What’s Rangoon to you is Grafton to me – by Russell Guy

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Russel Guy’s psychedelic road trip lives on ” Out over the silver hills enormous manta rays streaked through the night skies like hang-gliders returning to Byron Bay.” The original legendary pschedelic radio-collage-drama recording from 2JJ days circa 1978 ‘What’s Rangoon … Continue reading

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SF REVIEW: The Empress of Mars, by Kage Baker


The picaresque novel (Spanish: “picaresca”, from “pícaro”, for “rogue” or “rascal“) is a popular sub-genre of prose fiction which is usually satirical and depicts, in realistic and often humorous detail, the adventures of a roguish hero of low social class who lives by his wits in a corrupt society. (Wikipedia: picaresque novel)

The Empress of Mars by Kage Baker (2009) is a novel in the picaresque tradition which features, according to the Wikipwsia definition, ” a roguish hero (sic) who lives by their wits in a corrupt society”. Mary Griffith is clearly a character in the mould of literary heroines like Moll Flanders who ‘make good’ despite the lousy hand fate has dealt them.

As the proprietor of Mars’ one and only bar ‘The Empress of Mars’  Mary needs all of the smarts at her disposal as she juggles the competing demands of motherhood – her three daughters are less than perfect children – running her bar and brewery – and making ends meet on a frontier world where the politics of settlers and The British Arian Company are only slightly less detrimental to survival than the planet’s carbon dioxide atmosphere and freezing temperature.

Baker’s Mary is an engaging character – the kind of person you might be lucky enough to meet in any frontier town. Kate brings with her the baggage of failed marriages, bad romances and unjust treatment by the bureaucrats and flunkies who populate company towns, or in this case, a company planet.

Mary is also a disbarred priestess of the Daughters of the Goddess, proving that the sisterhood are, if anything, as controlling as their counterparts in British Arean Company who sacked Mary when she worked as a xenobiologist designing lichen meant to aid in terraforming the planet. Made redundant,  Mary survives by providing beverages and hospitality in her bar, The Empress of Mars, to the various trades, tribes and tricksters who have found a refuge on the Red Planet.

The novel put me in mind of all of the pioneer women whose hardships and contributions to building society are all too quickly forgotten or pushed aside in the rush to construct narratives of male heroism and daring. Baker’s commitment to telling the pioneering female characters’ side of the story is one of The Empress of Mars unique elements contributing much to its strong characterisation and plausible scenerio.

Mary’s friends, family and shifting allies are as intriguing as she is. They fight the insanity of a for-profit world that really hasn’t ever been profitable. Baker constructs a rough and ready pioneering society complete with its ‘types’: the company is brutal, indifferent and plausible in the way of mining companies and their ilk who, when given license to operate according to their own lights, will do as their lack of conscience dictates; the Haulers, who live dangerous lives doing the essential work of hauling ice from the polar ice-caps to furnish the colony’s water supply; the opportunistic Celtic Clans and the smattering of dreamers and desperadoes who have immigrated to Mars to make their fortunes or hide from their crimes.

Baker’s exploration of how science and society are derailed by short-term politics is timely theme – the halted terraforming project which may bear fruit for the future has been shelved because the company foresees no profits from the venture. Mary Garret’s frustration at the corruption and negligence of the company is a comment on the short-term graft and grab of politicians intent only on securing financial advantage while short changing the majority.

The Empress of Mars is, however, an optimistic exploration of these themes. It reminds us that circumstances can change and that those who can outlast and outplay the power players and cynics long enough are in with a fighting chance when the pedulum swings the other way. And the situation on Mars does shift and Mary Griffith and her cohort of outcasts and rebels find themselves in a position to make improvements – if only they can hold their nerve.

The Empress of Mars is an impressive novel. Baker’s ability to describe accurately and sympathetically the machinations of the various factions and characters is delightful. For me, her elaboration of the politics and dynamics of the new society is as interesting as the science and vision of the future underlying it.

