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November 15th, 2007

26Lies

Here's a downright cool review of 26lies from Kirstyn (fearofemeralds):

This book is brilliant, and it shouldn't be. What it should be is a piece of wank, and in the hands of a lesser writer, it absolutely would be. But Ben Peek is not a lesser writer. And twenty-six lies/one truth is a stunning, articulate, and emotionally rich novel. (Yes, it is too a novel, and pickled eggs to anyone who says it isn't. Unless you like pickled eggs. In which case, dog turds to you. And if you like dog turds, you have bigger problems and I shall leave you alone to think what you want.) Of course, I recognise the fact that my own agnostic, left-wing sympathies are in close accord with the author's and this no doubt added to the pleasure of reading certain sections of the book, but this is in no way the whole story. twenty-six lies/one truth is quite simply a highly intelligent, exquisitely crafted and wholly original book that manages to creep up behind the reader and land a sucker punch when least expected. And then it makes you think about it.


It's quite a long post, so you should do the click, and read it.

As always, you can buy it from Amazon, Wheatland Press, and Agog.

Notes From America, the Expanded Version



I went to America, returned, and I have to say that, despite what the world might say, I found Americans to be a nice, friendly collection of people. Not one of them pulled a knife on me, not one.

What's going to follow is a condensed version of the trip, because, naturally, a large portion of it is going to be used in Nowhere Near Savannah. It'll be more interesting and funny that way, but it also means you'll have to wait, somewhat, to read it. Anyhow: to begin, C and I were dropped in JFK on the night of the Australian consulate party, around ten or something like that, and we were picked up by my sister and her friend, who was disappointed to learn we'd already changed our money to the American format. I tell you, I've never felt more misleadingly rich than I was in the States: a wallet full of dollar bills and pennies was something to get used to. I never thought I'd say it, but I missed the glancing ability that multi-coloured Australian money gave you. That was about the only thing I missed from Australia, however, and about the only thing you'll hear me making comparisons on, since I don't want to spend my entire time saying how one place was different to the other. Of course they were different. I had to fly twenty three hours to reach one. Yet, for that distance, it was the similarities that struck me; more than once, I had heard people say things like, 'Sydney is like New York, only ten years ago,' or such and such. I never gave it much thought, but I don't really think of it as the wrong thing to say, after being there.

Anyhow, like I said, I arrived, got through customs with only the most minute inspection of my passport and my index fingers being printed so that I had to wear latex gloves for all my crimes, and then ended up in Long Island, Brooklyn, and New York City as my sister's GPS fucked up and took us to everywhere but New Jersey.

It was good seeing my sister, who is currently working at a country club out there--a country club that, apparently, I'd have to go up a few income brackets to be able to afford a membership at. We were only crashing at her place for the first night, however, since after that, we rode a train up into New York City, to catch the Amtrak up into Saratoga for the World Fantasy thing. The photo at the start of this post was taken by Cat Sparks (catsparx) on that same train, and if you want countless, countless photos of the convention, flipping through her flickr account is the way to spend a few hours. Me, I didn't take any. I got photos of other places to share later, though, so you can all be happy campers then. Anyhow, a lot has been said already about the whole thing, I'm sure, but I got to meet a lot of fine people, the names of which I'll spare you all, since it'll just become a wall of noise. If you see some links in this post, though, you should follow them. Anyhow: Pretty much everyone I met there was open and nice and, in the case of Hannah Wolf Bowen (buymeaclue), willing to let me shave her head. The shaver we bought on Saturday night, the night before I took off back to New York, needed 12 hours to charge so we could use it, so the shaving has yet to take place. That means, if you're reading this, you should go over to Hannah's blog and say, "When are you shaving your head?"

She's been a bit sick, I hear, but still, what was started must be finished.

At the convention itself, I did a panel on author as legend, which kind of sucked, in that it never really got interesting in my opinion. It had Mark Finn returning to his Robert E. Howard a lot of the time to promote his book and work surrounding the author, which is fair enough int he context of the panel, but my interest in Howard is thin at best, so I just sat there for that stuff. A lot of the rest centred around old sci-fi authors, as well, so I was a little out of my care factor. The oddest thing, however, was to see Gene Wolfe, Guy Gavriel Kay and Ramsey Campbell in the audience. Really, you could've swapped any one of those three for me and had a better deal for that panel, I reckon. Still, it was only an hour of my time. Later that same day, I did a reading as part of the Paper Cities launch, which is worth noting simply because I convinced Chris Billet (chrisbillett) to be the second voice of the piece with me, and I can't give him enough props for agreeing to do it an hour before. The story I read is called, 'The Funeral, Ruined', and mixes prose and letters in that split narrative tool I like. Chris read the letters, I did the prose, and I thought it went pretty well. People applauded. Later, Andy Duncan told me that he liked it. What else can you say?

