Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Continuum X!!!

I have this theory that friendliness comes from a chemical that your brain makes - smilotonin, nycine, various other friendorphins - and it can only make so much of this chemical at a time, and the last few days I have used all of mine up.  So today I have hidden in the upstairs floor off my house, like Miss Havisham, but beardy and track-suited, not talking to anyone.

Here is a lichen, as described in our panel on fantastic fungi.  It is a lichen - but not just any lichen.  It is an Antarctic lichen thriving under simulated Martian conditions.  I don't know how you can tell if a lichen is thriving, but apparently this one is.  
And I've done all this because the last few days I went to Continuum X in Melbourne, and it was glorious.  I will be going on and on about this kind of stuff at a later date - the panels I saw and so on - but it was incredible. 

Continuum X, for those who don't know, is a science fiction/fantasy/horror convention. I had been to very few before, and I was quite nervous, and I feared that there would be Famous People.  My usual technique, by the way, when I meet Famous People, is to tell them what they do.  I met Robert Silverberg a few years ago.  I didn't recognise him until someone mentioned him, and then I struck.

Here is a slime mould, my vote for most amazing fungus, although technically they are ex-fungi.  They can change shape.   

"You're Robert Silverberg!" I said. 
"Yes," he said. 
"You wrote Lord Valentine's Castle," I told him. 
"Yes" he said. 
"In the eighties," I explained.
He opened his mouth.
"Nineteen eighty," I said. 
He closed his mouth.
"About that planet that was really light-weight, and the juggler, and the aliens."
He nodded again, backing away.  The man who was with him attempted to move in between us, sacrificing himself to save his friend, but I continued. 
"It was called Majipoor," I explained.  "Lots of aliens.  There were two headed ones."
By this time he had backed into the lift, and was frantically stabbing at the buttons. 
but he nodded as the door closed. 
Some of them had two heads!" I shouted.  "They were called Su Suheris!"
He nodded as the door closed.  I never saw him again.

The same slime mould, having changed shape into a vaguely frogomorphic shape to further creep people out. 

This was a few years ago, and luckily this is now.  The Convention was held in an incredibly impressive hotel, the kind of one you feel uneasy in, as if you will soon be discovered and then they are going to kick you out, and the presentations (dragons, romance, zombies, sexism) were fantastic, but for me the best thing was the people.

I met an editor whose work I have admired for ages.  I met a woman who plays the double bass and another who studied aboriginal astronomy.  I talked about James Bond and other, smaller sex-starved mammals that fornicate themselves to death.  I talked about being a religious spec fic fan and I talked about fungi who plan railway planning and it all went went very well.  
Slime mould enjoying a refreshing beverage

And I made friendships and I strengthened existing ones, and I got drunk on tequila and sangria, and I managed to fall up a flight of stairs without hurting myself,  and it was wonderful.  I am going again.

Slime mould having found its way through a maze

Slime mould having designed Tokyo railway system.  I am not making this up.  A man named Atsushi Tero from Hokkaido University got a big, square petri dish, put a blob of slime mold in the middle to represent Tokyo, put oat flakes at appropriate distances and directions to simulate neighbouring cities, shone lights - slime moulds hate the light - in appropriate places to simulate natural barriers like mountains and lakes, and let the slime mould "design" the best route.  it ended up with something that looked a lot like the non-slime-mould-designed current Tokyo rail network.  

Here, by the way, is a warning - it is the mediaeval monk Richard of Devizes writing about the dangers of big cities (specifically London around about 1190 - London being the Melbourne of the Northern Hemisphere): "Whatever evil or malicious thing that can be found in the world can be found in the city. There are masses of pimps - do not associate with them. Avoid the theatre and the tavern. The number of parasites is infinite. Actors, jesters, pretty boys, singing and dancing girls, belly-dancers, sorcerers, extortionists, night-wanderers, beggars, buffoons, magicians and mimes abound." 


