Monday, November 26, 2007 broadband

The techie spent another hour in my house, but was unable to get the broadband working.

So I am now paying for broadband which cannot be connected, even though it has been activated. Great.

The techie's theory is that the telephone line into my house is not a main line but an extension line. Work that one out.

So now I have to find a telephone technician. And pay him.

I tell you, I am jinxed.

Today's the big MS day...

...when I send off my manuscript [ "The Rogue Rainlord", book 1 of The Random Rain Cycle ], to my beta readers.

I am making a few last minute changes, doing a final spell check, and so on, attaching a bit of a sketch map ... and then off it goes to the hungry hawk-eyed vultures to tear apart.

Who are my beta readers?
  • Fellow published writers (bless them, wherever do they find the time?);
  • writers not yet majorly published;
  • fantasy fans with wide reading experience;
  • a speciality bookseller;
  • several part-time professional editor friends who love to read fantasy;
  • West Australian Perdy Phillips (professional artist who does the maps).
Some of them are people I have never met, some are friends, some are connected to the publishing business. They all have one thing in common: they love the genre and want the finished book to be special, so they are devastatingly honest, even when it hurts.

This last makes their praise, if it comes, very special indeed, because I know they really mean it. So as of tomorrow, I will do other things while I try to be patient and not develop a tic, or a desire to bit my nails, or a need to hit the gin.

Oh, note the title: here are the titles I finally decided on (but who knows whether these will be the final ones.)
Book 1: The Rogue Rainlord
Book 2: The Scarpen Stormshifters
Book 3: The Watergivers of Washbone
Or do you think they would be better without the 'The" in front?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A post about birds

Sometimes birds look at windows and see the reflection of the sky. Which is unfortunate, because they then think they can fly through the glass...

The result can be a dead bird, or one with a very, very bad migraine. If you see a dazed bird on the ground, like this spiderhunter up at Fraser's Hill, what should you do?

Well, first, nothing except protect it from any marauding cats. Give it a chance to recover and it may fly away under its own steam as this one did. If it hasn't recovered within a few minutes, you can put it inside a cardboard box or similar, place it it a safe place for a while, and wait. Usually it will be fine within an hour or two. Then release it where you found it, preferably where it can't see the window though!

If this happens regularly around your own house, contemplate placing decals (stickers) of flying raptors (eagles) on your windows. In Kuala Lumpur, pittas are famous for smashing into windows during migration.

Spiderhunters are nectar feeders (hence the long bill) and they love banana flower nectar. they also collect spiderwebs for making their nests, which was probably what gave rise to the name. Did you know, though, that as young birds need protein to grow, most parent birds of any species will collect what is basically foreign food for them to feed to the young? A seed-eater will come back to the nest bearing insects, and so on...

Isn't nature wonderful? And people wonder why I watch birds...

Friday, November 23, 2007

Broadband! Or....not.

There was a computer technician in the house tonight for over two hours, trying to get my brand new modem and broadband connection up and running.

He failed.

Do you get the idea that I am jinxed?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

TM and TMnet hate me

TMnet is the name of my IP which supposedly provides internet connection. I haven't worked out what the "IP" actually does stand for in the real world, but it is not internet provider, not on a permanent basis. They provide occasionally. Funny thing is that the bill always arrives on time, nonetheless, they never forget that.

TM is the name of the company that (supposedly) provides me with a phone line. I have not had a dial tone since Sunday, and complaints in this world seem to be ignored.

So sorry, everyone, I have been in a cyber black hole.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Microsoft's Blackhole Keyboard Horror Show

UPDATE: see here. Microsoft are in my good books again...

So there I am this morning, typing away, just 50 pages from the end of the final (I hope) major revision of book 1 in the Random Rain Cycle.

And all of a sudden, the keyboard runs amok and takes on a life of its own as a black hole munching through its surroundings. The backspace key becomes rampantly feral, chomping through letters and words; whole paragraphs disappear into its ravening maws. Nothing I do will stop it. It then tires of that and starts zipping thousands of zeds in unending lines onto the screen. When it wearies of the letter z it intersperses x and y, then whips through all the menus, hanging them out for my edification. Alas, I can't actually use any one them, because the keyboard is totally jammed for any manual intervention. I am in a horror movie - you know, the stereotypical ineffectual screaming woman. Unfortunately, there's no hero to the rescue.

In the end it was only stopped by pulling out the connection, bringing its destructive rampage to a halt.

