jenny's blog yesterday, to find that she had a really funny post on our cover pole dancing twins. (Actually, it's more a column than a pole...) The post was entitled "Glenda Larke and I have so much in common" and what do I read at the end? Jenny was off to get a cortisone injection for a painful shoulder. I think she's channelling...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Hey, Jenny, they gave me your pole dancer!

If you don't know what I mean by the heading of this post, drop by Jennifer Fallon's webpage here and take a look at the Russian cover of her book Harshini. Then look at the Russian cover of The Tainted, Book 3 of my Isles of Glory trilogy, below. In Russian, the title means I believe, "Desecration".

See a resemblance?

Do I mind? Of course not; my cover has several bonus additions, after all - more than a hint of bondage there, I think, not to mention a rather large cat, neither of which I actually remember being in the book.

(Remind me someone - was there a sabretooth somewhere that I've forgotten about?? To be quite honest, I do tend to forget all about the last book once I start working on a new series, let alone the series after that...but I am damned sure Blaze wasn't tearing around dressed like the star attraction of a brothel for men with, let's say, interesting tastes. Oh, and there wasn't a pole dancer in the book either. But then - there also wasn't a pole dancer in Harshini... )

I really, really love my Russian publisher. They are such fun people. And this cover is definitely better than the Romulans on the cover of Book Two (see the sidebar).

So, to my Russian speaking readers: enjoy! But please don't expect bondage, pole dancers, or very large cats.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Reading is celebrated in San Francisco


So reading is doing fine in SF; writing is alive and well in my house at the moment:

STORMSEEKER
first draft
10,000 words written since the 9th Oct
(mind you, you should see the housework...not)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Suicidegate

When in SF, one has to do the SF thing and cross The Bridge. Which seems to mean venturing into a fog, no matter what time of the year, or what time of the day. The top pix shows the kind of weather we had the whole time we were in the city, and was taken from the viewpoint at one end of the bridge. The other pix show the bridge at more or less the same time.
Tell you, that fog is ... creepy.Note to self: next time, clean the windscreen first.
And today I read in the newspaper that the powers that be have just decided to spend $US 40 to 50 million on netting to stop suicides jumping off the Golden Gate - there were 39 confirmed suicides last year and possibly a whole lot more that slipped under the radar.

Sorry, but that seems a ridiculous waste of money to me. Most people who decide to take their lives are going to do it unless there is some kind of intervention, yes, - but intervention by way of a net at a particular site is not going to help. They will just go elsewhere. Are we so cynical that "as long as it doesn't happen on our turf" is what matters?

Spend the money on mental health by all means, but not on a static piece of netting. Come on.
San Francisco, can't you do better than that?

The last two photos show the bridge from a distance - taken from Coit Tower. Gives an idea of how that fog creeps up the bay and ignores the rest of the city...


Progress: another 5%

STORMSEEKER

Another 5% of first draft

Sunday, October 12, 2008

What was playing the day you were born?

If for some obscure and fun reason you should want to know what was the top song in the USA the day you were born look here.

And so on the day that I emerged squalling into a world then still at war, it was Bing Crosby and the Andrew Sisters singing...wait for it...
Don't Fence Me In.

Appropriate, huh?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Fox News & a Republican Media Person insult me and Sarah Palin...

...and all other women.

There is one thing I will gladly say about Palin. She is a beautiful woman, especially considering her serial motherhood and her not-so-young age. She is gorgeous. To say that she is not, when viewed close up, is both a lie and horribly insulting. To tell people in general and women in particular that you need your photograph to be "touched up" to appear good is in fact both grossly offensive and ridiculous.

And yet, that is what has happened.

A Republican media consultant on Fox news called the fact that Sarah Palin's photo on the cover of Newsweek was untouched a "gross slap in the face to Governer Palin" and "any woman who sees this cover would be shocked and horrified". The Fox news commentator remarked that "any respectable magazine" would touch up a candidate's cover photo and that they had of course done that to Barack Obama (although she could offer no proof of that assertion and Newsweek does in fact not do so).

