travelling soon…

In a couple of weeks I fly to Melbourne for VALA, a conference in person. The 2020 conference was my last major face-to-face conference prior to the COVID-19 pandemic with lockdowns declared a few weeks later. I did manage to make it to Shellharbour a few weeks ago for GLAMawarra and that was my first in-person conference thang since the last VALA. In fact VALA 2022 was supposed to be first but it was postponed from February to June amid concerns of further COVID breakouts.

This will be my first time out of the state in nearly two and a half years and my first time in a plane since then. This will be the most time I’ll spend with folk other than my family. A few days and evenings of people from Melbourne and other parts of the country…not sure where my comfort zone is these days. I know I’m looking forward to it and VALA has always been something of a professional touchstone for me. At the same time. I know I will need to manage my contact time carefully so I’m not too overwhelmed.

Attendance numbers are unclear though well down on past years…not unsurprisingly. This conference will be a hybrid of in-person and online. The delegate list isn’t clear as to who will be attending physically or just virtually. I’m starting to wonder if vendors will outnumber delegates though it’s good to see the commercial support. There are plenty of speakers who will be there but there’s also a bunch of presentations that will be online only. I haven’t got it in my head yet how to be in both spaces. I guess I may well be able to catch some of the online presentations later. I’m keen too, not to conference online, but focus on the physical presentations, and hanging with colleagues.

I am hoping this will be a practice run for more travelling. I have been cautious of booking things and I had a trip to Tassie booked last August that I had to cancel due to another lockdown. I registered for VALA last year but work didn’t book flights or accommodation initially. Turned out that was a good plan so those could be booked fresh a few weeks ago.

day 2 and plans

I’m cheating a little this year and prepping a few posts in advance. I think I wrote and scheduled yesterday’s post last Friday, and today’s on Monday. This at least means I have two posts done for June. I sorta feel like I need a run-up though I doubt that will matter as the month rolls on.

In years gone by, I have always been able to rely on attending filmfest for providing a goodly chunk of content. Then covid hit and in 2020, filmfest was online with only a small selection of films. FIlmfest was postponed in 2021 but was alas was on too close after the end of lockdown so I skipped it. I lived in an “LGA of concern” as they were called so lived through a tighter lockdown than folk in other parts of Sydney…though we didn’t have it as hard as some. There were restrictions on movement and curfews and so on.

State Theatre neon sign

This meant I was a little uncomfortable rushing back to a physical cinema, plus I wanted to focus on friends and family I hadn’t seen in a long time. So I missed filmfest altogether. This year I will miss it again as we moved out of Sydney a few months ago and I’m good with that. My partner is looking at creating a film festival of our own and she is perusing the various streaming services for interesting films to include. The more I think about it the more I like it and perhaps I need to seek out a few films myself.

The last couple of years I’ve had a sort of mental exhaustion and not been keen to watch challenging things…dieting more on action, or what I like to call rollercoaster movies; thrills and spills without being too intense. Actually I’ve not been watching a lot of stuff at all of late. Takes a while to settle post move though I have started reading again…my fancy copy of Dune has arrived…though that was quite the adventure with couriers and such…a tale for another post.

Hmmm…I think that means I might make it to at least 3 posts this #blogjune :-)

#blogjune returns…perhaps?

Here we are, year 13 of #blogjune

Arrrrrrgggghhhhhhhh!!!!

In recent years I have become increasingly vague and nebulous around my energy and willingness to participate in #blogjune. In 2021 I commented

“If I am in the mood, there will be posts. If I am not in the mood, there may not be posts.”

and in 2019

“Some years I do, some years I don’t. Some days matter and some don’t.”

…and yet I persist though there seems no rhyme nor reason as to my June posting tally as these figures show

YEARPOSTS
202115
202027
201911
20186
201730
201634
201514
201430
20134
201223
201124
201033
June Posting Figures

Time will tell as to whether there will be more posts….

stuff i read in the last year…ish

I don’t usually keep track of what I’ve read when. I’ve tried apps such as goodreads etc but have been poor at updating. Possibly I don’t have a great desire to track such things. Other folk post annual posts of what they’ve read and they are often interesting things to read and even add to my enormous TBR (To Be Read) section – I say section because I reckon it’s bigger than the average bookcase.

