Friday 30 April 2010

Chinese 'Swiss' Army Shovel

When you're in the army, a good shovel can come in handy. Especially if you can use it to hammer in tent pegs, dig through walls, saw wood, cut wire and... open wine bottles? In the spirit of the Swiss army knife, comes the Chinese army shovel. And it's pretty cool.

The video was taken from wimprezax's youtube site.

Something to remember when writing, tools can be used for more than one thing. I know assassins, magicians and witches/wise women tend to have multi-use tools (even if it's just a cloak with pockets to hold numerous ingredients). When's the last time you read of a military dude using his shovel as a grappling hook to raid a house? What other multi-tool inventions could people in science fiction and fantasy worlds use?

Agent for a Day

Literary agent Nathan Bransford has done a series of posts allowing readers to understand the query system and how difficult it is to sift through piles of queries to find the potential bestsellers.

It starts here, where he randomly picked 5 queries out of 150 entries readers send in.

Then you go to day two, where he's posted the first 30 pages of the novels. Based on which query you liked the most, how do you like the manuscript?

And finally the wrap-up.

It's harder to do than I'd anticipated. Following his guidelines, to pick the query that I felt had good writing and a story I thought would appeal, I picked one query. The manuscript pages for that didn't live up to the interesting premise of the query, and I ended up picking a different manuscript from the sample pages.

It shows the importance of a good query letter though. It doesn't matter how good the novel is if you can't get an agent/editor is interested.

Thursday 29 April 2010

Teleoperated Korean Robot

I saw this video last night and, as The Ring of Charon was my first time hearing the term 'teleoperator' thought it would make a good follow-up post.

The robot shown was developed by the Korea Institute of Science and Technology. I grabbed it from spectrummag's youtube page.

Wednesday 28 April 2010

The Ring of Charon, Book Review

by Roger MacBride Allen

Pros: the science seems accurate and is explained so anyone can follow the story, interesting premise, unique aliens

Cons: too many characters to keep track of, implausible character personality changes

The Ring of Charon is the first book of the Hunted Earth series though it also works as a stand alone novel.

The story takes place enough in the future that most plants in the solar system have colonies, the asteroids are being mined for minerals and science is much further ahead than it is now. But knowledge is not static, so scientists at Pluto have built a ring around Charon, it's moon, designed to investigate gravity. When Larry Chao makes a breakthrough and tests his theory, he unwittingly wakes a sleeping alien force in the moon. This entity makes a transmission to its own kind, and before any humans understand something is happening, the Earth disappears.

The novel starts slowly as the experiment and its immediate consequences are dealt with. The rest of the novel shows the humans both on the Earth and back in the Solar System try to contact each other and learn about the aliens that have changed everything.

It's a fascinating thought experiment. He writes the scientific explanations in such a way that anyone could understand them. And it's far from boring. He does jump from place to place a lot, showing how people in various places react. And all of the viewpoints are necessary for the ending but it is hard to keep track of who's who.

My only real complaint is that two characters change personalities rather drastically during the story. The first was Raphael, leader of the Pluto station. He starts off very imperious and has a revelatory shift to someone with an inquisitive mind, willing to learn from others. His epiphany was carefully explained but still felt contrived. The second was Lucian from the Moon. When talking to Chao from a distance he's nice to him, but when they meet in person an undisguised hatred pops up.

The alien life-forms Allen created are fascinating. The explanation as two researchers discover the alien life cycle sounds rather far fetched, especially as they both agree there's no other possible explanation for what's happening, but it's definitely unique.

The Ring of Charon is an interesting look at where humans could go in the future, as well as an examination of possible life-forms that might be 'out there' somewhere.

Tuesday 27 April 2010

Kick-Ass Movie Review

Pros: lots of action, mostly realistic portrayal of trying to be a superhero without powers, Hit-Girl (she's just an awesome character), Mark Strong (he's an incredible actor)

Cons: disturbing amounts of violence, sexual innuendo (but no graphic sex)

Director: Matthew Vaughn, 2010

Kick-Ass is a movie wherein an everyday powerless teenager, Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), decides to become a super hero. Naturally he gets his ass kicked. Surprisingly he doesn't give up and runs into a father/daughter team (Nicholas Cage and Chloe Moretz) who have actually trained to become vigilantes in order to take down drug lord Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong).