The characters are an unpredictable lot – sometimes their own worst enemies –  all too caught up in the perverse pursuit of their own short-sighted agendas yet trapped in a common plight.

A cast of idiosyncratic misfits make for a great reading: ‘the Brick’, Manco the mad artist who sculpts roses from his own blood, De Wit – Mary’s righthand and barman, Cochevelou the canny clan leader, the exiled mystic ‘the Heretic’, all give colour and energy to the story of a society fighting to establish itself and to the story of the Mary Griffiths, the woman who is the heart and soul of the struggle for a better world.

Kage Baker died in 2010. It is a testimony to her storytelling prowess that her work continues to entertain and inspire her readers and other writers.

For more about Kage Baker visit: www.kagebaker.com/

The novella of The Empress of Mars (2003) later expanded to novel-length appears in Asimov’s Science Fiction: www.asimovs.com/_issue_0406/empressofmars.shtml

SOURCES: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Picaresque_novel

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Poetry in the age of media saturation?

                      Jude Cowan’s For the Messengers

• see the video and interview with Jude Cowan at: www.judecowan.net/

Abdel Aal family member is rescued after the family house collapsed during an Israeli strike in the Tufah neighbourhood of Gaza City photo: Majed Hamdan/AP – The Telegraph, 20th Nov.Image

Somewhere… the screen fills with smoke, the camera shakes as the crew run to cover the action. Up ahead foul smoke smudges the sky. A man screams or cries. Its is an unforgettable sound, speaking what language sometimes fails to: of the deep well of pain violent acts leave behind like invisible bruises rippling through and past us.
Shreds of red cloth litter the narrow gap between the flaming vehicle and hard shoulder of the road. The camera zooms in and what looked like a pile of bloodied rag is revealed as a child, a woman, a man.Another missile shrieks over-head followed by another devastating impact. The news crew dive behind the twisted frame of a four-wheel drive. The ground shakes.

Somehow….something essential is missing. We are at a loss. |Pain and fury and billowing smoke present themselves as ‘reality’ or ‘fact’; yet, a deeper reality is missing: the human one. While language might fail, or, at least , falter in the blunt brutality of the moment,  we are in need of voices to articulate the suffering of our fractured interior landscape with its unseen bomb- craters, smouldering villagers, shredded high-rises, shreds of gut smeared on dusty roads.

While visual media gives an impression of immediacy but authenticity is missing. The part of our brain which deals well with what is seen – which spurs survival instincts – does not process the residues of terror, grief, or, anxiety which we need to for long-term survival. The me-first rush of adrenalin does not equip us for anything more. Deliberation, reflection are needed to enable complexity, relationship and cooperation. Visual content alone cannot.

Language is the base. It is the restorative enabling the comprehension and healing which the merely visual cannot.

Jude Cowan, poet and author of For the Messengers, gives us images in her poetry which, while sometime disturbing, inoculate us against the fearsome emptiness which devastating violence – war, genocides, brutal police actions – leaves behind.

Working as an archivist for Thomas Reuters news agency, Cowan viewed many hours of footage from war and disaster fronts. She says poetry was the form which helped her process what she witnessed.

Perhaps the only thing more hideous than the brutality and violence we are hammered with by the media is the insufferable silence that fills the wounds left behind. In making sense of the horrors witnessed in her job through poetry, with For the Messengers, Jude Cowan provides an antivenin to the toxic visuals of twenty-four hour news: a poetry which inspires connection and empathy in a landscape of ashes.

(via Neil Coombs at PATRICIDE http://darkwindowspress.com/)

review by Tim White ©2012

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Philip Pullella, Reuters – Updated January 10, 2012, 5:35 am VATICAN CITY (Reuters) –

Pope Benedict said Monday that gay marriage was one of several threats to the traditional family that undermined “the future of humanity itself.” The pope made some of his strongest comments against gay marriage in a new year address to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Vatican in which he touched on some economic and social issues facing the world today. He told diplomats from nearly 180 countries that the education of children needed proper “settings” and that “pride of place goes to the family, based on the marriage of a man and a woman.” “This is not a simple social convention, but rather the fundamental cell of every society. Consequently, policies which undermine the family threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself,” he said. The Vatican and Catholic officials around the world have protested against moves to legalize gay marriage in Europe and other developed parts of the world.