I’m sorta conscious that in the last year or so, I have been more deliberate in ensuring that I read. I have I think 3 key interests that suck my time:

  • reading
  • playing (playstation etc)
  • watching

and I tend to feel that only two of those can be current at a time. At the moment, I’m playing Skyrim and reading; other times I am reading and watching stuff; it is generally rare that watching and playing are a double. I think.

My sense is that I have read more than usual in the last year so I thought I’d compile a list and see what it looked like. This proved challenging yet fun. I checked:

  • purchase dates for ebooks
  • purchase dates for print books
  • published dates
  • browsing through my shelves
  • repeatedly browsing through my shelves
  • 2021 blog posts
  • photos

Purchase dates are so easy in these times of internet and pandemic. There will be an email somewhere.

Some dates in my research lacked specificity. There is a total of 51 titles but one is a short story (a recently discovered story from Philip K Dick’s teenage years). There’s a few novellas in the list but I’m good with that. That means a total of 50 books read which is pretty close to one a week. I suspect this is one of my best years. Of course, the number I’m scared to count is how many books arrived in the last year. I suspect it’s higher. Much higher.

Here is a list of what I read in the last year-ish or thereabouts.

  • A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
  • Foundation by Isaac Asimov
  • Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov
  • Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card
  • The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
  • The Magic of Recluce (Saga of Recluce Book 1) by L. E. Modesitt Jr
  • The Director Should Have Shot Me by Alan Dean Foster
  • The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin
  • The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by NK Jemisin
  • The One Impossible Labyrinth by Matthew Reilly
  • Umbrella Academy Vol. 3 by Gerard Way
  • Spellsinger at the Gate (first two books) by Alan Dean Foster
  • Walking Home by Simon Armitage
  • In Darkness Visible by Tony Jones
  • Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett
  • The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu
  • The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
  • Master of the 5th Magic by Lyndon Hardy
  • Secret of the 6th Magic by Lyndon Hardy
  • The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
  • The Case of the Bleeding Wall by Joe Lansdale and Kasey Lansdale
  • A Case of Conscience by James Blish
  • Blue Octavo by John Blackburn
  • A Beastly Business by John Blackburn
  • The Last Days of New Paris by China Miéville
  • The City and the City by China Miéville
  • The Fencing Master by Arturo Pérez-Reverte
  • Sabriel by Garth Nix
  • Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey
  • The Cosmic Puppets by Philip K Dick
  • The Slave Race (short story) by Philip K Dick
  • Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
  • Dispersion by Greg Egan
  • Daughter of the Empire by Raymond Feist
  • Heads by Greg Bear
  • Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe
  • The Gold-Jade Dragon by Janeen Webb
  • Speculative Horizons: Edited by Patrick St-Denis
  • The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
  • Hounded by Kevin Hearne
  • Hexed by Kevin Hearne
  • Hammered by Kevin Hearne
  • Assail by Ian Cameron Esslemont
  • The Absolute Sandman Vol. 3 by Neil Gaiman
  • Slightly Foxed But Still Desirable by Ronald Searle
  • The Old Guard Book One: Opening Fire by Greg Rucka, Leandro Fernandez
  • The Old Guard Book Two: Force Multiplied by Greg Rucka, Leandro Fernandez
  • The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
  • Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
  • Subterranean Press Tales of Dark Fantasy 3: Edited by William Schafer

taking things slow

It’s hard to think of interesting things to say. A couple of years at home and most regular chatting is with family or work. Sydney has had it much easier than other places, especially Victoria, yet somehow I’ve been extra cautious anyway…spent bulk of year easing toward normality then all of a sudden lockdown 2. It seemed harder this time. Last time, I tried to imitate normality, even weekend brekkies in the car. This time I had brekky at home and left house a lot less. Also I lived in an LGA of concern which meant extra limits and a 5km radius.

Lockdown is over and while still cautious, I am moving a little quicker to get out more. Caught up with a few friends last week, some of whom I hadn’t seen in nearly 2 years, and others a year ago. Yesterday, we made it down to Bowral to my partner’s mother’s place; we were last there in June pre lockdown. Every time I walk into the Bowral house, I relax and feel at ease. I have missed visiting. I don’t do phonecalls well though new hearing aids means I handle calls so much better – except everyone is used to me not handling phonecalls and old habits die hard :)

Last lockdown it was a few months before I returned to the office one day a week – that was too long and I don’t think the absence was healthy. This time round I’m returning within a few weeks and this week will be my first back in the office. I love working from home, when there are options for getting out; less fun when you’re stuck and every day is the same.

