March 28th, 2012

(no subject)

I worked 2/3 of the way through my list, but the evening was a write-off. This might be because I was out from midday until 9 pm. Common, garden tiredness, in other words.

Just before I left, I found more stuff the thief took (80s clothes!) and when I came back I found the quote for the curtains (not reparable - but will the insurance replace the whole track and etc?). While I was out, I told my class that my next week's drama will be getting my eye checked and not coming home to anything wrong.

The reason for the afternoon out is that there's a conference this week at the ANU. It's peripheral to my interests for the most part, so I skipped all but one session. That session was on digital scholarly editing. There are some fascinating approaches and some rather big obstacles.

There were interesting things said about stubborn Medievalists - most of the projects have a very restrictive cultural paradigm they use to encode texts. Basically, there is the assumption of one text, in one language. There has been advance since I last went to an event of this sort, because different versions of the same text can now be compared using the computer, as long as the different versions are essentially that one, modern-style text.

It's a modern definition of a document. Scribal variants, dialects, Beuve de Hanstone in two languages - all of these have the be crunched to reduce (in the expert's words* they eliminate the 'noise'). An audience member complained about the obdurateness of Medievalists - why can't we agree to things? This same person asked if anyone had tried the new digital editing on a major work that had been created digitally. She suggested William Gibson. I suggested that 'noise' was cultural context (which was me being polite - what I think really happens is that when you eliminate key factors scholars look for in texts, like the difference between the scribes' dialects and the author's) you eliminate key information for interpreting it across dialect and language boundaries) and I threw the word 'copyright' at the person who wanted to take Neuromancer and turn it into a scholarly edition. A scholarly edition of Neuromancer would be awesome, but the moment I mentioned copyright other people said "Yes, it costs more if the work is not that old: both in time - gaining permissions and in fees." And yes, someone grumbled about writers wanting money. They grumbled quietly, but I was there and I pointed out that the need for income that writers (strangely) manifest is not that unexpected or uncouth.

In other words, I ended up being the spanner in the works - every workshop has one, but it's not usually so consistently me. The projects are great and they're coming a long way to address many cool things. Comparing versions and working out their relationship each to another. Adding pictures and amendments and notations and making the mark-up far more useful for scholars. But because the whole set of projects (not just one - all the ones that were represented on the day) start with the idea of a single base text, it has a limited cultural range. The Medievalist (who used to live round the corner from me) is closest to addressing these, but the only works he discussed were some of the most straightforward and 'modernised' Medieval texts known: Dante and Chaucer and Mallory. All known authors. All in early print editions. All the closest to standardised that a Medieval secular text can be without being unique.

So, the workshop was great, but hasn't any solutions for anything I do at this stage. And - pace the conference questioner who said that Medievalist are difficult on these matters: Medievalists are not being difficult. We admit that not all texts are created within the same cultural paradigms and we're working to find out how the MA actually worked, culturally. The set of processes described will actually set Medieval scholarship back, not advance it through the wonder of computing.

I reviewed a book the other week and it examined texts across language boundaries. The precise examination of a text word by word means you can't even do that across dialectal boundaries, much less across language. And yet these variants are inherent in so many Medieval texts. I once did a study (for the fun of it - I never got it published) of the Dialects in the Chretien poems. It made the reach of the actual texts precise and there were boundaries at which the stories started to change significantly. The computer paradigms would silence these cultural boundaries.

At the same time, the same set of concepts applied (as was demonstrated) to the work of Harpur (whose bicentenary is next year - which is very cool) is totally awesome as a way of showing how Harpur worked on a text. The computer-based analysis is fluid and powerful and a lot of fun.

I do find it sad that the design end of it uses a single cultural paradigm, however, that's based on the most studied set of cultures for texts. It's like Propp and tales all over again.

*I told this expert he looked familiar. We worked out he taught at a high school round the corner from where I grew up and lived right near my cousin's.

(no subject)

I've mislaid my day's to-do list. This ought to be a shame, but I've spent most of the afternoon on insurance-related things anyhow, so I wouldn't've made much progress (my apostrophes today follow the Lewis Carroll rules, because I've seen too many false possessives) anyhow.

Because I'm about to go on a list hunt, I thought you'd like a rather special list. Here are links to all my guests from Women's History Month last year.

Women's History Month - Jack Dann


by Jack Dann

Anyone who has spent any time with professional writers will undoubtedly recognize their utter lack of compulsivity. The very idea that once we actually start a project, we’re like a dog with a bone…well that’s just a myth perpetrated by—

Okay, so maybe all of the above is a small exaggeration, and we are compulsive as hell. So what if we appear laid-back, somewhat bedraggled, and devil-may-care; so what if we sleep all day and work all night; so what if we procrastinate for hours, days, and weeks and watch more movies than Roger Ebert of the Chicago-Sun Times or read more books than Charles Van Doren? So what if we eat popcorn for breakfast?

