Three Monkeys - Ten Minutes : Presidents Page September 2000

West Australian fan Cathy Cupitt is the new DUFF delegate. DUFF is the Down Under Fan Fund. In the same way that FFANZ is designed to facilitate contact between fans from Australia and New Zealand, DUFF is designed to keep fans from this part of the world in contact with American fandom. Yes, this does include us - in theory a New Zealander could become the DUFF delegate and get a trip to the USA to attend a bunch of cons. Cathy takes the Australasian nature of her responsibilities seriously, and has promised me that she will be including New Zealand authors and fans when she gives her talks at conventions.

One other interesting thing about Cathy is that she is currently finishing her Ph.D. - the subject of which is Science Fiction/Space Opera. This brings me to Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds. This book has many of the classic elements of space opera: a multi-planet universe, huge space ships, enormous weapons and battles in which they are used, ancient civilisations and charismatic heroes. I do not know if Reynolds is British, but he certainly writes as if he is. There is a distinct stylistic difference between space opera from each side of the Atlantic. I suspect that the key difference is that the British authors know how to create characters and can therefore create more rounded and complex works. Add to this a more anarchic attitude both at the small scale and on the greater scheme of things. This is evident in the observation that Alan Robson made to me earlier this week that American space opera tends to have an aristocracy while the British are more likely to be an anarchy.

I usually try to avoid describing the work of an author in terms of other specific authors. This time the temptation is too great as the whole time I was reading Revelation Space, I was thinking how much it reminded me of the style of other authors and yet still managed to be distinctive. In particular, the authors who came to mind were Colin Greenland and Iain Banks with touches of Stephen Baxter and Ken MacLeod. Of course, this isnít much use if I do not tell you what aspects of these authors I have in mind. However, that might take up the rest of the column so I suggest that if you like any of these authors then you should read Revelation Space.

If there are things which are characteristic of Space Opera, then there are many more that tend to be associated with fantasy. One of the most common is a medieval level setting with all the things that you associate with that period of history. There are some authors who write in other periods but they are very much the exception. Of those exceptions most write in the contemporary era. Apart from the odd barbarian fantasy, the bronze age is almost completely ignored. Enter the master of alternate history Harry Turtledove who has also written a good number of fantasy works over the years. Wisdom of the Fox is set firmly in the bronze age. Turtledove is obviously a student of history and has made an effort to keep the technology as consistent as possible. With typical attention to detail this means that such things as horse harnesses, eating implements and fortifications are given attention. This work is actually an omnibus edition of two earlier works: Werenight and Prince of the North. They were written a few years apart and it is interesting to note that the earlier work is a much better integration of the historical description with the story. I suspect that much more time was taken over the first book while the second was a quickly written sequel to make a few bucks.

My secret informant tells me that there are still some people out there who do not know about User Friendly (www.userfriendly.org). Any of you who have any sympathy with the IT industry and its population of nerds and geeks will appreciate this most popular of web only comic strips. A word of warning however about the archives. There have been over 1000 of these strips drawn and they are all available online. It is possible to waste a huge chunk of time going through them once you are hooked to the strip. This is known as the User Friendly productivity virus.

One of the newsletter services I subscribe to contained the following bit of information: "Former Disney studio chief Joe Roth and the man behind the Internet hype surrounding "The Blair Witch Project" have launched a Web site called DistantCorners.com. The site will be a proving ground for science fiction, horror and fantasy entertainment that is to be developed into TV shows and feature films through Roth's new Revolution Studios. The site will also be used to promote movies and shows that Revolution Studios produces."

While that is all very cool and good, I did shudder a bit when I got to the site and found this notice: "For optimal viewing of this site you will need a high bandwidth connection (DSL/Cable or better), 800x600 resolution, mac g3/g4 or a Pentium 300mHz or higher." Of course these specifications are very modest, especially if you are a PC game player. What I take from this is an indication that the web has given us no respite in the constant need to get better and faster hardware to keep up with the play. Like the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass, we are running as fast as we can just to stay where we are. To get anywhere we have to run twice that fast.

Now it is time for me to ask for your help. I have been looking into making a Phoenix logo for T-shirts. The general consensus is that the shirts should be black. This presents a problem because the lines of the logo are also black. I have been trying to come up with some sort of background or surrounding which is acceptable to my (limited) artistic sensibilities but my skills are not up to the task. I know that there are those among you who have the ability and tools to do the job well, so I am inviting you to have a go at creating a suitable version of the logo. I can provide the base logo as a GIF file if you want to give it a try.

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