Sydney film festival has started and I am missing it this year. Last year we watched it virtually, this year it’s in person but I’m not making it at all. Too soon after lockdown. It’s a lot of people at once. I do not want to deal with whatever a filmfest people crush looks like in the time of covid. Because deafness, I need to ask people to remove masks so I can hear them…which ain’t fun for other people currently.

rusty taps

My focus for now is low key catch ups with people close.

My focus is also books. As always. Reading and buying.

Dune. Centipede Press have finally put up for sale their edition of Dune. As noted elsewhere, I was on the pre-order list for years. 2 weeks ago, it was released. There were 800 people on the pre-order list and around 570 copies up for grabs (500 numbered but first 100ish to subscribers, 421-500 for other distributors; 250 unsigned/unnumbered). I had no idea where I was in the queue and emails were sent out in batches of 200, starting from 2.30am Sunday morning Sydney time.

I am happy to report that I was in the first batch and my paypal receipt notes that my purchase was finalised at 2:31:48am :-) Turns out a couple of years is a long time on a mailing list, especially one that includes COVID-19. When I first went on the list I think pricing was anticipated around US$400, and the final price was US$625 and almost everyone on the list, or at least almost everyone on the list in the relevent facebook group, managed to get a copy.

Most expensive book I have ever bought but it’s worth it for Dune and Centipede is one of my favourite presses for producing amazing books with good paper and binding choices. The downside is that it is book 1 of 6 (by Frank Herbert) and I will be getting the other 5 (not sure what the schedule but one a year perhaps is realistic). Within 24 hours, someone had sold a copy for US$2,500 (4 times the cost) which doesn’t really surprise me.

reading is an odd sort of thing

Something loved by introverts and extroverts. Fast readers and slow. Big picture and detail. All the things. None of the things.

A mood.

Some weeks I am hammering through several books at once. Some weeks I struggle with one. I used to think it was related to what I was reading but now I tend to think it is the mood I’m in.

I have so many books waiting to be read yet I am barely reading one.

Last week I finished a couple of books.

There are books I am keen to reread yet pausing as the mood is not quite right for that book. There are books I am keen to read right now yet don’t have the edition I want to read them in. Form matters…for some books…sometimes.

I have all ten of the fancy editions of the main Malazan series and planned to read them again when I had all ten. Not in a Malazan mood right now. Was a few months ago and read Assail. There’s a few more non-main books I need to read too, with another on the way [Bantam Press is the first edition, accept none else. Order via Munro and you can ask Erikson to sign it for you].

I am reading Foundation and Empire by Asimov which is book two of the main trilogy, having recently picked up Folio’s recent reprinting. Folio is the edition I want for this book. Thoughts for another post on editions and limitations and bindings – my opinions have changed in this area…or not.

This evening, as the family dinner conversation ebbed and flowed, I remembered I had acquired an interesting edition of Jekyll and Hyde for 69 euro. Not cheap, not exorbitant. White text on black background. An interesting approach that I want to read.

I have been keen to reread Dune by Frank Herbert for some years. The right edition will be the Centipede Press edition but it is not yet released. I have read an old hardcover which contained the first three books in one. I have read the Easton Press edition which is pretty and nice in the hand. Centipede announced some years ago that they were doing an edition and it would be spectacular and it will be as Centipede do amazing things. I put my name down for it around 2018-19 and I think that I might finally be able to buy in the next few weeks…touch wood. The challenge is that there is now a lot of interest. I am nervous week to week. If I get it, that will be the version I read.

Centipede are also producing the Ender series by Card and I love them, though not fond of Card himself, the old art vs artist debate is ever troublesome here. I will continue to buy and love the books. So many authors are challenging in this space…so many SF authors who I thought were forward thinking have been less so.

