Tuesday, March 30, 2010

At Least They're Not Burning Them.

Instead they're giving up buying them! Well I suppose that's something.

Apparently the Western Australian State Government - in the interests of saving money, I suppose - has decided to cut the amount it allocates for buying books for public libraries. The way the system works in Western Australia is that local councils provide the infrastructure, staff and maintenance for public libraries while the State Government funds book purchases. In a cost cutting exercise which is hard to fathom it's been reported they have cut that allocation from the 2008-2009 financial year amount of $10.8 million to $7.95 million in the current financial year with a proposal to cut it to $6.5 million in the 2010-2011 financial year. You can read the article here.

To me this seems to be a decision that is totally out of touch with reality. Public libraries provide an invaluable service that the internet, useful as it is, cannot. For all the talk of books dying out, the truth is that libraries are one of the best ways of encouraging research and providing an inexpensive source of fiction reading. One of the most valuable aspects of library research - and something the internet cannot provide - is a knowledgeable librarian to direct you to what you need.

Books are expensive and for most of us there is no other option but to borrow them. If I had the money I would fill my house with books but I don't have that sort of income. As it is when I read a library book that delights me I do go and buy it (if it is still available) - just ask Pisces about the ever growing bookcases in the house - but there is no way I could buy and store every book I've read through the library.

Libraries have been a part of my life from childhood when a free lending library opened near my home. My children joined the library long before they could read, around the age of two (once they were past the chewing on books stage). They went to Story Time every week and the craft session that followed. They started borrowing - or more precisely I borrowed on their behalf - books for bedtime stories. As they got older they made their own selections and used the library for research into school projects. As a former teacher I find it difficult to imagine a child successfully passing through the education system without using a library. Then there are the old or disabled who rely on books being brought to them by the library or who need large print or talking books. Libraries serve all these people.

I know that part of the justification will be that books for e-book readers will mean 'real' books will fade away. That may well eventually be the case but at the moment e-books are rare beasts. Even if you have a reader the list of available titles is very limited. Then there's the sheer impracticality for some readers. I don't know how you feel about handing a three year old an expensive piece of electronics to read about 'The Hungry Caterpillar' or the 'Cat in a Hat' but I'd be worried and even more I'd be sad that they were missing out on the tactile interactive experience that books provide.

There seems to be an attitude developing in this state that unless you can put a monetary value on something it's really not worth anything. We're continually told we are a 'booming' state but the usual result of an economic boom has been to foster the arts usually by a combination of private and government funding. In the Gold Rush days of the 19th century, soon after a permanent town was established, a theatre would be in place, or even an opera house in the larger towns, and money was as likely to be donated for art prizes as for building sports grounds because this part of society was seen as valuable and to be encouraged just as much as the more pragmatic and necessary infrastructure.

Cutting funding for library books may seem a far cry from this but it is not. When you limit access to books you also cut the access of a proportion of the population to education and awareness of a wider culture. This means those with the least economic options to obtain books and alternative electronic equipment are prevented, as absolutely as if they were physically locked out, from developing and growing to their full potential.

The amount of money being 'saved' here is nothing in the grand scheme of things and the harm it will do is irreparable for generations.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


The dreadful storm we had on Monday is still affecting life - human and other.

One of Perth's greatest assets is the river system it is situated on. The Swan - named for the black swans that fascinated early explorers - divides the city with the CBD located on the foreshore. Its tributary, the Canning which joins it a short distance downstream and together they form a glorious - and well used - sweep of water.

When I worked in the city my office overlooked the river and a very pleasant distraction it was when tedious report writing had stalled. Even during the week there are catamarans, yachts, paragliders and sailboard riders as well as the occasional motorboat or kayak and on the weekend the yachts multiply into graceful fleets. Small ferries chug their way from the CBD across river for those who prefer not to brave the bridges, larger ones and cruise vessels head to and from the port city of Fremantle. The river water is estuarine and salty at this point and dolphins fish up and downstream. Driving to work it was common to see rowers gliding out on the mirror like surface.

Sadly the river is now suffering. The storm was so ferocious that it dumped massive amounts of debris into the streams. The mix of soil, sewage and rotting vegetation has caused severe depletion of oxygen and fish and other aquatic life are dying while the crustaceans are abandoning the polluted water and trying to find somewhere else.

In an effort to retain breeding stock the authorities are collecting survivors and transferring them to clean ponds. You can see more about the rescue effort here. Let's hope it's successful.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Storm over Perth

Perth and its environs are having a pretty rocky start to the year. First there were the disastrous Toodyay bushfires and now we have the aftermath of a severe storm that has left thousands of homes without power(158,000 in the first instance, now down to 80,000), flooding, shattered windows, hail destroyed cars, water damaged houses, traffic lights still out more than a day since the storm struck and even a landslip onto a major road leading into the city.

