Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Science Fiction and Fantasy Events in Toronto, June 2011

These events are from the science fiction & fantasy calendar I've started.  If you have an event that's not listed, email me (jessica.strider@gmail.com) and I'll put it on the calendar.  While I try to get the details correct, always check the links to confirm event information. And I'll be updating this post as I learn of more events.

Sunday June 5

World's Biggest Bookstore Presents: Horror
Meet horror authors David Nickle (Eutopia), Gemma Files (A Book of Tongues) and Brent Haywood (The Fecund's Melancholy Daughter).
Where: World's Biggest Bookstore (20 Edward Street)
When: 2 pm
Call the store at 416-977-7009 for more information 

Tuesday June 7

Chiaroscuro Reading Series: Book Launch for Susie Moloney's THIRTEEN
Where: Trane Studio (964 Bathurst St.)
When: 8 - 11 pm      "Haven Woods is suburban heaven, a great place to raise a family. It's close to the city, quiet, with great schools and its own hospital right up the road. Property values are climbing. The streets are clean, people keep their yards really nicely. It's fairly pet friendly, though barking dogs are not welcomed. The crime rate is practically non-existent, unless you count the odd human sacrifice, dismemberment, animal attack, demon rape and blood atonement. When Paula Wittmore goes home to Haven Woods to care for a suddenly ailing mother, she brings her daughter and a pile of emotional baggage. She also brings the last chance for twelve of her mother's closest frenemies, who like to keep their numbers at thirteen. And her daughter, young, innocent, is a worthy gift to the darkness.
     A circle of friends will support you through bad times. A circle of witches can drag you through hell."


Saturday June 18

How to Write a Bestseller Workshop (MISSISSAUGA)
With book editor Brian Henry & New York Times bestselling author Kelley Armstrong
Where: Chartwell Baptist Church
1880 Lakeshore Road West, Mississauga
When: 10 a.m. 4 p.m.
Fee: $38.94 + 13% hst = $44 paid in advance
or $42.48 + 13% hst = $48 if you wait to pay at the door
To reserve a spot now, email brianhenry@sympatico.ca

Saturday June 19

Space-Time Continuum Reading and Discussion Group
Topic: Galvaston by Sean Stewart
Where: Bakka Phoenix Books (84 Harbord Street)
When: 1 pm

Tuesday June 21

Book Launch: Once Every Never by Lesley Livingston
Where: Dominion on Queen (500 Queen St. East)
When: 7 - 10:30 pm



Saturday June 25

Toronto Cosplay Picnic
Where: Center Island (via ferry)
When: 11-6
Cost: round trip ferry ticket ($4 students, $6.50 adults)
*Note, rain date is Sunday 26th, check website the day before to confirm
We will be meeting in the area in front of the docks at 10:30am. This area is accessible without buying a ticket for the ferry and features a few grassy knolls and trees. Your event organizers, Elemental and Pan, will be there early, and will poke you if you are in costume. The giant group of people in costume should not be too hard to spot.

We will depart from the docks at 11am. If you're late, hop on the ferry and head towards Centreville. We usually set up camp in a shaded area near Centreville, so it'll be hard to miss us. If you know you will be late and are worried about getting lost, feel free to contact Elemental. Her e-mail address is: tocosplaypicnic[at]gmail[dot]com. 

Friday, 27 May 2011

Publisher Spotlight: ChiZine Publications

In the interests of getting more people reading and discovering some of the smaller presses that publish great genre fiction, I've been doing themed publisher endcaps at work.  My second is for ChiZine Publications, a Toronto press that I first heard of a few years back at Ad Astra.

Like 'em weird?  They do.  In their own words they publish "weird, surreal, subtle, and disturbing dark literary fiction".  Lots of short story collections too.  Check them out sometime when you want something a little outside the ordinary.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Movie Review: The Island

Director: Michael Bay, 2005

Pros: action, fascinating utopian complex, interesting scientific advances, creepy concept

Cons: unrealistic chase, lack of credibility, bizarre characterizations

Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor) has been having nightmares so his computer system sends him to see the doctor.  On his way there, the newest lottery winner for the Island has been announced.  Lincoln knows he's special, that he was lucky to survive the contamination that destroyed the outside world - except for the Island - but that doesn't stop him from questioning his existence in this compound.

He soon discovers that the Island is not what was promised and must escape with the newest winner, Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson) in order to save her.

The Island begins brilliantly.  We have no idea what's happening and must follow the characters to learn that there was a catastrophe that has caused people to live in these high tech areas, away from the outside world.  The technology, while severely intrusive, is fascinating. When the reality of the island is revealed, both it, and the lottery surrounding it, are brilliant (if creepy) tools.

Then the two escape.  Suddenly this well crafted, intelligent film, falls apart.  The facility owner calls in a special crack team to track them down.  Somehow, he manages to wait until the fugitives have reached civilization before sending someone to bring them back (rather than picking them up in one of the company helicopters while they ran across several miles of empty desert, where there would have been nowhere for them to hide).  This team of ex-swat and other highly trained groups then start a comical chase wherein several of them die, several cops get killed and the two manage to out fly them on jet/motorcycle things (despite Lincoln never having seen one of these before, let alone piloting one).

Things go downhill from there.  Ignoring the fact that it would have been easy to create something that would incapacitate anyone who manages to leave (Jurassic Park thought of this), it's impossible to believe that two people who know nothing of the outside world (money, trains, homicidal maniacs) would be able to evade recapture.  And the extremes the group went to in order to recapture them was ridiculous.

Ultimately, I thought the film was good for the premise, but wasn't executed well.

*** Spoiler Area ***



When Lincoln meets his clone he seems to think this man, who paid millions to have him created, would want to help (despite knowing a double has been created to provide organs, etc. when needed).  I couldn't believe the corporation didn't tell the people he sent to retrieve them that clones are tattooed on their wrists.  The guy, with no ability to tell the clone and original apart, then randomly shoots one of them.  Seriously?