Thankfully there are new authors who write cool stuff who are not in those spaces. Glories such as Jemisin and Sparks and Chambers, and McGuire and so many others.

stops and starts

Weirdly, suddenly I stopped blogging mid #blogjune, the last post about was on the 18th. I don’t know why I stopped as I had plenty of ideas and for the first time in a while there was a good vibe and interaction with other folk, nice chats here and there. Somehow my mojo disappeared. That may have been around the time of the current Sydney getting underway, though why that would affect this sort of thing I dunno. The new playstation didn’t arrive till 10 days later so that wasn’t it either. Things were exhausting for a while but June often is.

New playstation has been fun, impressively fast loading of games and whisper quiet – well my hearing ain’t fab so it’s quiet to me. On the other hand, the previous playstation was noisy and loud to deaf old me.

Books, lots of books. Though less arriving than usual. Perhaps my ordering splurge has died off and sanity returned. Perhaps. I am aware that a few boxes are on their way. Folio Society have reprinted their editions of Asimov’s initial Foundation trilogy. I missed out first time round and the prices on the secondhand market have been significantly higher than I’d be willing to pay. While the reprint is a little ecky, it works out at high double figures per book which is bearable. I’m looking forward to re-reading them as I first read then in dodgy secondhand paperbacks 30 years ago.

Managed to finish a bunch of books in recent weeks:

  • In Darkness Visible by Tony Jones – the second book from the former host of Q&A, also good, a political thriller.
  • The Midnight Library by Matt Haig – I liked it but didn’t love it which probably puts me at odds with everyone I know. A pleasant read nonetheless.
  • The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Zafon – third book (of four-ish) in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series. Each book seems interconnected though there is a sense they could be read in any order, or at least the first three as I have not yet read the fourth which is generally regarded as the best. Sadly the author died last year.
  • Assail by Ian Cameron Esslemont – the “final” of Esslemont’s main Malazan series, though there is another trilogy later still to read (and some more Erikson). Assail was a good solid read that flowed along. Every so often I hit a point where I need to another Malazan and this filled the hole nicely.
  • The Gold-Jade Dragon by Janeen Webb – tales of dragons and human forms, playing with politics and business. An easy read that flowed along, quickly and enjoyably finished. There was a previous novella, The Dragon’s Child, that should be read first.
  • The Last Days of New Paris by China Mieville – a novella that reminded me of the things I love about Mieville and how inventive he can be. A surrealist story about surrealist thinking, told surreally, with a political undercurrent.
  • The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin – loved it though it took a while to get into as it was telling a story through different times with changing narrators of sorts. Needless to say I’m looking forward to continuing the trilogy.

Other books on the go or at the top of the reading queue

  • Walking Home: Travels with a Troubadour on the Pennine Way by Simon Armitage – almost finished, doesn’t need to be read in one hit, I dip in and read a chapter occasionally, not looking forward to finishing it :)
  • The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell – a recommendation from a friend, finally bought the ebook last night.
  • The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North – a new take on the Groundhog Day idea perhaps. Mentions of it popped in discussion of a new pretty edition of Replay by Suntup.
  • The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler – this seemed an appropriate choice for my first letterpress book. I am unsure whether letterpress books are a thing I will seek out and the books I like are rarely published this way. I started it last night and so far so good.
  • Unfettered II: edited by Shawn Speakman – I bought the fancy edition of this because I like and respect the cause it’s raising money for. I also like Grim Oak Press generally and have several of their books. I’m about midway through anthology of fantasy and stories I’ve read here have read to me buying and reading other books.

a little bit forward, a little bit back

15 months into the new world and the end is still not in sight. There is not a clear, linear march of progress but then there never is…that’s a fictional rhetoric that fails to describe so many things. The onward march of science and humanity as we grow ever greater….not so much. A myth, a fiction. Life and people are always a little messy. Reality is very different to the rinse and repeat of video games.

The news this week is that the age for the AstroZeneca vaccine has been raised to 60. As an aside, I’m looking forward to 60 and bought a couple of magnums of wine upon release a few years ago in preparation. My 60th is still several years off but aged, mature wine is much, much cheaper if it is bought young :-) Assuming I am still drinking wine at 60. I’ve cut back on my wine consumption as I tend to find 2 glasses of red wine in the evening eg over dinner, is enough to disrupt my sleep and I sleep poorly…and thus too, my partner.

