Happy Australia Day!

January 26, 2012

We were in Wollongong, New South Wales, for Australia Day in 2006, and it remains one of my most vivid memories from our year in Australia. It was a great day — heaps of fun. Amusement park rides and a crafts fair at the waterfront, good food, some interesting entertainment, and then, once the sun went down, a spectacular fireworks display supplemented by fire-eaters and people juggling torches.  It was reminiscent of Fourth of July celebrations here in the States, and yet it was thoroughly Australian and different from anything I’d experienced before.  Wonderful times.

To all of my friends Down Under, Happy Australia Day!  Hope it’s a great one!

Amid the continued politicking on health care and new reports of Tea Party thuggery, comes this from a friend of mine who lives in Australia.  One of the oft-repeated lies in the health care debate is that sure-fire applause line:  “The United States has the finest health care system in the world.”  The only problem is, we don’t.  Read this.

Dave Freer, a fine writer and one of my friends on SFNovelists, is undertaking a major move from his home in South Africa to Australia.  The move is a complicated one, particularly because Dave and his family have many pets, and the cost of transporting them and getting them through Australia’s stringent pet quarantine is substantial.  As a way of raising money for the move, Dave has started an online story project.  Please visit the site and check out his work.  http://savethedragons.nu/

A Post About Marketing

April 2, 2009

Today I have another guest post up, this one at the blog of my friend Alan Baxter, an Australian speculative fiction writer and all around great guy.  His blog can be found at http://www.alanbaxteronline.com/.  So stop by Alan’s site, read the post, and enjoy!

The Fires in Australia

February 10, 2009

During our year in Australia we spent nearly three weeks — glorious weeks — exploring the state of Victoria.   We drove the Great Ocean Road, we visited Ballarat and spent several days in the lovely town of Healesville. (The picture is from a cottage we stayed at in the Yarra Valley, just outside of Healesville.)  The people we met there were kind and welcoming; the landscape was beautiful, at times breathtaking.

Watching the news for the past several days, seeing the devastation caused by the wildfires that are sweeping across that same landscape, we have grieved for those who have died and for all who have lost their homes.  We share the pain of so many who have had their lives destroyed as the fires have spread, and we despair at the great harm done to this magnificent part of a country we consider our second home.

To all in Victoria, and throughout Australia, you are in our thoughts and our hearts.

Interview with Alan Baxter

January 22, 2009

Alan Baxter is a friend of mine from Australia who has recently published his second book, MageSign. I first met Alan at the Magic Casements Speculative Fiction Book Festival in Sydney, Australia back in early 2006, and we hit it off from the start. He has a great sense of humor and a thoughtful approach to his craft. He also has followed an interesting career path thus far that should be of interest to new writers everywhere. Recently I asked Alan a few questions about his approach to writing, his novels, and his life:


Read the rest of this entry »

So, been a few days.  Had to focus on the rest of life for a little while there,  Every year Nancy and I throw a big party — an Australian Christmas Party.  What makes it Australian? you ask.  Well, in Australia, Christmas is a summer holiday.  It’s hot and sunny, and the year we were there we spent Christmas at the beach eating shrimp and fresh strawberries, boogie-boarding in the waves, and playing cricket.  So we get a ton of shrimp, we get Tim-Tams and Mint Slices (our two favorite Aussie cookies), as well as a ton of other food (cheeses, satay chicken, chips, etc.) we have our friends bring plonk, and we light a fire in the fireplace and crank up the heat so that people will come in shorts and t-shirts and be comfortable, despite the 30 degree (Fahrenheit) weather outside.  Great fun.  But also a lot of work.  So I spent the last half of the week shopping for food, as well as for holiday gifts for family.  Then yesterday we were getting the house ready for dozens of guests.  And, well, blogging and work kind of fell by the wayside.

The party was last night, and it was a great success.  And now I can get back to work for a week before traveling for the holidays.

Did you know that in Australia voting is compulsory?  That’s right.  It is against the law NOT to vote in Australia.  Those who don’t show up at the polls on election day are asked to explain their absence, and if they can’t give a satisfactory explanation, they can be fined.  Voter participation in Australia is typically above 90%. 

In many third world countries that are taking their first hesitant steps toward some form of democracy, people risk their lives to vote.  Violence against voters is actually quite common throughout the world.  And historically speaking, it has been common in the United States as well.  Election day violence occurred in northern machine cities (like New York, Chicago, and Boston) and southern rural areas alike.  For centuries, in all parts of the world, people have fought and died for the right to vote.

