Monday, August 22, 2005

Is Jesus the son of the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

In keeping with my leaping onto interesting lookin' internet(s) bandwagons that meander by, I bring to you the great Flying Spaghetti Monster debate (via MightyOgbo and boingboing).

An Open Letter was created as a neat little satire on the increased pressure in the US for schools to teach Creationism (otherwise know as "Intelligent Design". I mean, what? I could make willy jokes here [and in fact just deleted such a joke], but seriously - that moniker is such a middle management term. "Intelligent Design". Pphhht. My arse)

Anyhoo, there was some brouhaha from the various Creationist groups, so now boingboing have announced a challenge, and I quote:

"We are willing to pay any individual *$250,000 if they can produce empirical evidence which proves that Jesus is not the son of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

* Prize to be awarded with Intelligently Designed currency; void where prohibited by logic."

Read on, Macduff....

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Psst....wanna buy a free book, mate?

I am doing Neil Gaiman's bidding. (Which, actually, is a pun. Once you read on...) His post today was about the CBLDF (Comic Book Legal Defense Fund), and exciting ways to raise monies to support this important cause.

So, now is your chance to have your name used in a book by Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Lemony Snickett and many others. Very very exciting. All the details are here. Go. Bid. Get your name up in lights (or, you know, print...)

Friday, August 05, 2005

Continuum 3 - Part 3


Nebuloid's day - with the first panel of the day being Myths of Warfare, clearing up some of the myths and misinformation about Medieval Warfare.

I missed it due to being very asleep. In fact, I missed the entire morning due to being asleep, and then going on a hunt for vegan foods...Found a lovely tomato soup and some great coffee, you'll be glad to know.

At 1pm, there was a special screening of Neil Gaiman's "A Short Film About John Bolton", which was fantastic. Very funny, very cool, very weird - I must own it!!

I missed Poppy Z Brite's Guest of Honour speech, due to a filthy filthy headache. Nebuloid popped over to the What's New in Anime panel. I crawled downstairs, headache slightly abated, for the Reinventing the Creation Myth: Gods and Monsters panel, and found Nebuloid and Nic.

I had hoped for more of a concentration on creation myths, rather than the what are gods? what are monsters? tack taken by the panel, but's their panel. The moderator, poor man, seemed to be out of his depth, and kept trying to draw the panel into a discussion on religion and belief within the real world, rather than concentrating on myth and fiction. These attempts were eventually rather irritating, and there was a certain amount of satisfaction to be had when Neil delivered upon the moderator a charming and insightful yet slightly uncomfortable making smackdown. It was effective, however, and the last third of the panel was much more interesting than the first two thirds had been.

Nebuloid snagged front row seats for the Young Adult fiction/genre writing: the crossover novel panel (there was a certain amount of eye rolling when I squeaked about being sooooo close to Neil). The panel were: Robin Hobb, Richard Harland, Russell Blackford, Tony Shillitoe, and Lili Wilkinson. The panel was examining how you make the crossover, what constitutes young adult fiction, what's appropriate and what is not. Tony Shillitoe brought some really interesting perspectives to the panel - the idea of embedding the issues that a young person can go through into the fantasy world. Not a new idea, but he was very passionate about fantasy and speculative fiction having that role for young people.

The discussion also ranged over what is appropriate for a young adult novel. Should there be concepts that a young person won't understand at the time, experiences that they haven't yet had? I made a comment about Tove Jansson's Moomintroll books - they were my favourite books when I was a child, and I still adore them. There are some dark concepts and journeys in these books, and I think that's why they are so good. I got a Woo! from the back of the room when I mentioned the Moomintrolls, and Richard Harland commented that he loves them too. Which was cool, because so many people don't know the books. Also, Lili Wilkinson noted that they have been rereleased, which is great, because everyone should read them. They're tops. Plus, it means I can finally own all of them again...

Stayed in my spot for the Worst Ever Panel, and was joined by Nic. Nebuloid went to the Slash: An Unnecessary Evil? panel (which I'm told was great fun!) Nic had been to the Dealer's Room and was very excited to have found herself some Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles goodies, including a laminated movie poster.