Frank's son comes up with a plan to stop those killing his father's men, starting a chain of events that shows, in violently graphic terms, why regular people don't become superheroes.

The best character by far is by Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz). It's hard to come up with something creepier than a psychopathic girl, merciliessly killing people. There's an obvious nod to A Clockwork Orange during her fight scenes, where peppy music plays and she cheerfully chats with her victims. It's absolutely chilling.

The movie is VERY graphic. Its 18A rating is well deserved. As Sean Means said in his Salt Lake Tribune review, "When the movie is cool, it’s very, very cool — and when it’s disturbing, it’s very, very disturbing." (Found via Rotten Tomatoes)

Yet, it's also very funny. I laughed out loud at several points in the film. And when we were leaving the theater I laughed again at some of the lines. In many ways it's funnier in retrospect (since you're so stunned during the film at some parts you forget to laugh).

Given how the rest of the film goes the ending feels a bit contrived. I found this forgivable, as I expected a grand finale, though it does ignore the premise of the film - that real people can't do certain things without training.

Regardless, if you don't mind violence (or closing your eyes at some points), and are willing to be alternately wowed and disturbed, Kick-Ass is a great film.

Friday 23 April 2010

The Horrors of Growing Up, Reading List

Growing up can be hard. Especially when there's an author out there determined to throw all sorts of horrific things your way. Here's a list of books with young protagonists, trying to grow up around events that would make others curl up and want to die.

The list includes several teen novels (I couldn't find enough in the adult horror section to fill the endcap. I also added Push by Sapphire because the protagonist's life, as told in the first few pages, horrified me).

As with my other reading lists, this one's not meant to be comprehensive, though if you can think of a book that matches the criteria feel free to leave it in the comments.

Flowers in the Attic – V.C. Andrews

Thief of Always – Clive Barker

Peter Pan – J. M. Barrie

Something Wicked This Way Comes – Ray Bradbury

Child Thief – Brom

Ender's Game – Orson Scott Card

Lost Boys – Orson Scott Card

Neverland – Douglas Clegg

The Gates – John Connolly

Coraline – Neil Gaiman

The Devouring – Simon Holt

The Reach – Nate Kenyon

The Shining – Stephen King (and a lot of other books by King)

Let the Right One In – John Lindqvist

Another Faust – Daniel Nayeri

Wishing Game – Patrick Redmond

Forest of Hands and Teeth – Carrie Ryan

Push – Sapphire

Shadows – John Saul (all John Saul books)

Cirque du Freak – Darren Shan

Unwind – Neal Shusterman

Talisman – Peter Straub & Stephen King

Thursday 22 April 2010

Fuji Finepix HS10 Camera Review

I know, this is a science fiction and fantasy blog and here I am posting about several non sff things. But since I closed my other blog I've got nowhere else to post these things, and as I had trouble finding up to date information about this camera before I bought it I figure I'd help others out. There are several good cameras out now, and some confusion over which is the best. I picked the HS10 for a number of reasons starting with its focal range of 24-720mm. That's wider than most cameras will go (most only go 27 or 28mm) and an optical zoom of 30x. It also has numerous features I've been testing out: an in camera panorama mode that stitches together a larger photo, motion remover (if you're photographing something and you don't want cars or people walking by in the photo), super macro mode (the camera will focus even if the object is touching the lens!), etc. The only photo I've changed is the wide angle beach shot, putting a rather crooked box around the area of the close-up photo. Other than that, no touching up has been done.

Here are a few photos to illustrate what this camera can do.

Here's the beach scene, at its widest angle and the widest zoom.

A huge benefit of the high zoom is being able to detailed take close-up shots of wildlife (or kids, pets, etc.) from a distance.

These two shots may look the same but I used different settings for them. The first is 'auto' mode, the second is 'flower' mode, designed to make flowers look more brilliant. Looks like it ups the saturation, darkening the photo and making the colours brighter.

I love close-ups and my previous camera was a huge disappointment in that arena. Not so the HS10. This is 'super-macro' mode, where there's no limit to how close you can get to the object. The two bent stamens in this picture are actually touching my lens (and leaving pollen on it), yet the blossoms are still in focus.

