Friday, 30 September 2011

Science Fiction and Fantasy Events in Toronto, October 2011

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

Thursday October 6

Dr Who Information Network (DWIN) Pub Night

There is a regular Doctor Who Tavern/Pub gathering in Toronto on the first Thursday of each month
Where: Paupers Pub, 539 Bloor Street West (near Bathurst). We meet up at the back near the dartboards.
When: People usually start to arrive around 8:00pm.

Friday October 7 - Sunday October 9

Creation Entertainment's Salute to SUPERNATURAL
Where: Sheraton TORONTO Airport Hotel and Conference Centre (810 Dixon Road, Toronto)
Cost: Varies by pass

It is indeed a great pleasure for us to bring Creation Entertainment's Salute to SUPERNATURAL to one of the most beautiful cities in the world, TORONTO! We're rolling out the red carpet to welcome fans from around the world to join in this first in the area celebration of television's hottest series and we're doing it up in major style by presenting the three sensational headliners that every fan will want to see: JENSEN ACKLES, JARED PADALECKI and MISHA COLLINS! If another TV show boasts better stars than these guys we want to know about it and we thank all three for being so supportive of our events and company over the last several years!

Saturday October 7

1. Toronto Screening of "Stiffs On The Green"
Where: Toronto Underground Cinema 186 Spadina Avenue, TorontoToronto, ON
When: 7-9 PM
Cost: $10

This is a crazy dark horror comedy about a killer on the golf course, murdering the pro players and anyone that gets in his path. It's all up to the staff workers at 'The Chip Off The Old Tee' Golf course to stop him before the big tournament.

Wednesday October 12

Toronto International Film Festival Light Box Presents:
Otherworldly Exhibit Special Talk:
From Concept to Reality: Creating an Extraordinary Creature Called “Dren”
Special guests Amro Attia and Alex Kavanagh
Where: TIFF Bell Lightbox is located at Reitman Square on the north-west corner of King and John Streets (350 King Street West)
When: Wednesday, October 12 at 7:00 pm
Cost: Ticket Sales and booking information for the special events will be available at in late September 2011.

TIFF presents a rare, intimate salon-style session with creature designer Amro Attia and costume designer Alex Kavanagh, as they take audiences behind the scenes of Vincenzo Natali’s Splice and discuss the process involved in the development of its genetically altered protagonist, “Dren.”

Saturday October 15

Toronto SpecFic Colliquium
Where: Toronto Underground Cinema (186 Spadina Ave.)
When: 9 am - 11 pm
Theme: Modern Mythologies
Guest of Honour: Mike Carey
Ticket prices varry by age and purchase date.  Go here to buy online.

Monday October 17

Mike Carey talks at the Merril Collection of Science Fiction
Where: Lilian H. Smith Library, 239 College Street, basement
7:00 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.

Mike Carey, author of numerous graphic novel series including Lucifer, Faker, as well as the Felix Castor supernatural detective novels, will be the guest of the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, speaking in the basement of the Lillian Smith branch, 239 College Street.

Wednesday October 19

Toronto Public Library Author Talk
The Sky's Dark Labyrinth by Stuart Clark
When: 7:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Where: Runnymede Program Room

The first novel in a trilogy which brings to life those turning points in history which forever changed our view of the universe. Acclaimed astronomy writer Stuart Clark This is the story of Johannes Kepler and Galileo Galilei, two men trapped by human ignorance and irrational terror in one of the darkest, yet also enlightening periods of European history.

Thursday October 20 - 27

Toronto After Dark Film Festival
8 nights of horror, sci-fi, action and cult movies
Oct 20-27
Where: Toronto Underground Cinema (186 Spadina Ave)
single price tickets $13 ($15 for opening/closing gala screenings), 250 all access passes on sale for $139
screenings are for those aged 19 and older

Friday October 21

Daniel Clowes The graphic novelist is interviewed by Seth Mariko as part of the International Festival Of Authors.
Where: , Harbourfront Centre Brigantime Rm, 235 Queens Quay W, Toronto, 416-973-4000,
When: 8 pm
Admission: $18, stu free

Saturday October 22

Where: Trinity Bellwood's Park (tentative)
When: 3 pm
cost: free! 
For all ages!  Please observe that there's a NO WEAPONS policy in effect

