Finishing Discworld

I’ve been a big fan of Terry Pratchett’s work for more years than I care to remember. I still remember coming across The Colour of Magic when I was at high school. It was a revelation – screwball comedy in fantasy done in a way I’d never encountered before. I laughed harder than I felt that a nerd with a taste for the fantastica had any right to. At that point only a few of Pratchett’s Discworld novels had come out, but I was hooked.

Ever since that first encounter, I have hung out for every new release, and each book has taken me back to that feeling I had in high school. When I heard about Pratchett’s alzheimers diagnosis I was sad. To be honest, sadder than I really had a right to be given I never met the man. And his death in 2015 struck me as it did his many, many fans around the world.

I read most of everything that Pratchett wrote, including the excellent Good Omens and more recently his co-authored Long Earth series. But there was one section of his bibliography that I had never ventured into, and that was his young adult novels (both in and out of the Discworld setting).

I’m not 100% sure why. By the time I became aware of them, I’d left the “young” part of young adult far behind. As I’ve got older, I’ve found less and less to empathise with in young adult books generally. These days, when I hear that a book is young adult it tends to drop down my “to be read” pile (so many books to read, it doesn’t take much to have one drop away). But still, this is Terry Pratchett. One of my favourite authors. And in the case of the Tiffany Aching series, they were even set one of my favourite worlds, the Discworld. Yet I put it off and put it off.

Recently, my 8 year old daughter was looking for something to read and I thought of the Tiffany Aching books. I didn’t know much about them, just that they were set in Discworld, involved witches and were for younger readers. So I bought the books on Kindle, and told my daughter I’d read the first one at the same time she did.

Now as it turns out, even the first book is a bit advanced for your average 8 year old and my daughter put it aside after a couple of chapters. I’m sure she’ll come back to them some day. But me, I kept reading. And reading. And reading. And soon I’d read all five books.

This isn’t a review of the series. They are good. If you like Pratchett, they are very good. And I will gentle nudge my daughter back towards them when she is a bit older, because there are some excellent themes for young women. If my daughter grows up wanting to emulate Tiffany Aching, well let’s just say there are much worse role models out there.

But reading them made me a bit sad, because reading them marked the end of a chapter of my reading life. There are no more Discworld novels to look forward to. I will never again feel the anticipation of an impending new release, never more have the satisfaction of settling in to read the opening chapters, never finish reading and feel the sting of having to wait so long until the next release. There are no more new words to be consumed.

Yes, I’ll reread at some point and yes it will be marvellous. But it will never again be new. And that makes me sad.

And so, I’ve written this post in an utterly self indulgent desire to share that sadness, and perhaps through writing come a little more to terms with it. No artist lives forever. But with Pratchett, I wish we’d had a little longer.

The Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett (with links to each book’s Wikipedia page) includes:

The Peppa Pig dilemma

Let me ask you two questions:

1. Are you a parent with children that were young in the last decade?

2. Are you a science fiction fan?

If you answered yes to both questions (1), then I guarantee you that there is something that has been gnawing at your subconscious, tearing away at your concept of reality. Have you been cranky with a co-worker lately? Finding some of the habits of your better half or close friends irritating? Catching yourself snarling back at the local cat who everyone says is an institution, providing the neighbourhood with a delightful dash of much needed character, but whom you suspect is actually an entity of pure evil hell bent on world destruction?

If all this sounds familiar then you, like me, have been snared by the Peppa Pig syndrome (2).

If you’ve hung around sci-fi for a while, you’d be familiar with the trope of “uplifting” animals to sapient status (3). Clearly people that write children’s television are, because it seems like every second kids TV show has talking animals in it. Given we don’t have talking animals now, and given these shows don’t feature any people, I can only assume that they are set in some far-future world where the human race has died out.

But here is the first of my gripes – these shows seldom put any effort into basic world building. How did the human race die out? Some kind of catastrophe? External, or generated ourselves? What mechanism was used by animals to gain sentience? Did humanity perform the uplift? The operation of evolution over millions of years? Some freak combination of mutating viruses and the alignment of planets?