Panorama takes some getting used to. The camera has to be on full wide angle to use it, and so far it hasn't let me stop the shot early and still give me something useful. So you have between a 180 and 270 degree shot.

For night photography the camera has trouble focusing if it's too dark or the object is too far for the focus red light aid to light it up properly. Otherwise it still takes clear photos. This is a tree taken without flash. There was a streetlight nearby so it was fairly well lit.

And here's the moon at full zoom, hand held. For the first one I used the automatic setting, which used a low shutter speed, thereby whiting out the moon's features. For the second, I used shutter priority so I could raise the shutter speed and cut out the glare.

And one of its most useful settings is burst mode, allowing several shots a second. It takes a minute or so to process the full 7 shots (the most it will save), so be sure you get the shot you want because you may not get a second chance at it. Still, it's worth it for things that move quickly where you only have one chance at it. This is a 5 shot burst I took of birds washing themselves in a creek.

Some of the problems with the camera... the on/off switch is where the zoom on my previous camera was. That's been interesting. The HS10 has manual zoom, which takes practice and can be shaky on videos. Speaking of videos, the HS10 shoots in full HD, gives good sound and has a highly convenient one touch button for filming (it's only a button, there's nothing on the mode ring for video). In the video below I zoom twice. It's completely hand held so you can see that camera jiggle isn't as bad as you might expect all things considered. The stabilization is excellent for night shots as well.

The controls are fairly intuitive once you know what everything does. I haven't had the chance to finish reading through the manual, but I've figured out quite a bit of what the camera can do. A few things (like turning on burst mode) are a bit tricky, but it's just a matter of getting used to it.

It takes 4 AA batteries but isn't as heavy as the review sites want you to think.

I'm still playing around with it and learning all the features. If you'd like to see a follow-up post with specific types of shots, shooting modes, etc. add a comment and I'll see what I can do.

For full specs, check out Fujifilm's homepage.

Wednesday 21 April 2010

The Left Hand of God, Book Review

by Paul Hoffman

publication date: June 15, 2010

Pros: fascinating characters who develop a lot throughout the course of the book, interesting (if terrifying) religion

Cons: the ending makes it feel more like a set up for the next book than a novel in its own right

The Left Hand of God is an interesting book. It's packaged like a fantasy novel, but reads more like an historical fiction. It's not really either. The book takes place on earth - from what I could tell - but not the earth of our history. The religion of the Redeemers is similar to the Catholic church, if the Catholic church went to extremes that even the inquisition would find horrific.

Thomas Cale entered the Sanctuary when he was a child. Now, a few years from manhood, he understands how to avoid beatings and other punishments. That doesn't stop him from getting punished as the Redeemers who run the Sanctuary believe every act is sinful. He's been trained from youth to be a killer and he's the best at what he does.

When two non-friends of Cale's (friendship is discouraged, and if discovered, punished) find and open a sealed off door, their lives are forever changed.

There's a lot happening in the book. The only problem being that the ending makes you realize the entire book was simply to put Cale in a specific position in relation to the Redeemers. It's fascinating how he gets there (about half way though I started wondering where the book was going, but the characters were so interesting it didn't bother me that I couldn't figure out the author's aims). A few characters near the end also make choices that seem odd given the circumstances. These are minor points though, and don't marr the enjoyment of the story.

The narrator is slightly sarcastic, especially with regards to medicine, making the book a lot of fun. When things get too serious the narration itself provides a bit of tension relief. There's a lot of character development - much of it fun as the three boys have never seen a woman before leaving the Sanctuary and don't know how the world outside the Sanctuary works.

Bottom line, it's a great set up and I can't wait to see where the next book takes the story.

Tuesday 20 April 2010

High Tea at the Old Mill Inn and Spa

The devil's in the details. Write what you know. These are common mantras for aspiring writers. One way to utilize them is to try new things. Like going for high tea and photographing your meal so that you can remember the little things that most people would miss. Remember your impressions, remember the tastes and sounds.