And no one at the facility questions which one was shot and how the guy knew who the clone was.

And the very end left me filled with questions despite it's flimsy happy ending.  What happens to the clones after they escape the facility?  Are their lives protected under laws or will they just be sent back to the facility since they're not 'human'?  Who'll provide housing/jobs/money/food for them when they have no outside world skills? 

And on a different tract, why did the facility head go after Lincoln when he had tons of security officers?  If the clones were programmed to be uninterested in sex, how did Lincoln and Jordan override that?  Why was the facility only harvesting one organ or a baby from the clones?  Isn't that a waste of good human material?  Why not take the other organs, if you're going to kill the clone anyway, and use them in transplants for people other than the original client? 

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Fantasy Artist: Moonchild-Ljilja

I was wandering around deviant art looking for nifty artwork and stumbled across Moonchild-ljilja.  Her real name is Ljilja Romanovic and she does fairy and gothic inspired digital artwork.


Here's a small sampling: 

She also sells background art in packs (gardens, winter scenes, temples, etc.) for people wanting to do their own artwork as well as packs and images of wings, hair and other useful objects.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

China Mieville's US & Canada Embassytown Tour

Ok, so he's only coming to Toronto in Canada, but that's my city and it's at my store.  :)  It's his first Canadian visit, so if you're around, drop in!  It's a free event (unlike some of the US ones).  I saw him speak at Book Expo America a few years back and he's a very well spoken author, so even if you haven't read anything by him, come out and hear him talk. 

I got this tour list, links included, from tor.com's blog.

Tues., 5/24 – Harvard Bookstore,* Cambridge, MA @ 6:00pm
*Note: This is a ticketed event held at the Brattle Theater. Buy tickets here.
Wed., 5/25 - Toadstool Bookshop, Lorden Plaza, Milford, NH @ 7:00pm
Thurs., 5/26 - World’s Biggest Bookstore, Toronto, ON @7:00pm
Sat. 5/28 – University Bookstore, Seattle, WA @ 7:00pm
Sun., 5/29 – Powell’s Bookstore, Portland, OR @ 4:00pm
Tues., 5/31 – Barnes & Noble, Roseville, MN @ 7:00pm
Wed., 6/1 – WORD Bookstore,* Brooklyn, NY @ 8:00pm
*Note: This is a ticketed event held at Public Assembly. Purchase tickets here.

Book Review: The Third by Abel Keogh

Pros: scarily realistic near future, interesting story, some intense scenes

Cons: the intense scenes get disturbing quickly (baby waved around by leg, character threatens rape), protagonists actively make their lives harder, unrealistic division between those who end up with 3+ kids and the law abiders

The year is 2065.  A carbon tax has drastically reduced the number of cars and raised the costs of food and products, there are frequent power failures and rampant overcrowding. 

Taya is three months pregnant with her third child.  Concealing it is a population crime.  When she finally gathers the courage to tell her husband, Ransom, their options are limited: find someone willing to sell them their replacement credit even though the couple can't afford to buy one, put the child up for adoption or let the city give her the mandated abortion.

A random act of courage and kindness opens the way for a fourth option - to leave the city.  But is it worth the risks of trusting people they've been taught are terrorists?

The future Keogh paints is bleak and unpleasant.  Food is scarce, milk is purchased powered, water is monitored in 5 second bursts and the Census Bureau officers (officially called sentinels but colloquially called 'snatchers') are cruel bullies who fear no reprisals (reminding me of the Blue Coats from Laura Bynum's Veracity).

The book has noticeable debut author flaws.  Conversations contain a bizarre amount of background information and people constantly lose their tempers, calm down, apologize and then show they're extraordinarily aware of their psychological workings.  Though all of this is accumulative, it seemed odd that so many people were aware of and willing to explain their reasonings for how they act.

Keogh also has a bias, which is a little strangely portrayed.  Everyone who's willing to break the law (in any way, with the exception of the sentinels) or risk having more children then allowed, is portrayed as being kind and decent and only wanting their freedoms.  Those who think limiting the population - even the well spoken Census Bureau director, Teya's sister, is shown as being mean hearted and wrong (despite her well reasoned arguments for why population control is a good thing).

The strange thing is this.  The 'good' people, who want more kids, are also more willing to waste water (as Ransom does at the beginning of the novel), electricity and other resources.  And yet, somehow the resistance (or terrorists, according to the city) somehow have better access to fresh food and working technology than the city, which the novel never explains.

Despite the problems, this is a good novel.  There's a lot of book club discussion potential.  And it's one of the most realistic near future representations I've read.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Genre News

Once again I've got a backlog of interesting things that I don't have time to give individual blog posts to, so here's some genre news:

PYR has entered the YA fiction field with three novels: debut author K. D. McEntire with Lightbringer (urban fantasy/paranormal romance), Ian McDonald with Planesrunner (SF) and Ari Marmell with Thief's Covenant (fantasy).  Why publish books specific to the 12+ market?

[Lou] Anders says, “We believe there is a real hunger in the growing YA readership for narratives that explore the full, imaginative breadth of what science fiction and fantasy has to offer. Of our first three Pyr titles for the YA reader, two are from authors who primarily write for the adult book market, an acquisitions approach we decided best served this need. Also, it's long been said that 'the Golden Age of science fiction is twelve,' and while this is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, it speaks to the common interests of those who read speculative fiction, whether teen or adult. With many adult readers turning to Young Adult fiction to recapture the sense of wonder and fun that the best stories in any category have always embodied, it made sense for us to bring our expertise, and that of our authors, to this new arena.”

The Nebula Awards Showcase, an all fiction anthology edited by Kevin J. Anderson will be published May 24th, to coincide with the Nebula Awards happening this weekend.