The Worst Ever Panel was shambolic fun - basically, the panel were to discuss what, in their estimation, were the worst ever books, movies, and comics. Neil had a head start on the rest of the panel, having, in his misspent youth, cowritten Ghastly Beyond Belief. Neil noted that Ghastly Beyond Belief had been remaindered to Australia, as seems to happen often, and that this "explains a lot about Australian fandom." There was much hilarity to be had during this panel, including Kirstyn McDermott sarcastically commenting that she read a lot of dark horror as a kid and that it had no lasting effect upon her. A roar of approval met this remark, and Neil wailed "People, look at yourselves!!"

After the panel had ended, and the room was being cleared for the Closing Ceremony, a small cluster of people had gathered around Neil, who was standing on the stage. I finally screwed up my courage to say hello to him. I had the whole thing I wanted to say to him planned out, and it was going through my head like a mantra.

So there I was, in a little slow motion world , thinking: Thank you for inspiring me to write for the first time in over a decade; Thank you for inspiring me to write for the first time in over a decade; Oh god I can do this; Thank you for inspiring me to write for the first time in over a decade; Thank you for inspiring me to write for the first time in over a decade; Neil Gaiman's crotch is at my eye level; Thank you for inspiring me to write for the first time in over a decade; Stop staring at Neil's crotch, he's going to notice; Thank you for inspiring me to write for the first time in over a decade; Thank you for inspiring me to write for the first time in over a decade; Even if Neil doesn't notice, other people are going to; Thank you for inspiring me to write for the first time in over a decade; Thank you for inspiring me to write about your crotch; No that's not right; Neil's crotch is a decade; Oh gods I'm going to make a complete fool of myself...

Whilst behind me, Nic is poking me in the back with her rolled up TMNT poster, saying "Come on, come on, he's still going to be here, he's not going to turn into a pumpkin!!"

...Thank you for inspiring me to write for the first time in over a decade, pumpkin; There's a pumpkin in the decade; Have I stopped staring at his crotch yet?; Oops there goes the brain implosion.

I allowed Nic to drag me from the room, which, all things considered, was the wisest thing I have ever done.

(Could I just note here that I am blushing as I write this? Oh dear...)

We were let back into Ballroom 3 for the Closing Ceremony. Nic had found some seats at the side. The ceremony was long but fun. Kirstyn McDermott made a lovely speech thanking not only the guests, but all of the volunteers who had made the convention run so smoothly. Each of the guests got presents, and said a little something.

Richard Harland gave an impassioned (does he have any other mode??) and wonderfully heartfelt speech to the effect that the fans are why conventions are so wonderful, and that we should give ourselves a rousing cheer and round of applause - which he led by clapping his hands over his head. Poppy Z Brite, who had seemed withdrawn during the convention, stated, in her husky sarcastic drawl, that this had been "the best convention in the best country" that she had attended, and that she had had a wonderful time. Neil Gaiman got a standing ovation, and wandered over to the lecturn to say "I didn't think it was possible that I could get any more embarrassed", which was sweet. Robin Hobb, who was actually the special special guest, seemed perfectly happy with her status being usurped by Neil.

Said goodbye to Nic, and Nebuloid and I wandered off to have Malay for dinner. We grabbed a whole bunch of snacks and went back to the hotel and watched Constantine - which didn't suck as much as I thought it would. I actually quite enjoyed it (please don't throw things). Wanna read the comics now, of course.

After all of that, I offer to you my highlights of Continuum 3:

The Great Debate
Richard Harland's GoH speech
Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys reading
Neil Gaiman's signing
Dancing to Firestarter and Groove is in the Heart with Nebuloid
Lord of the Rings in the style of a Western
The Worst Ever Panel
A Short Film about John Bolton
Seeing Richard Harland be enthused about everything

And my regrets (I've had a few...):

Not speaking to Neil Gaiman
Missing Poppy Z Brite's GoH speech
Not going to more of the small panels
Missing Dr Who and Firefly in the AV room
Not having been to a convention before
Not taking photos of myself and Nebuloid in all of our Maskobalo frippery

And there you have it. Neil Gaiman's crotch.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Continuum 3 - Part 2B

In this post, there will be much eeping and a fair amount of declaring Neil Gaiman to be the sexiest, funniest and most wonderful man in the world. You have been warned.

Neil Gaiman Guest of Honour Speech

Neil began by saying that he had tried to figure out what sort of GoH speech he would give, and the programme finally gave him the direction to take. He had noticed that there was no author reading for him listed on the programme, and so that was what he decided to give us. A reading from Anansi Boys (eep!!) This proclamation was greeted with much applause and yahooing from the standing room only packed out Ballroom 3.