For example, my husband and I ordered different teas on our outing. Mine was darker and more coppery coloured than his, a situation that got worse for the second cup as the tea was more concentrated and bitter. So I added cream. And extra sugar. The finger sandwiches were a tiny bit dry, but the combinations unique and delicious (smoked salmon, cucumber and dill cream cheese; baked apple, aged cheddar and branston pickle). And if you've never had true clotted cream, it's much thicker than you'd expect. I thought it would be like whipping cream while it was closer to a whipped butter consistency. It was also less sweet than I'd anticipated, making the addition of jam on top almost a necessity (if you have a sweet tooth like me).The three tiered tray didn't look like it held enough food to satisfy two people, but if one alternates with the tea and spends an hour or so over the food, it does its job nicely.

There's a lot of detail that can be added to a scene. Part of the trouble is deciding how much is enough without boring the reader. Another problem is trying to pick out details that make your telling unique. If everyone mentions adding cream and sugar to tea, perhaps mentioning the interesting pattern of shadows on the cup would be better, or the bitterness of the tea before the sugar is added.

Rituals are great for explaining how places work. A scene like high tea could show the aristocracy reveling in excess (both due to the specialized nature of the food as well as the end cost of the meal). It could also be used as a celebration for someone in a lower class who has saved money for this event. How they are treated and how they experience the event (do they eat slowly, use the correct cutlery, look around feeling embarrassed or do they ignore everyone else and focus singlemindedly on the meal) can tell a lot about the characters as well as the society they inhabit.

And you don't have to do everything yourself to learn the details. The internet is rife with pictures, reviews and descriptions of almost everything you'd like to know. When writing, details, especially as they relate to the senses, give life to a scene.

Friday 16 April 2010

How To Train Your Dragon, movie review

IMDB listing.

Pros: Excellent story (good for both children and adults), interesting characters, unique dragon designs, shows consequences for actions

Cons: Astrid's character is underused

This is a wonderful coming of age story that will delight both children and adults - especially if seen in 3D. Hiccup is the son of a viking chief, but he is not your typical viking. Considered a disgrace by himself and his people, he sets out to prove he's a true viking by killing a dragon. What happens next is a magical adventure of self discovery and learning to understand the world around you, even if it's not the vision of the world that others share.

The movie was designed for 3D and makes use of that feature well, especially during flying and fighting scenes. When the ash begins to fall you want to brush it away from your face so you can see better. :)

And the dragon, Toothless, is very catlike in his motions. He makes you want to reach out and scratch him behind the ears.

Younger children may find some scenes scary. The theatre we were in had a lot of 8-10 year olds, who seemed fine. In fact, don't think I've ever been in such a quiet theatre.

The movie also has an excellent soundtrack.

*** Potential Spoilers ***

My one complaint with the film is that Astrid, the only competent youth in dragon hunter training, is given very little to do during the climactic battle. It seemed odd that all she's capable of doing is ferrying Hiccup to his dragon and then getting rescued by him when she falls off her own dragon. I'd hoped to see her fight alongside him.

On the other hand, I liked how, at the end, Hiccup does not survive the final battle without consequences. I think it's good for children to learn that doing the right thing can still have negative consequences.

Thursday 15 April 2010

Under Heaven, Book Review

By: Guy Gavriel Kay

Pros: lyrical writing, interesting characters, detailed history/world, political intrigue

Cons: ending is a bit long

Under Heaven tells the story of Shen Tai, second son of a famous general. Upon the passing of his father, Tai decides to spend his time in mourning burying the dead from a battle site that brought his father sorrow. For this service he is gifted with 250 Sardian horses. This gift propels him into a role of importance in the country, and will either save him from assassination attempts, or create more of them.

The book is patterned off of the Tang Dynasty of China. Kay adds in a lot of historic details (way of life, poetry, class distinction) to make the book feel real. There is a lot of rich detail and imagery.

The intrigue is mostly concerning a few people in power and how the gift of these horses will be used (and if Tai will be killed before he can claim them). There is very little physical action. Most of the tension comes from verbal sparring and trying to grasp Tai's sudden change in status. The novel is very immersive. I missed my subway stop because I'd reached a point in the book where I HAD to keep reading. There are many such points in the book.

The ending is a bit long. Kay tied up as many loose endings as he could, which took a while. This isn't really a problem as the characters are all fascinating and you want to hear how things turn out for them.

If you're looking for action, look elsewhere. If you want court intrigue, poetic writing and a great story, you've come to the right place.