We are fortunate that, miraculously, there are no reports of serious injury and that the weather has been kind since - trying to make up for its tantrum perhaps. There is something eerie about a city in darkness. When I looked out last night at 8:00 p.m. I could not see anything but black. Usually I look out at twinkling lights spread warmly across the hills to the north but the heavy cloud cover cut out all natural light from the moon and stars. The only light came from an infrequent motor vehicle whose driver had decided to ignore the advice to stay home - not that many needed to be told - and the lightning sizzling across the sky.

We sat in the soft glow of an old oil lamp and flickering candles to eat a scratch meal and listened to the radio - and you know, even though we knew the morning would show just how much damage the house had sustained - we could hear water running in the garage - it was kind of nice.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


Let me fill you in.

I ordered a book - Glenda Larke's Stormlord Rising - in January from my local bookshop. Meantime I kept The Last Stormlord by my bed - I won't say how often I reread it because that would show just how eagerly I was waiting for the next book and that would be pathetic. I was told the new book would be out March 1 and they would ring me when it arrived.

Then Glenda's teasers went up on Voyager Online. Three chapters doled out at weekly intervals. I started counting the days. I tried reading other books. Didn't work. If I chewed my nails there'd be none left by now. March 4, 5, 6. No phone call. Books sometimes get delayed reaching the far distant West so I controlled myself. Confined to the house with a bout of ill health I couldn't even go and check for myself - and Pisces already thinks I have too many books so I couldn't send him. March 6,7,8. This was ridiculous not to mention stressful. Finally I made to the shop on March 10.

There on the shelves was Stormlord Rising. Off I went to the counter book clutched firmly and trying to be polite.

"I ordered this book a couple of months ago. How long has it been in?"

"Oh since March 1. Any orders that weren't picked up we put on the shelf."

My jaw literally dropped. "Excuse me."

"Any orders that weren't collected were put on the shelf."

"But when I ordered it you said you'd ring when it came in."

"We did. We rang everyone and if it wasn't picked up we put it on the shelf."

"But I've been home sick for two weeks. No-one rang."

"We rang everyone."

I felt as if I'd wandered into an alternate universe or perhaps Basil Fawlty had gone into the book selling business. This conversation was not going anywhere and there was obviously no point in my pursuing it.

"Well, I'll take these." You didn't really think I could walk into a book shop and only buy one book, did you?

I left with the manager muttering darkly about "checking up out the back".

I'm not sure what that might achieve because this is not the first time this has happened. I've even been notified that a book is in and gone there the next day only to be told on one occasion it hadn't yet arrived. That was a year ago and apparently it still hasn't arrived. The sad thing is that I will still have to patronise this shop because the shopping centre has replaced the other book seller with two new fashion boutiques.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Stormlord Rising

She's done it again! Glenda Larke, in Stormlord Rising , the second book in her Watergivers trilogy, has again combined extraordinary world building, strong characters and a plot twist that will have you desperately hanging out for the concluding book of the trilogy.

The wait for this novel was certainly worthwhile. There are very few books that I literally can't put down but this and its predecessor, The Last Stormlord, are among them. I picked it up from the book shop at around midday and started reading it while I ate my lunch - Pisces realised fairly quickly that he wasn't going to get any sense out of me and gave up on conversation. It accompanied me out to do the hand watering - sorry, plants, I suspect you got a fairly erratic drink that evening, while I cooked and ate dinner - jazzed up frozen pizza which was all I could think of that wouldn't require close attention, and only got left while I had a quick shower. I finished it at 2:15 a.m. - and I'm usually asleep by 10:30 p.m. at the latest - then couldn't sleep with it buzzing in my head. I doubt there will be many fantasy fans who won't find it as impossible to put down as I did even they don't read as fast as I do.

I recommend Stormlord Rising highly. Not only is there a gripping story with memorable characters, its setting in a water starved land has a real resonance in much of the world today. The questions raised about how to conserve water and ensure its availability to all are important to us all.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Aussiecon 4

Accommodation booked. Yippee! Seems more real now somehow. There's still all the other stuff to set up but it's a start.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Midnight Echo#4

Edited by Lee Battersby this issue of the AHWA magazine promises a lot to judge by the Table of Contents. Dan Braum and Christopher Green, two of my Clarion South mates, are included along with an impressive list of other talented writers. Just to prove the point snippets of stories are being posted on the AHWA website (where you can also find information on where to purchase the magazine) and Lee Battersby's blog.