And then there is the question of how these animals built the society they are living in. Most of the represented species lack opposable thumbs, making it hard to see how they developed the toolset to create the worlds they live in. Further, their civil structures invariably seem to be modelled on human-equivalent societies, which implies that they’ve got access to records of the human civilisation that came before them. Have they maintained some semblance of our society out of a sense of misguided loyalty to their creators? Or did they find a cache of television programs from our time which they used as a template for creating their own community? Perhaps they turned in desperation to the human example when recovering from some kind of inter-species war that threatened to annihilate them all (4). Even to the extent of primarily speaking English as the linga-fraca of these new worlds (presumably everyone speaks their own language – Lionish, Gazellish etc but learns English from an early age to allow inter-species communication).

And who decided which animals were uplifted? There seem to be some pretty arbitrary decisions made in that arena, with breathtakingly dubious ethics. What makes pigs inherently more sentience-worthy than spiders? What’s with the subjugation of goldfish? These selections, they haunt me. Are the non-uplifted animals some kind of under-class? Was it our decisions about who got uplifted that caused their persecution? And worst of all, was “cuteness” our primary selection criterion? Oh, humanity. We have so much to answer for.

Modern science tells us that intelligence is a thin veil holding back a seething mass of primeval emotions and instincts. These impulses threaten to tear groups of humans apart, even as our higher consciousness attempts to pull us together. And that’s when we have a fundamentally compatible sub-conscious infrastructure. Imagine a world where even the base instincts of the sapient beings were in stark opposition. Predator vs prey, mammal vs reptile, ground vs air. And this points to a darker issue. Did we do more than provide intelligence? Did we alter these creatures more fundamentally, to bring their sub-conscious drives into alignment? Is the crocodile no longer a predator? The possum-rat no longer prey? Has peace been bought at the price of individuality and diversity?

And were those changes also made at a biological level? At times I find myself consumed by concerns of food security in this animal utopia. Some of the uplifted creatures are carnivores, whose systems would not be able to tolerate a plant-based diet. Either there is a very disturbing underbelly of activity, where carnivorous creatures continue to eat their historical prey even when those animals are themselves sapient, or basic biology has been changed to tolerate either non-sapient creatures or non-animal food. Perhaps these societies have invented meat-substitutes, but that would require a level of technology beyond our own.

Can I answer all these questions? Clearly not. But next time you sit down with your little munchkins and you hear the opening strains of their favourite theme songs, try to hold onto your lunch as your stomach heaves in response to your reflections of what we are responsible for.

The behaviour that you watch as quality children’s entertainment is the behaviour you accept. At least have the common decency to be sickened by what you have done.

Footnotes

(1) If you answered yes to question 1, but not question 2, then I suspect you’ve landed on the wrong blog. If you answered yes to question 2 but not question 1, then you’re probably on the right blog but this may not be the article for you. Or who knows, it could be exactly the article for you. I mean, I don’t know you. Categorising what you may or may not like based on two questions is a bit rich. You have every right to be offended. Feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of the post expressing your righteous indignation.

If you answered no to both questions, then get you’re probably my mum (the only older, non-SF person likely to be looking at this blog). Hi Mum!

(2) Or at least some of it. Look, if I had to guess I’d say that if approximately 30% of it or more sounds familiar then you’ve probably been snared.

(3) Like being sapient is all that. When is the last time you saw a budgerigar that was worried about credit card debt? Or a porpoise that had alienated its friendship circles by a misjudged social media post? I could go on, but this article isn’t designed to question the whole “sapient = good” premise of uplift.

But someone should.

(4) In which case more fool them. Have you looked at human society lately? Not example a good model to base yourself on. Still, perhaps I’m being unfair. Maybe they take the good bits, and modify the rest.