I then spent the morning going through those endless "troubleshooting" pages that NEVER EVER work. Ultimately, if I turn on the computer with my lovely Natural Ergonomic 4000 MICROSOFT keyboard that I paid a fortune for and lugged all the way back from USA and have used exactly one week (because it would not fit on my old desk and I had to wait until I had installed the new one!), all I get is a loud bipping scream.

Thanks Microsoft. Nice to see you are now in the business of manufacturing reliable, usable hardware just like your software.

The awful thing is that it is a lovely keyboard to use, when it actually works, and it definitely helps my ergonomic problems.

Friday, November 16, 2007

You strange people...

I just had to do this again, because some of you are just soooo weird.

People often get to this blog by googling. Obviously, it's usually by googling my name or the title of one of my books.

Other than that, the most common google phrases that bring folk here are:
  • "How to write in the first person"
  • "Whom, who, whose, who's"
  • "How long should a book be?"
  • "How to get an agent"
  • "How to beat your pregnant wife"
Right. Now the first four I understand - and I did write about the last subject once, but can anyone tell me why there are so many men out there who are interested in beating their pregnant wife? (To them: Man, you really need to shape up, because not only are you all lousy husbands, but I bet you're going to make lousy dads too.)

Here are some others that had me puzzled:
  • "Photos of a bulging purse." Boy, did they come to the wrong blog.
  • "Dose (sic) the cold kill Australian desert fish?" I've no idea, and I'm blessed if I ever remember mentioning fish and desert in the same blog, let alone the same sentence.
  • "Song for your pregnant wife." Now that's more like it.
  • "What sucks about the tropics". Don't get me started.
  • "Things kangaroos aren't allowed to have." Honest! That was what they googled.
  • "A strong belief that one is pregnant." Yanno, I haven't had that belief for at least thirty years.
  • "How to tell a man you are pregnant." Nope, haven't had that need for almost as long. (Lady, I suggest you open you mouth and let the words come out.)
  • "Hindu aunty doing pee near home." Ok, I was so intrigued how that one led to my blog, I googled it. I'm none the wiser. At least I am none the wiser about the connection, but I am lots wiser about a quite amazing selection of other stuff...
  • "Make yourself look buff in pictures" Well, there is a limit, and I think I passed it, long ago...
  • "Animal porn" Words fail me. Animal Porn? And they came here?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

More from Banggi Island

Remember that final few days holiday we had before we left Sabah? Well, I didn't post all the pix, so here are some more.

Banggi island is just south of the Philippines, at the far northern tip of Borneo.

Picture one is a scene on the ferry from the mainland. Take a look at the gold seat the boys are sitting on. Bit ornate for a boat, right? It's a ceremonial chair for part of a Malay wedding - the ferry was full of family members of the bride or groom.

Photo 2 is where we stayed.

Photo 3 is where the restaurants are.

Photo 4 is the scene from where we stayed. That hut is the loo of the restaurants...which is why I didn't go swimming. Oh, plus the fact that people said there were crocodiles.

Photo 5 is the scene from the restaurant.

Photo 6 is some very ancient mangroves (note the roots seeking air) and some interesting rocks.

The last pix is of a traditional roof, using wood, bamboo, rattan for twine, and palm leaves.

Words, rice and prize winners

Interested in finding out just how good your vocab is? (Alma, this one is definitely for you. If you can't do better than me, no one can....)

Try this site:

Best of all, for every word you get right, some grains of rice are donated through the UN to help alleviate hunger. I managed to get up to level 48 (out of 50) but have not as yet managed to climb the last 2 places...

And on quite another matter, which of these books should be awarded the best of the best of the year?

* Rainbows End, Vernor Vinge (Hugo, Locus SF)
* Soldier of Sidon, Gene Wolfe (World Fantasy)
* Seeker, Jack McDevitt (Nebula)
* The Privilege of the Sword, Ellen Kushner (Locus Fantasy)
* Titan, Ben Bova (Campbell)
* Spin Control, Chris Moriarty (PKDick)
* Nova Swing, M. John Harrison (Clarke)
* The Road, Cormac McCarthy (Pulitzer)

Over at the Science Fiction Awards Watch, they want to know, so hop over there and vote. My problem is that I have only read one on the list, and I definitely don't think that should have won anything at all... I suspect it won its award because more people read it (the author being particular well-known), so it picked up more votes by default. I suspect people vote for what they know, even if they don't read much in a particular category.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The postman delivers...sometimes.

