Gegenschein 91 November 2001

Advertising the Government

A half billion on advertising during the past five years, at $20 million a month as the election draws near, against $43 million by Labor in its last two terms. I've seen some of the advertising. One I noticed purports to tell you of important changes to various allowances for the aged, and how the taxes will change. Since those receiving allowances get notices informing them of changes, and since there are notes accompanying tax forms, neither of these advertisements can be considered anything except using public money - my tax money - to promote the political parties (very temporarily now I most sincerely hope) in government. I consider that the power grabbing swine in government are committing criminal fraud and embezzlement of public money.

Isn't this just a bit rich?

Buying Governments

How come Governments can get campaign donations from companies and unions without really telling much about these donations? All political donations should be declared in a public register. Union members and shareholders should be advised before donations to political parties, and agree to the donation in question. Anything else is just buying favours.

Consulting for Government

I hear that the coalition government managed to spend a billion dollars on consultants in the past three years ($367M in 1999-2000, against $147M in 1994-5 when Labor was in power). I guess a conservative government needs higher priced consultants. I wonder how many people at the big end of town they are paying off by having them "consult". I suppose it makes a change from Jo's method of suing them and then having an easy win and a half million dollar settlement.

DotCom Death

It seems pretty simple. Unless you have something to sell, and a bunch of potential customers actually both wanting it, and not easily able to get it elsewhere, then the Net isn't the answer.

Several years ago I once (and it was only once) went to work wearing a suit. My boss turned around, did a classic double take, and blurted out "Who died!" You can find out which dotcom company died at Over 400 substantial web companies since the start of 2000, over 200 of these in the first four months of 2001. In Australia, Wineplanet ($92 million), Spike, mySAP ($10 million) and a bunch of others.

EAT Rant

Electronics Australia (formerly Radio, Television and Hobbies, formerly Radio and Hobbies, formerly Wireless Weekly) changed to EAT, which they say stands for Electronics Australia Today. They changed from having nice construction projects and lots of circuit diagrams, to having pithy and unconvincing previews of gadgets. I like gadgets as much as the next geek, but this is just a straight piece of advertising crap now. I'm so mad that for the first time ever with a magazine I'm trying to cancel my subscription, and I've been a reader since I was twelve years old. Well, I guess you can still watch them hard at work on their web cam. No. I can't. They just closed their tents and folded the magazine. A real pity, given their long history. Now just where will children learn electronics?

False Figures

Didn't the May collapse of OneTel, fourth largest phone company in Australia, have a wonderful effect on demonstrating the values placed on customer figures were totally false. OneTel customers got sold off at around A$10 each. Telstra just got through telling us PCCW customers in Hong Kong were worth A$7700 each last year. Likewise, spectrum in the 1800 MHz GSM band that cost OneTel A$233 million last year may not even attract a bid.


We would like to remind you (yet again) to support GUFF and the other fan funds. We have been reduced to diving for coins in the local lagoon so as not to make ourselves look totally ineffective as fund raisers. We have a GUFF web site including trip notes, photos, accounts and book sales at

Hard to Buy over Net

Harvey Norman had a modem in their sale catalog, and I've had a broken modem for ages. Price and brand were OK, but they are 150 km away. Obviously a suitable situation for shopping over the net. However their web page tells me I can't access their pages without enabling cookies, because cookies are good for me. Apart from the obvious retort that it is my own damn business whether I enables cookies or not, I can in fact see the cookies arrive, and clicked to accept them in this case. Harvey Norman's web site is unable to correctly detect that cookies have been enabled. I threw their catalog out, and obtained a modem elsewhere.

Hewlett Packard had a newspaper advertisement promising trade ins on old laser printers when you upgraded. Their site wasn't reachable, probably due to the virus attack the same day. When I finally got to some semi-relevant pages, any attempt to reach the URL in the newspaper caused a blank screen. That is because they use scripting (which fails to detect my browser) to force use of a Shockwave (proprietary) plugin that isn't available for my PDA. Attempting to use their web page to determine which printer had the characteristics I wanted was likewise futile. Finally, they didn't like giving out an email address at which to contact them. I did get an email reply to my complaint eventually. It said check their web page. How likely do you think my printer upgrade is now? In fact, see the next article for the death of printers.

Clipsal make electrical controls, and I wanted to check their remote control of lights and stuff. This is something I've been doing for ages with US style X-10 controls, but it would be nice to have an Australian source of this sort of stuff. Clipsal's web site uses an immediate redirect (which stuff up the browser back button), isn't written in valid HTML, uses scripts I don't trust, and tells me to download IE or Netscape. I stopped looking at their site instead, and will go back to getting 240 volt X-10 gear when I find it.

Internet Replaces Paper

Computer buyers may not have realised the extensive formatting and printing facilities provided by computers are becoming a dead end niche market, superseded by the internet and the phone.