...the anthology includes May 2010’s short fiction award nominees—a “spiffy bunch” (Kirkus) of the year’s best science fiction and fantasy from some of the most recognizable names in the field, including Paolo Bacigalupi, Kage Baker, Eugie Foster, and Kij Johnson as well as classic reprints from Joe W. Haldeman (Grand Master Award for life achievement) and Neal Barrett, Jr (Author Emeritus).

Becca Fitzpatrick's upcoming Hush, Hush Graphic Novel got new artwork for the character of Patch based on reader comments.

Finally, ABC has announced 2 new shows, a remake of Charlie's Angels and Once Upon a Time.  Looks like fairy tales are the new vampires.  Here's the Once Upon a Time trailer:



NBC has its own fairy tale show coming this fall, Grimm.  Looks like it might be comparable to Supernatural.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Author Interview: David Nickle

Novels: 
Eutopia: A Novel of Terrible Optimism
Monstrous Affections (collection of short stories)
The Claus Effect (with Karl Schroeder)
+ numerous short stories


>What's Eutopia: A Novel of Terrible Optimism about?

Eutopia is a story set around the time that the eugenics movement was getting going in the United States - by odd co-incidence, exactly 100 years back from the time of the book's release. It's the story of two men - Andrew Waggoner, a black physician who finds himself working in Eliada, a mill town built on Utopian principles in northern Idaho; and Jason Thistledown, a young man who is the only survivor of a mysterious plague that wiped out his community in rural Montana. Jason arrives in Eliada, accompanying his aunt who rescued him from the plague town. Germain Frost is an early eugenicist, who's traveling America looking to catalog the weak, insane and criminal. Jason and Andrew uncover some very sinister goings-on in and around Eliada - monsters both human and otherwise.  In the end, they find things that could have near-apocalyptic implications. 

> Eutopia deals with some heavy subject matter, eugenics and racism.  Was it a difficult book to write?

It was difficult to write, as any novel is - but not because of the heaviness of the subject matter. I've always found eugenics to be a fascinating science - in part, because it really isn't a science. Its fundamental premise - that the fact that we can and do breed for certain traits in plants and animals means that we ought to be able to better our own species by doing the same with humans - is deeply flawed, and also deeply alluring. Who wouldn't want to make things better for us, the same way we make things better for cows? 

Of course, when we breed cows to be bigger and fatter and more docile, we're not making it better for the cows - we're making things better for we who eat the flesh and drink the milk.

We can breed cows and get away with it because they're a commodity. The idea that we can treat human beings as domesticated animals and do better that way marks a fundamental misreading of Darwinism - and it represents an even more fundamental moral blindness. I found this fascinating from the get-go, as I did the racism that really went hand-in-hand with the eugenics movement.

The racism was tough, but only inasmuch as I had to face the fact that if I was going to write about racism, I was going to have to write racist characters. Which meant employing some pretty ugly language. So far, nobody's complained -- but still, I flinch at that kind of talk. 

> What's the appeal of writing horror? 

I have been asked this question before, believe it or not. My stock answer is that horror's not - or shouldn't be - a genre; it should be an emotion that we invoke, when we write stories that are otherwise about people and the drama of their interactions in the world. So the real question is, why do I like invoking the emotion of horror in my stories about people and the world and so forth. And I think it's because horror is such a deliciously complex emotion; it's more than just being frightened at a shadow, or a tableau of gore.  It's a profound unease -- a sense that the world that we know is slipping away -- and something else is there underneath. And in experiencing that sense, I think that we open ourselves up to insights and epiphanies, that otherwise wouldn't be apparent.  

> Why do most of your stories take place in rural locales?

The thing about rural locales is, they can be dark. They're places where electricity is even now scarce; where smaller populations make things a lot simpler. And also - I just find the woods spooky, in a way that built-up areas aren't. They seem to be a place where dark, still magic comes to the surface. 

> Beyond the matter of length, do you find it easier to write short stories or novels? 

I find short stories easier, because I can understand how they work; and if they're not working, it's easier to see why. Novels are complexities layered on complexities. They're rewarding because of that, but once you get tangled up, it's a devil of a job getting untangled. 

> How is collaborating with another author different from writing stories on your own?

I've collaborated seriously with two writers - sf writer Karl Schroeder and horror scribe Edo van Belkom. Both collaborations were successful; my story with Edo, "Rat Food", won the Bram Stoker award the year it was published, and my story "The Toy Mill", written with Karl, won an Aurora Award and became the basis of a novel, The Claus Effect. So the big difference is that with the right collaborator, I can write award-winning stories - something I haven't replicated on my own.

But I think the biggest difference is that writer's block is harder to sustain with a collaborator. When you hit a tough spot in a plot all on your own, it's really just you against the blank screen. With a collaborator, you can brainstorm around a block until you're past it.

It's also really a pleasure, working with the right collaborator. You gain different insights into a story -- and the story itself gains the capacity to surprise you as a reader as well as an author.

> Does reporting on municipal politics influence your writing?

Generally I keep a church-and-state separation between my reporting work and my fiction work. During the day, I cover Toronto City Hall for the Toronto Community News group of newspapers; by night, I write terrifying stories about betrayal, hypocrisy and monstrosities... 

There are some who might say there's not much difference between those two things, come to think of it. And I did write one story (barely 500 words) called "The Mayor Will Make A Brief Statement and Then Take Questions", which was directly influenced by my love of city politics; another story, years back, "Extispicy", that mingled land-use planning with entrail-reading.

So it's all grist. 

> What made you want to be a writer?

I've wanted to be a writer from toddler-age on. My mom used to take dictation and write up my Captain Scarlet fan-fiction when I was tiny, in little books made from drawing-pad paper and string. So really, I've wanted to be a writer literally as long as I can remember. What made me want to be a one? Some trauma in the crib, is my best guess... 

> If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?

Have you _seen_ what happens to my characters? No. No. Just no.

> What was the hardest scene for you to write?

There is a hideous moment in the middle [of Eutopia] when Andrew Waggoner is faced with having to perform some serious back-woods gynaecological work. Without getting into spoilers, the chapter involved some detailed descriptions of a fairly nasty bit of surgery. I kind of freaked myself out.   

> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

There are the two obvious admonitions: first, read widely. Get a sense of the kind of story you love, and think about how the best of those stories work. Then put bum in chair, fingers on keyboard, and start writing, and then finish writing.

The next bit is based on my own experience. Find a writing workshop, with good writers not far off from your own level of expertise. Show those stories you've written to the workshop, and read the work of the other writers there. You'll be amazed how clarifying that process is, and how quickly you improve. It certainly worked for me, when I joined the Cecil Street Irregulars writing workshop, literally decades ago.

You must also, of course, send the story out to an editor with some hope of publication. But that goes without saying - doesn't it?


> How do you discipline yourself to write? 

Poorly. I tend to do better deep in project when I've got my eye on the end. Otherwise -- I'm as distractible as the next guy. 


Thursday, 19 May 2011

A Question of Language - the 'n' word

*Please be aware, there is adult language in this post.*

I love language.  It's why I started writing stories.  It's why I read so much I don't have time to write stories anymore.

I believe language is powerful.  Which is why some of the books I've read recently have deeply affected me.  Namely, Eutopia: A Novel of Terrible Optimism and X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills.

Both books make use of the *n* word.  And both should.  Now, as I mentioned in a previous post, the 'n' word, above other words, makes me cringe.  I'm white.  I've never had it used against me in anger.  I've tried to never say it or write it without good cause (good cause being to point out how horrible the word is).  I don't like the idea of hearing people of colour use it against each other - even as a word of 'empowerment' or to 'take it back' (much the same as how I don't like women calling each other b****es as a complement).

So why do I think the books above did well by using it? 

In Eutopia the word is used the way it was historically: as a racial slur.  It was a put-down for the black doctor in this small white community.  Running away from history and pretending people didn't act like that won't make it go away.  The word has a cringe-worthy effect BECAUSE of how it was used.  Because of its historical context.  And it SHOULD make people cringe when they hear it.  It should remind people that we've never treated each other well and that we'll have to do better in the future.

God Loves, Man Kills only uses it once.  Kitty Pryde is called a mutant, and she substitutes the 'n' word to show how hurtful being called a mutant is (thus showing that other racial slurs have the same power, when you're on the receiving end).  Unfortunately as humans we've come up with lots of racial slurs.  New ones for each group we feel 'threatens' our way of life. 

If we forget, if we whitewash our history, then we'll see it repeated.   Several months ago there was a lot of controversy over a publisher's decision to replace the word 'nigger' with 'slave' in a version of Huckleberry Finn.  Now, I don't know about you, but slave has very different connotations for me.  For one thing, I don't cringe when I hear the word.  I love classical history and I understand that the Greeks and Romans couldn't have achieved as much as they did (especially in the arts) without slavery.  Slavery's been common throughout history.  Doesn't make it right, of course.  But there's definitely a different feeling to the word.

Taking the word out removes a teaching tool for kids - both in terms of how language can be used to edify or demean, but also with regards to history.  How will children of the future understand the tragedy of To Kill a Mockingbird, if they don't understand the underlying hatred one group of people had for another, simply because of their skin colour?  All of which is expressed in that one word.

We can't afford to forget our history.  We can't afford to pretend that some of the words used in the past (and present) were specifically designed to hurt.  Sticks and stones may break my bones... and hateful words will scar me for life.

Authors have the means to remind people why things are the way they are, warts and all.  History is rarely pleasant, but if we don't want a worse future, we'd better remember it.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Graphic Novel Review: X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills

Writer: Chris Claremont, Artist: Brent Anderson

Pros: brilliant story, deals with racism head on and religion from an adult standpoint, thought provoking, still relevant today, fleshed out characters

Cons: rougher artwork than X-Men usually had at this point

One thing that can, unfortunately, be said about the X-Men is that the central theme of racism never goes out of date.  God Loves, Man Kills was first published in 1982 and reissued in 2007.  And the story's perhaps even more relevant now than when it came out.

Reverend William Stryker uses his TV savvy and fear of the unknown to woo citizens into believing his message that Mutants are ungodly and pose a serious threat to humanity.  Believing Professor Xavior to be the Antichrist, he has created a squad of 'Purifiers' with the intention of killing all mutants.

While I didn't particularly like Anderson's rougher artwork (compared to what was being done in the monthly issues at the time) it does suit the darker storyline. 

Even the characters' language is much starker, with both n****r and b***h being used - to good advantage.  The language choice underscores the seriousness of the issues under discussion, creating uneasiness and forcing this reviewer to truly think about what was happening and why.  The fact that 'mutant' can be exchanged for 'nigger' or 'rag head' or fag', for the 'other', the undesirable, those discriminated against, makes this a story that will have relevance in every age as each generation finds a new 'enemy', a new class of immigrants, a new 'abomination' to rail against.

Chris Carter Claremont (whoops, sorry about that.  X-Men and X-Files were both things I enjoyed in high school) could have taken an easy way out by making Stryker and his purifiers cardboard cutouts.  But he doesn't.  While Stryker does come off as being a little insane, he has reasons for his beliefs and can be persuasive at times.  As for the rest of the antagonists, history is full of people who, for fear and hatred of the unknown, are willing to kill.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Leap by Dan Gaud

A cool SF short I stumbled across yesterday. The blurb from the creator's site is:

A science-fiction short film about a young man who accidently discovers that he can travel between two parallel worlds. He soon realizes that doing so has deadly consequences. Full Screen Viewing Recommended.


Leap from Dan Gaud on Vimeo.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Book Review: Element Zero by James Knapp

Pros: top notch action, tense, understandable motivations on all sides

Cons: denouement wasn't offset from climax, have to pay VERY close attention

Things quickly come to a head in the third and final revivor's novel.  Fawkes flips the switch that turns unsuspecting humans into revivors using the HUMA virus.  But he's also made some adjustments to the virus' code, which FBI agent Nico Wachalowski slowly realizes are as much of a threat as the other weapons Fawkes turns on the city.

