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When your science fiction isn’t science fiction any more

I have been reading with interest J. Scott Coatsworth’s SF/F Magazines Wait Out The Great Pause, over on the SFWA blog.

Coatsworth’s articles are about how science fiction and fantasy magazines are dealing with COVID-19 and some of the possible future effects. He also links to two articles by Neil Clarke, from Clarkesworld.

Toward the end of part part 2 of Coatsworth’s article, publishers and editors talk about the type of writing that might come out of this current crisis.

 “I am very curious to see what the literature is that comes out of this event … BCS in late 2016 received more stories than usual featuring dystopian worlds or autocratic governments. I expect to see a similar reaction in writers’ work from this pandemic …”

Scott Andrews, editor-in-chief and publisher of Beneath Ceaseless Skies (BCS)

I agree. I am curious, too. And it’s not just science fiction writers who will be writing about pandemics, now. All writers will. Because this is no longer part of a potential future any more, it’s real. It’s now. It’s life.

So if life now is what we science fiction authors used to write about, what will we science fiction authors write about next?

It is the nature of good science fiction to extrapolate from the now and take potential futures all the way to extremes. Right now, some of those extremes are more dire than they have been in a long while. There’s plenty of room for dystopias and pandemics yet.

But what else?

Here are some types of stories I’d like to read right now.

Hopeful futures. It would be nice if some science fiction started to go the other way. When the world seems to be digging itself into a hole, a little escapism in your off time makes a good balance. I want some light, fun books to read.

Not just in science fiction. Fantasy, too.

Less fantasy based on so-called historical ‘fact’. I’m fine with horses and swords, but no women sitting on the side in their long dresses, cooking and doing the dishes, and non-white races as slaves or servants. Give me a world where everyone is equal and your job doesn’t depend on your colour or race but on your ability. Where people can sleep with whom they like, no matter what sex they are. You’re writing fantasy, for goodness sake. The only rules you are bound by are those in your book.

Plus of course the old faithfuls. Please give me funny books. Not necessarily laugh-out-loud, but fun stories. And characters. Give me characters to love and care about. Actually, it’s not that different from my last wish list.

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More days pass

Are you still in lock-down? Our restrictions were easing—first we could go out in groups of five, then up to twenty—but once people started going out, infections started to rise. Here in Victoria we had seventy-five new cases overnight, which is our fourth-highest ever daily total.

I did go to the shops yesterday, however. I went early, as I’d seen the pictures of the crowded shopping centre near us. I have to say, yesterday everyone was social distancing really well. But the numbers are still going up. And people are starting to hoard toilet paper again. You’d think we’d have learned from the first time around.

I’m staying put a while longer. I’m not getting much exercise, but at least it’s warm inside.

We’re settling down into a better writing rhythm, which is nice. COVID-19 certainly interrupted that. For a while it seemed as we couldn’t write anything. All our old ideas came across as junk, and as for new ideas—they didn’t happen. Now we’re writing more consistently, the ideas are coming more consistently, too. Lovely little gems that we want to write now.

That’s the writer’s life, isn’t it. Pretties, all around, trying to distract you.

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I’d rather be …

I’d like to be cruising right now

My friends know how much I love cruising.

“So,” they say. “I bet Coronavirus has changed your opinion about cruising.

Not at all.

Cruising Cruising has always had a chequered history of infections. With so many people packed into a small space all takes is one person to a infect a whole ship.  Before coronavirus there was norovirus, and even just the flu. They’re all similar, they’re all around. 

I admit we’ve been on some cruises where people got horribly sick. We took our mother on one – and we were genuinely worried by how totally the bug that went around the ship knocked her out. It was a nightmare trip, yet Mum enjoyed it, bug and all.

You also see stupid, thoughtless behaviour on ships. The last few cruises we’ve been on the cruise lines have had signs all over the ship to the effect of, “The only proven effective protection against norovirus is washing your hands with soap and water. Hand sanitiser doesn’t work.” Yet still you see people go into the lunch buffet without washing their hands. Most of these don’t even bother with hand sanitiser either.