Get their early for a chance to win fiendtastic prizes, and the Henry’s zombie photo booth, plus a special scaremony, details to be announced soon!!!
The 2011 Toronto Zombie Walk route will be announced at a later date. So keep your eyeballs peeled.
Please register for the walk at:
It’s free!! There will be NO registration booth at the park, but save your registration slips for a chance to win spooktacular prizes.
After the walk, this year’s evening entertainment will be hosted by the the Toronto After Dark Film Festival. From 7pm onwards join us at the screening venue, the Toronto Underground Cinema, 186 Spadina Avenue, just north of Queen, for a double bill screening of two brand new zombie films, with a special discount for the undead! And then from 11.30pm until late, at Tequila Bookwork on Queen Street, stay feasting until the wee hours with the official after party! Please note evening events hosted by Toronto After Dark including screenings and after party are restricted to age 19+. Complete details on Toronto After Dark Film Festival, 8 Nights of New Horror, Sci-Fi, Action and Cult Movies, Oct 20-27, 2011 here:
Drop by the Henry’s Tent at the 2011 Zombie Walk from 2pm on and get a professional 4×6 picture of you and your Zombie friends for a only $2 each.  All proceeds will go to the Connect Learning Centre.  Check out Henry’s online at
2011 Brain Drive
Once again we are running a brain drive to help cover the numerous costs of the walk such as permits and insurance.  Check it out here for a chance to win some fiendtastic prizes!
Weapons Policy
The Toronto Zombie Walk is a weapon free event. This is to avoid confusion and added stress for the city during the walk. We agree to no weapons when we apply for our permits.
Problems arising from weapons and prop weapons can put the walk and everyone’s enjoyment of the walk in Jeapordy, we therefore must stress that NO WEAPONS are permitted on the walk.

Sunday October 23

The Word Doctors Are In A masterclass for aspiring authors is part of the International Festival Of Authors.
Where: , Harbourfront Centre Brigantine Rm, 235 Queens Quay W, Toronto, 416-973-4000,
When: 11 am
Admission: $18, stu free

Tuesday October 25

Lev Grossman/Erin Morgenstern/Simon Toyne Round table discussion on magic, myth and the forces beyond reason.
Where: , Harbourfront Centre Studio Theatre, 235 Queens Quay W, Toronto, 416-973-4000,
When: 8 pm
Admission: $18, stu free

Wednesday October 26

The Chemistry of Sex, Drugs and the Brain
Where: Toronto Reference Library Elizabeth Beeton Auditorium
When: 6:30 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.

Professor William J. Pietro will provide an expose of how nerve cells communicate in the human brain through chemical messengers. He will show how molecules designed to mimic these natural substances can be used to treat depression, schizophrenia, and psychosexual dysfunction. Principles of drug discovery and pharmacology will be discussed using the action of street drugs as an example.

Saturday October 29

1. Toronto International Film Festival Light Box Presents:
Otherworldly Exhibit Special Talk:
Curatorial Perspectives Tour 
Where: Where: TIFF Bell Lightbox is located at Reitman Square on the north-west corner of King and John Streets (350 King Street West)
When: Saturday, October 29 at 11:00 am
Cost: Ticket Sales and booking information for the special events will be available at in late September 2011.

Sylvia Frank, Director of TIFF’s Film Reference Library and Special Collections and curator of Otherworldly: The Art of Canadian Costume Design, offers an exclusive guided tour of the exhibition and an in-depth look at its creation, including its original conception, the selection process and design parameters.

2. Rue Morgue's Banquet of Blood, 14th Anniversary Halloween Party
Where: Revival (783 College St)
When: 9 pm
Cost: $25 advance / $30 at the door

Featuring Twitch Couvier as The Master of Ceremonies, MiMi Cherry as Countess Bathory, Bon Bon Bombay as The Strangled Bride, Mia Culpa in Flash Flood, the Rue Morgue Go-Go Ghouls, a Midnight Costume Contest and terror tunes courtesy of Manny G. Eric Von Eric and Tomb Dragomir

You must present a PRINTED COPY OF YOUR CONFIRMATION E-MAIL in order to pick up your tickets at the venue. No tickets will be issued without a printed confirmation.

