Three Monkeys - Ten Minutes : Presidents Page April 2001

I have just bought a new computer and it is very fast. So much faster than my old machine that Netscape 6 is now useable. I guess a 1 GHz clock rate and a bunch of other fast components will do that for you. Of course right now all that performance is useless to me because I cannot write any faster. I am still bound by the speed of the wetware and my two finger typing. This presents a bit of a problem as this column is due in and the editor has threatened, in the nicest possible way, to kill me if I don’t get it done. The real core of the problem being that at this stage of the first paragraph, I have no idea what I am going to write about.

My usual standby in a situation is to write about some of the SF books I have read recently. However for a variety of reasons, including the demands of a new job, I have read very little genre fiction in the last month or so. Of the few books in this class that I have read, most are like Harry Turtledove’s Colonisation: Down to Earth - the second of the Colonisation novels and the sixth book so far set in an alternate universe where aliens invade during the second world war. While I enjoyed this book, there isn’t much to say about it that has not already been covered before. Another example of a book that I enjoyed recently but needs no reviewing is the first of the Harry Potter novels. It is not hard in retrospect to see why they have been so successful.

Stepping away from Science Fiction, I have read a few books from the crime/detective fiction genre. In particular I have read several of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books. I am sure you have seen these on the shelves with their distinctive covers and names - One for The Money, Two for the Dough, Three to get Deadly and so on. At first look, these works fit into the modern American detective fiction pattern of a slightly less than competent private eye or some such trying to negotiate their way through a tangled web of situations, distractions and characters to uncover the underlying misbehaviour. The modern trend has been to weave as much local colour as possible into the story to add some sort of air of realism. In this case the local setting is New Jersey - the state immediately to the south of New York city.

This provides the first clue where these books stand above the crowd. New Jersey is the butt of many jokes and jibes within the United States.  In fact, if an American mistakes you for an Australian, you should retort with an accusation that they are from Jersey - it is an effective way of making them see the point. (To my Australian readers I offer no apologies).

The hero of these stories is Stephanie Plum, a typical Jersey girl. This means big hair, short skirts and lots of attitude. The character is a former department store lingerie salesperson who has lost her job and now works as a bounty hunter. The comic possibilities of this situation are obvious and exploited very well by Evanovich. These books are laugh out loud funny in many places because of the strange yet believable characters which populate Trenton NJ - check out Stephanie’s funeral obsessed grandmother for particular laughs. Yet these books are also well plotted crime novels with a good amount of tension.  The trick when trying to mix styles like this is to get the balance correct and in this case it is done superbly. The books are easy to read and thoroughly enjoyable. As a bonus, there is no need to read them in order, regardless of what the titles may suggest.

Armageddon is coming to Wellington. To be more precise, the Armageddon Pulp Culture Expo will be held at the Michael Fowler centre in September. So far there are confirmed guest actors from Babylon 5 and Farscape with the possibility that Richard Hatch of Battlestar Galactica fame will be making a return to our shores. By all accounts I have heard the Auckland event was a great success for all those who attended, so we can expect great things from this one.

For a club like Phoenix, this represents a great publicity opportunity. I have already spoken to the organiser and he is happy to accommodate us in exchange for a little help on our part. I may therefore be calling on one or two of you for your assistance in this endeavour as the time draws nearer. If anybody has any practical ideas which might make us more attractive to the passing crowds then I would be happy to hear your thoughts.

If you are in a volunteering frame of mind, I would also like to point out that the Phoenix AGM is to be held at the May meeting. We will be talking about the usual things like fund raising and publicity as well as considering the election of officers. If any of think you have something to offer the committee then don’t be afraid to stick your hand up. By the same token, please do not be scared off attending by the prospect of being pressganged into a position - we do not do that.

Well I have managed to write about 900 words to this point and my new machine has not hung once. I regard that as a bit of a victory given that I am typing this into Microsoft Word and this machine seems to not like the Microsoft Office product very much. I know it is no great surprise, but it is still staggering how a PC manufacturer cannot make a machine that will work with the products of the world’s number one software maker. Likewise, I have little tolerance of Microsoft’s continued tendancy to turn out software that is less than robust on generic platforms. I know that given time I will be able to iron out the wrinkles in the installation and get it all working sweetly, but I should not have to do so.