After their wartime and scientific debut, early computers rapidly became essential for data handling in banks, airlines, insurance companies and other large businesses. Data was input using punched cards, and later terminals. Output was printed (rather badly by present standards) in reports, statements and even airline tickets using high speed printers. In early computing courses you were told that computers consisted of input, processing, and output sections, and both input and output originally basically mostly meant paper.

Moving along several decades, we find personal computers recapitulating the history of mainframes. Major office applications on personal computers have traditionally been directed at turning digital information into printed documents. Given that personal computers have been stand alone and not networked from the earliest days, output in print was the obvious solution to presenting results to others. A printer made a computer substantially more use. The major components of Microsoft Office, Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and some of Access, continued to promote the idea that the end product of computing is a paper document.

Most office computer users are essentially untrained. They tend not to read the manuals. Once they find a way of doing a task, they rarely change their approach, even when that method is inefficient. Many never learn to automate repeated tasks. I'm not writing that as a value judgment. This is simply what repeated usability studies have shown.

As a result, having worked out how to produce graphically enhanced pieces of paper, most users have probably not consciously realised that this is no longer what they mostly do with computers. Major users of mainframe computers realised some time ago that the information flow between computers was far more important than the form of the paper output. As a result, most mainframe computer operations involve data flows, not paper flows.

It follows that the same thing will more gradually occur in smaller and smaller businesses, and in personal computer use as well.

The major office application, word processing (which really means fancy printing) is essentially already irrelevant to most of the people who still use it. They are already communicating more often via email and by phone than by letter or report. The makers of office applications realise this, which is why they continually attempt to force email, news and web pages to appear more formatted and more like a traditional piece of published paper. It provides a justification for continuing to sell yesterday's obsolete and specialised tools.


In this case, Steve Jobs, one of the founders of Apple, and now leading Apple again. He and Stephen Wozniak went through a phase of making blue boxes for people wanting to steal free phone calls. Now an article in Fortune magazine mentions he hasn't put license plates on his Mercedes for the past two years, which helps dodge parking tickets. "It's a little game I play". Laws? Who cares about laws. Typical of those running computer companies. If the leaders of technology companies don't give a shit about laws, why should the rest of us? Anarchy is the logical response. Whatever you can get away with is right.

Knowledge = none

La Nina

La Nina developed after the big 1997-1998 El Nino, as seems standard for this two to seven year cycle. The normal trade winds pile Pacific waters up here in Australia. El Nino happens when the winds slacken, the water sloshes back towards South America, and we get the El Nino drought conditions. Then the trade winds resume, the warm water heads towards us across the Pacific, warm water rises along the South American coast, and condition reverse. We get a wet, cold winter. Of course, this is still relative. It is still over 60 degrees here, but for June, that is pretty unusual.

Then there is the Pacific Decadal Oscillation of ten or twenty years to change the effects. We get warmer water, and thus wetter weather, perhaps for the next decade or so (the Americas get colder water, and thus the reverse).


Should I exclude Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 from my web pages? If it handles SmartTags, damn right I should. I am putting in a fair amount of effort adding metatags to every one of my many web pages to exclude SmartTags. However there is no guarantee that Microsoft will not at some stage simply silently ignore such a request. I am not going to let Microsoft overwrite my web pages with whatever links they think are reasonable or suitable. Given that Microsoft spokespeople don't even seem to understand why adding links is objectionable to web page authors, I can't see how I can trust them not to do so in the future. As a result, I believe it is possible that at some time in the future I will have to prevent my pages from being viewed with Internet Explorer 6 and up, to prevent them being dynamically rewritten. I hope that fans have other browsers available.


My country right or wrong certainly seems to be getting a lot of support of late, on every side. Usually you can identify your enemies, and for mass attacks, they are usually another country. Well, to be realistic, usually the government of another country, and often enough staged to draw attention away from domestic political problems. If not staged, then at least taken advantage of. Once Thatcher had a little war, she got a lot less flack. I imagine the same will happen again now. In the USA, for example, the recount of the Florida votes seems to have been ignored by the media and populance, except by the people chanting "Re-elect Gore in '04".

Certainly US intervention in the political affairs of many nations has been widespread, has not always been advantageous to local wellbeing, and has sometimes been totally short sighted and disastrous. There is little wonder that this is resented in many countries. But consider the alternative.

Without even considering the possible civilian casualties of a USA lead war with countries supporting terrorism, what would be the results of the USA turning isolationist? Think of what this would do to world trade, to the spread of more efficient production methods, and to the general level of income in most of the world. Yes, the rich are getting richer. But the poor are also getting some flow through also. If this ceases, if we turn to each country striving to supply its own needs, refusing to trade, refusing to interact with other countries, we will all be far worse off.

As a result mostly of fear, but also because of the economic downturn encouraged by this attack, it is more than likely that hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of additional refugees will flood from poor countries. Their chances of a welcome anywhere are now significantly reduced, even among Muslim nations (themselves often already hard pressed by previous refugee influxes). The amount of aid likely is also dramatically reduced, by sharply reduced access to the needy. Those in the west who donated to charities may be less likely to do so in future, some because of their own economic uncertainty, and some in reaction to the attack on the USA. It seems likely the casualties of the WTC will include hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, in Muslim countries, who will starve for lack of western aid.