Well, I am indeed shocked and horrified, Ms Media Consultant. And I will tell you why. I am shocked and horrified that anyone at all would think that looking faultlessly beautiful is what counts in a leader, and that we are so brainless that we would vote on the grounds of the "looks-good" factor - and therefore it is important that "respectable" magazines should touch up photos.

Looking a bit like the back of a bus after it was rear-ended, I can assure you that my face doesn't make one whit of a difference to whether I write a good book. Palin's great looks won't make her a good - or a bad - VP. And to tell us that we are the kind of morons who think it does is more than offensive.

Fox news and you, Ms Republican Media Consultant Andrea Tantaros, I thought you guys relished the idea that the Republican nominations weren't those terrible elitist people (shudder) like the Democrats insist on fielding. That yours are just ordinary folk without a decent college degree, like Joe Six-pack. Doesn't it strike you that maybe airbrushing away wrinkles is a tad elitist? You know, "Look, my flawless VP candidate could be a super model?"

Sometimes I despair of the world. And if I were Sarah Palin I would be really really angry - and not with Newsweek.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Great Depression this ain't

There are so many mutterings going around about how this present economic dive is going to resemble the Great Depression of the 1930s. I think those who say that kind of thing have not the faintest idea of what the Great Depression was like.

"Nor do you," I hear you say. Well, I didn't live through it, certainly - it had ended by the time I was born, courtesy of something far worse - but I grew up with the residual effects of depression and war. I had parents who knew all about what it was like to work and never be able to afford a day off - not one day in a year - and who never wasted a thing, because you could not afford to do so. (I hasten to say that many people in developing nations already know the equivalent of this - and have never known anything else).

So, until I see in western countries:
... people who will work 20 miles to save the bus fare;
...kids who will walk a couple of miles to school and home again every day as a matter of course;
...men darning socks, and women darning stockings - ok, panty hose - rather than buy a new pair;
...people growing their own food instead of flowers in their gardens or window boxes ;
... owners feeding their cats and dogs on nothing but scraps;
...folk squishing their old bits of soap together rather than buy a new cake;
... families never using shampoo or toothpaste because it is too expensive;
...someone scrubbing floors and bench tops and baths without commercial cleansers because they can't afford them;
... a whole family using only one light at night to do homework, darning and whatever else around the same table;
...folk mending their own shoes and shirts and belts and cooking pots and roofs and chairs and anything else, rather than pay someone else or throw the broken thing out and buy another;
...people who NEVER eat out, not even at a fastfood joint, because they don't have the money;
...people washing out their clothes every night (by hand of course) because they only have one good shirt/blouse/whatever to wear to work the next day;
...kids who never get given pocket money because all household money goes to important things like food;
... I could go on and on and on.

Until I see families - many of them - families wh0 have at least one employed member and yet still having to do all the things I have listed above, then I will know that yes, this is like the Great Depression.

That doesn't mean that the coming times won't be tough. Very tough on many. But it still won't compare with the 1930s. Not yet, anyway. The equivalent of the Depression won't come in the West until the world is at a standstill because of a total breakdown in the environment.

Depressed? Buy a book. They are still the cheapest form of entertainment.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

STORMSEEKER, Book Two of the Random Rain trilogy,
first draft:



In a word: YAY!



Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Believing in magic

Here's a true story, just related to me today over a coffee at my kitchen table.

The woman chatting to me has recently had a medical problem diagnosed (after an CT scan and ultrasound) as kidney stones, and is due to go for laser treatment in the local hospital here in Selangor. Her close relative, however, said he knows a very good traditional medicine man (bomoh), and why doesn't she try him first for some non-invasive treatment, especially as he is renowned for his treatment of kidney stones.

Having a "try anything" attitude, she said OK, and off they went to visit the bomoh in Durian Tunggal, Malacca. Her first shock was the number of people lining up to see him. So many that he had a "Take a number" system. He was giving out between 50 to 70 numbers a day, 5 days a week, and sometimes there was more than one person to a number. The fee was a "donation". The woman and her relative both paid 20RM (about $US6 or $AUD8 each).

Do the arithmetic. The guy is earning considerably more than my husband who has a Ph.D in science.

So the bomoh asks the woman what's the matter, she explains and he cautions her not to have the laser treatment because it is dangerous. In other words, he is actively advising her to go against her doctor's advice. He then massages the area over the kidneys and produces, one after the other, three "kidney stones" which he gives to her. Problem solved, no need to go for that pesky hospital visit.