Meanwhile, Motoko Ai's war room is abuzz and Zoe Ott has some visions of what happens after the coming event.  Visions that make her question whether Fawkes is really element zero after all.

Once again the writing is tight and the motivations realistic.  It's often hard to tell which side is worse: Fawkes, willing to destroy the city and perhaps humankind or Ai and her people, who use their powers of mind manipulation indiscriminately.  The book is action packed but never loses sight of the humanity of its protagonists - forcing difficult decisions on them and watching them deal with the consequences.  And each new revelation causes you to switch sides, first hoping something happens, then hoping it doesn't. 

My only complaints were that the denouement at the end wasn't offset from the climax, so it took a moment to reorient myself to the protagonists change of location.  I also found issues of dating problematic (whether this book took place 2 or 3 years after the previous one) - though that's more likely caused by my own lack of attention.  You have to keep your wits about you reading these books.  Let your mind wander and you've just missed something crucial.

Tense plotting, great characters and a satisfying conclusion make this series worth reading.

USA Rereleases Lord of the Rings in Theaters This June

If you're in the United States and you're interested in seeing the Lord of the Rings Extended Edition films in theater, well, you're in luck.


The Academy Award®-winning trilogy will be featured in an exclusive series of three in-theater events includingThe Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring™ on June 14, 2011; The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers™ on June 21, 2011; and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King™ on June 28, 2011. Each event will begin at 7:00 p.m. local time.
 
Participating theaters and tickets can be found at www.fathomevents.com  limited seats available!
Sounds like fun.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Book Review: War Against the Weak by Edwin Black

War Against The Weak is a surprisingly readable history book.  It details the almost unknown rise of the pseudoscience of Eugenics, how the movement became popular in America and was instrumental in enacting laws that led to the sterilizing of thousands of people and ultimately caused the holocaust in Germany.

Mr. Black is careful to cite all of his sources, compiling research put together over several years with the help of people in several countries.  Each chapter deals with a different issue of eugenics, introducing the players pertinent to that aspect (whether it was sterilization, marriage laws to prevent whites from mingling their blood with 'undesirables', so called intelligence tests (IQ tests), and more.  Later chapters become a bit tedious as he reminds you of people and things brought up in earlier chapters, but the background information is always necessary going forward.

He traces the connection between American eugenicists and their European counterparts, going so far as to show their support for, and correspondence with, Nazi doctors. 

It's truly terrifying how people justified their racism and called it 'science'.  It's even more scary to find yourself agreeing, not with their means, but on rare occasions with their reasoning.  I can understand their wanting to prevent hereditary diseases from being passed on.  I don't think sterilizing the individual AND THEIR ENTIRE EXTENDED FAMILY is an appropriate way of achieving this goal.  Especially when 'hereditary diseases' involves blindness caused by any means (including accidents in adulthood), which was one of their campaigns. 

The ending of the book is quite bleak and cautioned against the possibility of using genetics (the modern and more accurate science eugenics morphed into) as a means of discrimination in the future.  I would never want to live in the world depicted in the movie Gattica, where your genes, and the possibility that you might not succeed determines that you're never given the chance to try.  According to this book, that may in fact be the future we're heading for.

REVIEW: Eutopia: A Novel of Terrible Optimism by David Nickle

Pros: excellent writing, courageous, tight ending

Cons: the supernatural aspect isn't as scary as the historically accurate parts

Eutopia takes place in the early 1900's when the eugenics movement was becoming popular with a certain type of people.  Mrs Frost, an agent of the Eugenics Records Office finds her nephew is the sole survivor of a plague ravaged frontier town.  She brings him with her to Eilada, Idaho, where an industrialist has started what he intends to be a utopic community.

But not everything's rosy in paradise.  The town's black doctor, Andrew Waggoner, has had a run in with the Ku Klux Klan and discovered that his colleague, Dr. Bergstrom has been keeping a 'Mr. Juke' in quarantine.  The more Dr. Waggoner learns of Dr. Bergstrom's actions and who, or what, Mr. Juke is, the more imperiled his life becomes.

Because Mr. Juke's family is coming to get him back.

For a novel that has such a horrifying supernatural creature at the heart of it, the true terror of the book was contained in the historically accurate parts.  It's hard to be afraid of made up monsters when the Klan and practicing eugenicists show up.  Indeed, when you see the unrepentant Mrs. Frost and delusional Dr. Bergstrom own up to their crimes, no fictional monster could possibly stand up to the horrors humans are willing to perpetrate on each other.

I call this novel courageous because Mr. Nickle focuses on a period of history most people pretend didn't exist.  The eugenics movement died after the holocaust showed the end result of such thinking.  But denying that sterilization happened in other nations (including Canada and the U.S.), as painful as it is to admit, denies the injustices done to people in the past due to racism and elitist thinking.  And allows the possibility of repeating such things.  Fiction allows us to examine issues we'd rather not, in the safety of the present, when we hope such occurrences will never be allowed to happen again.  In this way it reminds me of Blonde Roots, by Bernardine Evaristo, which flips history so Europeans are enslaved by Afrikaans.  It shows how racism can go both ways and only the conquerors decide what is right and who are the elite.

People will find reading this book uncomfortable, for the subject matter and the liberal use of the 'n' word.  We have whitewashed our history and no longer want to acknowledge the attitudes and language of the past.  Even the subtle put downs black men faced, like using Dr. Waggoner's Christian name when addressing him, rather than his title, are accurately represented in this book.

The ending is tight, bringing all three plot lines together in surprising ways.  It's an ending that is both satisfying, and thought provoking.

(Disclaimer: David Nickle is a regular at the bookstore where I work and provided my review copy.  Having said that, the book was so good and the topic so fascinating (in a horrifying way) that I read the 600 page history book the author researched while writing Eutopia, War Against the Weak by Edwin Black.  I highly recommend reading it.  It will open your eyes about racism and the holocaust in, well, rather unpleasant ways.)

