Frederation

A land where the trains always run on subjective time. Stories and reflections by Fred Warren.

Brisbane – First Look — July 22, 2015

Brisbane – First Look

botanic_gardens
Entrance to Brisbane’s Botanic Gardens

You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, and my first impression of Brisbane was very good indeed. It may have helped that I was a little punchy after 15 hours in the air, plus a 3-hour layover in Los Angeles enroute to Australia. It might have been that second cup of coffee right before landing. It might even have been the adrenaline rush of finding myself in a place absolutely new to me. Whatever the extenuating circumstances, I liked it immediately.

Traffic was light riding in from the airport at about 8 a.m. Brisbane time, temperature was about 72 degrees F, with a light breeze and sunny skies. My employer mercifully granted us our first day in-country to re-synch our internal clocks and settle in, so I had time for a little exploring before my body remembered it had been mostly awake for over 24 hours and crashed me.

BrisbaneHaving done a bit of what the Army calls “route recon” before the trip, I knew my hotel adjoined Brisbane’s Riverwalk, which provided a nice straight-line path to the Botanic Gardens, about a 15-minute walk. Seemed as good a destination as any to begin with, so I tossed my bags in the hotel room, pausing a moment to gasp at the magnificent view of the river and downtown (see the previous post), and set off.

As you can see from the map here, central Brisbane is dominated by the Brisbane River. The city is in some ways defined by it. The s-shaped curve of the waterway sets limits on how traffic can move about the city and where things can be built. It favors vertical rather than horizontal expansion. A network of public ferries, including a fleet of sleek, modern catamarans, zigzag up and down the river, connecting the north and south banks. The Riverwalk hugs the river on both sides and is a magnet for pedestrians, joggers, bikers, and skateboarders.  Does everybody in Brisbane enjoy a vigorous daily workout? Probably not, but the steady stream of well-toned athletes who passed me on the Riverwalk offered convincing evidence that this wasn’t a city of couch potatoes.

story_bridgeStory Bridge is a major point of interest on the river, an impressive sight by day and lit by an array of lights at night that seem to vary in color depending upon which local sports team has a game on. The adventuresome tourist can even book a guided expedition along the bridge’s maintenance catwalks to the top of the span, but that particular attraction was beyond the limits of my time and budget for this trip. Perhaps next time. Or not.

As for the Botanic Gardens, a fixture in this town since its early history, it was every bit as expansive and beautiful as I’d hoped. Even in the Australian mid-winter, it was lush and green, dotted with tropical flowers, palm trees, ponds, and fountains.

brisbane_flowersbrisbane_flowers2

There were dark, thick, mysterious groves of bamboo and the occasional bit of sculpture hidden in a quiet refuge off the main pathways. Birds were abundant—rainbow-dipped lorikeets, ibises, ducks, ravens, and even the occasional brush turkey, a bit smaller and leaner than our American Thanksgiving fixture, but clearly part of the same family.

brisbane_poinsettiasibis2

My energy lasted longer than I expected, and I completed a loop of the central district, crossing a footbridge over the river and passing through the water park and museum campus arrayed along the south bank. I spent more time there on the last day of my visit, so I’ll talk about that in a later post.

Brisbane Calling — July 19, 2015

Brisbane Calling

BrisbaneMy work has taken me to Australia, of all places, for the past couple of weeks. As usual with these trips, I try not to talk much about where I’m going and what I’m doing, except to close friends and family, because there’s a certain amount of sensitivity and necessary security involved. It’s simply prudent to not go about broadcasting the fact that you’re working on a multinational military exercise in Country XYZ these days, at least not until it’s all over. As it turned out, this one was trumpeted across Australian mass media almost from the outset. So much for security. Ah, well…it’s the Information Age, after all.

Anyhow, this was my very first journey to The Land Down Under, so even staring down the barrel of 15 hours flight time across the Pacific, in coach, I was pumped about this trip, and Australia did not disappoint.

We stayed in Brisbane, a less-than-familiar town to your average Ugly American, who probably knows something about Sydney, what with its iconic Opera House and the 2000 Summer Olympics, and  The Rescuers Down Under; might possibly recognize Melbourne, owing to another Olympic Games held there once upon a time; but Brisbane? Brisbane lands in the bucket with that other city whose name nobody can remember because they think Sydney is the capital. To the under-informed foreign tourist (and perhaps more than a few Australians, judging from the newspapers), Brisbane is Sydney’s country-bumpkin adopted sister, never quite able to escape the glare of her step-sibling’s incandescent glory.

My mind kept returning to that egregious exchange in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where King Caspian, chatting with Lucy Pevensie, tersely dismisses the Narnian market in royal consorts—and one candidate in particular:

“Squints, and has freckles.”

“Oh, poor girl,” Lucy replies in nonjudgmental empathy, rather than dealing Caspian a sharp rap to the nose for being a shallow twit.