We’re creative.

We need time to daydream if we’re to get the hard work done.

Of course we also rationalize and lie for a living.

Well, I don’t; but then I’m the exception to the rule…although, come to think of it, I did recently read twenty-one novels by Patrick O’Brian in one go. (I did, however, take time out for food, sleep, and the obligatory brushing of the teeth.)

And now, once again, I’m engaging in what some might consider compulsive behavior: I’m reading (or rereading) all of Annie McCaffrey’s Pern novels, one book after another. As of the time of this writing, I’ve read twenty in the Chronicles of Pern series; and I’m still going!

They are wonderful books and reading them now is my way of holding onto Annie for just a little bit longer.


Dim the lights.

Change the mood.


Anne McCaffrey passed away last November. She was a friend, role-model, mentor, and a force of nature. As I wrote in the January 2012 issue of Locus Magazine:

Impossible. Annie’s gone. Just like that. A page turned. A whisper, a yearning, the thunderous tearing of memory, and I can’t help but slide down the dark tunnels of recollection toward the squintingly bright light that was Anne McCaffrey.

Here is the place I land when I think of Annie.

Here…one last time, my dear friend. I’ve traveled back into youth when you were the very distillation of life and I was a young man you called “Tawny Lion”:


It’s 1969. I’m twenty-four years old, and it is a warm, dry summer day, a wonderful day, full of sun and possibility. I am visiting Anne McCaffrey at her home in Sea Cliff, New York. She has a grand old Victorian house with a kitchen on the fourth floor and enough cats padding across the landings and up and down the stairs to satisfy even a cat lady. I’ve gotten lost in that house before.

I’m sitting in Annie’s tiny office on the first floor. Away from the noise. Paperbacks on narrowly spaced shelves cover the walls. The room is dark, almost mysterious, but secure. Anne sits behind her desk and looks at a row of books beside her. She stares hard at them, as if trying to think out the answer to a question. I imagine that if she finds the answer, she will never return to this tiny room again.

“These books are mine, Tawny Lion,” she says to me. “It’s as if every year is on this bookshelf. One day you’ll be counting the years of your life by the number of books you’ve written. And that’s what you end up with, a row of books, the years of your life.”
Although it’s a magical time of my life—everything bright and compacted—Annie has just come through a bad marriage. She is a tall, large-boned woman with a shock of white hair. She’s Irish and used to be an opera singer. She always seems to know when I’m in need of a home cooked meal and some positive reinforcement. She is also the secretary of the Science Fiction Writers of America, an organization I’ve just joined.

I’m living in Brooklyn, New York, and trying to write and go to St. John’s Law School at the same time.

I guess I’m in love with Anne McCaffrey.*

What makes these novels of Annie’s such compulsive reading? Certainly, their narrative drive; but that alone would not be enough to turn these books (starting with The White Dragon) into New York Times Bestsellers. For me, it’s Annie’s characters: they grow and learn and endure; they share their joy, bitterness, adventures, and grief with us; they become people we really know…people who come to inhabit our lives and memories. These novels are family sagas on amphetamines, for the time span encompassed by this series is some 2,500 years. This is solidly based science fiction, rigorously worked out, and yet these interlinked novels also magically tap deep into the fantasy genre: There be dragons (albeit bio-engineered) in these books!

Annie combined her deep understanding of love, joy, and loss with an unmatched sense of story, genre, and mythic adventure to create…life.

And so here I am, compulsively reading and living these novels.

I guess I’m just not ready to let Annie go quite yet.

JACK DANN is a multiple-award winning author who has written or edited over seventy-five books, including the international bestseller The Memory Cathedral, which was 1 on The Age Bestseller list, and The Silent, which Library Journal chose as one of their ‘Hot Picks’ and wrote: “This is narrative storytelling at its best… Most emphatically recommended.” The West Australian called his novel The Rebel: an Imagined Life of James Dean “an amazingly evocative and utterly convincing picture of the era, down to details of the smells and sensations—and even more importantly, the way of thinking.” Locus wrote: “The Rebel is a significant and very gripping novel, a welcome addition to Jack Dann’s growing oeuvre of speculative historical novels, sustaining further his long-standing contemplation of the modalities of myth and memory. This is alternate history with passion and difference.” He is the co-editor, with Janeen Webb, of Dreaming Down-Under, which won the World Fantasy Award, and the editor of the sequel Dreaming Again. His latest anthology Ghosts by Gaslight, co-edited with Nick Gevers, was listed as one of Publishers Weekly’s “Top Ten SF, Fantasy, and Horror" Picks for the Fall. It has been shortlisted for the Bram Stoker Award and the Aurealis Award.

Jack lives in Australia on a farm overlooking the sea. You can visit his website at and follow him on Twitter @jackmdann.