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

What SF/F Books Should Be In Every Fan's Library

Yesterday SF Signal posted their newest podcast with the following question: What SF/F books should be in every fan's library?  They came up with a decent list of books (view the comments for a write-up of the books if you don't have time to listen to the podcast).

I was supposed to be on the panel but life dictated otherwise.  And the more I thought about the question the more I wondered if I was a good person to ask anyway.

My knee jerk reaction, which my fellow SF Signalers followed, was to pick classics.  For SF I'd recommend Asimov's Foundation series (which I read in high school), Dune, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and Ender's Game (read in university).  I'd think readers remiss if they didn't try at least one novel by H.G. Wells and Jules Verne and John Wyndham.

For fantasy I'd go with the books that sucked me into the genre: Terry Brooks' Sword of Shannara, Raymond E. Feist's The Riftwar Saga (only the first 4 books - the rest weren't as good, though I haven't read his more recent stuff), Weis & Hickman's The Deathgate Cycle (7 books with tight storytelling and great characters), The Dragonriders of Pern Series by Anne McCaffrey, etc. etc.  With Tolkien right at the top.  Can't consider yourself well read in fantasy without reading Tolkien.

Then I started thinking.  A lot of younger readers aren't interested in these books.  You try to hand a 15 year old a book that came out 20 years ago and they don't want it.  They find the tropes too cliche (not realizing these books created the cliches).  In some cases the books are hard to recommend due to content (rape is a precursor to love in Dragon Quest) or antiquated thinking (the protagonist of Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle isn't as sexist as Charlton Heston's character in the first film, but he doesn't consider women equals either).  It's possible they'll turn back to the classics as they get older, but is it worth buying classics so they can sit on a shelf for several years?

Most people think they know the classics anyway.  Take Frankenstein and Dracula.  Ask pretty much anyone and they'll tell you what the books are about.  Well, ok, they'll tell you what the movies are about, which is the same, right? 

Not even close.  And yet, having read both, I can't blame people for not wanting to read the books over watching the movies.  For one thing, the movies (pretty much any version of either book) has more action.  The film versions of Dracula have more sex (implied or stated) than the book.  Remember, it was a horror novel not a romance.  Indeed, I imagine people would be surprised to learn how little erotic emphasis was placed on Stoker's vampires after seeing modern reinterpretations of them.  And Frankenstein?  It's a very boring book.  That's not to say that the story itself is boring, just the execution.  Both novels are portrayed via writing, Frankenstein being exclusively through letters to the narrator's sister, and Dracula via various letters and diary entries.  There's little immersion into character. 

And how can I suggest people read books I haven't read or didn't like?  Fahrenheit 451 - couldn't finish it.  I couldn't even get through Ursula K. LeGuin's A Wizard of Earthsea and I love fantasy (though I did read and enjoy The Lathe of Heaven).  Stranger in a Strange Land - hated it with a passion.  Canticle for Leibowitz - couldn't understand why everyone said it was so amazing.  I checked and I've never even read anything by Jules Verne - though I have seen several of the movies.

Which is how most people relate to the classics nowadays.  How many people read Planet of the Apes?  Would you be surprised to learn that the book doesn't take place on Earth?  The book for Invasion of the Body Snatchers has a happy ending, much different from that of the film.  While Day of the Triffids has a starker ending in the book, making me wonder where the 'sea water kills the plants' ending of the film came from.

Hmm...  I was actually planning on ending this post by saying that if we want youth to read science fiction and fantasy we need them to read fiction that's relevant to their lives.  Stories that deal with their hopes and fears, more than those of the past.  Stories that are grimmer, grittier, more realistic and more immersive.  In other words, more like watching television.  I suspect that's why most YA fiction now uses first person narrative.  The readers get to BE the main character, seeing everything through their eyes.

That was how I was planning on ending this post.  Yes, it's good to read classics - and they're classics for a reason, because they have staying power and continued relevance - but let's just get kids reading new fiction and they'll turn to the past on their own.

Instead I'm going to end like this.  Classics are classics for a reason.  These are the books that formed the genres as we know them.  Yes, the genres change and adapt to fit new generations of readers, but as with history, if we forget the classics, we miss out on a lot of knowledge. 

Ultimately, readers should pad their libraries with a mix of books.  Get some good classics - ones you enjoy.  Read them from the library and decide if owning them is worth it.  The authors are dead, they don't need (or get) the money.  In the meantime, support current authors.

Here are some fantasy suggestions:
The Blade Itself - Joe Abercrombie
The Paladin of Souls - Lois McMaster Bujold
Poison Study - Maria Snyder
The Dragon's Path - Daniel Abraham

For science fiction:
State of Decay - James Knapp
Plague Year - Jeff Carlson
The Clone Republic - Steven Kent
Battle at the Moons of Hell - Graham Sharp Paul

I find alternating current books with classics allows me to read more classics (because I get a break from the narrative style that I find somewhat boring in older classics).  There's definitely something liberating about knowing how the story REALLY goes. 

In the end, let's not burden youth with a huge list of books they MUST read in order to be well read in the genre.  The more they enjoy books, the more they'll dig into that past on their own.  There are too many books out there to spend time reading things that aren't of interest, and today's kids will pick their own classics to take into the future.  Books that touched them and changed the genres for the better. 

As for adults, if you haven't read the classics, you don't know what you're missing.

What SF/F books do you think everyone should read or own?

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

A Good Day for Book Signing, Usamaru Furuya at the WBB

Yesterday manga artist Usamaru Furuya stopped by for a quick signing at the WBB for his newest book, Lychee Light Club.
 
Indeed, yesterday was a good day for signings as David Nickle was spotted signing copies of his new release Eutopia.  And two of the editors of Machine of Death, a book of stories centered around a machine that will tell you how - but not when - you will die, also came in to sign books.  They're currently working on volume 2, if you've got an original story idea based on the premise, here are the submission guidelines.