Woman - highly suspicious - phones her doctor and asks to have another ultrasound. He very kindly doesn't scold her and obliging sets one up. Of course, the kidney stones are still there, and woman is still scheduled for her laser treatment.

I dunno why I write stories about magic (which stories no one believes for a minute) and get paid so little. I should be setting up a bomoh clinic, have everyone believing in my magic, and earn a fortune at the same time (apparently immune from the law too, on the grounds of...what? Traditional cultural practices of cheating the public are sacrosanct?).

This man is a menace. He is a crook. He is ripping off the gullible public and possibly putting people in danger at the same time by persuading them to avoid medical treatment. Why is he allowed to practice? Why on earth do people believe in this crap?

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Extinction is forever

A few pix of animals from our Yosemite trip, appropriate today because it has just been announced by IUCN that one in every four mammal species in the world is in trouble - and could disappear from the face of the earth. For all eternity. That's right, we are in danger of wiping out one quarter of the world's mammalian biodiversity. Half the world's mammals are declining in number - unfortunately, one of them is not homo sapiens. One in every 12 bird species is already in trouble.

What are you doing about it? At the very least, join a conservation society.

A coyote, pix taken on our trip to Yosemite. Plus some squirrels. And no - we didn't see a bear, alas.


I had a scientific article published last month, on the birdlife of some of Malaysia's offshore Bornean islands, in which I wrote:

Human overpopulation could be a huge problem on Mabul Island. Families of five and above appear to be the norm, not the exception, and one wonder how much longer terns and frigates will find fish. On Bohey Dulang Island, the nests of the Philippine Scrubfowl are dug out for the eggs and/or surrounded by traps to catch the adults. Apparently no one thinks about who will lay the next lot of eggs. In Sabah, anything that has become customary seems OK, even if it is against the law. On top of that, birds do not have the legal protection they do in other parts of Malaysia. Poverty leads coastal and insular families to poach and hunt anything that can provide food.

(I understand why these people hunt, but it beats me why wealthy Alaskans think it's fun to shoot things from a plane. And it is a fallacy, btw, to think that indigenous populations traditionally understand conservation. They didn't and they don't. In the past, things remained in balance because hunters didn't have guns and other gadgets to use, and because their number was limited by poor medical care and infant mortality. Change that, and everything changes.)

Here's a naturalist's blog that's worth looking at: The Scolopax Chronicles. An artist in Kent, the blogger is in touch with the natural world in a way that few of us are these days.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Thanks for Yosemite

Thank you to all the folk who were ahead of their time - even ahead of some folk who live in our times - and decided to stop the logging and the mountain sheep-herding that would have devastated this place forever.You had vision.
And gave us something visual to ease the stress of life.
You understood how necessary it is to have balance in life and you were willing to fight for that, so that we too could have balance.
You appreciated perfection, and wanted to pass it on to people who weren't even born.
There are still those who will ride wildlife down, shooting at them out of planes, watching as they die bloodied in the snow.
But you knew then and I know now that there is better way.
Thank you.

Perfumes of a different kind

The pix above is younger daughter holding the cone of a sugar pine in Yosemite. They grow things big there, remember? The white bits you can see on the cone are pieces of resin and they have a glorious smell. (Now why can't the manufacturers of those awful car deodorizing dispensers reproduce that forest smell of pine leaves and trees in autumn? I'd buy it like a shot to remind me of Yosemite...)

Meanwhile a different kind of smell. It's called muckraking and it stinks.

When I was at university, I spent hours of my time one year in the company of a man who the following year murdered his son in a premeditated killing. True, I was never actually alone with him, but still... He was my lecturer and tutor and I really thought he was lovely man. I have
spoken in a social setting to at least one other convicted murderer (after he was released from jail). Over the course of my life spoken and yes, dare I say it, knowingly socialised with people who have been in jail, been drug addicts, thieves, religious perverts, Nazis (real ones) and bigots.

Am I therefore one of them? Am I a murderer perhaps? Do I therefore share their views? Yep, according to some. See here.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

What's in a word?