My partner has been experimenting with non alcoholic wines and liking them whereas I’m drinking one glass of alcoholic red on some nights and adding argon gas to the bottle which manages to preserve it quite well for some weeks. I’m sorta liking this approach as I can enjoy a single bottle over a week or two. I’m drinking less wine and buying less wine. So far so good. Thankfully whisky doesn’t affect my sleep…which is also curious.

Anyways, I am in my 50s, I won’t say exactly though that’s more to reduce the data I’m giving spammers than any concern about sharing my age with folk. I have no problems with oversharing in person :) When vaccines were first announced, I was looking at first injection around July/August then there were a few changes, more options, and the timetable was brought forward.

I had my first jab of the AstroZeneca 18 days ago with no side effects whatsoever. I timed it well, got a bus to the main Homebush hub and within 10 minutes of getting off the bus, I was through, injected, and sitting in the observation room. Early afternoon on a weekday seems like a quiet time to go, and indeed staff commented that the busiest time was probably late afternoon. I gather the key period for concern is between 4 days and 30 so I’m about halfway through but I’m not anticipating any drama but for some friends it’s an interesting time ahead. My second injection will be late August and I gather that has even less potential side affects.

With that said, I’m a middle aged white male who seems to have been lucky so far in terms of avoiding long term issues etc. so I’m not the most representative of samples.

a room with a chair

I sat down to type about books and saw Kathryn’s post about a chair and immediately changed direction. I have a favourite chair and it is just right for me. I came across it in a furniture shop long ago and had to have it. I bought it and paid for it and waited for it to be made.

The chair is colourful and comfy. The wings are not pronounced which is a plus as I can’t lean my head against them – leaning my head against people and objects is sometimes tricky due to the ever-present hearing aids in my ears.

I love sitting in my chair and a year or two later, the company produced a matching foot stool and I was in heaven. It’s a lovely spot to sit and read, with bookcases beside, or watch tv, or sip a whisky.

The view from the chair down the wall is of some of my favourite books….including Trixie Belden in the distance. On the opposite wall is a print of a Cezanne that dad picked up at an exhibition long, long ago. He used to have it stuck on the wall. After he died, I had it framed properly and I love staring into it, studying and dwelling in the unfinished village.

looking for nice things

My tolkien collection

I talk a bit about fancy editions and the pretty things I buy. They’re mostly from small presses, specialists in science fiction and fantasy. I’m on various mailing lists so I can find out about new releases and hopefully pre-order before they get to market. While there is a rabbit hole of small publishers to find and lose myself in, the big publishers also release nice editions. Somehow I rarely come across those nice editions and I don’t know if it’s because I go to the wrong book shops, or simply many of such things don’t make it to Oz at all.

I have some fancy editions from big publishers including my beautiful copy of Lord of the Rings from HarperCollins. That was possibly my first special edition in the late 80s, and was certainly the most expensive book I’d bought for over 20 years since, only to be beaten a decade ago by Malazan book 1, Gardens of the Moon.

In recent years, I have focused on finding nice editions but really most of my books, especially my science fiction, are paperbacks, many bought cheaply secondhand. And it shows. Lots have yellowed and deteriorated, some need to be handled carefully as I’ve had instances where the soft cover has detached with a mere touch.

torn paperback

I have a few nice Tolkien tomes from HarperCollins and the Quicksilver trilogy by Neal Stephenson from Morrow – actually Morrow is an interesting one as I think it was originally its own company but these days is an imprint of HarperCollins. Gollancz used to publish their new releases in hardcover with yellow dustjackets so they always stood out – was never interested in collecting those plus couldn’t afford hardcovers in those days. These days they look like an imprint of Hachette, along with Orbit and no doubt many others.

I’ve recently found out that Orson Scott Card’s Ender series had some titles published in pretty editions but I don’t think I’ve ever seen them locally and they’re a wee bit eccy to buy on the secondary market. It must be said, that I’ve recently discovered that there were books beyond the trilogy I had read. The trilogy is more a quintet, and there’s a further 14 novels and a bunch of short stories. While I won’t be seeking those other nice editions, Centipede is releasing nice versions of their own, signed, numbered and in a capped case. So far they’ve released Ender’s Game, Ender’s Way (a collection of almost all the short stories) and will soon be releasing Speaker for the Dead.