No doubt about it when God is on your team you can say shit that makes no sense and still expect to be taken seriously

Who would have expected anything less psychotic from a bunch of medieval theologists! I was going to say ‘witch doctors’ instead of ‘theologists’ but then I realised witch doctors are actually accountable and can be removed from office if they fail in their duty to their constituency.

Let me get this right: the church and its cronies facilitate child-abuse by protecting priests who do it, and its gays who are a threat to civilisation? I love the phrase ‘proper setting’. It’s okay if dad and mum are violent drunks who beat you, but somehow, through some weird Catholic-mind control, being in a loving environment where both parents are of the same sex is a threat.

No wonder the church hates reason when faith justifies such brain-scrambling nonsense.

Why don’t we give kids a vote on the issue of what kind of family they prefer? Especially as adults seem so easily influenced. Raise your hands if you want to be in a ‘proper setting’ with mum and dad beating you or each other up! Raise your hand if you want to be in one where your parents love you and are genuinely concerned for your well-being!

A Catholic coloring book uses a comic format to warn children against the dangers of child abuse. One of its advices is avoiding being alone in a room with an adult. Even if that adult is a priest. I’m not sure that was the message they’re trying to send…

Thanks to Dolly Tartan for the link to Tim Minchin’s ‘The Pope Song’:


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      I’m gonna get you kids. No matter where you go, no matter what you do, I’ll find               you! Oh, you are so deceased! – Count Olaf

I thought it worth casting an eye over shenanigans unfolding like a slow-mo face-pieing in British Tabloid Land. The sheer number of bizarre coincidences involved, the statistical improbability of their taking place in anything like the concentration involved seems worthy of investigation in its own right. Is it possible for such a confluence of coincidences to take place or, are we in fact, seeing some new and previously unknown phenomenon in the making?

My curiosity was piqued during Murdoch’s recent testifying before the British Government’s Committee for Ignoring-the-Bleeding-Obvious. As the inquiry hunkered down to investigate the corrupt and criminal practices of his News of the World the ageless nonagerian was slam-dunked by an artificial cream pie (can’t pranksters afford real pies anymore – or is there some insurance proviso preventing the use of good British home-baked custard pies?). This ersatz pie being as close to real justice as the geriatric fraudster is likely to come.

While Murdoch’s numerous apologists – and it seems there are many both within and outside the Murdoch-camp – jostle to apologise for and sing his praises the real story of gonzo statistics is being ignored.

The tally begins with the ‘coincidental’ death,from ‘natural causes’, of Sean Hoare, the News of the World journalist-turned-whistle-blower:

“Yes, your honour it looks as though he tripped and fell onto the bullet causing it                   to lodge in his brain!”

In yet another coincidence, the investigating body, Scotland Yard, has been rocked by the resignation of former top-cops, assistant commissioner John Yates and Sir Paul Stephenson. Both cops had – you guessed it – coincidentally admitted to accepting bribes to pass information to Murdoch’s NOTW.

And there’s more! Can you guess who has been investigating Sean Hoare’s demise? Select the correct answer below:

A. The News of the World

B. DCI Tom Barnaby from Midsomer Murders

C. Scotland Yard

D. Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Grainger

If you though C. you were right – though  DCI Barnaby or Harry, Ron and Hermione might be expected to be to be more objective in the pursuit of any wrongdoing.

Again coincidence at work! All we need to discover is that the pie-chucker was employed by Murdoch’s empire to elicit sympathy for the venal old coot for the circle to be complete.