By the middle of Sunday I was gone, back to New York. At this stage, I was learning something important: I don't usually wear shoes twelve to thirteen hours a day, five days straight, and I don't usually walk everywhere. I like walking places when I'm away, since it allows me to map where I am--I have a pretty good sense of direction, so long as I am not underground or in a car or whatever--but after five days of walking round Saratoga New York, my feet were pretty fucked. I still have some nice blisters, even, and for a few days there I had a neat limp. If only I'd had a cane, or one of those motorised wheelchairs I saw fat people in at Disneyland... Well, perhaps not the final one. It was in this state that I spent a day with my sister, went up the Empire State Building, and had Ethopian with Alaya Dawn Johnson, who also showed me round Greenwich Village, a bit of Little Italy and Chinatown, all of which was cool. I must admit, I kind of liked New York City, even if it smelt a bit, and it was there that I got a taste of the States being bilingual, since everywhere I went, I came across people speaking Spanish. I've heard a couple of theories since then: Alaya had one in which she explained that the language cross had primarily played itself out in black and Hispanic cultures due to economics, so the bilingual thing was primarily there; but yesterday, Lucius Shepard (lucius_t) told me that he didn't think that was the case, and that indeed, maybe the bilingual thing didn't go across the whole of the States. I certainly didn't get a feel for it in Saratoga. Either way, I saw both points of view, and if anyone has anything they'd like to add, please do, since I'm kinda curious. It's a shame I wasn't there longer, since this kinda fascinated me.

After New York, C and I ended up in Vegas for a night. Neither of us had been offered the chance to call a prostitute as much as we had in Vegas, and I'm not sure I could have done a lot of time in there, because they cost a lot of money, and I'm a bad gambler. Of course, at one stage, I ended up off the main strip, and the place changed hugely, and not in a good way.

Still, in Vegas, I got to see Penn and Teller do their show. I've always liked the pair from when they were on the TV down here, years back, and so did C, so for the first time since we had arrived in the States, we agreed to go and do something together. We're old traveling buddies, me and C, and we've long ago came to the conclusion that if we do the same shit together all the time, we'll have to poison each other. Especially when he's off watching sport in Madison Square Garden, for fuck knows what reason (or, his highlight of being in Saratoga, going to watch a high school football match with Deb Layne (deborahlive; I got the feeling if the two of them could have poisoned every writer, editor, and publisher in World Fantasy and then trekked round the States watching sport 24/7, they would have). Anyhow: Penn and Teller was pretty cool, though not fantastic, and we were both pretty happy with it. The pair do a very interactive show, and there's some really fun and cool moments.

The next morning, C and I set off to LA in the car we rented. See some desert, hear some radio, and stop at a diner called Peggy Sue's, which is a fifties diner located off the I10, just after the California state line, I believe. It's in a small town called Ghost Town, from memory, and is just fucking awesome. The things I heard in it, the vibe of the place, and the waitress with her lime green uniform and matching eyeshadow... I'm going to write a story about Peggy Sue's, and with any luck, it will be fucking cool. I think it's going to be a ghost story, because one night, I was talking to Jacqueline Benson (crrazyjane) about ghost stories, and I said something about how, in many ways, the problem with them was that they tried to put a proper resolution on them, rather than go the Raymond Carver way. Since then, I've been turning over a story in my head about ghosts, about Raymond Carver styled stories, and about Peggy Sue's diner. I think I might write it before getting back into the novel, which, without the grant, I have a bit more time on now, and that's all fine. Also, the Australian dollar being so strong against the Yankee Dollar meant I spent a lot less money than I thought I would, and that's helpful, too.