Before he began reading, he explained that he had wanted to write a comic novel. He said that people seem to think that they have figured out how he and Terry Pratchett wrote Good Omens - in that Neil wrote a dark, serious novel, and Terry danced behind him, scattering jokes as he went.

We got to hear Chapter 4 of Anansi Boys, a chapter that Neil had obviously used at readings before. He did note that he generally doesn't like those readings where the author has to explain what has gone before, followed by the statement: "So, before I start this chapter, you need to know a few things..."

He took the audience gently by the hand and led us into the land of Anansi Boys, took us to visit Fat Charlie, and his brother Spider. There were laughs aplenty, and I cannot wait for this book to be released. This reading inspired me to seek out Neil's recordings - Warning: Contains Language; The Neil Gaiman Audio Collection; and Coraline. I have also been listening to a different reading of Anansi Boys that he did at the Melbourne State Library.

Mmmmm voice very much like honey mmmmmm

One of the most endearing things about Neil's reading was his stance. Dressed from head to toe in his customary attire of black jeans, black tshirt and black leather jacket, hair wild and flopping over his eyes, he had his hands clasped together behind his back, and as he relaxed into the reading, he began gently and subtly twisting on the spot - for all the world like a slightly embarrassed 12 year old speaking before a school assembly. So.Damn.Cute.

Lucky us, Neil also read another chapter from later in the book! We were his guinea pigs, to see if he wanted to keep using that chapter in readings. He said "I've never used this as a reading before, and I probably won't ever again." So, maybe not then.

[Nebuloid: He just doesn't want to read it again because he was doing Jamaican accents!
ZuckerBaby: Maybe, but he did them really well!!
Nebuloid: rolls eyes at ZuckerBaby]

Again, a funny and rich world was woven around us, peopled with round, practical Jamaican women, and a wonderfully confused protagonist. And again I say: Want book now!! Neil ended that chapter and commented that "Lenny Henry did the audio book, and he rang me after recording it and said 'You write some really long sentences, guy!' and I said 'Oh, it's all about breath control', but now..."

The treats didn't end with the readings, though. Neil had brought along an electronic press kit for Mirrormask, and ended his time by playing that. We got to see some clips from the movie, a little sfx comparison piece, and interviews with Neil and Dave McKean. There were some amusing introductory explanations from Neil, including him noting that the first clip was taken from when he had been being interviewed for at least an hour, and was sick of it, so just started lying. He had assumed that they would realise this, and with an hour of material, wouldn't use it. But no...

The first clip came up, and the question was "Why does Dave McKean have an obsession with masks?" Neil's answer was something along these lines: "When Dave was a little boy, about 4 years old, he was attacked by a man in a mask. When he was in hospital, in a coma, the nurses all wore masks, those Venetian masks with the long noses..." Roars of laughter from the audience.

The clips from Mirrormask included an amazing scene concerning the main character's transformation into a gothy princess, aided by mannequin jack in the box things jerkily singing The Carpenter's "Close To You".


Want movie now!!

Neil noted that he had been told that Sony had no intention of releasing Mirrormask in Australia, and encouraged us to write to them asking them to reconsider this decision. It has, however, been revealed recently that they do intend to release it here, it's just a question of when.

And then on to my second signing queue (my first was about 14 years ago, for Michael Palin. That's...a really long time ago. Gosh). Had a chat to some lovely people about Neil Gaiman, boardgames, what books we had brought along. Was joined by Nic and friends, and got to be generally fangirlish in wonderful company. Which, yay! We didn't get to the front of the queue in the hour allotted (unsurprisingly), but got given placeholders for the next signing.

Clutching books and placeholder, trundled off to the Fantasy and Fairytale panel, with Neil Gaiman, Robin Hobb, Richard Harland, Tony Shillitoe and Kim Wilkins. The discussion mostly ranged around the definition of "fairytale", and even wandered into discussing urban myth. From some of the other blogs I've been reading to job my memory of the weekend, I gather that this may very well be the panel during which Neil made a rather naughty comment about Daleks, and how they would be really fun if they were smaller. I remember the comment, but not when it was made. Ah well. Funny nonetheless.