Sunday October 30

8th Annual Canadian Action Figure Expo
Where: Doubletree by Hilton Hotel - Toronto Airport, 655 Dixon Road
When:10/11 - ? (website doean't give closing time)
Cost: Earlybird admission (10am) $20, Regular admission (after 11) $10, Children 5-12 $5, under 5 are free

Huge selection of vintage 80s toys and all the latest releases from today.
Costume contest.

Monday October 31


Thursday, 29 September 2011

New Author Spotlight: Lauren Beukes

New Author Spotlight is a series designed to introduce authors with 3 books or less in the different SF/F subgenres.

Today's spotlight shines on Lauren Beukes.

Lauren has won (and been nominated for) several SF awards, including the Arthur C. Clarke, the Red Tentacle, the Campbell (shortlist), BSFA (shortlist), as well as several literary awards in South Africa. See also: SF Signal's recent interview with Lauren.

Lauren Beukes's books include:

  • Moxyland by Lauren Beukes (Angry Robot)
  • Zoo City by Lauren Beukes (Angry Robot)
  • Maverick: Extraordinary Women from South Africa's Past by Lauren Beukes (Struik Publishers)

Here's the cover copy for Zoo City:

Zinzi has a Sloth on her back, a dirty 419 scam habit and a talent for finding lost things. But when a little old lady turns up dead and the cops confiscate her last paycheck, she’s forced to take on her least favourite kind of job – missing persons.

Being hired by reclusive music producer Odi Huron to find a teenybop pop star should be her ticket out of Zoo City, the festering slum where the criminal underclass and their animal companions live in the shadow of hell’s undertow.
Instead, it catapults Zinzi deeper into the maw of a city twisted by crime and magic, where she’ll be forced to confront the dark secrets of former lives – including her own.

If you like these titles, you might also like:

  • Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (Tor)
  • Urban Shaman by C.E. Murphy (Luna)
  • Staying Dead by Laura Anne Gilman (Luna)

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Fantasy Artist: Cindy Grundsten

I found this artist via SF Signal's tidbits page, featured at Amazing Only.  She's a graphic art designer who specializes in reality and fantasy photomanipulation based in Eskilstuna, Sweden.

Here's her website, photo site, deviantART site and Art Design site.  And here are a few examples of her work, starting with a before and after shot, showing what she does.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Book Review: The Thirteen by Susan Moloney

Pros: psychological horror, good set-up for a creepy climax

Cons: more swearing than I like

Paula Wittmore's mother falls ill after the death of a friend in the close knit community of Haven Woods.  Another friend, Izzy, notifies the young woman and suggests that she and her daughter, Rowan, return to visit.  But a special sisterhood there needs both Paula and Rowan in order to regain their number.  And be their sacrifice.

This is my kind of horror novel, where you're given hints of what's really going on and your imagination is left to fill in the blanks.  Rather than dealing in depth with all of the sisterhood, Moloney focuses on a few - keeping the novel tight and encouraging sympathy in surprising ways.  Paula and Rowan are immediately sympathetic (if not immediately likable), but I hadn't expected to like Marla, Paula's childhood friend who's trapped in a life that's becoming ever more distant from the perfect life she was promised when she joined the sisterhood.

And while I'm definitely a cat lover, this book managed to show the darker side of the animals, making me cheer for the dogs in the book (and I don't generally like dogs).

The only thing I wasn't keen on was the amount of swearing.  The characters cuss easily and often.

The climax is suitably long and dark, given the lead up, but not gratuitous or overbearing.  In other words, if you like psychological horror, this is a good book. 

Friday, 23 September 2011

Author Interview: Patrick A. Vanner

Novels: Ragnarok

> What's Ragnarok about?

Ragnarok is a ‘what if’ story. There are a several stories in books, TV series, and even movies that have to deal with humanity and/or civilized human cultures being destroyed or pushed back by an encroaching enemy. A majority of these stories deal with this premise by having the protagonist fighting back to reestablish civilization or find a new home for civilization. But, what if the heroes of the story realized that the reestablishment of civilization is beyond their ability, but instead, decide to clear the way for someone else? Ragnarok is the expansion of that idea. One ship, one crew, willing to sacrifice everything to eradicate an alien menace by any means necessary, to include genocide, in the hopes that humanity will be able to rebuild itself with the threat of alien aggression severely stunted or outright removed.