This post is inspired by Karen Miller's blog the other day, when she said how she loves getting the flats for a book. (That's the cover, already printed, without the inner pages.) She put her latest in a frame on the wall...well, I don't think I'll be doing that with The Shadow of Tyr.

The other day someone left something on my gate that vaguely resembled a letter. I opened it up and there it was - the flats from Orbit for The Shadow of Tyr, out in December in UK.

And here's the picture of what it looked like, crumpled and filthy, envelope included. It had obviously been kicking around in a ditch for some time - in fact the envelope looks as if it has had a hole burned in it.

The postal pixies had obviously had a field day - especially as the letter inside was dated August...

Fortunately I had already received (safely) the whole book, so I wasn't too upset - but one wonders about the Malaysian postal service! I suspect the person who put it on my gate was a kind neighbour who found it somewhere or other after, I suspect, the postman had not bothered to put it into the postbox properly.

Anyway, don't forget, you UK readers - the book should be hitting your bookstores in a couple of weeks - and the cover looks a whole lot better than the above picture...

Monday, November 12, 2007

My favourite things

This has been around for a bit (erroneously supposed to have been composed and sung by Julie Andrews on her 69th birthday). I am somewhat younger than that, but right now - feeling as sick as I do - it kinda sums me up.

Maalox and nose drops and needles for knitting,
Walkers and handrails and new dental fittings,
Bundles of magazines tied up in string,
These are a few of my favourite things.
Cadillac's and cataracts, hearing aids and glasses,
Polident and Fixodent and false teeth in glasses
Pacemakers, golf carts and porches with swings,
These are a few of my favourite things.
When the pipes leak, when the bones creak,
When the knees go bad, I simply remember my
favourite things,
And then I don't feel so bad.

Hot tea and crumpets and corn pads for bunions,
No spicy hot food or food cooked with onions,
Bathrobes and heating pads and hot meals they bring,
These are a few of my favourite things.

Back pains, confused brains, and no need for sinnin',
Thin bones and fractures and hair that is thinnin',
And we won't mention our short, shrunken frames,
When we remember our favourite things.
When the joints ache, when the hips break,
When the eyes grow dim,
Then I remember the great life I've had,
And then I don't feel so bad

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Never do it yourself

Sorry for being offline so long - phone troubles, coupled with a bout of food poisoning of unknown origin that you really don't want to hear about. Moreover,I have a project paper due on Monday. And I was in the middle of my study room refurbishing too...

About that, I have a piece of excellent advice. Never, ever decide that you yourself will put together a piece of IKEA furniture that is too big to put in your car in the first place. Not worth it. If it won't fit in your car, it's too complicated for a Ph.D husband and writer wife to assemble. Really. Especially when - because you didn't read the instructions all the way to the end before you started - you find you have to unscrew everything because you omitted to place a crucial set of screws at the beginning...AARGH.

And after all that, tell me, just how humiliating is it to have to round up a bunch of obliging neighbours to turn the table right side up when you have finally got it assembled, because a) it is huge and b) it weighs as much as a beached humpback whale? (Those silver bits are made of steel, man.)

Once I have this project paper done and have tamed my digestive system into abject submission, I shall finish putting the room back together. Then I will post the "after" picture.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Cultural Appropriation and the Fiction Writer

Over on Bibliobibuli
a couple of days back, Sharon blogged about Monica Ali and her book "Brick Lane" and how Monica has been criticized by a lead writer in the Guardian newspaper as follows:

... she was a mixed-race Oxford graduate whose main characters were not from Sylhet (the original home of nearly all Brick Lane residents) but a completely different region: Mymensingh. This is a bit like a story about geordies being treated as if it were about cockneys.

This then elicited a vitriolic reply from Hari Kunzru:

I reserve the right to imagine anyone and anything I damn well please. If I want to write about Jewish people, or paedophiles or Patagonians or witches in 12th-century Finland, then I will do so, despite being "authentically" none of these things. I also give notice that if I choose, I intend to imagine what your muddled writer quaintly terms "real people" living in "real communities". My work may convince or it may not. However, I will not accept that I have any a priori responsibility to anyone - white, black or brown, let alone any "community" - to represent them in any particular way. ... I'm sick of all this cant about cultural authenticity, and sick of the duty (imposed only on "minority" writers) to represent in some quasi-political fashion. Art isn't about promoting social cohesion, or cementing community relations. It's about telling the truth as you see it, even if it annoys or offends some people. That's called freedom of expression, and last time I checked we all thought it was quite a good idea.