I love working at a bookstore.  :)

Book Review: Eona by Alison Goodman

Pros: emotionally intense, surprising willingness to kill important characters

Cons: lack of character development, Eona has dubious morals and isn't as likable as in the previous book

For Parents: minimal swearing, sexually suggestive material (but no sex and nothing explicit), fair amounts of violence including descriptions of torture, positive use of secondary GLTB character

Eona begins where Eon left off.  The Dragoneyes are dead with the exceptions of Lord Ido and Lady Eona.  Sethon has declared himself emperor.  Eona, Dela and the seriously injured Ryko want to join forces with the escaped Emperor Kygo, but Ryko can no longer be moved.  Eona uses her powers to heal him, an impulsive act that has two serious and unforeseen consequences, one of which is the subjugation of his will to hers.

By the time they do meet up with the true Emperor, Eona is once again a keeper of dangerous secrets and realizes she needs Lord Ido's help to learn how to control her powers.

The book has two main focuses: the dance between Kygo and Eona with regards to power, trust and attraction and Eona's attempts to learn more about and control her power.

What made Eon such a great book was the intricate world-building, learning how dragon power worked, palace politics and seeing how Eona managed the expanding network of lies she was trapped in.

With Eona, I'd hoped to see her rise above the lies, now that they'd all been revealed and prove that living a life of lies was not her choice.  I'd also hoped to see her consider the consequences of her actions more, as a result of having to come clean about all the lies she'd told.  Alas, in the sequel she proves even more susceptible to deception and impulsive actions than she was in the first.  Constantly going overboard and then getting angry when it was pointed out to her that she needed to act more responsibly.

Her relationship with Kygo was realistically complex given their lack of trust and respective positions of power.  Seeing them start to grow closer and then build new walls between themselves was alternately entertaining and frustrating, a reminder of how young they both are.

I liked the explanations regarding Kinra and the Imperial Pearl.  And the battle between Sethon and Kygo's forces was brutal as befits real warfare.  Ms. Goodman proved throughout the story that she wasn't afraid to kill major players, which added to the tension of the book as a whole.

Ultimately, I didn't particularly like Eona in this book.  She took the worst aspects of her personality and built on those rather than learning from previous mistakes.  The ending, though good, was surprisingly abrupt, leaving a lot of her and Kygo's future and the rebuilding of the Empire in question.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Author Interview: Peter Orullian

Novel: The Unremembered

He's also published several short stories, some of which have been animated as webisodes.

Website: www.orullian.com


> What's The Unremembered about?


That’s a big question, and most answers to it would likely be riddled with spoilers; I hate spoilers. But I’d tell you that the book is epic fantasy, and so involves the politics and impending war of nations; there are orders that trade on something akin to magic; and there are races who have been “put away” and who struggle against those bonds to return to the lands of men . . . and they’re bitter. I’ve spent time building some magic systems, including one premised on music. You’ll see some of that in The Unremembered, and much more of it later on in the series, including the intricacies of how it works. I think, too, one of the things I do is work to take some of the conventions of the genre and begin from a place of familiarity so that I can (hopefully) effectively evolve them into new terrain. So yeah, war, bad guys, magic, secrets, heartbreaking decisions, like that.


> How do you find time for all your writing and musical endeavours?

It’s not easy. It’s about time management. I get up about 3:30 am to do the writing. And most of my music stuff happens in the evenings and on weekends. That, and I’ve developed a rather close relationship with 5-Hour Energy drinks.

> You've written some, as yet unpublished, thrillers.  Do you find it harder to write one genre over another?

Not really. In some ways, I love the complement of writing in a complete second-world, like I do with The Unremembered, then coming back to write in the “real” world. Thrillers, for me anyway, are a lot of architecting the plot and research on topics I can find in the library. Fantasy takes an equal amount of time, but has more to do with world-building.

> You've been creating buzz on the internet with a variety of promotional materials (animated short stories, interviews of other authors, an interactive map of your world, a concept music album to accompany your fantasy series...).  Which project is your favourite and why?

I love all my children. Each has its own challenges and rewards. Writing for the animated short stories is fun, because I exercise different writing muscles and do a lot of art direction. The interviews are fun because I learn so much from these great writers. And with the music, well, I love to create music and am passionate about singing, so that’s just awesome. I simply can’t chose.

> What's it like working on the Xbox?

My day-job is filled with a tremendous number of very smart and passionate people. And as we all pull toward some very aggressive goals in the interactive entertainment industry, it’s pretty invigorating. Of course, playing games is awesome. But that’d give you the wrong impression of my day. It’s all business in the day hours. Mostly, we make sure others are going to have a good time with our games.

> What made you want to be a writer?

I’ve been telling stories all my life. As a kid, it was extemporaneous stories I’d just tell my sister. Along the way, I started to jot some of them down. But at the end of it, I think I like to tell stories about characters who run upon real challenges that force them to make difficult choices.

> If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?

Not permanently. As a fancy, sure. I’ve got an adventurous heart. I’d jump into the fray and have a go. Even just moving through a fantasy world for a while sounds like fun to me. But mostly, I’m pretty satisfied with my real life. That can hold adventure enough, I imagine.

> What was the hardest scene for you to write?

There were actually several. There are a couple with my main character, where he’s called on to do something and for reasons of his own, he can’t. Him failing his friends and family, even when he believes himself right to do it, were tough. But those are also precisely some of the reasons I write at all. If I can crib from Faulkner, “the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself . . . alone can make good writing . . .” I find a great deal of truth in that.

> When and where do you write?

I typically am up around 3:30 am. I putter a bit to wake up, then write for a few hours before work. I keep the same schedule on the weekends. And typically, I’m in my home office. But when I’m on the road, or out and about, I often plop down and do the same. As long as I’ve got a keyboard, I’m good.

> What’s the best/worst thing about writing?