> There are several series about female army commanders/ship captains (David Weber's Honor Harrington, Elizabeth Moon's Heris Serrano, etc.), what made you write about a female Marine, ie a 'grunt'?

I am fascinated by other male author’s portrayal of female military members, whether it is in a novel, TV, movie, or game. Both of my parents were Marines, I was a Marine, several of my relatives were Marines, multiple friends of my family were members of all branches of the military, just as many of my own friends and comrades were; in fact the best commanding officer I ever had the privilege to serve under was female. Having spent my entire life around military members, of both genders, I have witnessed the differences in the way the genders approach situations. I wanted to see if I could capture those differences and bring them to life in the pages of my book and portray believable characters of both genders.

> What made you want to be a writer?
I have these characters living in my head, in multiple universes, all with their own lives, experiences, and stories to share. Sometimes, their adventures go in directions I would never expect, but I go with it anyway, it is their story, not mine, and I think those stories need to be shared.

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

Right now, I would trade places with Tracy Clark, the recon marine. I feel more of a kinship with her than I do with most of my other characters, and her personality and zest for life just seems to be so infectious. I can’t but help and be jealous of her sometimes.

> What was the first novel (published or unpublished) that you wrote and how long did it take to write it?

Ragnarok was my first novel, and as to how long it took to write it is hard to say. I originally came up with the concept for it while I was still in the Marine Corps, back in 1998. I played with and poked the idea for quite some time, coming back to visit it over many years. I actually put pen to paper as it were, back in 2005. I played around with the first part of the story for most of a year, but then Alex would not be ignored any longer. In 2006, I pushed out the last 65,000 words in less than three weeks, and began the long process of editing and back and forth with my publisher. There were several life altering events between many of the people involved in the process, so the actual time line was much longer than was anticipated, but I am happy everything worked out in the end.

> What was the hardest scene for you to write?

The scenes between the chief of naval operations and the secretary of war. I had never been privy to those levels of interactions as a lowly (rank), and I had to do a lot of reading and research to even get an idea of how a meeting like that would go.  It wasn't as strong a scene as I would have liked, but I've gained some more experience and insight since Ragnarok so I hope to do better in the future.

> If you still have one, what’s your day job?

My wife hasn't let me become a full-time starving artist yet, so I still slave away to The Man working as as middle management in the telecommunications field.

> What is your university degree in and does it help with your writing?

I majored in Aerospace and Electrical engineering at Penn State, and when I separated from the Marine Corps, I went back to school to get a degree in Network Administration and Telecommunications. It helps less from the “style” side of things, but more from the “technical” side of things. It allows me to come up with some plausible technological ideas, as well as follow the logic in situations that otherwise might be missed.

> When and where do you write?

I don’t really have a “when and where” to my writing. I tend to write on my lap top, but I do it all over the house. As for the when, that is a bit more complicated. Real life obligations can make it hard to be productive without distractions, but it only takes a short period of quiet in my life to let the words flow. I wrote the short story, “The Question”, for the Citizens anthology in just a few hours. Work and life are coming up on an even keel now, so I am hoping for good things in the near future.

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

Best: Someone telling me that they are looking forward to what happens next.
Worst: The world conspiring to make things too crazy for me to be able to tell people what comes next.

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

I knew a fair bit about the publishing world going in to this, not because I did inordinate amounts of research, but because several of my friends are authors and publishers. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to pick their brains over the course of several years.  What I've learned since having the book published, has really been on a more personal level in how I deal with critiques, and praise, and moving more into the spot light at events instead of just being there to support others.

> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

Write something. Everyone has stories to tell, just instead of sitting around with your friends talking about it, put it on paper.Then have someone who will give you honest feedback read it. Don’t kill yourself trying to write a bestseller the first time out, just tell a tale that someone will want to know the ending of. Writing, like anything else in life, will improve with time, effort, and practice

> Any tips against writers block?

I can't think of anything to write for this.  But seriously, It is hard for me to tell the difference between writers block or just not having the energy or creativity to write anything due to outside factors and stressors.  I will tell you that getting the newest video game when it comes out and spending weeks playing it does not help.

> How do you discipline yourself to write?