Beware the mimes. 

Thanks for listening,

Monday, May 19, 2014

"A gigantic monster came out on stage - what he did next will blow you away..."

Brief post - almost a week late, but still....

1.  I went to see Godzilla the other day, at the urgent behest of an eight year old.  I will be stealing several of the scenes of devastation for my novel, when Behemoth appears and changes the coast of Italy, because big things are spectacular.  And I did like the idea of radiation-eating (radiophagic?) animals that grew bigger when they consumed nuclear weapons.  I imagined them seeing the glow of reactors and feeding on things like volcanic eruptions  There's an entire ecology there.There's a moss that grows near Chernobyl that uses radiation like green plants use sunlight - I don't know if this is true, but it's what I remember reading. 

Having said that, I have made a deliberate decision that from now on I am only watching trailers of films like that.  The movie you imagine from the trailer is always a lot better than the real thing, so I am going to do the whole thing - stand in line in my hallway, print and purchase tickets, pay forty dollars for some popcorn, find my way to a seat in my own lounge-room - and just watch the trailers on youtube.  
This is what I do. 

2.  I got one blue stripe in BJJ the other week.  This is the first grading, I suppose it's the same as yellow belt in most other martial arts.  I am so damn proud of this - the first grading, something that should theoretically not take long and signifies a basic literacy - that it's ridiculous.  BJJ is hard, cognitively hard - I worked out that there are fourteen basic situations, that for each situation you need two transitions (ways to improve things) and two submissions (ways to win from that situation) - that's almost a hundred basic techniques that you have to learn to begin.  It is actually cognitively hard.  It is so rewarding I can't put it into words.

The reason I mention this here is that there is an analogy that can be drawn between BJJ and language, and that I am moving from laboriously tracing out letters of the alphabet to forming simple phrases.  Others are... eloquent, and that's the best word for it.

This is not what I wear, but I do like the ad. 
Some of the higher belts speak simply - a few techniques, forcefully uttered, the short old words that Churchill praised - get on top, pass, submit.  One of our almost-blue-belts does this.  Others use circumlocution, a seemingly meandering construction of a sentence that at the end snaps shut on you with an arm-lock or a choke.  Our instructor gives the impression of a man with a professorial vocabulary, never at a loss, each word precisely and perfectly employed.  We had a visiting black belt the other day and he was fluent - it was rhetoric on the mat. 

Even amongst the lower belts like myself I am starting to determine patterns of speech.  If someone says butterfly guard, or balloon sweep, or de la Riva guard, I am starting to work out who would say that and who would not. 

And one of our most admired blue belts is over in Melbourne, training with Tenth Planet Jiu Jitsu.  He will come back with an accent. 

This is what I want, but it is difficult to get over here.  I need someone in the US to get these for me. 

3.  Anyway - I am submitting the book in September, because I have an exam in August.  I will go now and study for it.  The next fictiony thing will be me going to Melbourne for the National Speculative Fiction Convention and Enfriending. 

Thanks for listening,

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Full Frontal Nerdity

Brief blog post this morning.  I have been going through the revisions of my work,

All literature is autobiography. 
and noting with horror the several impossible or absurd things I have my characters do (light a candle in a room with no other source of fire, sit down to a delicious meal of plum-stones, that kind of thing), and trying to fix them, before I send it off at the end of June.  And doing jiu jitsu, and training for August's competition

No-gi training down by the beach
 and joining a study group,

That's me, in the blue, on the steps, doing pharmacology. 
and studying for August's exam. 

Looking at this, I can see a problem. 

But in the meantime - I am going to a science fiction convention.  It's the national one, in Melbourne.  I have only been to I think two of these, both of them years ago, and this is the first one I am going to be talking at.  I will be talking about Faith and Science Fiction, and Mediaeval Diversity, and weird diseases, and also learning about how to fight theatrically with swords and stuff, and meeting people.

Explanations on one side of the page only, please. 