But a couple of hundred people cramped side-by-side into a tiny space on an aircraft isn’t any better, and I’ve caught more bugs pre- and post-cruise than I have on board the ship.

Of course I’ll be careful next time I go, but it’s not going to stop me cruising. Not at all.

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Ghost doorbell joins the ghost phone

I’ve lost track of how many weeks we’ve been working from home now. The weeks are running together. Here in our little corner of the world they’re relaxing restrictions somewhat, but it hasn’t made much difference to us. We’re still not going out much. We’re certainly not going anywhere near our local shopping centre, which has been packed the last two weekends.

Time is whooshing by. So much so I didn’t realise until tonight that I had totally forgotten to post a blog last week.

It doesn’t bode well for leaving work and writing full-time, which I’d love to do one day. In my dreams. Right now I have a good job, it earns reasonable money, and I enjoy the work. What more can you ask? Except for more writing time. This job is full-on, and I find I am working late nights now more than ever.

Enough about work.

I told you a few weeks back about our ghost phone. It still rings, by the way. Now it’s been joined by the ghost doorbell.

That’s right. Now the doorbell is ringing, too.

It’s a wireless doorbell. The button, which has a small battery, is outside, but there are no wires to the chime. The battery for the doorbell button was flat, so we took it out to replace it. Then we realised we didn’t have another battery, so we left it off until we could buy one next time we went shopping.

While the battery was out, the doorbell started ringing at weird hours of the night and day. There’s never anyone there when we check, of course.  And the ringer still doesn’t work.

Today we put a new battery in. We’ll see what happens now.

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COVID-free

Autumn started with a cold. Autumn finished with a cold.

In between was three months of social distancing and the world going crazy while we watched.

The second cold was worse than the first. Sherylyn ended up with a painful, hacking cough deep in her lungs. We thought—hoped—it was a cold, but some of the symptoms, like that cough, were worrying. Worrying enough to look up the COVID-19 site and see if she should be tested. Yes, she should.

I had caught the cold a week after she did. Sore throat, continuously sneezing, and my nose wouldn’t stop running. The COVID site said I should be tested, too.

So at lunchtime we took ourselves up to the local drive-through testing station. We’ve driven past it before, on our way to the supermarket, and cars have been lined up out of the car park, waiting. But this day there were only two cars in front of us. We were soon at the front.

By this time, the cold medication I’d taken had kicked in. I wasn’t sneezing any more, my nose had stopped running and I could swallow without pain. I didn’t feel too bad. So I’m sitting in the car answering all these questions about symptoms. Sneezing, runny nose, sore throat. And I’m showing none of it. I felt like a fraud. Sherylyn, at least, had to turn away occasionally to cough into her arm.

The people doing the testing were lovely, by the way. Helpful, friendly, and they didn’t make one feel a fool.

Then came the test itself. I don’t know how many of you have been COVID-tested, but here’s our experience.

They stick an extra long cotton tip into your mouth, right toward the back of your throat and take two swabs. Gag time, big time. You can’t help it.

When that’s done, they use another cotton bud and stick it way, way up your nostril and twirl it around for a count of ten. The only problem was, the meds had cleared up the nasal liquid in my throat so well that they couldn’t get anything out of mine. So the lady doing the swabbing tried it in the other nostril.

Not fun. Not fun at all.

Both of us came home and could still feel it hours later.

Then next day, just under 24 hours later, we got an SMS, saying they found no traces of COVID-19. Amazing timing, especially when it’s supposed to take up to five day. Melbourne Pathology must have been working 24/7 to get the results so quickly.

The finding was such a relief because this time there was that niggling doubt.

So here we are, certified COVID-free. (Well, technically, it’s no traces, but let’s not quibble shall we.)