For me, it is less a matter of disciplining myself to write, as it is disciplining myself to stop. When I am writing, it is not uncommon to see the sun coming up and wonder where the time went, and if I can call off work that day. I will say that I have tried to force myself to stick to a schedule of writing for set times each day, and for me that does not work.  Writing is storytelling, and when I try to force it, it becomes a chore.  I believe that telling a story should never be a chore, but fun.

> How many rejection letters did you get for your first novel or story?

Ragnarok is my first book, and Baen was my first choice in publisher. I am immensely happy that the good folks at Baen took the risk on a new author. With a little luck and a lot of guidance from their wonderful editing staff, I hope to keep my rejection letter count at zero.

Book Review: The Declaration by Gemma Malley

Pros: thought provoking, fascinating premise, well executed, everyone has plausible motivations for their actions

Cons: ending a little too pat, subject matter's dark for younger teens

For Parents: no swearing, no sexual content, depictions of child abuse (beatings, brainwashing), threats of violence, murder, suicide

Surplus Anna lives in Grange Hall, training to be a Valuable Asset.  Her parents ignored the Declaration in order to have her, and it's her duty to repay the world for their selfishness by becoming a servant of Legals.  She'll be sixteen soon and her time at Grange Hall is ending.

She's a good Surplus and Knows Her Place.  The coming of a new boy, her age, much older than Surpluses are usually found, turns her life upside-down.  He claims to know her parents.  He claims to know a way to escape Grange Hall.  He calls her Anne Covey.

Like the protagonist in 1984, Anne's first act of defiance regarding her life is to start a diary.  Her infractions mount quickly. 

The premise that in the future humans would learn how to prolong life - to live forever - is interesting, especially given that this book takes it to the next level: with no one dying, there's no room for kids.  We're never completely told what the actual Declaration says, which would normally annoy me, but here worked to add tension and horror, at each new revelation.  I also liked how Malley gave periodic insights into how the world of the future worked, especially the idea that people, knowing they'd have to deal with climate problems rather than their descendants, finally took steps towards curbing them.

Everyone has a plausible reason for why they act the way they do, including Mrs. Pincent, the House Matron, whose goal at the Hall is to break the children and make them hate their parents.

While there's no swearing or sexual content, there is a fair amount of violence, both verbal and physical abuse of children, murder and suicide.  The book shows some of the realities of police states, where rights can be withdrawn on a whim and terror is a means of controlling people.

The ending is a bit contrived, all the plot lines a little too neatly tied up, but that's forgivable given the heavy nature of the book and the audience it's intended for.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

What Makes a Good Review?

I read Andrew Wheeler's post on this topic a few days ago and, as I write book and movie reviews, thought it was an interesting topic.  I also want to point out the New York Review of Science Fiction's Guidelines, that someone recommended I read back when I started reviewing books for SF Signal.

First off, what's the point of a review?  To give enough information so that readers know if the book will be interesting to them.  You can use many methods to achieve this: stars, pro/con sections, comparisons with other books, etc.

I personally find some of these more useful than others.  I don't generally rate things with stars because I've noticed different sites give different star ratings different meanings.  And it's easy to assume a book is better/worse than it is based on the rating.  Here's a comparison chart based on several popular sites:
I tried adding LibraryThing but couldn't find their rating chart.  While the ratings are fairly close, there are definite differences between what 3 and 4 stars mean.  I had someone ask why I rated a book so low on GoodReads and had to point out that according to their system, 3 stars is a pretty good rating. (And if anyone would like to friend me on GoodReads and see what I'm reading now, rather than learning it when I post the reviews several weeks or months later, feel free.)  I'd also argue that there's a difference between saying a book was bad and saying I personally didn't like it.  Some books can be well written with lots of good elements and simply not appeal to me as a reader.  I'd hate for people to read one of my reviews and dismiss a book they might like because I rated it a 3 or below.  Everyone has different tastes, and ratings don't give you the information you need to decide why a book 'wasn't good' or if YOU would like it.

That's why I borrowed SF Signal's pro/con idea.  Not only is it a good way to get my thoughts in order when reviewing, I feel that it's helpful to know what elements the reviewer did or didn't like.  If you like slow reads and I don't, well, my con is your pro - you can use that information when reading the review proper to see if other aspects of my taste are similar to yours.  If they're not and I gave the book a negative review, maybe it's a book you'd like.