Wednesday 14 April 2010

Douglas Clegg - Author Interview

Novels: Neverland, Isis, Afterlife, Purity, The Words, The Priest of Blood, The Lady of Serpens, The Queen of Wolves, Wild Things: Four Tales, The Attraction, Nightmare House, Mischief, The Infinite, The Abandoned, The Hour Before Dark, You Come When I Call You, Naomi, The Halloween Man and Mordred, Bastard Son

> Pitch your latest novel.

Neverland is a southern gothic tale of childhood games and family secrets -- and the supernatural -- set in the 1960s. Beau Jackson and his family go to their grandmother's summer house on Gull Island, off the southern U.S. coast. There, he and his unruly cousin Sumter begin to avoid the argumentative world of their parents by going to a shack in the woods -- which they've christened "Neverland," because it's the place they've been told never to go.

While their games in the shack begin innocently enough, when Sumter's darker side emerges these games grow into nightmarish rituals that explode into absolute horror.

> What are your favourite three books?

The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

Seven Gothic Tales by Isak Dinesen

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

> What made you want to be a writer?

I've been writing fiction since the age of 8, so it came out of a need to tell stories -- which I'd been doing since before I began writing even at that age. As a kid, I used to hyper-exaggerate everything and make a story -- a drama -- out of anything I experienced. My mother was wise enough to sit me down with a typewriter and tell me to write it all down. That was when I was eight. And I haven't stopped writing it all down.

I was one of those kids where a library card and a book fair made me more thrilled than pretty much anything else. I could skip the go-carts, the movies (although I liked movies, too), any number of things in order to get to that library and check out books every week. And then the school book fairs? When I was a kid I pitied my mom a bit, because I'd beg for just about every book I saw.

So, books and writing were my great loves from a very young age -- and telling stories was something I could not stop doing from the first day I learned to talk.

> Where do you think the horror genre is heading? (Are there zombies in your literary future?)

I can't guess this -- I think horror fiction is a very primal area of human expression. Life has both nightmares and dreams, and horror fiction tends to emphasize the nightmarish side.

Regarding zombies, no idea. I'm not planning on it, and there are plenty of terrific writers who are doing the zombie thing now without me stepping into it at the moment. Still, I won't rule it out if I come up with a good story.

> In the books you’ve written, who is you favourite character and why? Which character is most like you?

Certainly, some of my favorite characters that I've written are in my novel, Neverland. I'd say Sumter Monroe, the boy with the darkest imagination in existence, is someone I was fascinated by when creating him. What makes someone want to escape into darkness? At what point does a person find beauty in terror?

So, that led me through the creation of Sumter in Neverland, and I would say he's up there with my favorites from among all I've written.

Which character is most like me? All of them. All of them come directly from my perceptions, and I think a little bit of me is in each of them. Well, except the horrible ones, of course.

Neverland - Book Trailer
Uploaded by dreadcentral. - Arts and animation videos.

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

No. I prefer my life, but it's great to live vicariously through the lives of others!

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

My first novel, Goat Dance, was also the first one published. It took me a few months -- physically -- to write the first draft, but I'd been thinking about it for a few years before I wrote it. Then, another several months of revision before it was published.

> What was the hardest scene for you to write?

When I write a novel, all scenes seem equally difficult to write -- because I want to take my imagination and translate what I've seen in it to the page, using language (which is often inefficient for describing something.)

In Neverland, the scenes that were roughest on me were the emotional ones -- because the story hit me at a psychological and emotional level regarding family, love, dysfunction and understanding the kind of secrets in a family that cause pain.

> One of my coworkers is wondering if you'll be continuing Mordred's story.

Absolutely, if a good publisher picks it up.

> What is the strangest question you have ever been asked by a fan?

I can't think of one. My fans tend to be smart, friendly, and fairly well-read. They're people I wouldn't mind hanging out with and talking books and movies and maybe sharing a meal or coffee.

> What was the most fun book signing, convention, etc. you’ve attended and why?

A special pajama party/movie night at Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego -- back in 2001. My novel The Infinite was just out in hardcover, but also there was a very, very bad movie version of my novel, Bad Karma. So, I got a tape of Bad Karma, and Maryelizabeth Hart and Jeff Marriotte set up a television after the signing. People showed up for the signing in pajamas and bathrobes and we all sat around and watched -- and laughed -- through this horrible movie version of one of my novels.