A lovely part of this panel was Neil telling some traditional (ie bloody and gory and nasty and chilling - like they should be!) fairytales. Did I mention that I could simply listen to him speak for the rest of my life? Sigh.

Made my way out for the lineup again, and got to cut in, due to my placeholding number card thingy. Felt increasingly nervous and ill and shrill and like my brain had been removed and replaced with warm porridge and oh my god I'm standing in front of Neil Gaiman and mumbling something incoherent and thanking him for being here and he's happily signing away and my time's almost up and I say "It was great to see those snippets of Mirrormask, they were amazing" and suddenly he's looking up and smiling and saying "It is rather wonderful, isn't it?" with his eyes twinkling in that fabulous Neil way and now I've got my books back and have shuffled to the wrong side of the line and am just hanging about waiting for my heart to remove itself from my throat.

Neil Gaiman. Totally and utterly lovely.

Had room service dinner, as we didn't really have the time to go out and get dinner and then get back in time for the Maskobalo (at least that was the excuse at the time...) Got very girly with the getting ready - painted my nails and then promptly screwed them up, which was annoying. I was wearing a dark red cheong sam made for me by two of my friends, and Nebuloid had a most magnificent all black ensemble going on - we looked damn fine.

Nic, Jane and Jen turned up at our room and in no way breached Hilton policy by drinking alcohol purchased elsewhere. Nic was wearing a fantabulous tuxedo tshirt, which is the coolest.thing.ever. We chatted for a bit about Colin Firth, Neil Gaiman (at one point I believe we did start a slow hand clap in the hope that he'd suddenly appear in the doorway), the Lord of the Rings exhibition and birds. Lots of fun.

Wandered in all of our finery down to the ball at about 10. Drank some obscenely expensive champagne and goggled at Neil wandering around in glasses and a three quarter length coat (yes, there was drooling). He and Richard Harland were judging costumes - there were some great ones. A wolf, a Captain Jack, a whole bunch of eyeballs, Furries (, best left alone, that one), and of course corsetry galore.

Crossing the room to find Nebuloid, I found myself bumping into Richard Harland, who stopped me and said (in his enthusiastic and fabulous way): "Every time you do a presentation, you always want to know that people are enjoying it. I could see that you were enjoying my speech immensely this afternoon and I wanted to say thank you, it makes it that much more fun to know people are having fun - and you were!!" I was most flustered and pleased by this, and thanked him for being fabulous, and wandered off in a bemused manner, whilst Richard bounded onto the dancefloor and started shaking his groove thang. It was very sweet.

We shall segue from that experience, past the goth synth band, directly onto Nebuloid and I spending most of the latter part of the ball dancing.

Yes, dancing.

Shaking (as the young people say) our booties.

Doin' the Disco Heave.

Throwing shapes in the Church of Dance.

And all that on two glasses of champagne! Who'd have thunk it?

It was bloody great fun. And I didn't fall over or spill my drink on myself or anything.

As the music slowed down from campy 80s synthpop to depressing 80s synthmope, we betook ourselves off the dancefloor and collapsed in a corner to watch people straggle out from the celebrations. There were clusters of people dotted around the foyer, abandoned paper masks on the floor, and Hilton staff pointedly putting tables away.

Everyone! To the bar! Off we tottered, to have a nightcap (or two). Continuum folks wandered through the bar, clutching drinks, and Nebuloid and I wound down from the whole dancing thing.

Then, creakily, off to our room, to collapse in preparation for the last day of the convention. Nebuloid's day. The day on which I could sleep in. Which I did. But more on that anon...

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Continuum 3 - Part 2A.

Note: Saturday was a big day, so I've split my report in two (poor report!)

I will begin by quoting directly from the notes I made on the Saturday (yep, I actually started making notes), around mid afternoon:

"Groan. Awake at 7.30am. Groan. Eat part of breakfast. Groan. Crawl back into bed for an hour's extra sleep. Groan. Eat rest of breakfast, resent being awake."

Saturday was great, and very busy, and I was very very tired. Much coffee was consumed. I have to say, room service breakfast is the best.thing.ever. Also, being awoken by Nebuloid leaping out of her bed and whacking me repeatedly on the feet whilst yelling "Wheeeee!!!" is extremely funny.

