Sunday, May 25, 2014

Things change

I read a lot, at any one time I'm generally reading multiple books. Usually it's two. I have one for general reading and one that sits on the bedside table and I read a chapter or two of it at night just before turning the light out.

At present it's four. They are, in no particular order:

Sworn in Steel by Douglas Hulick. This is the sequel to Hulick's debut Among Thieves. It follows the fortunes of Drothe, a member of Ildrecca's criminal underclass. It's similar in tone and theme to Scott Lynch's Gentleman Bastards series which is largely about a different thief in a different setting, but has stylistic and thematic similarities. I was a huge fan of Lynch's Locke Lamora, which is why I picked up Among Thieves and I liked it enough to try the sequel, more on that later.

Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire. This is kind of a reread for me. Rose Marshall is a pretty little dead girl who died in 1953 while on the way to her prom. She became a ghost and seems destined to wander the highways and byways of the continental United States both in this world and the afterlife. Rose saves who she can and guides who she can't through to another world. Twelve of the stories in Sparrow Hill Road were initially published online on the site Edge of Propinquity. That was where I first read them, but always thought they'd make a great collection all put together. Clearly I wasn't alone there. Seanan edited them, prettied them up and strung them together with a narrative, she also added a brand new story to make it a baker's dozen. I'm enjoying the renewal of my friendship with Rose.

I've got Gaie Sebold's Shanghai Sparrow because I really liked her Babylon Steel duology. I haven't read that far into Shanghai Sparrow, but it seems to have more in common with Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist than it does with Babylon Steel. I did kind of know that going in, so I don't mind and I do like exploring this new steampunk Victorian world that she's created for her light fingered protagonist to play in.

What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton isn't a book as such, it's a collection of blog posts that the author wrote for website between July 2008 and February 2011. They're reviews of a sort, but unlike most reviews that you find about the interwebz and on blogs they're not about the newest shiniest release or the newest shiniest thing that the blog owner has just discovered, they're about classics mostly, sometimes quite obscure books as well and as Jo Walton is a committed rereader she's often read the books multiple times. I actually kind of like her take as a reader and rereader on the books and she approaches them from the point of view as a reader, not a reviewer or critic. It is a skill I wish I had.

It's Jo Walton's collection of posts and my feelings about the first book on the list that occasioned this post.

You may have noticed that the four books are all quite different. Sworn in Steel is a very typical example of what used to be called high or epic fantasy, and seems to have morphed into something many people now refer to as grim dark.

Sparrow Hill Road is an urban fantasy about an urban legend written in the style of Raymond Chandler by way of Joss Whedon. In fact Rose's narration often puts me in mind of Chuck Wendig's Miriam Black from that series, although Rose's mouth is far cleaner than Miriam's.

Shanghai Sparrow is one of the new breed of steam punk, and although I don't think it's been marketed this way, it has a curious YA feel to it.

What Makes This Book So Great is a non fiction series of essays musing on the genre, and focussing mostly on science fiction.

Before going into What Makes This Book So Great I knew it would be mostly about science fiction. One, my wife had read it and told me so, and two, Jo Walton wrote the highly acclaimed and multi award winning Among Others, which is largely about one person's love affair with classic science fiction. In fact I do wonder if some of Among Others was inspired by the author writing the posts for

I probably haven't mentioned it here, in fact I'm sure I haven't, but science fiction and I don't play well together. It just doesn't connect with me a lot of the time. I do have science fiction books that I have read and loved, but given the choice between a sci-fi and BFF (Big Fat Fantasy, not best friends forever), I'll go the BFF every time.

At least I used to. Now I'd probably look for an urban fantasy or something that is a bit different, maybe one of those things that agents, publishers and book sellers hate, because they can't fit into a nice neat label and aren't sure how to sell it or where to display it.

I used to run another blog ( that started as a reread of Dave Sim's ground breaking independent graphic novel Cerebus and morphed into a review blog. I wound it up about 18 months ago, because I felt I was talking to crickets (I got very little traffic. Kind of like this place really, but I shall not complain) and I felt under pressure every time I read something and put it up on the site to say things about it.

However I found that when I started reviewing books, even if most of my reviews weren't read by anyone other than me, that I started to think and assess what I was reading more carefully and work out what was good or bad about the books and why I liked or didn't like them.

I thought the changing of my tastes was a new thing, but to be honest I don't think it is. I used to read a lot of high fantasy. I went from Tolkien to Brooks to Eddings to Feist to Jordan to Martin to Abercrombie to Lynch. Note: I didn't mention either Donaldson or Goodkind because for some reason I just couldn't get into either writer. I've read Lord Foul's Bane three times and I've never liked it or been able to see in it what others could. Wizard's First Rule was so badly written that I never made it past the first half of it before it turned into a wall banger (that's a book that you dislike so much you hurl it across the room, where it hits the wall and falls to the floor, hopefully to rot). I must confess that the TV show based on Goodkind's work was a guilty pleasure. Don't get me wrong, it was truly awful, but it was so bad that it was fun to watch. Of the cast only Bruce Spence ever seemed to really get the joke and played his role with his tongue jammed firmly in his cheek. I probably should also throw Steven Erikson in there, too. I tried to read Malazan, but got halfway through Memories of Ice (the 3rd book), before I said to myself 'I really don't care about any of these people or what happens to them.' so gave up on the series.