Shortly after that, however, we hit LA, and I could not find a map at a gas station. Possibly because I only found one gas station, but who knows. I decided I'd just wing it, however, since while LA freeways are fucking disgusting, the drivers are a lot less aggressive than those in Sydney, and I could just bully my way through traffic when needed. Also, thanks to the guy at the ratty parking lot just off Hope Street, C and I were able to make our way to the place to drop the car off, and from there, to our hostel, which was just off Hollywood Blv. LA is a big, sprawling place, something I didn't realise before I got there, and I have to be honest that I didn't see a lot of it--mostly the real tourist areas around the hostel, and the Universal and Disneyland theme parks, which is what C really wanted to do, and which was what I owed him for going up to Saratoga for those few days. In truth, I didn't mind. Everyone should see Disneyland once, I suppose, and I met a cool girl working in a cybercafe called Trish, who was playing Spiderbait while I was in there, but knew nothing of the band. I told her to email me when I got back so I could swap more music with her--I'm going to try and see if bands like the Drones and Beasts of Bourbon work for her, and if not, well, more music. I've dropped this in to show you how my meeting of nice Americans continued well after the convention, and went even until I was in Korea where, while making a traditional Korean pencil box in the airport, I met an Iranian Engineer living in Geelong.

All that stopped the moment I got back to Sydney, mind you, because Sydney is full of rude, nasty fucks of people who drive aggressively, pissed off by insane petrol prices perhaps. $1.41! Jesus fuck!

Ah, how I missed you, my home that seemed a whole lot greener upon my return.

To finish this post I am putting a second image of C and I at Disneyland. It's from the Buzz Lightyear ride, in which, basically, you do by riding in a little carriage and shooting boxes of light with your blaster. It was okay, but I was, honestly, kind of in awe of the designs for the Pirates of the Carribean and Nightmare Before Christmas rides. Anyhow, here's the image--



--and, as you can see, I kicked C's ass.

Norman Mailer.

Norman Mailer died and I didn't even notice, living with no TV and no internet and not bothering with the news whatsoever.

I liked some of what Mailer did, yes.

...

Anything else happen while I was away?

Black Sheep Excerpt



Over at the newly relaunched for the web Fantasy Magazine, Sean Wallace (oldcharliebrown) has posted the opening of Black Sheep up in the aim of selling more copies of the book--a cause I'm more than happy to help. So I have nicked it to place it here, so you don't have to jump any links.

BLACK SHEEP, Chapter One

I was convicted of being Japanese. It was my only crime, and when found guilty, I was sentenced to Assimilation.

The trial took three hours, and when I arrived at the Assimilation Centre, Sol Demic, cold, grey clouds had knitted the sky tightly together. Beneath them, Asian-Sydney was a wet, grey creature, and its buildings scraped down to the ground alongside the rain, their outline drawn in thin lines of black ink that led to the sidewalks where nine-foot-high drooping lampposts and figures of men and women dressed in grey and shielded beneath black umbrellas waited. I couldn’t see their faces, and they did not look up as I passed. The guard tower on the wall of Sol Demic that I passed as the van entered the gates, was a faceless station, misted grey and blind to me from my position at the van’s window.

The Segregators opened the back of the van a moment later. They were faceless too: hidden beneath smooth black masks that offered only a featureless curve and black glass eyes; the remainder of their uniform was black padded armour, a pistol, nightstick, handcuffs, and leather pouches that weaved along their belts. One was male, the other female. They stared at me as the doors swung open, and then the one on the right—the male—climbed into the van. It sank and rocked beneath his weight as he approached, reaching down to grab the loose chain that held my limbs together.

Outside the van was a barren courtyard surrounded by tall concrete walls, and five towers along it. The sound of traffic seeped over the walls: a small number of automobiles, not much for an average day in Asian-Sydney, but always less in the wet. Such a minor thing, but I would never be aware of it again.

Water ran down my face and one of the Segregators dug a nightstick into my back, propelling me towards the entrance. I went, offering no resistance. There was no point, anyway.

Inside Sol Demic’s halls, neon lights swept over my face. The walls were white, new born but sterile, and there was no sound beyond the stumbling trip of my feet and my chains. The Segregators never said a word, never told me when to turn into a doorway, or when to stop. They used their nightsticks: digging into my back to get me to move faster, slapping my right side to have me turn right, my left to go left.

Eventually I reached a door that didn’t open, and I waited for one of the Segregators to open it.

It had been one hour since my trial had finished.