Here, by the way, is something on reading from a book called "The history of reading": 
"In the tenth century… the Grand Vizier of Persia, Abdul Kassem Ismael, in order not to part with his collection of 117,000 books when traveling, had them carried by a caravan of four hundred camels trained to walk in alphabetical order."

Anyway - back to the apple-cores and plum-stones. 

Thanks for listening,

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Fear

A week and a bit since the last update, but it's been a fairly eventful week and a bit, so maybe that's okay. 

Last Monday I went to teaching.  It was fairly low key - opiate prescribing - but one of the best things about the trip is the drive.  It's four and a half hours, through country roads, either in the morning or at night, and you get a lot of time where you have to think. 

I thought about lots of things, and one of them was fear, and how fearful I am. 

Give an example.  Last Tuesday, as I drove, I was working stupid hours.  Four to six days off a month, lots of overnight and weekend stuff.  No actual weekends off.  Ten hour days, plus the off day/s, which were study and logging into the work computer from home to check results and that kind of thing. 

It's difficult to articulate, but I worked out I was doing that out of fear.  And it's more than fear, if English had a word that meant fear and loss and grief and a desire to simultaneously hide and to barricade yourself, a fear that was so all-devouring you would not even name it - then that would be what was driving me.  Not fear, but Fear, not a fear, but The Fear. 

Anyhow.  There is a lot more I could say on this but this is for public consumption, so I will elide the messier parts and go straight onto consequences. 

The consequences have been thus - I have quit a job.  I rang and told my boss that week that I would finish up.  I may have actually used the words "exit strategy" - I have to hand over patients, the weekend roster for the next two months has already been written - but there is a plan.  In a month's time I will be working less than I am now.  In another month's time, less again.  In three months, normal hours.  Two or three days off a week.  Writing, travelling, friending time. Facing The Fear. 

Because The Fear is the thing that has been driving me to this.  When you fear you try to control.  You cling to what is familiar, you try to impose structure, you look for reassurance, you build up stores for the winter.  

A lot of the last two years have been about that.  To be honest, a lot of the last twenty. 

Anyhow - I made the phone call.  I have set the wheels in motion.  I have, essentially, burned the hiding place to the ground.  I can't put off things like the writing and the travel and the unprotected social intercourse by saying "I'd love to, but I have to work." 

Today I opened some of the critiques from my novel.  And I looked at someone's blog about training jiu-jitsu in Brazil.  And I went outside and stood in the forest and listened to the birds and the insects and the frogs.  Five or ten twenty different kinds of living things. 

I think I have never been in this situation in my life. 

We shall see. 

Thanks for listening,

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Continuum and Fire

First off, this happened today:

It's a bushfire out the back of my place.  There is fire on the mountain 300m away.  You can hear the hiss and crackle of the flames and hear the firefighters shouting (specifically, shouting "Where's the fucking water?"). 

I have backed up my novel and am ready to hose down the embers.  People are clustered on their balconies and verandahs and in their cars, watching and taking photos. 

In other news.  This year I am going to Continuum X.  I am going to be talking about mediaeval diversity and weird diseases and faith and spec fic and learning how to sword-fight, and dressing up as something macabre and dancing.

Every girl crazy 'bout a shark dressed man. 
But since I am trying to keep these entries single-topic, I will have to talk about that next time. 

The novel, by the way, goes very well. 

Friday, April 18, 2014


This is a test - if I am going to be publishing this book (early days yet) and going to conventions and all of that stuff, I have to have an online presence, and that means Facebook and this blog.

So this is a test post.  Other news to follow.