It was the most fun I can imagine -- and the readers who showed up were funny and bright and we just all had a good time. And many copies of The Infinite went out the door that day.

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

My only job is writing fiction. That's it.

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

I have a Bachelor of Arts in Literature. It has helped me immeasurably -- and I'm glad I spent those four years immersed in the earliest of English-language fiction and drama, American literature, Scandinavian, German, Russian, etc. Spending four years intensely studying the great dramatists and novelists and poets of the past several hundred years has allowed me to really understand fiction in a way I don't think I would have if I'd spent those years studying something else.

Also, those years of study return to me at various times -- and I go back to those works and re-examine what writers have done through the centuries, and why it has worked, why their fiction has staying power.

> When and where do you write?

I write in my home office, usually during the day, sometimes at night. I don't keep a schedule -- I wait for a novel or story to take me over before locking myself away with it. Otherwise, I go for walks, stare at walls, read, go see friends and do things. I try to take summers off, when possible, so I can enjoy life outside of work, too.

> According to your website you consider yourself an innovator with regards to books and technology. In what ways have you used new technology to interact with readers and promote yourself?

After I'd had several books published, I launched the first email serial novel in 1999, sponsored by a publisher, free to subscribers. Later, I sold both hardcover and paperback rights to that book -- which was called Naomi.

That made news around the world. A bit later, other writers and publishers began doing this kind of thing, but at the time, pretty much all of them told me I was making a big mistake. As it turns out, it revitalized my writing career.

I also established a direct communication between readers of my books via my newsletter at the time, and very few published novelists had tried that at that point. Most of them sent announcement to their readers, written in third person. I wrote directly to the subscribers to my newsletter, and I've gotten to know a lot of these readers over the years.

I think most writers on the internet have become innovative over time, and this doesn't surprise me, since writers tend to be idea-driven people.

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

The best thing is when a book comes alive.

And the worst thing is the inability to turn off the mind once a book comes alive. You just have to see it through, shape it, revise, and live with it as if it is more important than you are during the time it takes to finish it. When that happens, you know you won't get as much quality sleep as you'd like, and also you have to demand that those around you are understanding -- which is unfair to them.

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

I didn't know anything about publishing when I began. I just hoped for the best and sent my manuscript off.

> What was your first foreign language sale and how did you feel getting it?

That goes back a ways. I think the first one was to either the U.K. or to France, with my first book, Goat Dance. It felt great.

I've been thrilled when books of mine sell overseas. Right now, my recent trilogy The Vampyricon has been released in Germany, and it's exciting for me to see these books and the excellent translations for them.

> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

My best advice is ignore advice and write what you absolutely believe in writing, and which would nourish your soul even if it never sells.

> Any tips against writers block?

Don't get it.

> How do you discipline yourself to write?

I love writing so much, the discipline is in getting away from it and having a life beyond it. I've been writing fiction for 20 years, and it's bigger than my life. So, part of the struggle is always to reclaim your life from it.

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

One, but the same week it was bought by another house -- so it wasn't much of a tragedy.

Cat Learns To Use Ipad

Youtube user rautiocination posted a video of his cat investigating an ipad. It shows how smart cats are. Today the ipad, tomorrow the world!

Tuesday 13 April 2010

The Monkeyman Productions' Banana Festival

Going to be in Toronto at the end of April? Monkeyman Productions is having their Banana Festival, several nights of short plays re the information below (taken from their website):

The Imperial Pub, 54 Dundas Street East
April 16th, 17th, 23rd, 24th — 8pm
April 17th & 24th — 10:30pm late show

Admission: $10 (cheap!)
Buy tickets now on our tickets page!
If we sell out, you’re already covered!

Box office: 416-737-1267
or email

The shows consist of 4 plays, with subject matter ranging from "zombie invasions, superheroes, Luvecraftian horror and celebrity obsession".

The plays:

Monstrous Invisible
Fortress of Solitude
The Second Last Man on Earth

Leeman Kessler, a local Chapters employee and former book reviewer for me back when this blog was still an in-store newsletter, will be playing Howard Phillips Lovecraft in the play, Monstrous Invisible. I lifted this interview from the Monkeyman Productions site.