Happy holidays

Hi all,

Whether you’re celebrating a significant event in the existence of your particular brand of all-powerful-sky-dwelling-wish-granter or worshiping at the slightly more secular prawns-and-presents-with-family-and-friends alter, or even participating in the insidious scheme codenamed “Get Them Hooked On Presents and a Jolly Bowl Full Of Jelly Facade Before Taking Over The World” (I’m looking at you Elf 9683), I hope you all have a relaxing and safe holiday break.

Unless of course you have to work to keep all the people having a relaxing and safe holiday break relaxed and safe. In which case, let me offer you a mixture of condolences and thanks.

Monthly roundup culture consumed – November 2016

Hope everyone has had a great November, and you’re not freaking out about how close Christmas is all of a sudden.

Books

As foreshadowed last month I finished Revenger by Alistair Reynolds during November. This is an excellent book. Set in the far, far future, the matter in the solar system has been reconfigured to be a lot of small planetoids, using tame black holes and other sciencey things to maintain things like gravity at Earth levels. There have been a series of civilisations that have risen and fallen in this environment, and as a result the planetoids are littered with the junk of many civilisations, some of it much more advanced than the current civilisation. Treasure hunting spaceships travel between worlds, and the whole thing has an 18th century naval adventure feel to it. I won’t give away much of the plot – you should go and read this book.

I started another couple of books – a new anthology edited by Jim Butcher called Shadowed Souls and the second book in Ken Liu’s Dandelion Dynasty series, The Wall of Storms. Not far enough through either to have much to say as yet, although I can say that I really enjoyed Liu’s last book, and this one seems to be continuing on in a very satisfying way.

TV

I’ve been watching The Expanse on Netflix. The special effects on this series are amazing, and while it is a while since I read the book, the plot seems to follow pretty faithfully. Still got a couple of episodes to go, but a great show so far.

A couple of years back I watched the first two episodes of the sci-fi series Orphan Black, and while I enjoyed them I never got around to watching any more of it. I watched the first couple of episodes again in November, and again enjoyed them but I’m not finding myself drawn back to them. I’m going to try to power through at least a few more episodes – I’ve heard so many good reviews of this series and I feel like I’ve missed an essential part of the shared community experience.

The new Australian animated series Pacific Heat has started. At the time of writing, I’ve only watched the first episode. Very much like the American series Archer – same style of animation, very similar premise. I suspect the series will take a few episodes to find its feet – the humour was a bit hit and miss. The voice actors are a lot of the crew from the D-Generation (an Australian phenomenon) so there is a nostalgia angle here as well. If you’ve watched Archer and liked it, give this a go.

Movies

Didn’t go to the movies at all in December, but I did finally get around to watching The Martian. I found it surprisingly enjoyable. In some ways it is very old fashioned sci-fi, where the main enemy is a cold, uncaring universe and the problems can be solved by science and engineering. But Matt Damon played the main character with just enough wry humour to make him sympathetic and as a result the movie kept me very much hooked in.

Other

One of the podcasts I really like, Tea and Jeopardy, is starting its annual “Advent Calendar” style run – with very short episodes being published every day in the lead up to Christmas. An excellent podcast – usual format is a speculative fiction author interview with a small “radio play” around it.

Another favourite podcast, Sheep Might Fly, has just started a new audio story –  “Dance, Princes, Dance” by Australian author Tansy Rayner Roberts.

So, what have you been up to?

In which I am offline for a couple of weeks

Hi all.

A very boring post this time around, just to say that I’ll be offline for a couple of weeks. Small family holiday (huzzah!) will mean that I’m not accessing computers enough to compose sensible length blog posts.

Hey, sometimes you have to put down the keyboard and pick up a Moscow Mule.

Next scheduled post will be Sunday 13th November!

Be good.

-m

In which birthdays and small press are discussed

It’s not really speculative fiction related, but the NSW Writers Centre turned 25 recently and had their birthday party today. I don’t go along to as many Writer Centre events as I should – I’m hoping when the kids are a bit older there might be more opportunities. But I have been to some excellent functions there over the years, and I’m a fully paid up member, so it would seem churlish not to spruik their birthday and encourage any NSW readers to join up!