We crawled down to Ballroom 3 (I spent an awful lot of time in this room over the weekend...) for the Richard Harland Guest of Honour Speech

Based upon Richard's enthusiasm and good nature in Friday's vampire panel, I was looking forward to a fun GoH speech from him. I knew it was going to be interesting when I saw the set up of the stage. An overhead projector, a table set up with mikes on either side, the lecturn and behind the lecturn a whiteboard. Hmmm. And a lovely assistant (Richard's wife), all in black with thigh high boots. Additional hmmmm.

Richard started the speech by reading out a negative quote from a critic regarding fantasy (unfortunately I can't remember either the full quote nor the critic - my notes aren't that comprehensive...) and broke the quote down into three parts, which he wrote on the whiteboard. Two of them were: "Fantasy is predictable and safe"; "Fantasy is passive and undemanding". He then went about disproving each of those statements, using his books The Vicar of Morbing Vyle and The Black Crusade as examples of non passive fantasy. All that was left on the board after this part of the speech was "Fantasy is predictable and safe".

Then it all got a bit sinister... A reenactment of an interview with Richard alluded to rumours that Richard had received the manuscripts for the books he had claimed to write, and that in fact the "fictional" character Martin Smythe was the author of the above books, not Richard. It turns out that Martin Smythe has been making threats, and leaving mysterious notes, on the VileWatch website. A question and comment from the audience deepened the mystery, with a tale of kidnapping by Martin Smythe, and a call to reject Richard Harland and join Martin Smythe's crusade against vileness!!

Richard was obviously flustered by these revelations, and tried to get back to his speech - but was interrupted by a deep voice echoing from the back of the room. A bearded, behatted man in a long black trenchcoat strode down the centre aisle, booming out imprecations and decrying Richard's authorial ruse. He revealed himself to be Martin Smythe, and leapt onto the stage, striking Richard down with a single blow! Richard dragged himself off the side of the stage, Martin following to kick him repeatedly inna fork, before disappearing from the room.

Richard, shaky, beaten, bruised, returned to the stage, took out his handkerchief and carefully wiped the statement "Fantasy is predictable and safe" off the whiteboard before collapsing to the floor, to the accompaniment of huge applause and howls of laughter from the audience.


I stayed in my seat, wiping tears of laughter from my eyes, for the Moving Out of Genre Fiction into the Real World panel. Poppy Z Brite (wearing sunglasses, for it was too early in the morning for her), Jack Dann and Fiona McIntosh took their seats. But where was Neil? Cornered by fans again, and too nice to tear himself away. Jack Dann decided that Poppy was cool for wearing her sunglasses inside, so took out his own and put them on, as did Fiona McIntosh. Still no Neil. Jack decreed that the audience begin a slow handclap to get Neil's attention. So we did, and Neil strutted down the centre aisle, took his place on the panel, looked around at the be-sunglassed panelists, leaned into his microphone and said "What?" He then explained that he didn't have his sunglasses, and Jack noted that Neil just wasn't cool. To which Neil responded by explaining that he and Terry Pratchett had constructed the concept of Zen cool, which is that whatever you are doing is cool, and thus you are always cool. Zen cool.

Onto the actual business of the panel. None of the panellists could remember what they were supposed to be talking about, and asked if any of the audience knew. I dug out my big Continuum programme (as opposed to the pocket one), and flipped to the relevant page. Neil spotted this (eeee!) and pointed me out, saying "This lady here knows what we're talking about." So I read out the full explanation of the panel: "What happens when you've done everything you can as a writer in one genre, is it possible to successfully move to another?"; and they got into the discussion.

Nebuloid would like me to note that "This is the part of the convention when Neil noticed you". And, yes, I grinned and grinned and I treasure that moment dearly.

Sigh. I am a sad, sad fangirl. But also a proud, proud fangirl.

Oh, you want me to tell you what they said in the panel? Erm. Jack Dann's book about a world where James Dean is still alive sounds fascinating, and Poppy doesn't see her move from writing gothic, erotic horror to writing about food and the food industry as that much of a turnaround. She wants to write about something for which she feels a passion, that she knows, not write what people think that they want to read from her, which I find really admirable. I do wish that her latest books were available in Australia.

Lunch and then back to Ballroom 3 for the Neil Gaiman Guest of Honour Speech. Which I will bring to you in Continuum 3 - Part 2B. Stay tuned...

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