On portraying Howard Phillips Lovecraft

Posted on April 5th, 2010

As we get closer and closer to The Banana Festival, we’ll be sharing a few little behind-the-scenes looks at what’s been going on with the individual plays involved. I asked Leeman Kessler, featured in the play Monstrous Invisible, to talk a little about how he’s approaching his portrayal of the writer H.P. Lovecraft:

When I first heard that Stephen was brainstorming a play about Lovecraft, my imagination kicked up a frenzy. One of my first acts was to dress up as Lovecraft for Halloween and come to work, complete with my My Li’l Cthulhu doll. I consider that my first audition. As the months went by and it became more and more apparent that this play would be reality, I began to delve even more headlong into Lovecraft’s eldritch works of fiction. I fear my mind began to race with the possibilities of portraying this man who is such an enigma and yet shares so much of his mind and his essence with his readers.

Once the official audition had come and gone and I was secure in the role, safe from all others, I allowed the true madness to boil over. Lovecraft is a man of incomparable style and voice. A man of contradictions that mirror the contradictions of his age. Brilliant and self-educated but without so much as a high school diploma. Raised in aristocratic settings yet living in squalour with no real employment for his short, adult life. Positively oozing with racist hate, anti-immigrant fear and poisonous anti-semitism and yet choosing a widowed Ukrainian Jewess as his wife. When he died, he died in pain and penury.

Playing Lovecraft is perhaps the most enthusiastic project I have undertaken. I won’t know it’s quality until it’s done but there are few roles I have yearned for or relished so much. I am indebted to Stephen for putting these words in my mouth, for DJ and the rest of my fellow Monkeymen for giving me a stage on which to walk, Laura whose vision gives me the chance to shine, and finally Tanya, my amazing partner in this crime.

As a geek in love, it is my pleasure to portray one of the earliest examples of geek romance, set amidst the hurly burly world of amateur horror and science fiction literature not far removed from the escapist world we inhabit. It is truly a delight if a maddening one.

Friday 9 April 2010

Terry Pratchett's Going Postal Film Trailer

Hogfather and Going Postal are two of my favourite Discworld novels. I thought the live action adaptation of Hogfather was masterfully done and am very excited to see Going Postal under production.

I found this at Grasping For the Wind, and embedded it from sirgalleon's youtube page.

Thursday 8 April 2010

Evolve Multi-Author Signing

Just a reminder about the multi-author signing in Toronto tomorrow April 9th, 7pm)at the World's Biggest Bookstore for Evolve: Vampire Stories of the New Undead.

And added to the list of authors attending is: Victoria Fisher.

Penguin's Book Giveaways

Speaking of ARCs, I got a copy of The Left Hand of God, Paul Hoffman's novel, debuting June 15th, 2010. I don't often get books this far in advance of publication, so it's fun being able to give the book some advance buzz.

But first, Penguin books has several venues for getting free books if you like contests (these sites are only for Canada though they probably have similar programs elsewhere). You can:

join their book club:
watch their twitter feed:
become a member of their facebook page:
and join the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program:

If you're serious about doing a blog for book reviews, they have their Bloggers and Books Network. Go to to see if you qualify.

It's through LibraryThing that I'm now the proud owner of a book that won't be out for another two months.

Here's the cover blurb:

The Left Hand of God is the story of sixteen-year-old Thomas Cale, who has grown up imprisoned at the Sanctuary of the Redeemers, a fortress run by a secretive sect of warrior monks in a distant, dystopian past. He is one of thousands of boys who train all day in hand-to-hand combat, in preparation for a holy war that only the High Priests know is now imminent. He has no reason to think he's special, no idea there's another world outside the compound's walls, and no hope for a life any different from the one he already knows.

And then, Cale opens a door.

What follows is a daring escape, an unlikely alliance, a desperate pursuit, a journey of incredible discovery, and an adventure the likes of which Cale could never possibly have imagined, culminating in Cale's asonishing realization that he alone holds the fate of the world in his hands.

Sounds great, doesn't it? I should post a review of it in the next few weeks.