How is your lockdown going? Victoria, Australia, is relaxing restrictions gradually. As of 1 June restaurants can seat diners, provided there’s no more than ten people in the restaurant and the groups socially distance from each other. The first footy game was played.

Me, I’m staying out of it a while longer. It’ll be takeaway and cooking at home for a few weeks more. Let’s see what happens after the first rush of people going out.

Stay safe.

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Storytime

James and the Giant Peach — cover from the Scented Peach edition 2018.

I am absolutely loving Taika Waititi’s (and celebrities) reading of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach.

James and the Giant Peach, episode one.

If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favor. Watch it. It’s awesome.

I’ve seen three episodes so far, and the fourth has just been posted.

James and the Giant Peach, episode two.

It’s part of a charity to raise money for Partners in Health. You can catch it on YouTube as they put it up.

I’m off to watch episode four.

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Ghost phone

Old rusty classic soviet yellow telephone booth in Pripyat city, Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, Ukraine

Our internet package comes with a landline.  We last used the landline when Mum was alive she liked the phone because she found it easier to use than a mobile.  After she died (two-and-a-half years ago) we left it on.

When Sherylyn started working from home she needed a power point to plug in her work headset.  On her side of the office there weren’t many power points, so we decided to unplug the phone that connects to the landline.  The only calls we ever got on it were marketing calls.

About four weeks into work-from-home we started getting ghost calls on the phone.

It’s still unplugged.  Any battery backup should have been well and truly depleted by now. But three or four times a week the phone rings.

The phone itself, which showed the time and the caller on a small screen, is dead. You pick up the receiver and there’s nothing on the other end.  No dial tone, no caller, nothing.  Exactly what you would expect from a phone that was no longer plugged in.

But still it rings.

I suspect there’s a rational scientific explanation.  Like, we didn’t disconnect the line and there’s enough power coming through the line to make it ring, or we have so much wi-fi and Bluetooth around the house that some other signal is interfering.  But it’s weird all the same.

And it’s spawned so many story ideas from both of us.  Who know a phone ringing when it shouldn’t could generate so many ideas.  You won’t get them in the near future, but one day, if you’re reading one of our stories and a phone rings when it couldn’t possibly have, you’ll know where the idea came from.

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Looking forward to weekends

I always think of Mozart when I think of synaesthesia—Mozart saw colours in music—so when I went looking for images for this blog, I searched on colour. I found this image, which has absolutely nothing to do with synaesthesia, but I found it striking anyway.

I’m starting to get used to working from home, finding I really love it.  Except for the lack of exercise, of course.  But I found myself sitting in the study/not-study (it’s what used to be the study and will be again, but right now it’s the lounge room), looking outside at the liquid amber, with the sun lighting the leaves and realising that I hadn’t sat in that room in daylight and looked out like that in years.  There’s work, and on the weekend there was shopping, and other things to do, and by the time you get home again—especially on these short autumn days—the sun is gone and it’s getting dark, and you’re thinking about dinner, and you’re lucky if you even open the blinds to see the garden at all.

These beautiful autumn days are something to enjoy and I’m glad I have the opportunity to see them.

Why I’m in the study/not-study, by the way, is because of my work Mac.  Which is a good little workhorse for most of what I want it to do, but it has a weakness.  Dead spots.  I have a fast internet service—fast for Australia, anyway—and pretty much every device except the Mac can go anywhere in the house and run at 40 mbps.  My PC, my Go, the iPhone (through wifi), and the iPad.  The Mac, however, is particular where you put it.  It runs at a paltry 0.2 mbps in the kitchen, for example, and anything from 6mbps to 20mbps in other parts of the house.  Fussy isn’t in it.

One place it does like is the study/not study.

Maybe it likes the view, too.

How are you going?

Despite enjoying my work from home, I’m still working long hours and I find I look forward to the weekends more than I ever did. Which is strange, given the rhythm of the days and how some people might say that the weekends aren’t that much different to the weekdays. They are, believe me, they are.  You can sleep in.