Only one power outage noticed, at 8:35 p.m. on Saturday 6 July. However there was a bit of a brown out a few times later in the evening. Given the new Calide C power station just came on line, I can't see Central Queensland running short of electricity in the near future, so I guess it was something local. The new extra line into this area seems to really be helping keep the electricity supply stable. Overproduction is a characteristic of government ownership of the electricity supply, since the issue is politically sensitive. Poor handling of costs is also a government characteristic. I'd think the best compromise would be government ownership of the distribution network, but production open to anyone, and distribution access open to anyone. I also think that should be how the phone system should go.

Photovoltaic cells

I hear that over the past two decades the cost of manufacturing a photovoltaic energy system has dropped from US$4.50 a watt, to US$2.20 a watt. Unfortunately for a solar powered future, this figure is actually US$2.20 per peak, uninstalled watt. Actual average output is more like a fifth or even a sixth of the peak watts. Even more unfortunately, it does not include storage, power conditioning or distribution costs. To a large extent, solar electricity by photovoltaic cells, on earth or in space, is a high priced dead end.


Does everyone encounter companies whose answer to telephone enquiries is an automated system in which you press buttons in a futile attempt to get to the department you need? When you finally get there, you get placed in an automated queue. Every now and then a voice interrupts the annoying and badly distorted sounds they think is music that they force you to listen to, not to handle your enquiry, but to tell you "your business is important to us." If it were important, you lying idiot, you would have hired enough staff to answer the bloody phones! That is about the time I hang up and phone your competition. Or decide I just don't need to ever buy a product of that nature.

There is nothing wrong with a phone not being answered. It doesn't cost me anything as a caller, and it doesn't waste my time, and I can try again later by pushing a single button. Having an answering system that only pretends to actually answer the phone costs me money and costs me time, and loses you business.

Replacing Magazines

Silicon Chip has long been a competitor of EA, and seems to have taken over the role abandoned by EA. I tend to think of it as having the less complicated projects, and perhaps fewer that take a lot of technical development. This reflected, I thought, the difference in how much money could be allocated for developing projects.

Taking the February issue, the first project had how to build a radio frequency meteor detector, by picking up reflected VHF radio signals from remote transmitters using an interface into a receiver. They had a bit on designing and building your aerial, building a preamp, and modifying old car radios as the receivers. Then you use an old XT PC as the data logger, after modifying the power supplies to keep interference low.

Next was a pulse mode model train controller, always a popular topic, although this one is a very simple version. Forward and reverse by means of a relay, and a power Mosfet for the pulse control.

A Midi interface for PCs, substituting the correct connectors and proper current loop interface and a pair of Midi out connectors to the incorrect interface in a sound card.

A four bargraph display for sound levels at several bass frequencies, for those who lack such a display in their stereo.

A 2m elevated groundplane antenna design.

Making printed circuit boards at home. Make sure your partner doesn't see you use their iron for this.

A really nice complicated processor for removing pops and click from vinyl records.

Smart tags

A Microsoft idea to complain about. They can add links from any word to web pages, to places that were not in the original page. In short, they edit existing web pages. They work in Internet Explorer 6, and are included in Office XP. They are obviously designed so advertisers can buy the right to have links included. Smart Tags are downloaded to your computer, which probably means you will (like Cookies) not normally get any indication they are there.


My sympathy to the families and friends of the victims of the deliberate terrorist attack on the USA. I can see that people in poor countries could look at the USA, and be encouraged to decide that their problems are all caused by US actions. The step from this to suicide attacks is then perhaps smaller than I can imagine, at least for those who have no skills or future. However that surely could not be the case for all the terrorists. They learnt enough to control planes, to pass for long periods as normal, peaceful people, to hide their true purpose, to live in a foreign land without attracting attention. These people were not the downtrodden masses, nor stone throwing mobs in thoughtless revolt. "What are you revolting against?" "What have you got?"

US Criminal Population

Now a record 6.5 million people, or 3.1% of the adults in the USA, according to the Justice Department figures for 2000, or a 48.7% increase since 1990. 3,839,532 on probation, 725,527 on parole, 1,312,354 in prison, and 621,149 in local jails. Seems a tad high to me. Are there really so many criminals in the USA? I wonder how many were convicted for victimless crimes? I wonder why we have a concept of victimless crimes? I blame it mostly on religious fanaticism, still infecting the court system.