As many of you know, I have a doctorate in American history.  I don’t think it’s possible to study the history of our nation, particularly the founding years (not my specialty, but I loved the period just the same), without coming away with a profound appreciation for the genius of those who conceived our political system.  Was it flawed?  Of course — these men were limited by the prejudices of their time.  But they managed to develop a system that was both strong enough to sustain representative democracy over the centuries and flexible enough to maintain its relevance even as the world changed in ways that none of them (with the possible exception of the brilliant Benjamin Franklin) could have foreseen.

What does any of this have to do with this week’s BOW (Buffoon Of the Week) Award?  Isn’t it obvious?  I could point out all the stupid, dishonest things done in the name of one candidate or the other over the past week, but really that was nothing new or striking to report.  Same fools doing the same foolish things. 

But as vile as some of the campaign tactics have been recently, the fact remains that we live in a nation that makes all of us the final arbiters of our own political fates.  There’s the old joke — “Everyone always complains about the weather, but no one ever does anything about it.”  Well, people in the United States are constantly complaining about their government.  More than eighty per cent of Americans believe that the country is on the wrong track right now.  And yet even the most optimistic projections put this year’s voter turnout at perhaps 70% of eligible voters.  Historically that would be a great number — higher than any election in the past half century.  And yet, if the projections are correct, nearly a third of American voters will have chosen to stay home.  

So to all those voters who waste their right, their opportunity, their obligation to participate in this week’s election, who through their apathy or laziness or ignorance take this precious gift for granted, this BOW award is for you.  I wish every person in the country would go out and vote for my candidate, but failing that, I just wish every person would go out and vote.  Yes, this all very cliched, and I apologize for that.  But as great as the promise of this nation might be, her chance of realizing that promise is dependent on all of us.  Democracy is more than a collection of rights.  It is, in fact, the nexus of rights and responsibilities.

So go out and vote.

Elegy for an Arch

August 12, 2008

On July 30, Nancy, the girls, and I hiked the Devils Garden Trail in Arches National Park.  We got up early to avoid some of the heat (at least as much as you can in the Utah desert) and took all of the side trails so that we wouldn’t miss a single arch.  It was a terrific hike — six miles or so through some of the most beautiful country you can find anywhere in the world.

Five days later, one of the largest of the Devils Garden arches, Wall Arch, collapsed.  No one was injured, thank goodness, and no one actually saw it fall.  But at dusk on August 4th it was there.  The next morning it was gone.  All that was left was a pile of rubble and two very unstable rock spurs on either side.  That part of the trail is now closed until the rest of the arch falls and the danger of falling rock is passed.

We were lucky that we got to see the arch at all — my photographs of Wall Arch are probably among the last ever taken.  Sure it was five days.  But in geological terms, we missed the collapse by the blink of an eye.  

In a way, this was a very sad event in the history of the park, which has long been one of my favorites.  (I first visited Arches in 1985, returned there in 1987, and then finally got back again this year.)  Each of the arches is like a museum piece:  unique, irreplaceable.  On the other hand, the fall of Wall Arch is illustrative of something fundamental to the personality of this park, and, in a larger sense, the entire Moab area.  The desert appears static at first glance.  It’s rock and sand and stunted trees.  But Arches and Canyonlands, as well as Zion and Bryce and Capitol Reef and all those other desert parks in southern Utah are constantly changing.  Wind, rain, snow, temperatures that range from winter lows in the single digits to summer highs in excess of 110 degrees are continually reshaping the landscape.  When you look at the fragile beauty of Landscape Arch, the graceful curve of Delicate Arch, the complexity of Double Arch, you start to realize that these things could come down at any moment.  It’s not surprising that Wall Arch fell.  What’s truly amazing is that these others are still standing.  The same processes that created the arches destroy them.  And these same forces are constantly creating more arches.  That’s a slower process, of course, but it’s happening all the time.

For my Aussie friends, it’s much like the collapse of one of the 12 Apostles a few years back.  We got to the Ocean Road too late to see that one, and also too late to see London Bridge (another coastal rock formation) in its original glory.  Those cliff faces are constantly eroding.  There will be more apostles to replace those that are lost.

I’m sad that the arch is gone, that I’ll never see it again.  But I also find it reassuring in a way.  I want to go back to Arches — I intend to return there again and again.  It’s kind of cool to know that a place that seems to be utterly static year after year, is actually changing all the time.

A Post About WorldCon

August 11, 2008

Hi!  Been a while.  Vacation, family time, and then WorldCon.  I’d tell you more, especially about WorldCon, but I’ve already written it elsewhere.  So go visit http://magicalwords.net and read all about it.