As mentioned in previous posts, Aurora Australis is Alex Pierce’s monthly round up of Australian and New Zealand speculative fiction news published at Tor.com. The October edition is out now, and well worth checking out if you like keeping up on the goings on of the Australian scene.

I was particularly sad to see that the Australian small press Fablecroft was going on indefinite hiatus. I don’t know Tehani (the owner) well at all, but I have observed her efforts and impact on the Australian SF scene, and it has been profound. She has brought many books into the world that deserved to be there, and never would have been without her efforts. Fablecroft will be missed.

Speaking of Australian small press, Twelfth Planet Press (a Western Australian based press) has had a run of award love for their anthology Letters to Tiptree, a work designed to showcase the impact that James Tiptree Jr (aka Alice Sheldon) had on the SF community in the year that would have marked her 100th birthday. In a similar vein, they have just announced a new project, Letters to Butler, designed to honour legendary SF writer Octavia Butler. They have sent out an open call for submissions, so if you have been impacted by Butler’s work it might be worth checking out.

I’m feeling a little short on news this months, so I’ll send this out into the ether now. Feel free to add in any more in the comments!

Monthly roundup culture consumed – September 2016

I hope September treated everyone with dignity and respect. I’m afraid my culture consumption has been a little light on this month – too many work events and family obligations preventing a good read!

Books

I finished Lois McMaster Bujold’s Falling Free (Book 1 in the Vorkosigan Saga). I enjoyed the book, but my initial concern that it didn’t seem to contain anyone called “Vorkosigan” in it was born out. I am assuming that it was some kind of prequel book, that has been listed as Book 1 for anyone wanting to read chronologically? In any case, the book was a good story, but not enough to make me immediately want to pick up another in the series. I’m told I should definitely try the next one, Shards of Honour, which I might do in the fullness of time.

I started the first book in Tansy Rayner Robert’s Mocklore series, Splashdance Silver. It is interesting to go back and look at the earlier work of an author you admire. I won’t say much here, because I’ll probably do a full review once I’m finished the book.

TV

You know what I did? I got lazy and missed the last couple of episodes of the second series of Marvel’s Agent Carter on Channel 7’s catch up TV. Really kicking myself on that front – now I’ll have to wait to be able to obtain it through alternate legal means to find out how the story ended. Very disappointing. I believe that is the last series of Agent Carter, which is a damn shame.

Have been catching up on the latest series of Musketeers, but must admit to be finding it harder going this series. Not exactly sure why, I think the clash of modern sensibilities with the realities of a 14th century French monarchy are starting to overwhelm the show. Still, there is still a nice balance of both swash and buckle, so I keep going back.

Lots of the DC universe TV series are starting up this week – Arrow, Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow. I’m in two minds about a couple of these series – almost ready to let some of them go. I might give them each a few weeks and see how I feel.

Speaking of superheroes, I watched the first episode of Luke Cage on Netflix last night. Looks really good – that is one superhero show I’ll definitely be sticking with.

Movies

Besides taking my daughter to see Secret Life of Pets I’ve been once again cinema free this month. I’m considering going along to see The Magnificent Seven, but that isn’t really SF so not much point in mentioning it.

I did watch the extended cut of Batman vs Superman on Blu-ray last week. It’s still not the best superhero movie of the year, but I did find that the extra material plugged a few gaps for me and made the movie seem a bit more coherent. I especially felt that Lois Lane came out seeming much more well rounded, which was good.

I rewatched Captain America Civil War as well (a father’s day gift). I really like Spiderman. Just sayin’.

Other

Issue 219 of Antipodean SF is out now, including my eBook versions (I actually got them done on time this month).

I have an Xbox, but I don’t really play it much anymore. I did, however, purchase a new game – Deus Ex – recently, which I’m looking forward to giving a whirl. I’ve always been a sucker for an futuristic augmented human game (harking back to my favourite game back in the day, System Shock).