The Judge, a dour, sagging, sinking past his bones old man, had said: “Isao Dazai, you have broken the United Nations Laws of Nationality. In doing this, you have put the good people of Asian-Sydney in danger of Multiculturalism, a most heinous crime for which we, as People of the World, must be ever vigilant against. The court has viewed the evidence that has been presented before us, and we find that not only are you Japanese, but that you are Japanese with full awareness that you are living in Australia. Your willing embrace of this state, your flaunting of it actually, is nothing less than frightening, and we are forced to worry just what impact you have had on those around you. I am forced to ask myself just how scared your family are, and find myself with no alternative than to recommend counseling for them, while for you, Isao Dazai, I have only one choice. It is the ruling of this court that your punishment be the only kind that can be given to someone of your . . . illness. We find that you will be Assimilated.”

No one had said a word to me afterward.

I did not see my wife, Kumiko, during the trial. I did not know if she had even been present.

They had removed me from the court because I would not walk out. I mumbled questions, whispered pleas, but none of it mattered, and soon the doors to the van were closed, then locked, and in the cold dark, I knelt at the small window and watched as Asian-Sydney passed by all too quickly.

A nightstick jabbed into my spine, pushing me through the now open door and into a small, unfurnished room. The floor was tiled white, and at the other end of the room stood a door, which slid open.

Three men entered. The first two were tall, lean men wearing flowing white coats which billowed in their wake, while the third man, shorter, wore only overalls.

“Ah, here he is, here he is,” said the first of the men, older than the others, and his head completely bald. His narrow face was covered in fine, intricate lines, as if a sculptor had chiseled him. His dark eyes glittered and shone as he stared at me intently, then said, “The chains. Take them off, please.”

The male Segregator bent down, and the lock clicked open. A moment later, my hands and feet were free—though the chains might have stayed, for all the difference it made.

The bald man’s hand curled around my chin, twisting my head from left to right. “How old are you? Thirty, I would guess.” He plucked a strand of black hair out of my head, then murmured, “It is an easier procedure on teenagers and anyone over fifty. Did you know that?”

I could think of nothing to say.

“Sho,” said the man, not turning from my face but continuing to scrutinise it. “Take him to his cell, have him changed there.”

The third man stepped from behind the others. Everything about him was thick and coarse: his lips, eyebrows, overhanging forehead, neck and short, stubby body in his creased, dirty white overalls. Without a word, he clamped his hand around my arm, and dragged me out the doors that he had come through.

I turned once, a slight twist of my head to hear the bald man talking to the Segregators:

“Was his trial quick?”

“Yeah. We had lots on him—”

And then the door slipped shut.

Neon lights passed over me again, and the walls quickly turned in a running, white haze without distinction. The only sound was the rubber squelch of Sho’s soles as he plowed down the corridors, doors sliding open and shut, corners twisting until he had led me deep into Sol Demic.

Eventually we came to a narrow, dead-end, whitewashed corridor that was lined a dozen electronic locks, six on each side. The small catches over the doors were closed, but they must have been full, because Sho dragged me down to the end, where at the last cell on the right side, he punched in a code and, without a word, shoved me inside. The door slithered shut a moment later.

I was alone. I stared at the single bunk with its crisp white sheets and pillowcases, then at the back of the cell, where the toilet sat. The walls were clean—the same whitewash throughout the building, and there was a slender tube of neon light across the ceiling.

There were no windows, no natural light, no noise.

I sat down on the edge of the bed and, shortly, began to arrange my thoughts. Beneath the white ceilings and surrounded by the white walls, my mind filled with the mistakes that led me here and everything that was about to be taken away from me . . .



"With the gravitas of a Margaret Atwood or Kazuo Ishiguro, Peek, in his debut novel, Black Sheep, crafts a quietly horrifying world displaced from ours by a century of time and an implosion of globalist attitudes."

Paul DiFilippo, Barnes and Noble Review.



"There’s a clear critique operating here of contemporary Australian society, with its expectation that newcomers leave their cultural background at the door on entry... Black Sheep is one of the more interesting novels I’ve read in recent times."

Ben Payne, ASif.



"This is an angry young book... it blazes across the page with absolute intensity. It’s also one of the most interesting and politically challenging science fiction novels to come out of Australia in a very long time. It’s a novel that has something to say."

Tansy Rayner Robers, ASif.



Buy it from Amazon and Galaxy Bookstore.

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