And you can read books.  Lots and lots of books.  Which I have been doing.  Rather than writing, sigh, but last week a whole lot of books I’d pre-ordered all arrived, and so I gulped through them. Murderbot, mmmh.  So good to give our favourite AI a whole novel to breathe in.  Suzanne Palmer’s second Fergus Fergusson, and … and … so many.  I’ve read most of them now, so there’s no excuse not to get back to writing.

Another book I read this week (not part of the big haul) was Steve Margolis’s The Toaster Oven Mocks Me, which was a quick read about living with synaesthesia. (US spelling drops the first a.) It was fascinating.

Synaesthesia is a condition where one sense is stimulated, but two senses respond.

Steve Margolis, My Toaster Oven Mocks Me.

Ean Lambert, our protagonist in the Linesman books, has synaesthesia.  Margolis gives great first-hand detail of what it is like to have synaesthesia and how it makes life difficult at times.  He also talks about when he lost it—which I didn’t realise could happen.

We need more of these.

As writers, we can read scientific books to research a topic, but real, first-hand experience written in the manner of Margolis’s book, is invaluable.

Here’s a TedMed talk about synaesthesia.

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Week seven

Week seven of social distancing and we’re settling into a routine. The routine is basically get up, shower, breakfast (porridge or toast, depending on how long we slept in), work, cook dinner, read a book, go to bed. If we get up early enough there’s a pre-breakfast walk around the block, but it’s too dark after work to go walking.

It’s funny how some habits, like the above, are easy to form and others, like exercising, are hard.

Our heating bill will be gigantic this winter. The heater is on all the time.

How are you going?

Microsoft finally decided that two spaces after a sentence was an error. Or at least, it did for a week or two but now my Word has stopped putting little error marks at the end of every sentence. I’m not sure how, or what, but it was there, and then it wasn’t.

I know one space is the norm nowadays, but I started learning to type on a typewriter back when two spaces were necessary to set the sentences apart from each other. Nowadays, modern word processors space the sentences automatically. I’m not fussed which I use, as there is always search and replace. 

I didn’t realise the number of characters after a period was something you could set in Word. (If you ever need to do this: File > Options > Proofing > Writing style Grammar settings button > Punctuation conventions.)

Another grammatical thing that has changed since I learned it (at school) is that here in Australia the norm for talking marks in novels is now single quotes. ‘Which can lead to some weird punctuation,’ she says, ‘because you’ll often have contractions in the sentence as well.’

I prefer to use double quotes for talking. Partly because that’s still the US norm and we write for US markets. If I have to I can always search and replace on the quotes in the last edit. Believe me, it’s so much easier to replace double quotes with single ones, than it is to do it the other way around, because of the aforesaid contractions.

Anyway, back to the Microsoft one space/two spaces after the sentence. The error disappeared after a couple of weeks so I don’t know if it was reset or something. I’m happy it’s gone, and I know how to reset it now, so if they put it back, I’ll know what to do.

By the way Microsoft, I love Word dearly, but I’m not happy about you deleting all my keyboard shortcuts. Not just on the main PC, but also on the laptop and on the work computer. It took a lot of work to put them back.

Ah, well. Software upgrades. Don’t we love them.

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Introducing Captain Kari Wang and Radko

A reader of our books recently contacted us, and in passing mentioned they named their chickens after characters in books they read.  Not only that, they have a chicken named Captain Kari Wang (aka Captain), and one named Radko.

We had to write back and ask for photos.

So here they are—and thank you McKenzie for allowing us to use them.

Captain Kari Wang (photo copyright McKenzie Cullen)

“Captain Kari Wang is a cream crested legbar and will lay blue eggs when she’s old enough (she’s only 3.5 months old).”

Radko (image copyright McKenzie Cullen)

“Radko is the grey one. She’s an Andalusian and will lay white eggs (she’s 3 months old).”

Now, I just want to know the names of all the other other chickens.