Caspian eventually meets and weds Sydney the incandescent daughter of a living star. Go figure.

south_beach_brisbaneBut I found Brisbane instantly charming—a vibrant, bustling community that needs apologize for nothing. Even the downtown precincts are clean and sparkly. Citizens are friendly, courteous, optimistic, and unabashedly sports-crazy. Brisbane’s big enough to have all the attractions and conveniences of a world city but hasn’t lost the common touch.

If Brisbane squints, it’s because she’s embracing her history while steadfastly focusing her vision on the horizon. If she has freckles, it’s because her people spend so much time enjoying the southern sun’s toasty radiance. Brisbane is comfortable in her own skin, and that’s a quality surpassing any superficial measure of refinement or star-quality. I like focus and freckles.

As usual, my work schedule didn’t allow much time for touristing, but I managed to see quite a lot, I think, in what time I did have. It helped that Brisbane is very pedestrian-friendly and has an excellent public transportation network of buses, trains, and ferries. Brisbane is a river city, and the ability to travel both along and across the river, in particular, can turn a long, circuitous plod into a quick jaunt.

There’s much more to say about Brisbane, and I’ll be posting it in installments rather than one enormous bite. Most good things are best enjoyed that way.

scone
Like this delicious blueberry scone.

 

 

 

Book Review: Justice Calling, by Annie Bellet — June 30, 2015

Book Review: Justice Calling, by Annie Bellet

justice_callingImagine you’re Jade Crow, a sorceress on the run from a murderous ex-boyfriend. You find a little town in the Idaho backwoods where you can stay lost for a while. It’s off the main roads, and it’s full of shapeshifters and other magical folk, providing enough mystical background noise, you hope, to keep the ex from homing in on yours.

You open up a game and comics shop to pay the bills. It’s not a bad life—you keep the magic on the down-low, mostly, to avoid drawing attention to yourself, and you make a few close friends. You all get together for a D&D session every Thursday night, eat pizza, pop some beers, debate the merits of Golden Age DC versus the New 52 between dice rolls, and make sure everything’s locked up when you’re done, though anybody who finds your shop unsecured after hours is more likely to lock the door for you than pilfer anything. It’s a sweet routine, and sometimes you forget the magic, and the ex, and your history. Sometimes. Almost.

Then one night, a Justice, the fey equivalent of a federal marshal, walks into your shop and accuses you of murdering somebody you never met. Even worse, your best pal’s fox-shifter mom turns up shortly thereafter—dead, and stuffed.

Okay, she’s only mostly dead, and she only looks like a bad taxidermy project, but it’s enough to send your cozy little life right off the rails. Somebody uncomfortably close to your adopted home is killing shifters and sucking the magic out of them, not necessarily in that order. Clearing your name without blowing your cover isn’t going to be easy. Staying alive might be even harder.

————

Justice Calling is the first volume in Annie Bellet’s Twenty-Sided Sorceress series (book 6 coming next month) featuring nerdy-cool Amerind spell-slinger Jade Crow. It’s an adventuresome magical mystery leavened with wry humor, but along the way, Jade deals with some weighty questions. She’s been searching her whole life for a place she can belong, and now that she thinks she’s found it, should she stand her ground and fight, despite the risk of her new friends becoming collateral damage from her old lover’s homicidal rage? Will her friends desert her anyhow, once they learn exactly who and what she is—and discover the dark past that haunts her? Complicating matters is the disturbing fact that Jade finds hunky tiger-shifter Justice Aleksei Kirov more than a little attractive, but her romantic track record is less than sterling. Can she trust him? Can she trust herself?

This was a fun read, very much in the spirit of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files stories, but with its own unique flair. Jade is a likable, relatable protagonist, and the magical universe Ms. Bellet creates, skewed just a bit from our own, spices the story without drowning it in mystic overhead, in much the same way that a good role-playing adventure game is best managed with a light touch and driven by the players’ interaction.

There’s some coarse language, typical of the gamer culture and Jade’s generational cohort. I thought Jade spent a little too much time daydreaming about Alek’s sundry masculine charms, but that’s a minor gripe. If you enjoy your magical fantasy in a modern setting with plenty of chuckles and a touch of danger and mystery, Justice Calling is for you.

Annie Bellet is an up-and-coming talent in the world of science fiction and fantasy. As I posted a few weeks ago, her short story, “Goodnight Stars,” was nominated for a Hugo Award this year, but Ms. Bellet withdrew her story once the brouhaha over voting tactics exploded. I thought her work was Hugo-worthy on its own merits, regardless of who might have happened to drop it into the nomination bin. An unfortunate turn of events, but I’ve no doubt there will be many more awards in this author’s future.

Link to purchase Justice Calling

Annie Bellet’s webpage

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