Veggie Van

A small four wheel drive Commer truck (well, small compared to our Hino) with a caravan body of the tray, and a 3 litre diesel engine. However this engine was running on waste vegetable oil from fish shops and similar places, prepared as fuel in a very simple hour or so long process involving nothing more complex than a few 44 gallon drums, some hoses, some filter and a hand pump. They were going around, using kite sailing trips to raise money, with their veggie truck, and their rubber boat. The contacts were pmartin at alloymail com Paul Martin and aplake at vtrekker com Adrian Lake, and the web site for the Biodiesel Association of Australia is

Web Bugs

Web bugs are in your email. An html link to a unnoticeable graphic, such as a one pixel picture, at the sender's site. If you are online, when you open the email, the sender's computer logs the fact that the picture has been accessed, and records your IP address. This tells when you received a specific email, and what machine was used, plus possibly other information. A spammer, for instance, could use a different graphic file name in each spam sent, to determine exactly which spam email gets opened. The only solution that I can see is not to permit HTML to be used in email, and certainly never to open anything as an HTML file. I automatically filter unread all HTML based email, since almost all of them come from spammers.


Microsoft Windows XP, of course. I wonder what XP stands for? Experience, they say. The version to be released in October in which you probably won't be able to remove Internet Explorer. Having failed to lose the breakup court case, Microsoft are back into making sure they own the internet. Microsoft lost the case, were found guilty, but on appeal it is going back to a different judge for sentencing next year. That isn't altogether unreasonable as the trail judge was both obviously biased, and also a total idiot for giving media interviews showing he was biased while the case was on. However it means that Microsoft didn't lose the case, whatever the judgment said.

While I could easily remove those of their products I didn't want to run (like IE and Outlook), I didn't much care, but that trick probably won't work next time. Even if recent versions of Windows hadn't broken IrCOMM and several other features I need, not being able to remove virus Petrie dishes like Outlook and IE would be enough to stop me using this version. As for their intrusive registration process, I've used products like that before. As a result, I would never again use, recommend, and especially not support any product with hardware based registration.


I don't like Yahoo. They keep taking over handy internet products, and trying to change them so the advertising gets more and more in my face. I can see a time coming when I will refuse to participate in email lists servers that include advertising. I've already started closing down all my web pages on advertising sponsored sites, and will shut all of these off at the end of 2001. I'd rather pay to avoid the advertising. If I can't afford to pay, I'll drop using that part of the internet.


The Fiji Finance Ministry admitted that a computer glitch wiped out last year's financial figures for the entire country. This was said to be a "programming error", and a "technical error of unprecedented magnitude". I wonder what lies behind that story. I bet the Australian government, whichever one we have after the election, would love to think they could get away with that.

Speaking of the Australian election, the November one just reinforces what a shabby, self serving, power grabbing, snout in the trough hogging, lying, thieving, incompetent, uncaring, voter bribing, old fashioned, out of touch bunch of frauds we are forced to vote for ... and that is just the ones I won't be voting against! The rest are even worse. Actually I'm sure there are some honest community spirited ones in the bunch, but with party discipline and control by the Cabinet and the Prime Minister, how can you tell?

Why it voting compulsary? It isn't in most countries. It enables politician to claim both a spurious mandate and public support that has not been demonstrated. Why is there a powerful Prime Minister? The position is not mentioned in the Australian Constitution. Why are income tax rates not indexed to the cost of living, so taxpayers do not get crowded into the highest rates? Why are politicians permitted to lie about their intentions, and fail to carry out the promises that get them elected?

Top of Page


Candle by John Barnes

Tor, Dec 2000, 248 pp, US$6.99 ISBN 0812589688

"One True" won the War of the Memes two generations ago, superseding all other memes. Humans all have a copy of Resuna, a biological software providing guidance, and a limited form of telepathy. The age is one of universal peace, Resuna enforced cooperation, and increasing prosperity as all the problems of the past are on their way to a solution. Well, except for the rebels. More a talk fest than an adventure.

Manifold: Time by Stephen Baxter

DelRey, Dec 2000, 472pp, US$6.99 ISBN 034543076X

Reid Malenfant is an obsessive, and he is going to get spacecraft out there, whatever it takes, despite NASA and the bureaucracies. There are other obsessives, and they can see the end of human life on the planet, unless we can get help. However the only help would be from our future selves. This story has all the sweep of Stapledon. Great stuff.

Rogue Planet by Greg Bear

(Random House), June 2001, pp, A$17.95 ISBN 0099410303

Three years after The Phantom Menace apprentice Anakin (Darth) and Obi-Wan Kenobi travel to the planet that grows the fastest ships in the galaxy, however Commander Tarkin and ship designer Raith Sienar have plans of their own.

Copyright by Lucas Films, which means Greg Bear was hired to write it. He dedicated it to Jack and Ed and Doc Smith, and it is a fast paced adventure.

Eater by Gregory Benford

EOS (Harper Collins), May 2001, 392 pp, US$6.99 ISBN 0380790564

Dr Benjamin Knowlton's team find a black hole, anomalous and close, and moving closer, and being directed. Could this means the end of the Earth, and what can either scientists or politicians do to change things. Good scientific characters, with rivalries, conflicting aims, suspense and political maneuvers in plenty. An excellent hard science novel.