And this is a description of one of the earliest examples of biological warfare - the siege of Caffa in 1346. It's from a narrative of a man called Gabriele de Mussi, who lived around about then. 
(Before this bit about the plague, there is an apocalyptic speech by God, lamenting the depravity into which humanity has fallen and describing the retribution intended. It goes on:
“…In 1346, in the countries of the East, countless numbers of Tartars and Saracens were struck down by a mysterious illness which brought sudden death. Within these countries broad regions, far-spreading provinces, magnificent kingdoms, cities, towns and settlements, ground down by illness and devoured by dreadful death, were soon stripped of their inhabitants. An eastern settlement under the rule of the Tartars called Tana, which lay to the north of Constantinople and was much frequented by Italian merchants, was totally abandoned after an incident there which led to its being besieged and attacked by hordes of Tartars who gathered in a short space of time. The Christian merchants, who had been driven out by force, were so terrified of the power of the Tartars that, to save themselves and their belongings, they fled in an armed ship to Caffa, a settlement in the same part of the world which had been founded long ago by the Genoese.

Mongol gate-crashers. 

“Oh God! See how the heathen Tartar races, pouring together from all sides, suddenly invested the city of Caffa and besieged the trapped Christians there for almost three years. There, hemmed in by an immense army, they could hardly draw breath, although food could be shipped in, which offered them some hope. But behold, the whole army was affected by a disease which overran the Tartars and killed thousands upon thousands every day. It was as though arrows were raining down from heaven to strike and crush the Tartars’ arrogance. All medical advice and attention was useless; the Tartars died as soon as the signs of disease appeared on their bodies: swellings in the armpit or groin caused by coagulating humours, followed by a putrid fever.

This actually looks really cool. 
“The dying Tartars, stunned and stupefied by the immensity of the disaster brought about by the disease, and realizing that they had no hope of escape, lost interest in the siege. But they ordered corpses to be placed in catapults1 and lobbed into the city in the hope that the intolerable stench would kill everyone inside.2 What seemed like mountains of dead were thrown into the city, and the Christians could not hide or flee or escape from them, although they dumped as many of the bodies as they could in the sea. And soon the rotting corpses tainted the air and poisoned the water supply, and the stench was so overwhelming that hardly one in several thousand was in a position to flee the remains of the Tartar army. Moreover one infected man could carry the poison to others, and infect people and places with the disease by look alone. No one knew, or could discover, a means of defense.
“Thus almost everyone who had been in the East, or in the regions to the south and north, fell victim to sudden death after contracting this pestilential disease, as if struck by a lethal arrow which raised a tumor on their bodies. The scale of the mortality and the form which it took persuaded those who lived, weeping and lamenting, through the bitter events of 1346 to 1348—the Chinese, Indians, Persians, Medes, Kurds, Armenians, Cilicians, Georgians, Mesopotamians, Nubians, Ethiopians, Turks, Egyptians, Arabs, Saracens and Greeks (for almost all the East has been affected)—that the last judgement had come.

Fourteenth century hearse.
“…As it happened, among those who escaped from Caffa by boat were a few sailors who had been infected with the poisonous disease. Some boats were bound for Genoa, others went to Venice and to other Christian areas. When the sailors reached these places and mixed with the people there, it was as if they had brought evil spirits with them: every city, every settlement, every place was poisoned by the contagious pestilence, and their inhabitants, both men and women, died suddenly. And when one person had contracted the illness, he poisoned his whole family even as he fell and died, so that those preparing to bury his body were seized by death in the same way. Thus death entered through the windows, and as cities and towns were depopulated their inhabitants mourned their dead neighbours.”  
 Then there is an extended description of the plague in Piacenza, and more apocalyptic visions.  
 Love this stuff.  I have ordered the book from which this came, by Horrox - I will try to post a link later.  There is plague in book three. 

Brendan Carson

Sunday, July 14, 2013


There won't be a blog this week, or the next, or the next, because I have my exam.  It's on the 26/8/2013, and I need the time.  Which is a pity, because there is a lot I would normally want to talk about at a time like this.  And the novel is actually going reasonably well.

But it will wait.  Speak soon.

In the meantime, here is a picture of a mediaeval flying cat.

Thanks for listening,