As for comparison books, I'm on the fence with its helpfulness.  If you've read the comparison book(s) then it's helpful, if you haven't...  And what aspects of the books are similar?  When I do my New Author Spotlight posts I make 3 comparisons.  I generally have to pick one element (character, subgenre) and find other books that match that, even if they don't match in other ways (like tone, pacing, etc.).  For example, when doing Will McIntosh I picked other books that had a soft apocalyptic feel to them (or at least, books that showed the world in the midst of a collapse - of which there weren't many to choose from, most authors preferring to do post apocalyptic or war style apocalyptic books).  When it comes to comparisons there's an element of guesswork, as even if the themes and genre are similar, you may love one book and hate the other.

Ultimately, if reviews I write help you decide if a book is for you, then I'm doing my job correctly.

What aspects of reviews do you find helpful?  How do you decide if a reviewed book appeals to you?

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Now for something completely different

I've been doing a bunch of articles lately (and will probably have another one tomorrow), so I thought I'd throw something completely different on here next:

This is a video by two Filipino brothers (and a friend) lipsynching a Backstreet Boys song.  Someone then used the video for a Miku Miku Dance routine.  I love how accurately they got the boys' expressions!

Here's the Moymoy Palaboy website if you want to see more of their comic videos.

Say Yes To Gay YA Part 2

This is a continuation of the Publishers Weekly article I was talking about here.

So apparently, despite not having named the agent who telling two authors she would only consider their YA book if the gay character was made straight, the agent has posted a rejoinder stating that wasn't the change she requested.  And the authors have posted a response to the rejoinder sticking with their story as written.  Now, I don't know any of the people involved and I don't know the whole story, so take sides or not as you choose.  What interests me is that this discussion happened.  Getting the idea that we need more GLTBQ friendly fiction (YA or otherwise) is a good message.

I particularly like Andy's comment a decent way down the page on the rejoinder post.  He's replying to the idea that if readers want more books with GLTBQ content, then it's up to them to buy the books already out:

... I think a point that gets missed is the exclusion of LGBT portrayals is a systematic problem. So to say that the solution is in the hands of readers, to prove that there's a market for LGBT books, is short-sighted, and to me, hurtful.

.6% (at best) of all YA books published last year (excluding self-pubbed) had significant LGBT characters. That's not because of one homophobic agent, one homophobic publishing house. That's the way the publishing industry works.

To draw a parallel to other types of inequity, when we talk about the gender wage gap, women making 80 cents on the dollar, we cannot (sensibly) argue that it's the fault of one bad employer, or the fault of women, or the fault of women not demonstrating that they are worthy of earning the same wage as men.

The solution requires change on every level - publishers, marketers, agents, authors, and yes readers. To just toss it back on authors of LGBT YA, or readers of LGBT YA, pretends that there's an equal playing field for all kinds of books. It ignores the inherent heterosexual privilege in the industry.  ...
(Click here to see his entire comment.)

Well said, Andy.  It's up to the industry as a whole to make things more inclusive, for all groups.  And making people aware of the problem is one small step towards change.

And if you want to read more on this, Steven Dos Santos has posted a rejection letter he received from an agency because his protagonist was gay. He also comments on the same thing Andy does, with one addition:
[Agents commenting on the marketability of gay characters in YA] seem to be perpetuating this marketing issue by stating that “gay” books don’t sell as well as “straight” books and people have to buy more “gay” books so that publishers will realize they’re in demand and want them. Uh…if publishers aren’t publishing that many “gay” books to begin with, just which and where are these “gay” books that readers are supposed to buy to prove the demand for them?

Scott Tracey has also posted about her difficulties getting published.

(Thanks to Grasping for the Wind for the links to most of these posts.)