The Martian Race by Gregory Benford

Aspect, Jan 2001, 444pp, US$6.99 ISBN 0446608904

If you can't afford to fund NASA to Mars, maybe offering a prize to get there will prompt someone into finding a cheaper path, like Zubrin's idea of living off the land. A wonderfully detailed and adventurous account of how it might be possible to get to Mars. Highly recommended for hard SF fans.

The Dragon and the Fair Maid of Kent by Gordon R Dickson

Tor, Dec 2000, 400pp, US$26.95 ISBN 0312861605

Sort of based upon Edward, the Black Prince and Princess Joan of Kent. It is a very typical Dragon Knight tale from an author who knows how to tell a story. I dislike fantasy, but somehow managed to read each book in the series.

Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson

Bantam (Random House), Nov 2001, 957pp, A$19.40 ISBN 0553813110

Another in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series. Long prophesied uprising from the desert. Dark uncontrollable magic. Army. Wanderers.

Thunder Rift by Matthew Farrell

Eos, May 2001, 394pp, US$6.99 ISBN 0380799154

Thunder Rift was a tunnel in the sky, and its appearance near Jupiter could only mean humanity was not alone. It took decades to repair the damage to electronic equipment from the EMP pulse of its arrival, and then humans sent their probe ships through the rift. The first humans through the rift found a primitive planet, whose inhabitants simply could not be the builders of the rift. One anthropologist thought that the alien culture should be investigated more thoroughly, despite obviously not having anything to do with the builders of the Rift, their only mission. What she found makes a fascinating study of an alien race and an alien viewpoint. Farrell is a much better writer than I am a reader. I am sure I missed much in reading this book.

The Skull in the World by Kate Forsyth

Arrow (Random House), June 2001, 420pp, A$18.95 ISBN 1740510429

Book Five of The Witches of Eileanas. Journey of initiation. Author's web site is at

Ravenheart by David Gemmell

Bantam (Random House), April 2001, 384pp, A$29.95 TPB ISBN 0593044541

Heroic fantasy set in the Rigante 800 years after Sword in the Storm.

Lost Burgundy by Mary Gentle

EOS, Dec 2000, 482pp, US$6.99 ISBN 0380811146

The Book of Ash 4. Concluding portion of the story of the greatest tactical warrior of 14th century Europe, as Ash battles to defeat the Faris, and the Stone Golem tactical computer that advises her. However her real enemies, and the enemies of all human life, are the Wild Machines, who know what humans will become, and will change reality to prevent it. This is a wonderfully detailed and well written series of original novels.

Blind Waves by Steven Gould

Tor, Jan 2001, 350pp, US$6.99 ISBN 0812571096

Patricia is rich and works hard. When her salvage sub finds a recently sunken refugee vessel, she realises the government's INS may have deliberately sunk the ship. Fearing for her own life, she broadcasts live shots of the ship, and then attempts to elude the pursuing INS vessel. Well realised novel of love, Shakespeare and adventure, set seventy of so years hence in a world where the sea levels are 100 foot higher than now, and 90% of the human race have had to move from the flooded lands.

The Immortality Option by James P Hogan

DelRey, Dec 1995, 321pp, US$5.99 ISBN 0345397878

Sequel to Code of the Lifemaker. The mechanical Taloids on Titan were intended to be construction robots. The download of the original makers who were fleeing a supernova didn't work precisely as hoped, partly because the originals were all paranoid. Scientists put together the download code, and create a revolution. Didn't work for me.

deja vu by John Larkin

Random House, August 2000, 268pp, A$16.40 ISBN 0091839777

Sydney based author with his first bizarre adult novel about crop circles, and the meaning of life, after several novels for children. As novels go, it isn't going very far, however it contains a wonderful series of comic reflections on parts of life.

The Meek by Scott Mackay

ROC, April 2001, 328pp, US$5.99 ISBN 0451458230

Re-establishing a population on Ceres is Vesta's aim, 30 years after war has wiped out the genetically altered orphans who had killed off the human population of Ceres. However there are structure surveillance has not spotted, airlocks closed when they were left open, and plants growing under conditions where they could not. The story gets more and more outrageous as it goes on. It seems to me this is a good writer who simply does not understand the science he sprouts. Sort of SF lite, like the vacuous technobabble on Star Trek.

Forest of Dreams by Sophie Masson

Bantam (Random House), Aug 2001, 1103pp, A$19.95 ISBN 1863252878

The Ley Lines Trilogy, in one volume. Includes the books The Knight by the Pool, The Lady of the Flowers and The Stone of Oakenfast. Based on the life of Marie de French, lover of Richard the Lionhearted, with magical Otherworlds.

