The latest in the Barefoot Times series by Jeff Pages

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The Bunyip State Park

Yes, there really is a Bunyip State Park, and even a town called Bunyip! Located in south-eastern Victoria, they are both about 80km east of Melbourne on the Prince’s Highway.

The main park entrance is near the town of Gembrook, itself an interesting place to visit with many historic buildings and the Puffing Billy tourist steam train which runs up the mountainous track to Belgrave.

The park lies in the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges, with the Bunyip River passing through its eastern end. The southern part along the Diamond Creek tributary is flat and swampy, making it prime bunyip real estate.

The bushwalk and waterholes described in the novel are ficticious, but the old dam near the start of the Buttongrass nature trail is pretty close to what I’d imagined the pool where David disappeared to be. With plenty of reeds along the shore and mysterious ripples moving across the surface, it was easy to imagine monsters lurking in the depths.

The Bunyip River itself was less impressive than I’d imagined, being little more than a channel a couple of metres wide where it crosses Bunyip River Road near the south-eastern entrance to the park. A bit further upstream is an old weir and aqueduct that used to carry water to the farmlands of Gippsland.

The park was badly burnt in the horrific Black Saturday bushfires of 2009, but the vegetation had mostly recovered by the time I visited in early 2011. In such a tranquil setting, it was difficult to imagine what it would have been like at the height of the fires which claimed the lives of 173 people.

More photos from my visit can be seen on the series’ website at http://www.barefoottimes.net/CryOfTheBunyips/tour.htm.

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Fractals

Right from the beginning, fractals have featured prominently in the Barefoot Times saga, but what are they?

The word fractal is a contraction of fractional dimension and the concept can be illustrated by considering the circumference of an island, represented by a one-dimensional line drawn on a map. But how long is that line? The more detailed you make it, the longer it gets since it starts following inlets into bays, rivers, creeks, then around rocks, grains of sand, individual atoms and even subatomic particles. Mathematically, such a line encloses a finite area but has infinite length, and is thus considered to be somewhere between one and two dimensional.

Perhaps the most well-known fractal object is the Mandelbrot set, an image created by calculating the region of convergence of a simple non-linear mathematical equation. Zooming in on the boundary reveals more and more detail the closer you look, ad infinitum. The area of the Mandelbrot set is finite (the whole object can be enclosed within a rectangle so its area must be less than that) but it has infinite circumference.

So how does this relate to the stories?

In Barefoot Times, Billy Collins and Peter Thorpe discover the existence of a subspace which is conceptually at “right angles” to real space in four-dimensional space-time. Fractal crystals, having properties lying between three and four dimensions, provide the mechanism for entering this subspace and allowing faster-than-light travel.

But every new invention has a downside, and in the case of subspace and fractal crystals that’s the phenomenon described in the book as a time cusp, in which the flow of time turns back on itself with potentially different outcomes. To quote from the opening paragraph of that novel, “From time to time there are momentous events that change the course of history. But what would have happened if some of those events had gone the other way?”

Cry of the Bunyips takes this a step further with the introduction of the Nexus, a place where all possible time lines exist. I visualised it physically as a Mandelbulb, the three-dimensional extension of the Mandelbrot set created by Daniel White at skytopia.com. The Mandelbulb has finite volume but infinite surface area, while zooming into its surface reveals more and more detail, again ad infinitum.

This nexus of all possible time lines becomes a unifying point for the story, tying together the time cusp from Barefoot Times in which Jim and Pedro find themselves trapped, the disappearance of fourteen-year-old David Collins, the Eridanian Southern Ocean restoration project and, of course, bunyips.

For more on how elements of the Mandelbulb relate to this story, check out the Nexus page on the Cry of the Bunyips website.

Cornipus

That’s the planet Cornipean bunyips come from, right? So what do we know about it?

Located in the “other” galaxy (now identified as NGC598, the Triangulum galaxy) and some fifteen light years from the core world of Meridian, it’s the academic and cultural hub of the empire. Many of its cities are university towns, often specialising in just one or two fields, with students drawn from across the galaxy thanks to the generous scholarships established by Morgoth (himself a keen historian) in the early days of his rule.