From a writing perspective, things have been meandering along slowly. I’ve almost finished a first round of edits on my 27,000 word novella, The Reclaimers. Next I’ll be typing out the first 20,000 or so words of a science fiction novel or novella (depending on how much more story there is in it). I quite like the characters in this one, so looking forward to revisiting them (I hand wrote the story about 6 months ago).

So, what have you been up to?

Monthly roundup culture consumed – August 2016

Hello everybody! How was your August?

Books

I mentioned last month that I’d started The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu, and sure enough I finished it off during August. It turned into much more of an epic story than I was expecting from the first 20% or so. It is a “high level” novel – covering a fair period of time and dipping in and out of the various characters stories. The writing is very good and the novel pulls you along. I haven’t read much of Liu’s short fiction, but I could certainly see why he has gathered much acclaim in his short fiction career.

I also read Chuck Wendig’s latest Star Wars novel, Life Debt. This is one of the novels released around the new movies, to provide some context between the end of Return of the Jedi and the start of The Force Awakens. The novel is written in present tense, which is interesting but ultimately a little jarring. I know present tense is meant to impart a sense of immediacy, however I’m so used to reading in past tense that it kept jarring me out of the novel. Apart from that, it was a good read. I enjoy Wendig’s style of writing, and it is a good way to get a better sense of the new “canon”.

I’ve started on Lois McMaster Bujold’s Falling Free, billed as Book 1 in the Vorkosigan Saga. It is an OK read, although it doesn’t seem to have anyone called “Vorkosigan” in it. Still, I haven’t finished yet so more next month.

TV

I’ve been making my way through the second series of Marvel’s Agent Carter on Channel 7’s catch up TV (I missed one episode because it expired, but other than that I’ll be able to see the rest). A great show – I love the retro look and the storylines without all the complexity of the 21st century version of the Marvel universe. It made me go back and re-watch Captain America: The First Avenger the other day. Well worth the watch if you can find it somewhere.

Not much else on the TV front – I’ve been watch a couple of non-genre shows on Netflix, but nothing worth including on a speculative fiction blog! I’m hoping to pick up Orphan Black next month and watch that from the beginning.

Movies

No visits to the cinema this month, had to compensate for the glut last month. I’ve been re-watching a couple of Marvel movies at home, but that’s about it. Sorry!

Other

I’ve mentioned before that I produce the eBook versions of the Antipodean SF monthly fiction releases. Worth checking out if you like flash fiction, we just put up issue 218 on the website at the time of writing.

What’s everyone else been consuming?

In which a random sampling of topics is covered

Hi all. Hope this blog post finds you well.

The 2016 Australian Speculative Fiction Snapshot just completed. Yours truly was interviewed, but don’t let that put you off checking out the whole shebang. The Snapshot is an excellent rounding up of what’s going on in the Australian scene – well worth checking out who’s doing what.

Note: at the time of writing, the 2016 front page linked into above does not have all of the interviews listed. Hopefully it will be up to date by the time you read this.

The Hugo awards were announced this weekend at WorldCon over in Kansas City. In yet another year of controversial nomination and voting practices, I was sad to see so many “no award” wins. I must admit that seeing the Hugos become an idealogical battleground in a away that artificially distorts voting patterns has made me a bit “meh” about them, so I haven’t paid as much attention to the shortlist/final awards as I might have in previous years. In previous years I have bought supporting memberships of the relevant convention so I could vote, but this year I couldn’t really be bothered. And that’s a shame.

It’s been great to see The Writer and the Critic podcast get back into its monthly groove. I’ve just listened to the latest episode, and while neither of the books interested me too much going in, the broader discussion about books that achieve longevity on best seller lists was quite interesting. Hopefully they’ll get back to more speculative fiction content though.

You may have noticed that I’ve started to republish one of my old stories on the website, over 5 parts. No real reason, just felt like it really. Part 1 of “Showdown” can be found here, and I’ll publish the last sections over the next few weeks.