Sometime in 2010 I started to venture out of the high fantasy sub genre and look at other things. Things that were different or stretched the boundaries or were hard to classify. Some of this was due to disenchantment with the prevalence of grim dark, which unless it was superlative (Abercrombie and Lynch) began to bore me. There's only so many morally ambiguous, or completely bankrupt, anti heroes that one can take before they all begin to blur into each other. It was almost like the authors made this pact with each other to try and one up one another on that front. My BMF is worse than your BMF.

I don't read much of what classifies as grim dark now. I still read new work by Abercrombie and Lynch and Martin, on the rare occasions when he actually finishes a book, and I don't think I could ever fall out of love with Locke Lamora, and Joe Abercrombie does what he can to push the boundaries of what we regard as the new sub genre.

I guess this brings me to a question which some people may ask. How do you read 4 things, all different, at once? Well, as I said earlier one of them is the bedside book (at present that's What Makes This Book So Great) and I alternate between the others during the day when I read.

It's generally only 3 books, but I couldn't not read Sparrow Hill Road, however to do that I had to put one aside, and this time it was Sworn in Steel, now while I'm about 200 pages into a 500 page book there, and I waited for nearly 3 years to read it, it isn't really grabbing me that much that I can't put it aside. It's one of these grim dark things and while I find it better than most my tastes seems to have moved on from those now.

What I wrote went much the same way. I spent years writing a big epic fantasy and then when that just wasn't working I tried to morph it into a grim dark. That didn't work either. I found my niche with Realmspace, apparently portal fantasy is anathema to the world outside, so I may have wasted my time writing it, but I did enjoy myself and whole lot more than I was when I was working fruitlessly on the others. I've also recently written the first book of what I hope to make into an urban fantasy series and that's called The Foxwood Chronicles. So, yes things do change, with writers and readers.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Vale Tommy Hafey

Yesterday at the age of 82, Tommy Hafey passed away after a short battle with cancer.

I never met Tommy Hafey, but he had a profound effect on my life. As I've explained elsewhere I was born into a family that passionately supported the Richmond Tigers Australian Rules football club. Tommy's first year as coach of Richmond was the year I was born. Tommy led the team to a Premiership the year after. While Richmond had been coming for a couple of years before that flag, but for a lot of the previous decade they were cellar dwellers and not considered much good.

I have a lot of memories of Tommy as coach. He was about the same age as my parents. He left the club at the end of the 1976 season and went on to coach first Collingwood, he took them from the bottom of the ladder the year before to within a whisker of winning the Grand Final. They drew the first one against North Melbourne and lost the replay a week later.

After Collingwood he coached Geelong and Sydney. He didn't enjoy a great deal of success at the Cattery, but did get the Swans into the finals for the first time since they left South Melbourne and moved to the harbour city.

I have indelible football memories that are attached to Tommy Hafey, not one person has ever said a bad word about him and he was just a wonderful positive example. Even when he left Richmond I still wanted him to personally succeed, even though I bore Collingwood no good will at all.

After he finished at the Swans, Tommy didn't coach again. Although he coached elsewhere and had enduring friendships with the non Richmond players he coached, Tommy's heart never left Punt Road. The picture above is relatively recent, and while a man in his late 70's or early 80's has no business filling out a football guernsey so well, Tommy Hafey did it. He was a regular fixture at Tigerland and gave the young players coming through a lot of inspiration and heart.

Tommy Hafey was a fitness fanatic. When he came to Tigerland as a coach (he played 67 games for the club in the 50's) he made his team the fittest in the league, that and his uncomplicated game plan of kicking the ball long to his dominant forward line, had a lot to do with those 4 flags and it was also something that got Collingwood into Grand Finals in his time there, even though they weren't able to win one.

His commitment to physical fitness didn't become apparent to all and sundry until he was at Collingwood. Prior to that, like most coaches of the time, he wore a suit to the games. At Collingwood he started to appear in the media and at the games in a t-shirt, which showed off his hard won physique. Former Collingwood player and commentator Lou Richards took to calling him 'T-shirt Tommy' and the name stuck for many years.

Hafey's daily fitness regime included an 8 kilometre run, 250 pushups and a swim in the bay no matter the weather. This was something he maintained for most of his life and even into his 80's. He was quite remarkable in that respect.

A lot of Richmond supporters over the years have met Tommy or had a story to tell about him. I'm no exception. I never met him personally. My mother did. Back then he was coaching Richmond and also working as a sales rep (very few people could make a living coaching or playing football then). Mum asked him for his autograph for me and Tommy asked if I had an autograph book, she said that I did. He told her to bring it in, he'd take it to the club and get the entire team to sign it. He was true to his word too, you couldn't do that now. As a kid I also wrote him a letter. He took the time to reply personally with a handwritten letter back. I can't imagine that happening now either.

When I heard the news yesterday I felt like a member of my family had just passed away, he touched me that much and my memories of him and what he did for my club and the game in general mean that much to me.

RIP Tommy Hafey. You will be missed.