Colony Fleet by Susan R Matthews

Eos, Oct 2000, 296pp, US$6.50 ISBN 038080316X

The Fleet has travelled for four hundred years, and is still in good order as it approaches the first planet it will colonise. However social structures have become stratified, and the status of being a Jneer is more important than having the skills to handle the job. One person will do anything to attain that status, and by doing so, condemns his lover to be cast down into the Mechs. However the Mechs are solving their shortages and problems better than anyone expected, and the shortages they report on basic material are real, not just a grab for advantage. With planetfall approaching, someone has to ensure that Fleet plans can be accomplished.

Orion Arm by Julian May

DelRey, April 1999, 378pp, US$6.99 ISBN 0345395190

Second in The Rampart World, sequel to Perseus Spur Fast paced space opera, without the humour of the original. Helmut is pulled into fighting the conspiracy to take over the company.

Sagittarius Whorl by Julian May

DelRey, Jan 2001, 377pp, US$6.99 ISBN 0345395182

Third in The Rampart World, sequel to Orion Arm Kidnapped by the Haluk, on the run, and attempting to expose the alien attempt to take over. Space opera again.

Half the Day is Night by Maureen F McHugh

Tor, Jan 1996, 375pp US$5.99 ISBN 0812524101

The nation of Caribe on the ocean bottom is the setting for this novel. A war veteran is hired as a bodyguard for a banker, because the insurance company requires it. There are double crosses as people try to take over the stock, and a range of criminal characters, and lots of characters with strange and very human traits, that often seemed stereotypical. I didn't think the ocean floor setting made any technical sense, and the SF characteristics apart from the setting were negligible, but it certainly was a well written novel.

Murphey's Gambit by Syne Mitchell

Roc, Nov 2000, 377pp, US$6.99 ISBN 0451458095

Tossed out of the Academy after being tricked, the best pilot in the galaxy fights against the companies that want her as a tool to discover the secrets of a strange and advanced starship that does not need the company launcher system. Murphy does such stupid things that I don't believe she deserves to be in charge of doing up her own shoelaces, let alone a spaceship. The novel is fast paced all right, with lots of stuff happening, but most of it is because Murphy is an utter fool.

Proxies by Laura J Mixon

Tor, Oct 1999, 468pp, US$6.99 ISBN 0812523873

Strangely plotted and very fast near future tale, with many people interacting using proxy (Waldo) machines. Two secret organisations use antimatter powered human appearing proxies. One wants to take over a soon to launch interstellar probe, and is offering immortality in exchange for help. Carli invented the FTL links they need, lost control to a nasty corporation, but may be able to take the links further than anyone else. However someone has sent an indestructible remote control cyborg killer after her, and no-one can work out who is piloting the killer machine. Very fast paced, by someone who may produce some excellent books in future. Patrick Nielsen Hayden is listed as editor, so I hope the author is being encouraged to continue writing.

Archangel Protocol by Lyda Morehouse

ROC, May 2001, 342pp, US$6.99 ISBN 0451458273

Another technobabble novel, again fast paced with lots of chases and action sequences and some good writing. The author again seems to be very incompletely in charge of her technologies, and the religious elements are totally unconvincing. Missed the target.

Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett

Doubleday (Random House), May 2001, 316pp, A$45 ISBN 0385601883

The Monks of History store time, and move it where it is needed, like the hearts of cities. However a Time orphan is being tricked by the Auditors, who find all this human stuff very messy and bad for bookkeeping, into building a clock that will stop time. Lu Tze, the temple sweeper, and his apprentice Lobsang Ludd, the Thief of Time, must find and stop the end of the Discworld. Meanwhile Death finds that the other four Horsemen are not really ready for the Apocalypse (the fifth is Ronnie, who left the group early). Learn the mysticism of Lu Tze, and Rule Number One. Full of the usual horrible puns and asides, and a delight to read, as usual.

The Truth by Terry Pratchett

Corgi (Random House), Sept 2001, 444pp, A$17.90 ISBN0552147680

William de Worde forms the first newspaper in Ankh-Morpork, after the dwarfs decide a printing press would be a good idea. However the power of the press isn't always to the liking of the establishment, especially when there is a plot to discredit the Patrician. Add a vampire as an dedicated experimental flash photographer ... not a great choice of occupation when you are allergic to light!

A real romp, full of horrible puns, as usual.

Black Milk by Robert Reed

Bantam Spectra, March 1991, 247pp, US$4.50 ISBN 055328876

Five children hang out in a treehouse. Cody is strong and dexterous, Marshall has to be the winner in anything, and Ryder remembers everything that has ever happened to him. Genetic engineering has produced their talents, but no-one really knows what sort of side effects might also occur. Dr Florida wants someone to record the last of his life, as his genetic experiments come to a close, and chooses Ryder, and his friends. A thoughtful look at growing up in a society where your parents can pick your talents.

Brain Plague by Joan Slonczewski

Tor, March 2001, 384pp, US$6.99 ISBN 0812579143

An artist has a colony of intelligent and ambitious microbes in her brain. Most colonies live in harmony, enhancing the consciousness of their host, but some degenerate into brain plague. The idea is old, but the moral dimensions are usually not a focus.