I actually take issue with Kunzru about this "duty" being imposed only on minority writers. Believe me, WASP writers* are also brought to book ('scuse pun) if they dare to "plunder" or "appropriate" cultures which are not their own in their writing. White Australians have to tread very carefully if they dare to dabble in the indigenous Australian's culture, and so on.

Now, I would be the first to deplore writing about another culture as if you knew all about its reality, and then depicting it in an inaccurate way. In other words, representing your work as a truthful - if fictional - depiction of how that culture lives, when you haven't bothered to do your homework.

But does a writer have a right to "plunder" where they will? Do I have the right to write a fantasy about a Malay warrior returning to a modern Malay community in order to, say, save a descendant of his, larding it with magicial keris's**, and other elements of Malay culture and Malay magic, writing it all from a Malay perspective - or would this be cultural appropriation to be deplored as a further example of colonial robbery and rapine?

Is it a writer paying respect homage to another culture, or is it a white woman plundering their heritage as if it was her own?

Believe me, cultural appropriation, in the eyes of some minorities, is a huge issue, and they have good reason. Try googling those two words if you don't believe me. There is an interesting discussion here, on Hal Duncan's blog, which touches more on many of the subtleties which I have not mentioned here.

What do you think?

*White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant;
** Malay dagger

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The wildlife I keep under the bed

I have just been crawling under the double bed in our bedroom, with a torch, looking for wildlife - all part of living in the tropics. Worst thing is I can't find the blessed thing. It is still in our room somewhere, and is bound to make himself clammily felt at some ungodly hour of the night.

I had just brought in the washing from the line - which included a pair of dark green double bedsheets. I dumped the lot on the bed and grabbed up a sheet to fold without looking - and closed my hand over something cold and wriggly and very much alive.

Dunno who got the greatest scare, me or the tree frog - one of those ones with legs longer than its body, bit like jointed cantilevers with suction caps the size of thumb prints on the ends. It shot up in the air as if it had springs, almost hit the ceiling as it sailed across the room, made two more extravagant leaps to nowhere before disappearing under the bed.

Trouble is, it was no long there by the time I had recovered enough to look. And it had peed on the sheet too, darn it.

Friday, November 02, 2007

My quote for the week

From Jim Macdonald, over at Making Light.

"We don’t get the moral high ground by saying we have it, we get it by actually occupying it. If you’re going to be a bad guy yourself, what’s the point of fighting bad guys? All you’ve guaranteed is that the bad guys will win."

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Why you shouldn't build a road across the main range

Peninsular Malaysia has a backbone. It is called the Titiwangsa Range. It starts up north on the Thai border and travels south, ending up in the state of Negri Sembilan, south of Kuala Lumpur.

First two photos: what the Titiwangsa Range can look like.

It is very, very old. Which means its foundation is riddled with the geological equivalent of arthritic joints, sagging muscles and poor skin tone. And just to add insult to age injury, it is situated in a place of high torrential rainfall all year around.

When we went to Camerons, we took what is known as the Pos Slim road, or the Simpang Pulai road. It is new(ish). We (the environmentalists of the nation) warned what would happen, but politicians and developers know better, naturally. Or unnaturally.

Photos 3 , 4 and 5 were taken from the road visible in photo 6. Photo 6 was taken from the top of the landslide visible in photo 5. If you look very hard in Photo 5, you will see trucks and heavy machinery - tiny little dots. this gives you an idea of the scale of this landslide. The road is at the apex; the slide goes on for hundreds of metres.

The road has already had numerous landslides, and someone is making a fortune from the continual repairs, a cycle which inevitably destroys more and more of the highland rainforest, resulting in everything from river/dam siltation to coastal pollution affecting fish stocks.

The road is also a disaster waiting to happen. Sooner or later, someone will die up there.

Sooner or later a landslide will collect a car or truck or two. It's just a matter of time.

Take a look a these photos, and wince.

No such road should ever have been built.

Early roads were built by following contours and using pickaxes and buckets, and they have survived although even they have problems (compare the new and the old roads up Fraser's Hill and see if you think the new road is an environmental improvement or an environmental disaster).

In this kind of terrain, only tunnels and bridges should be an option, and even then one wonders. Why won't the ignorant listen?

The last photo shows the Australian weed (acacias) having a field day on the barren slope that once looked like photo 1. In the distance you can see the gash cut through the land like the parang* slice of a giant, who has gouged the land in malicious glee.