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Book Review: Tankborn by Karen Sandler

Pros: fascinating caste system, excellent world building, interesting characters, quick paced

Cons: the romances seem to happen fast and are, given the environment, a little unrealistic

For Parents: no sex, no language, minimal violence

Kayla is a GEN, a Genetically Engineered Non-human. Her right cheek is tattooed with her DNA mark, where anyone can use a datapad to access her annexed brain and where the details of her job will be stored when she's given her work assignment. That assignment will be based on the skill set her gene-spliced animal DNA gives her (enhanced upper body strength) on her fast-approaching 15th birthday. She'll be taken from her nurture mother and friends and spend the rest of her life working for true and lowborns. All according to the Infinite's will. Her best friend, Mishalla, has already been assigned to a sector far away. But unknown to Kayla, Mishalla's been diverted from her assigned place to work at a crisis creche closer to home. There, Mishalla befriends a lowborn and slowly becomes aware that there's something strange about the creche as children appear and are taken away at an alarming rate. When Kayla is finally placed, she stumbles across a conspiracy that could help her people, or get her brain reset.

Karen Sandler's Tankborn is a thought-provoking YA science fiction that's very fast-paced and brilliantly executed. You're thrown into the world, having to figure out terminology via its usage rather than through information dumps. And while the plot isn't hard to follow, there's a lot of underlying themes that lend themselves to discussion (with regards to using religion to control people, the morality of creating a race of genetically engineered slaves, etc.).
One of the most fascinating aspects of the novel is the caste system. The story takes place on Loka, a planet colonized by humans. Where you fall in the hierarchy is determined by what job your ancestors had on the colony ships -- trueborns being subdivided depending on their wealth and lowborns being those who agreed to work for their passage. The interesting thing is that skin colour is generally a means of telling people of different statuses apart, with high-status trueborns being mostly dark skinned with black hair. People with lesser statuses have either really dark or paler skin. Even GENs vary in skin tone across the spectrum. This setup allows for discussions of racism without it becoming a strictly 'white' vs 'black' issue. In other words, Sandler presents it as a complex issue without simple answers.

Tankborn has romance but no sex, and the violence is kept to a minimum. The romances are fun, even if Kayla's seems a little fast given her and her beau are from completely different castes. I suspect that his great-grandfather's influence notwithstanding, a trueborn would require more time to get used to the idea that GENs should be treated with respect and are equal to humans after a lifetime of being told otherwise. The characters are interesting and their problems/concerns realistic given their circumstances.

Tankborn is a highly recommended, thought-provoking YA novel from a new imprint dedicated to diversity.

Genre News

I've come across a few new posts dealing with YesGayYA that I think it's worth passing along.  Malinda Lo has done a great post on authenticity - and the fact that one person's experience doesn't necessarily match that of others:

  • The concept of one authentic identity/representation is problematic because cultures and traditions are not tightly bounded; they are fluid and many times hybrid. One Asian American’s experience of growing up in the US is not the same as every other’s.
  • When we think about writing fiction, the idea of authenticity is often entangled with the idea of experience. “Write what you know,” etc. However, nobody expects a writer to go out and kill people before she writes murder mysteries.
She linked to a post by Brent Hartinger that deals with diversity.  Among his points are these:

  • Talk is cheap. Everyone says, "I'm all for diversity!" But being in favor of diversity in theory is literally pointless. In today's world, the only way it happens is if you consciously make it happen. We all need to be aware of this issue -- in our own works and in the works of others. If the characters you're writing (and reading) are exactly like you, it's worth asking yourself, "Why might that be?"
  • ...
  • Along those lines, there is no one minority experience of anyone -- not of blacks, not of gays, not of the disabled. What we're talking about are the experiences of individuals -- individual characters, in fact. I really do get why minorities are protective of the way they're portrayed -- they've often been oppressed, ridiculed, and/or stereotyped, usually for centuries. But again, when we're talking about a book or movie, we're talking about individual characters, not entire groups. No one is "representative" of anything. And besides, art is about making connections and finding the emotional heart in a character and situation anyway; it's not about literal "truth."
Both posts make some other excellent points, so go and read them if you're interested.

In other news, Sea Lion Books' graphic novel, Pariah, now has a series of trailers.  My favourites are Sam's because he's created some interesting tech, and Barclay's, because he's angry and sarcastic and he has a plan.  His video is embedded here as it gives more plot details than the others.

And last but not least, 360 Sound and Vision Entertainment is currently filming Cybornetics:

a futuristic science fiction feature film about a group of scientists, working for the United States government, who transform Charles Benjamin,  a small time hustler, into a cyborg. The film stars Raw Leiba, of Conan The Barbarian, and Justiin A. Davis of HBO's Boardwalk Empire.