Code of Conduct by Kristine Smith

Avon, Nov 1999, 346pp, US$5.99 ISBN 0380807831

A fast paced set of adventures, in a future society that rings true. Captain Jani Kilian took sides in an alien conflict, killed her commander and 26 aliens, and was presumed killed in the aftermath. Her former lover became Interior Minister, while she was put back together as an experiment in fusing alien and human genetics. However after eighteen years, her body is breaking down, and some humans and one alien are still looking for her. The Interior Minister finds her, and suggests she investigate the death of his wife. Refusal would be unwise, however everyone is playing double and triple games. Some great plotting in this, and the sequel.

Rules of Conflict by Kristine Smith

EOS, Sept 2000, 373pp, US$6.50 ISBN 038080784X

The doctors think they can fix the genetic dice played with Jani's body, but there are two different set of doctors, including the original Frankenstein team, each with a different cure. It would be unfortunate if anyone actually noticed the old charges against her. After all, the papers have all been lost. Never know which political figures would be found with dirt on their hands if the charges became public. Another tightly plotted thriller.

Architects of Emortality by Brian Stableford

Tor, May 2000, 356pp, US$6.99 ISBN 0812576438

Hard SF murder mystery adventure via genetically altered flowers, set 500 years hence. Wheels within wheels. David Hartwell was editor.

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

Arrow (Random House), 2000, 918pp, ISBN 0099410672

It isn't science fiction. Part historical account of WWII cryptology on both sides, and the attempts to fool the enemy. Does a wonderful accounts of the techniques behind the scenes, and especially tries to show the mind of a mathematician. In present day, it is part treasure hunt, and part a development of what strong cryptography means to the economics of an information age. This one is very much a keeper. I suspect you could read it multiple times without picking out all the material. Did I mention the story was involving and interesting as well?

Colonization: Down to Earth by Harry Turtledove

DelRey, Jan 2001, 618pp, US$7.99 ISBN 0345430239

In the 1960's, and while the alien reptile Race study humans, the Reich is in political turmoil and ready again to go to war over Poland. Meanwhile, humans are learning about alien computer and space technology. The USA has an ion drive spacecraft colonising the asteroids despite spying Race craft, and Sam Yeager is still looking at material he shouldn't know about, at risk to his life from some USA agency. The USA in particular is adapting Race technology into their everyday life. The Race have realised that if they can not force the earth people to adopt Race views on religion and order, they may have to destroy the planet or risk being overtaken by their conquest. Looks interesting for the next book in the series.

The Rift by Walter J Williams

Harper Prism, 1999, 932pp, US$6.99 ISBN 0061057940

8.9 on the Richter scale, at New Madrid, and the country crumbles. On the Mississippi a white boy and a negro float downstream, and learn about themselves (haven't I seen this theme before?) A futures trader dies, because he can't adapt to paper being meaningless. Religious nuts make a slave camp, with a Klan sheriff trying to hold to some decency until his family is at threat. A female general in the US Army Corps of Engineers tries to cope with the emergency. Sold as general fiction rather than science fiction. Well written, as always.

Reclamation by Sarah Zettel

Warner Aspect, 1996, 452pp, US$5.99 ISBN 0446602922

This first novel is a well plotted, convoluted action novel full of the tropes one expects of space opera, including AIs, great aliens, ancient mysteries, conflict among and within various groups. Zips along at almost the pace of a Van Vogt novel, but hangs together a good deal better. The Vitae, in search for their ancestral human home, kidnap Arla Stone, who left her pre-technological planet with the Skymen to search for a better life for her children. Ten years before, the heretic priest Eric Born left the same planet, and now works as a data pirate, often for the Vitae. The Vitae want his language skills to talk with Arla, however they make the mistake of threatening to gain his co-operation. Both escape, and the chase is on, however Eric and Arla do not realise their genetic code is pared down and totally unlike natural humans. Just what secrets does their planet hold?

Fool's War by Sarah Zettel

Warner Aspect, April 1997, 455pp, US$5.99 ISBN 0446602930

Another very well plotted space opera, with the crew of a data freighter finding themselves involved unknowingly in transporting an AI that becomes aware and dangerous. Several groups of beings are involved in the battles that follow, and the plot complexity increases in a most satisfactory manner. Foreign characters seem a characteristic of Zettel's writing.

Playing God by Sarah Zettel

Warner Aspect, Nov 1999, 448pp, US$6.99 ISBN 0446607584

A company plans to save an entire planet from disastrous ecological catastrophe caused by continuous civil warfare, using the lessons learnt from terraforming, and make a profit. But first, you need to evacuate a billion fighting aliens into orbital habitats, and keep them from killing each other immediately, or over the next fifty years. However if you bring in overwhelming force, you would have to enslave the aliens and crush their independence. Playing God is a hard job, but that is what is needed.

