Thursday, September 24, 2009

Godzilla Attacks Sydney!

Recent reports of a massive dust storm in Australia -- with an 800km storm front and sweeping across thousands of kilometers -- fail to advise that the irradiated dust has drawn an attack on Sydney by the feared Godzilla! The image on the left was sent to our office only moments before the brave soul was incinerated by radioactive flame.

Mothra has been spotted on satellite images, and is moving swiftly toward Brisbane. Scientists fear it is being drawn to the Sunshine State by the scent of radioactive mangoes. The east coast of Australia remains on high alert. . .

OK, well maybe it wasn't quite that bad, but the recent dust storm that blanketed the east coast of Australia (and is heading toward New Zealand) was certainly epic in its proportions (it really was that big). It was the biggest dust storm in 70 years, and dumped more than 75,000 tonnes of dust on Brisbane in one hour. More than one observer reported 'It was like the end of the world' or 'It was like being in a science fiction movie'. The sunset was awesome, the sky as red as Martian dust (Australian desert sands have a high content of iron oxide).

When you see something like that -- really experience it -- it truly is amazing. It got me thinking about settings in books. If only we could channel that experience directly, make the reader feel that same creepy wonder, that otherworldlyness combined with the wake-up-and-look bite of something that is absolutely real.

It also made me realise that we owe it to ourselves as writers, and our readers, to get out there and really experience everything this world has to offer. There are some truly strange and wonderful things out there. It took that massive dust storm to remind myself of that.

So what things have you experienced that have made your head spin? That lifted you out of your own reality? And what writers have inspired similar feelings in you with their sense of setting?

By the way, if you want to see some great images of that dust storm, check out this link: http://www.news.com.au/couriermail/gallery/0,23816,5060705-17382,00.html

14 comments:

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Chris, I didn't see Godzilla, but I did see my son running around the yard in a gas mask. He's been preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse in 2012.

No, seriously. It was an eye opener and sometimes the only way to understand something us to see it. That was why I enjoyed a tour of the reproduction of Endeavor. Such a small ship to sail around the world in!

matapam said...

The last two years Houston hosted Hurricanes. It was a real eye opener, actually seeing how people behaved, both good and bad, in various situations. How they coped.

How we, who thought we were so well prepared, coped.

But beyond the emergency situations, though, just ordinary life experiences help. Ride a horse, go out on the ocean in boats both large and small. Grab a shovel and plant a garden. See what you can grow with minimal fertilizer and no insecticides. You'll never dis those peasants again!

There's a lot you can learn by reading. But you've got to get as close to it as safely or practically possible, if you want to try for that visceral level writing.

And somethings, all you have is imagination and analysis. I once complained that it was tough to write a zero-G battle, never having been in one. My husband snickered. "I doubt that David Weber has ever been in one either."

Umm. Okay. Point.

Dave Freer said...

Made my head spin? Hmm. when I was five I threw a rotten lemon at the girl next door. She climbed onto the wall and dropped a rock on my head...
I guess that is probably not quite what you meant?
I must admit I seem to spend my life doing things which exilarate and thrill - but to capture that in words is not easy. I've freedived through a marine cave - which was one the scariest. It was a tunnel about 5 metres long - spectacularly beautiful, silhoetted with fringing corals and a very surprised looking grouper. But I must admit I was more busy thinking if I'd fit out the other end. No way to turn around...

John Lambshead said...

That looks like a 40K Planetstrike scenario. I can just see drop pods of the Angels of Death dropping through the covering screen to cleanse the heretics........

I think I had better go and take one of my tablets.

John

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Rowena. And here was I thinking the Zombie Apocalypse was due in 2011!

Those barques are unbelievably small aren't they? When you think about how rough the North Sea gets its amazing what they achieved with them. And how many people they crammed into them!

That Russel Crowe movie - Master and Commander - based on the Patrick O'Brien books had the best depiction I have seen of on-board life on one of those. Great movie. Then again, I am a long-time Hornblower fan.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, matapam. Lucily - touch wood - I have never been in the midst of a serious natural disaster. Probably a full-on Queensland hail-storm (golf-ball to cricket ball (baseball) size hail stones) with shattering windows is a close I have been.

I was thinking about how we use the imagination. The objective is to evoke the scene in the mind of the reader. Maybe sometimes we can do that effectively without having to be too literal or 'correct' with our descriptions. There is a little bit of art and a little bit of inspiration in there.

As you say, certainly for many specfic descriptions, we hardly have a choice!

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Dave. It all counts! Who knows when your next character will get the irrepressible urge to chuck lemons? Or when your indomitable hero get a dirty big rock dumped on his head? Extremely likely when storming castle walls.

Diving through the cave sounds amazing. Its been so long since I have dived or paddled around any coral. And I have no excuse, living in Queensland with the Great Barrier Reef so close (yes that was an add & yes I'm still trying to get you to come and live in Queensland:))

Chris McMahon said...

Hey, John. What happened with the Drop Pods!

Can't start a story like that and leave me hanging.

The red ones or the blue ones:)

tanaudel said...

The only author who *consistently* makes me want to go outside and really look at the world is, oddly, Diana Wynne Jones. "Oddly" because she writes fantasy and I also read memoirs of zoologists and Victorian travel diaries and so forth, and although I *enjoy* them, and they give me vocabulary for things I later experience, they don't make me want to go out and look at the sky and breathe in deep and chase buses the way DWJ dos.

Kate said...

The day after my first ice storm. Walking to work in pre-dawn with everything coated in a thin layer of clear ice, and the only sound apart from my footsteps was the cracking and creaking of the ice on the branches and powerlines. It was positively unearthly.

Of course, I still find snow a bizarre thing. Stuff that falls from the sky hard enough to hurt? I'm good with that. Rain with winds that will drive waves of water up a roof? Sure. You get that in most of the good thunderstorms. But white stuff drifting down and dancing around thumbing its metaphorical nose at gravity, and muffling all the sound everywhere? That's just weird.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, tanaudel. It's great when you find an author like that. I have never read any Diana Wynne Jones - I'll make a point of checking out her fantasy.

My 'left-field' books are usually general science non-fiction or autobiographies of musicians.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Kate. I can really share your sense of wonder being another wide-eyed Queensland kid.

The first morning at Lunacon was actually the first time I had seen snow. It was amazing - like a Christmas picture. But your description of the snow storm sounds even more amazing.

Mike said...

Settings that took my imagination on a trip? First thoughts (late, I know). How about Mission of Gravity - Clement. Dune -- Herbert. The Mote In God's Eye or Ringworld (Niven/Pournelle) Blish -- Star Dwellers and Cities in Flight (remember spindizzies?). Hospital Station -- White. Demon Breed -- Schmitz. I was trying to think of books where the setting is almost a character.

Mez said...

Just a small correction. You say "The sunset was awesome", but the dust came through very early - it was dawn (say, 5–7 am, pre-DST Sep) that was amazing.

Strangely, the dust in the air didn't hang around. The afternoon was extraordinarily clear; sunny, blue sky, fluffy white clouds. Evening news had reporters standing at $LOCATION.NOW with nice view, cut to picture of $LOCATION.DUSTY looking very different about 12 hours earlier

BTW, This is my Flickr set of Dust Day, as I'm calling it.

If you want, as Mad Genius Scribblers, to consider The Future of Publishing, there's
How to Publish a Magazine in a Day and a Half, from Derek Powazek's blog, which used photos from this.