Three Monkeys - Ten Minutes : Presidents Page February 2001

This morning I turned on my rather venerable PC and the hard disk failed to respond. I tried it a few times and after 5 or 6 goes it eventually started up. After a quick backup, I was able to give a sigh of relief and be glad that the glitch was a temporary one. Phoenix has also had a glitch with the distribution of Phoenixine over the last couple of months. For this I must apologise on behalf of the Phoenix organisation. A revised distribution plan is being put in place to try to improve the state of things. Those of you who submit items to the ízine can do your part by making sure that you get everything in by the deadline - ten days before the main meeting.

One positive thing that distribution problems with the ízine shows up is the benefit of the electronic notification system that has been put in place in recent times. Members are no longer dependent on the ízine for information about meeting and SIG dates. If you are not receiving this information you should make sure that we have a correct e-mail address for you. I should also point out that if you subscribe to the electronic version of the ízine you will have experienced no distribution delays whatsoever. You may wish to consider this option.

In yet another attempt to start up an on-line discussion group about SF in New Zealand, someone has set up a mail group on egroups (now part of Yahoo) to discuss Science Fiction and Fantasy in New Zealand. As a way of trying to start up a thread, I posted the following text:

There is a bit of a puzzle about Science Fiction/Fantasy in this country. On one hand it is very popular. Look in the bookshops to see how much shelf space they give it, look at the crowds at SF movies, check TV ratings, ask librarians which are the most borrowed books. It all points to a large interest in SF/Fantasy.

Why then is the local fan movement here so small. OdysseyCon is the NZ national convention to be held in Auckland this Easter. It is likely to attract about 250 attendees if all goes well. Compare this to Swancon in Perth - Western Australia. WA has a smaller population than NZ and Perth is about the same size as Auckland. If anything it is more isolated than NZ - Perth is further from Sydney than Auckland. Yet Swancon is going to get three times the attendance of OdysseyCon even though the natures of the fan groups are almost identical. In my experience WA fans are more like NZ fans than any other Australian or international group except that there seem to be more of them.

The same is true in Oregon - the American state which is most similar to New Zealand in population, climate, industry, geography etc. My understanding is that their annual convention is also three times the NZ size and in Oregon they mainly cater to literature fans - the TV/Movie fans have their own conventions.

So why do we do so poorly? What is it about the fan movement in New Zealand or about the country in general which causes us to underperform.

I got a few replies to this and I have plenty of ideas about this of my own, but I would like to hear the thoughts of Phoenix members as well. In particular, I would like to hear what we can do to improve the situation.

Slow Lightning by Jack McDevitt is aptly named. It is a book which starts at a slow pace but picks up to high speed and electrifying action at the end (pun intended). I wonder if there is any significance that the book goes under the title of Infinity Beach in the USA.

Ostensibly it is a novel of first contact but what I noticed most was the mix of styles that was incorporated. McDevitt has built a good solid body of work writing hard SF and so more of the same was to be expected with this work. The characters development and narrative style were more consistent with a modern crime novel than with hard SF. Overlaid on this were elements of a horror story which get dispelled by the finale where the hard SF nature comes through with an action end. It is an interesting mix which works better than you might expect.

In a similar manner Starfire by Charles Sheffield is also a mix of styles. It is the sequel to the hard SF action novel Aftermath but this time the hard SF story is told more in the style of a political thriller with an overlay of an old fashioned crime story. To cap it off the hard SF story transmutes into a sort of first contact scenario at the end. This time the result is somewhat less satisfactory, particularly with the rather arbitrary ending.

It is more than just the end of Joe Haldemanís Forever Free which is less than satisfactory, it is the whole second half of the book which does not measure up. As you probably know, this work is the long awaited sequel to the classic The Forever War. It starts well enough with a straightforward story that continues from the end of the earlier work. But at the halfway point the story takes an obscure mystical and introspective turn. To add to the change in direction, Joe must have been to a 2 for 1 sale on deus ex machina plot devices at his local story store given his liberal use of them. Given that he teaches writing, this seems a very strange lapse. It makes you wonder if he got one of his students to write the ending.