The Quiet Invasion by Sarah Zettel

Warner Aspect, March 2001, 4578p, US$6.99 ISBN 0446609412

The People have found a new home planet where they can escape escalating viral damage to the biological cities in which they live. Their decision to move is complicated as the best candidate planet may already be claimed by others, but the others may be insane, in which case they can be removed. Internal politics are a factor in whether they will choose to move, and in how they will handle the humans. External politics are a factor in whether a floating research base high in the atmosphere of Venus can survive much longer. Then they discover aliens ... or do they? Another excellent and strong hard sf novel from a rising star who can also handle a complex plot.

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Lloyd Penney

By all means, keep me on the mailing list. I'd love nothing better than to come and visit, but there's an awful lot of geography in the way, and money will probably never allow for it. If someone could get the transporters back on line, we'd be there.

Cy Chauvin

Thanks for your e-mail, I'm going to check those websites out. But the really odd thing is that I was just rereading over the weekend an old issue of Gegenschein (the one about Death in the Family) which had just fallen out of some kipple and so I was thinking about you. Obviously my Sensitive Fannish Mind could sense your forth-coming e-mail in the ether and through a Rube-Goldberg change of events caused my hands to decide to straighten up the Fanzine/Magazine Pile and thus under covering that issue of Geg and proving the Big Pile Theory of the Origin of Fandom - ! Modern science at work!

David Evans

On Geg 90: what a horrible colour combination!

{{ OK, I've changed it. Anyone who doesn't like the layout can change it by using their own style sheet to replace the CSS I've used. In Opera, use Ctrl G to switch between my document style sheet and your own user style sheet. EL}}

A nice read as usual. Trader Joe stocks all sorts of things but not meat pies, about the only thing I missed from Australia. Just after you and Jean left we found a source for them: Molly Stone's. It like an upmarket version of Trader Joe although I wonder if stocking mystery bags should work against them.

I like the bit about Nike. The last time I checked their site they only allowed six letters. So now its more. But they still charge a lot of money for products they pay a pittance for in production and exploit the poor.

I have to take issue with you on buying on the internet while in Australia. My experiences were very good although I spent a _lot_ of time digging up Australian sites. I could have purchased from the US and had the items flown in for the same price as buying a similar item in Australia and the time to find decent Australian sites was terrible. But I kept up the effort and found good buys. I was in Geelong so shopping in Melbourne was a viable alternative too.

{{ I've found some good small company sites, like, but as I mention again this issue, many Australian (and overseas) sites simply don't work for purchases. I don't get mad, I get even. No, that is only half true, I do get mad. I also remove all links to bad sites, and don't buy from that company. EL}}

I like the idea of a newsletter from an editor listing what they think are good books but I don't think I'd pay for it. I read the book reviews of people I know. After a few books I know if I should keep, or avoid, their recommendations. So I don't see this being viable a subscription based service. And some people want book X by Y as soon as it's out so proof copies for review is all you can hope for but reviews based on the proofs take a few months to get into print. Don't copies go out to friendly reviewers as a publisher has to maximize the exposure of a new book? So how would an honest reviewer get copies and how would they get the time to do all that reading? It could be worth a bit more discussion.

And on book prices: I believe this is all due to the antiquated copyright laws that Australia enforces. That is why books and CDs are priced so high compared to the USA. This is also an issue in Europe too where the DVD region encoding, costs and delay in issuing (if its issued at all) are being investigated. A small but good first step is Australia's own investigation by the ACCC into region encoding - I look forward to the report.

Ah well, lunch is over, back to work. Give my best to Jean,

Sean McMullen

I'm pretty squeezed for time with acting higher duties in full time work, full time writing, deputy head instructor of the karate club, and now doing a PhD, but Trish points out all the things in magazines and fanzines that she thinks I ought to know about. We had a fabulous time in New Zealand, btw. I've been a natcon guest there three years out of four now.

Lilian Edwards

Meant to reply to the nice note you sent after you got back to Oz, but got buried in the marking and never escaped before brain death resulted - it was lovely to have you here and I was incredibly impressed with the speed you got the GUFF report up - my god!!! - and thanks for the plug for the Internet law book!! Hope to see you again soon - are you and Jean going to make Corflu in Annapolis??

Lucy Huntzinger

John and I are Very Seriously Considering taking in the Natcon and your relaxacon next year thanks to your email. As soon as we know about vacation times, i.e., after the first of the year, we will plan accordingly. I missed seeing Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef on my last trip so would like to tourist around some of that side of the country.

Have a great time being hobos! Lucy


Lost Email Addresses

A science fiction fanzine from Eric Lindsay.

Snail mail accumulates at PO Box 640, Airlie Beach, Qld 4802 Australia, and then leaps out unexpectedly and pulps us when we return home after an interval away. My mobile number (in the unlikely event I'm in range) is 0409 434 293 Please send any messages for us via email (although we may be out of reach of the phone system at times - and just when will data enabled Globalstar be available, if ever?)