I’ve almost finished the first draft of a novella length work – looking like it is going to come in at about 26k – 27k words. I’ll ship it around to a few venues, but if I don’t get much traction I might serially publish it as well. It’d be nice to get the publication credit somewhere, but I must admit that has been concerning me less lately. In this case, putting the words out there might just be the push I need to build up a bit more momentum. Anyway, still a fair bit of editing to do so I don’t have to make up my mind for a little while.

And finally, if you’re interested in general Australian SF news you should check out Alex Pierce’s column at Tor.com. Alex is much better informed than me – as her latest column demonstrates!

Monthly roundup culture consumed – July 2016

How was July?

Books

This month I read (and reviewed) Vigil by Australian author Angela Slatter. I reviewed the book for the Australian Women Writers Reading challenge here, so you can read my opinion in great detail.

I also read the final “Long Earth” book by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, called The Long Cosmos. I’ve enjoyed the series without loving it, and I must admit that my primary motivation around this book was to be a completist. The writing was good, but I must admit that the plot didn’t really seem to build to anything. If you like the series, you’ll probably already have read the book. If not, you can quite safely give this one a miss.

I’ve started on The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu. I’m only a little way through the book, but enjoying it so far. It’s been a long introduction, but the characters are enjoyable and the world building interesting enough to carry me through. More next month!

Never having read any Lois McMaster Bujold, I’ve decided to give the Vorkosigan Saga a go. I’m starting with Falling Free. Hopefully I’ll have finished that next month too.

TV

As reported last month, the second series’ of Dark Matter (a science fiction show that actually features a spaceship) and Killjoys (intergalactic bounty hunters) started back up. I’ve quite enjoyed both through the course of the month. Dark Matter is probably my favourite of the two, but only just. It is jumping around a bit cast wise, with one of the main cast from last season killed off and an array of new characters popping in and out. But the overall plot is interesting, and the acting good enough to keep me coming back.

Killjoys is getting better this season, with more of an overarching storyline to keep me interested. I think the show is a bit tighter this season.

I just today realised that the second series of Marvel’s Agent Carter is playing on one of the free to air channels (7flix). Fortunately their catch up TV still has the first six episodes so I’ll make a concerted effort to catch up.

Movies

A lot of movies this month. Last month I mentioned that my 8-year old daughter and I were going to see Ghostbusters. My daughter really enjoyed the movie, and loved the cast (and the “icky ghosts”). The movie was everything I was hoping it would be in terms of strong female cast, good story, good special effects etc. I’ve read some commentary about some people being disappointed, but it did everything I wanted it to. Well worth going, especially if you’ve got a young person in your life who’d like to see strong representations of women on the big screen.

I also went to the IMAX in Sydney to see the new Star Trek movie, Star Trek Beyond. I think this might be my favourite of the three new reboot movies, with a strong storyline and some great set pieces. The characters were strongly played (although seriously, how many times can they go back to the Mr-Spock-doesn’t-have-feelings-except-yes-he-actually-does-oh-he-is-human-afterall well?) and there was a good balance of action and humour. Clearly you’re probably not going to see the movie unless you’re a Star Trek fan, but I would say that if you like science fiction generally, this is the Star Trek movie I’d probably recommend for you.

Speaking of Star Trek, has anyone else seen the news that there is going to be a new Star Trek TV series starting early next year? And that Australian Netflix is going to show the episodes the day after they air in the US? I can’t seem to find any further details than that, but the news has made me unreasonably excited.

This weekend I also saw Suicide Squad. Look, I don’t don’t really want to get on the Suicide Squad bashing bandwagon. It’s not the greatest film in the world. You can probably wait until it comes out on DVD. Introducing such a lot of relatively unknown characters in one movie means that a LOT of time is dedicated to backstory. And the team bond together remarkably quickly considering they are all bad guys. But if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief it is a harmless enough way to kill a couple of hours. It gets a “meh” from me.

Other

Not much else this month. I’m not going to be at my computer next Sunday, so next week’s post might be a little delayed (I’ll try the automatic publish thing but quite frankly it has not served me well in the past). If it doesn’t work, I’ll publish on Tuesday. Promise!