There’s no mention of Cornipus in Barefoot Times, the first volume in the series, as Bluehaven and Meridian were the only extragalactic worlds visited in that story. It first rates a mention in the third chapter of Call of the Delphinidae when Brian tells Mary and Ron that he’s been accepted into the College of Law there. In the next chapter, we follow his less-than-pleasant journey to Shingle City and the college’s Billington Hall, where he meets his room-mate Joshua Franks (later to become the Chief Justice of Cornipus in The Mind of the Dolphins), who says he’s from Benzania on the other side of the planet. Given that Call of the Delphinidae was dedicated to my nephews Ben and Josh, it doesn’t take too much guesswork to figure out the origins of those names!

Later in that book, we see the representative of Cornipus on the newly-formed Galactic Council introducing an appropriation bill for the establishment of a wildlife sanctuary to protect the endangered red-bellied bunyip, continuing my bunyip lore that began with Ron recalling Mary, as a small child, wanting one as a pet.

Cornipus is again visited in The Mind of the Dolphins when Brian’s son Owen goes searching for Professor Harry Tibbits, a former lecturer in Delphinidae History at that world’s Washpool University. Alistair Blunt, the Cornipean candidate in the ballot for Supreme Councillor, also plays a role in both that book and Cry of the Bunyips.

Not unexpectedly, a lot of the action in Cry of the Bunyips is set on Cornipus, particularly in southern Benzania around the city of Longville, described in that book as the sleeze capital of the galaxy and home to the bunyip-baiting ring. There’s also a visit to the Great Library, a city of books ruled by hordes of neurotic librarians, and you can hear some of that in the recording at the bottom of the Book Launch page of this blog.

From all accounts Cornipus is a wet world, with rainfall prominent during many of our visits, and although there are arid regions just like any other world, it’s generally warmer and more humid than most. While the bulk of the galaxy’s foodstuffs come from the agricultural worlds of Amber and Sontar, there’s still farmland on Cornipus, as evidenced by the orchards Joel notes on their trip to Longville.

Cornipeans typically have dark hair and an olive complexion, setting them apart from the fair-skinned inhabitants of Bluehaven, although with over a million years of habitation and cross-fertilisation from other worlds there are some regional differences. Arrogance is a trait often associated with Cornipeans (“He’s Cornipean and they’re all like that,” said Lorina in The Mind of the Dolphins) but stereotypes are always dangerous, as Russell, our Cornipean hero, would be sure to point out in his own arrogant way. Perhaps, as the galaxy’s most prosperous world, they’ve earned that right, but try telling that to the peasants of Amber, Sontar and Ignus whose simmering resentment is growing close to flashpoint.

While students on Cornipus are universally barefoot and, in the warmer climates, wear little or no clothing, the native graduates have a penchant for extravogent dress, particularly in the societal professions of law, commerce and medicine. The legal profession in particular, with their purple gowns and pink mortar-board hats, often draw surprised looks from interplanetary visitors, but the grey business suit with polished leather shoes remains the hallmark of Cornipean professionals of most persuasions in spite of Mark the Bewildered‘s efforts to change that during his ten-year barefoot reign.

A quick guide to all twelve worlds of the Meridian empire is on the Planets page of the Call of the Delphinidae website. All four novels in the series to date are available from Zeus Publications in either A5 trade paperback or e-book formats.

Cry of the Bunyips now an ebook

Zeus Publications has now released Cry of the Bunyips as an ebook, complementing the trade paperback hardcopy launched last year. If you’ve wanted a copy but have been put off by the high cost of international postage, now’s your chance!

With PDF, epub and MOBI formats available, most ebook readers should be covered.

To purchase (for $A9), go to the book’s page on Zeus Publications’ website (http://www.zeus-publications.com/cry_of_the_bunyips.htm) and click on the ebook shopping cart link on the right hand side.