Then there was the matter of the coot’s protege, Rebecca Brooks. Brooks’ calm assurance that NOTW had paid police for information – despite a statue on the books making this a crime (no biggie for News Corp. apparently) – followed buy her equally assured admission that they had not paid  must be reckoned happenstance of a very high order.

The misunderstanding about the issue of bribery being explained by the fact that Ms. Brooks had thought it acceptable to bribe police in another parallel universe similar to this one. The confusion being highly understandable.

Most improbably, after years of cultivating corrupt, dishonest and illegal journalistic behaviour at the NOTW – just how many record breaking pay-outs can one newspaper have awarded against it ? – Mr. Murdoch continues to claim no responsibility.

Coincidence or not – you be the judge.

And finally, what of the coincidence-topping coincidence that the NOTW has been caught with its pants down, yet again doing things with the neighbour’s cat and an electronic device that defies description?

In the words of the poet “Who woulda thunk it?”

Be assured astute readers that while the investigation continues the Indolent Grasshopper will continue to report the facts… unless coincidence raises its ugly head!

Count Olaf

Rupert Murdoch






Separated at birth ?

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Born under a bad sign

Signs of intelligent life

There’s legislation to protect us from dishonest advertising. I’d like to see some honesty in town and suburb names. Lets start with honest signs welcoming you when you arrive. Let’s make it mandatory to tell the truth about these places:

“Have a nice day and please come back to Bogan Riot.”

“You are now entering the Municipality of Sex Shops.”

“Welcome to the suburb of Road Rage.”

“Drug-dealing-done-in-plain-sight welcomes visitors!”

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Leonora Carrington artist & storyteller

( DANIEL AGUILAR / REUTERS ) – British painter Leonora Carrington sits at her house in the bohemian Roma district of Mexico City in 2000.

 Leonora Carrington was widely, if belatedly, regarded as one of the most imaginative artists of her generation and one of the last links to the surrealist movement that included Salvador Dali, Joan Miro and Marcel Duchamp. Her paintings fetched hundreds of thousands of dollars at leading auction houses.

Ms. Carrington was born in England to an upper-crust family that stifled her artistic impulses. She went through the motions of being a debutante before managing, at 19, to broker her independence and study painting.

Smitten with surrealism — and its use of art to explore the psyche — she became in 1937 the lover of one of its masters, the German-born Ernst, who was 46 and married.

They retreated to a farmhouse in southern France, where they put on plays and tended vineyards. Guests were welcome, to a point. When surrealist visitors overstayed their welcome, the interlopers were treated to an omelet — of their own hair, which Ernst and Ms. Carrington had secretly cut the night before.

Their idyll in the French countryside was interrupted by the German occupation during World War II. Ernst eventually found sanctuary in the United States — and, once there, married arts patron Peggy Guggenheim.

In Ernst’s absence, Ms. Carrington fled the Nazis and suffered a mental breakdown in Spain. When her parents sent an emissary to find her, she escaped to Mexico, a haven for European emigres during the war, through a marriage of convenience with a diplomat.

In the 1940s, her work was shown in important New York galleries. Her paintings were “heavy with sex and horror,” an art critic at Time magazine wrote, noting a body of images freighted with melancholy: “Feathery, hairy, horny, half-luminous creatures merged imperceptibly into birds, animals and plants. Painted with cobweb delicacy, they conspired and paraded before misty landscapes and night skies thick with floating islands.”

Her artistic reputation was initially handicapped by her relationship with Ernst, said Susan Fisher Sterling, director of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington. She was seen more as a muse than an artist in her own right.

But Ms. Carrington remained a vital figure in the art world long after the surrealist movement dimmed in the late 1940s. She bridged the psychological aspects of surrealism with her growing interest in the roles of women as muses, mothers, goddesses and foes of patriarchal oppression.

Her paintings, murals and sculptures, which featured dreamlike images of animals, sibyls, animals and deities, reflected her study of alchemy, Mayan magical traditions, Buddhism and the Jewish mystical writings known as the Kabbalah.

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