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Here's some dictionary definitions of the word "maverick":
  1. A lone dissenter, as an intellectual, an artist, or a politician, who takes an independent stand apart from his or her associates.
  2. One that refuses to abide by the dictates of or resists adherence to a group; a dissenter. (Am.Heritage Dict.)
  3. A person who acts independently of his political party or group.
  4. A masterless person; one who is roving and casual (that's the Shorter Oxford def.)
  5. One who departs from the customs and beliefs of his group. (Webster)
Does anyone else out there feel uncomfortable with the idea of having two mavericks in charge of the most powerful nation on earth?

Friday, October 03, 2008

Water and expectations

Back in the early 90s, my husband and I were in a place Ghardaia, in the Saharan desert of Algeria, a town founded in 1048 AD. It was here that I found the idea for part of the Random Rain trilogy, in the way that these desert people found water for their homes and date palm groves. We were there in December, I remember - and they were receiving their first rain for the year.

Yesterday, in the wadi that cuts the town in two, a flash flood killed 30 people and up to 600 houses were destroyed. Oh dear, sometimes I think what I write is prophetic. (Remember The Tainted, which was published a month or two before the Asian Tsunami?)

When you read Book 1 of Random Rain, Stormquest, remember the people of Ghardaia and the life they lead, balanced between drought and the need for flooding. Today I am thinking of them, their hospitality, and their beautiful town.

And last week we were in Yosemite. Now, if there is anything one knows about Yosemite, it is the famous Yosemite Falls, right? Well here it is.That's right - no water. End of summer, you see. Sigh.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Celebrate the freedom to read

This week is banned books week, according to the American Library Association (all info and pix via Bibliobibuli). Malaysia loves to ban books - even harmless ones like a book on Chinese teapots or Bob Squarepants (see here) with an utter lack of any kind of rationale. So we should mark this week as special - and celebrate all banned books.

[palin.jpg]"The struggle between free thought and government is an endless one, but when someone bans a book, the book has won ..." --Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian blog.

More from Yosemite

Dunno what hour of the day it is, and I am not sure what day of the week either - but at least I am home. Thirty-five hours from door to door...

So now it's time to sort through the memories. Here is some more from Yosemite. First stop after the sequoias was the Glacier Point Road, with views over Half Dome, Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall and other peaks. Stunning scenery.
Above: note the waterfall...I shall explain why tomorrow.
Above: we could see lots of people actually climbing the Half Dome from the back and coming to stand on that overhanging ledge on the left. Nope, my days of doing things like that are over. Now I just stand and stare.

While standing there, I watched a pair of Red-tailed Hawks catch the thermals and circle effortlessly over the valley, later joined by a Turkey Vulture. There could be no better moment in time than that to pay tribute to men like John Muir - people ahead of their time - who determined that this should remain for future generations like ours to enjoy. The first bill that protected the area was signed by Lincoln in 1864.

The park area has a human history of 9,000 years. (Sorry all you creationists out there; facts are facts).

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

It's the middle of the night...

And I am at Changi airport, Singapore. My flight out in the morning has been cancelled so my 7 hour layover will be longer than expected. I won't know til the counter opens at 4.30 a.m. what time I get to fly out. (There's always something goes wrong with a travelling Noramly) I should be grateful, I suppose, that at least this time I didn't miss the plane, but at this hour of the night it is hard to be anything but grumpy.

I actually had to go to the same counter at LAX United terminal (for paper tickets) that caused me to miss my flight to Denver. On that occasion, I waited 3 hours just to get to the check-in counter where there were only 2 people on duty. This time they had about 6 people, and there was no queue at all. Of course, I had allowed 3 hours and had that much extra time to hang around and do nothing at LAX.

Yeah, I know, stop complaining, Glenda. You've had a wonderful 2 month trip - Worldcon, looking after grandson, seeing daughters, camping at Virginia Beach, trip to Yosemite and San Francisco. (Er, don't ask about writing though. I really, really have to get down to work now.)Here's another photo of Borderlands. Wooden bookshelves and flooring, carpets, great staff, books, books, books, great homey atmosphere and a Sphinx cat. What more could you ask? If you visit San Francisco, pay it a visit. Wish I had a bookstore like this down the street...