The actual creation of story is the thrill. When you feel you’ve got it right and the story sings, there are few things better. And worst? Man, I can’t think of one right now. Maybe I’ll come back to that.

> What is something you didn’t know about the publishing industry before you had your first book published?

All the work that still takes place on a book, even after you’ve turned it in. And I don’t mean work that just the publisher does. I’ve been working on my book, in one fashion or another, since turning it in, for well over a year. Lots of small things. Good stuff, but a complete surprise.

> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

Don’t stop. If anyone tries to discourage you, tune them out. And keep educating yourself about your craft and the industry. Do all this, and you’ll succeed. May take a while. But writers seem to have a healthy dose of patience.

> Any tips against writers block?

Have fun! Writing should be fun. Consider it play. If you don’t worry about getting it perfect (just agree with yourself that you can always go back and tune up the language), then you can just write whatever, and the writing seems to be self-lubricating, so to speak—you’ll get stuck less and less.

> How do you discipline yourself to write?

Ah, discipline. I’m not sure that can be taught. Maybe. I think you have to believe in your goal, probably set a schedule, and be dogged about it. How, where, when a writer writes is individual. And deciding it for oneself is likewise something only the writer can do. If the rest of your life is undisciplined, I’m not sure you can do it just for writing. Again, maybe. But it might be wise if a writer is struggling to be disciplined about the writing, then he or she should “clean house.” In other words, put everything in your life in order. Of course, life happens, and there’ll be hiccups. Now, that said, some writers don’t even think in terms of discipline. They love to write so much you can’t keep them away from the keyboard. But there are just as many who have to have routines and squeeze in the time—like me, since I have a day job. So, make the commitment to yourself. If you can’t commit to yourself about something you love, there’s probably something else going on.

[This isn't the official book trailer, it's something his friends put together (which just shows how talented his friends are).]

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Book Country: Genre Map

One of my co-workers sent me this link to Book Country's Genre Map.  It's a map designed "to browse our members' books by genre and tone" and has subcategories for mystery, romance, thrillers, science fiction and fantasy.  Basically you click on a subgenre and it gives you a short definition and several 'landmark books', that give you indications of the book's tone.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

A Question of Language - LGBTQ

* Please note there is adult language in this post.

I've been thinking a lot about reviewing and what language to use - both in terms of mentioning content issues, but also plot and character issues.  In this post I want to deal specifically with language associated with: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer.

Now, while I know, and have known, several people who fall into these categories, I don't know any of them well enough to have a conversation about which label they prefer when talking about communities.  In other words, as with most people, I don't feel comfortable talking with friends and acquaintances about things that are none of my business, namely their sexuality and how they define their sexuality in a larger context.  But when I review books I sometimes need to use a category to give a more accurate explanation of who the characters are.

Why, you ask?  That's a good question.  Why should a character's sexuality end up in the review?  What relevance does it have to the plot?  Possibly none, possibly a huge relevance.  Ultimately, whether I mention the character's sexuality or not, I've still wondered how I SHOULD mention it, if I choose to.

And one reason to mention it, is that unlike other elements in a book that can often be gleaned from the dust jacket [like setting (on a boat), subgenre (steampunk, post-apocalyptic), character type (angels) - the things I use when creating my reading lists and endcaps], quite often sexual orientation isn't mentioned.  Which made it hard for me to do my LGBTQ reading list last year (I still intend to finish that, now that I've read more and done more research).  Ultimately, for that list I needed to either read the books and know they included such characters, or hear from others who had.

So mentioning them in book reviews is one way for people who want books with LGBTQ characters to find them.  Of course, it also allows people who aren't interested in reading about different sexualities the chance to avoid them.

But I'm concerned with how it looks when I point out that there is LGBTQ content.  Despite my reasoning, it can be perceived as being homophobic.

And that brings me to language.  I used to use the expression 'that's gay', before I learned that the word 'gay' had more connotations than 'lame' or 'stupid'.  A co-worker asked me not to use it because she found it offensive because by this time 'gay' and 'homosexual' were more aligned. 

I find it rather awkward to call people 'gay' because of how I've always used the word, and I don't consider people with different sexualities than mine 'lame' or 'stupid' or any other meaning I associated with the word 'gay'.  And the word 'queer' gives me the same knee jerk, gut sinking reaction that 'nigger' does.  I'm not quite sure why, as I take that word to mean 'strange' or 'odd'.  Yes, I don't think people should have to identify as 'strange' or 'odd' with regards to their sexuality, but I'm not sure why that particular word causes such a visceral reaction for me.  At any rate, I don't like the idea of using it.  Lesbian, as a word, has no negative connotations for me, so I'm fine using it, though 'dike' leaves me uneasy.

So my default word has been 'homosexual'.

Imagine my dismay when I read this blog post by Malinda Lo (I found her excellent blog via an interview she did for the Querring SFF series on Tor.com).  She mentions several words used to describe the LGBTQ communities, and how those words are perceived BY those communities.  Here's what she says about 'homosexual'.  "homosexual – These days, this word has distinct homophobic connotations due to the word’s medical history and usage by the anti-gay right. See this article for more info."

Damn.

Several of the terms she advocates using, like pansexual instead of bisexual, were new to me, so I thank her for mentioning them.  I especially liked her ending, "None of these words are wrong, but they do have histories. It’s your job as a writer to take that history into account."  Ultimately, it's the histories of words that carry the pain of them - both the histories people know and everyone's personal histories (like my personal dislike of the word 'queer').

Ultimately, whether I'm comfortable with the word or not, the word that seems to be used by the communities to describe themselves, is queer.  So if I don't want to offend people - and I don't - it looks like I'll have to start using that as my describing word.

That still begs the question of whether I should mention LGBTQ content in reviews or not.  I'll leave that up to you, my readers.  My poll on content issues is over, and I'm still considering the results, so here's your new poll.  Content issues aside, would you like me to mention if there are LGBTQ characters in the books I review?