Wednesday 7 April 2010

The Purpose of ARCs

James Long at Speculative Horizons posted yesterday on not starting a blog for the purpose of getting free books. He was responding to a post by Dear Author on how to get into book reviewing as a blogger. Mr. Long complained that you shouldn't start a book review blog for the purpose of getting free books. I agree.

I disagree with his idea that book blogging and reviewing should only be done as a hobby. James has the opinion that "The minute a blog stops being a hobby (if it ever was one) then it becomes something else, and this possibly leads to issues relating to integrity and impartiality."

When I started this blog it was to give the authors I interview more publicity. It was to allow readers to use the themed reading lists I came up with for work. It was to create a platform I could someday use as a published author (still not there). It's been fun, but I run this blog as an extension of my job. Why? Because that's what gets me to post several times a week rather than once or twice a month or whenever I felt like it.

And the more I think of this blog as a part of my job the better my reviews have become. I consider it my responsibility to give honest reviews, even negative reviews for books I didn't like, which I used to shrug off, only wanting to give positive feedback.

But that's an aside. My post topic is ARCs (advance review copies - promotional copies of books sent out before the book is published). The Dear Author post describes how to go about asking for an ARC. Speculative Horizons says you shouldn't expect free books. And he's right. ARCs are not cheap to create (due to their low print runs). Nor are they printed so bloggers can have a free read.

ARCs are for promotional purposes. They are given to people in positions to gain advanced buzz for the books. They are for professional reviewers (at magazines and newspapers), for media personnel (in the hopes of garnering a movie deal), for book buyers and booksellers (because they're the ones physically selling the books). Bloggers have become more important to marketing as conventional papers/magazines reduce the number of reviews they publish. And the more people go to the internet for reviews, the more opportunities book bloggers will have.

Being a book review blogger doesn't entitle you to ARCs. Publishers continue to give promotional copies to those they expect will get them the best returns on their investment, blogs with decent view stats included. If you're lucky enough to get one, be considerate and review the book in a timely manner. But if you're reviewing books solely in the hopes of getting them for free, then maybe you need a different type of blog.

Tuesday 6 April 2010

Spellwright, Book Review

This is a difficult review to do. Spellwright is an excellent book. I absolutely loved the first two thirds of the novel. Unfortunately, I thought the ending didn't hold up to the rest of the book. To properly explain my views there will be a spoiler section.

Pros: interesting characters, detailed worldbuilding, intricate plot, original magic system

Cons: lots of exposition in an info dump style, antagonists explain their plans too freely, necessary details of magic use left unexplained, the denoument is too long (the last three are from the final third of the book)

The premise: magic is the physical manifestation of written words. Nicodemus Weal is extraordinarily gifted when it comes to magic use. Unfortunately he can't spell, which makes his quick absorption of new languages useless as any complex spell he tries to cast misspells. When a magician is found dead of a misspell, Nicodemus and his magister, Shannon, find themselves under investigation by the sentinal Amadi.

But more than a simple murder is at play. There are druids who believe Nicodemus is the prophesied Halcyon, the one who will win the fight against the demons, and there is a demon creation nearby who wants Nicodemus to be their champion, the one Amadi's counter-prophecy compatriots call the Storm Petrel.

My only complaint with the first two thirds of the book is that Nicodemus seems overly trusting of people he just meets, and then unaccountably wary of those same people, and a lot of knowledge is given in info dumps. To be fair, there's a lot of new content here. His use of magic is completely original, leaving all of it needing to be explained. The world and its politics are delightfully complex, even though they're only touched on briefly in this book. There's a lot of room for expansion in future books.

In the third part the writing gets harder to believe. Characters start acting in what I thought were bizarre ways given their attitudes earlier in the book. I'll detail this more below for those willing to read spoilers. I also found that instead of ending the book quickly after the climax, the denoument goes on for about 15 pages. It allowed me to forget the excitement of the climactic battle and get bored.

The book is definitely worth reading. What Charlton does with the world and magic is exceptional. But be prepared for an ending that doesn't blow you away.

*** SPOILERS ***

With regards to the ending, everything after they left the city seemed more like prologue material for the next book rather than epilogue material for this book. I understand he's setting up for a multi-year gap between books, but ending on training was a bad move. It left me bored and wondering when the book would end. Not a good feeling.

Back to a previous point, the magician's magical languages are well explained. Nicodemus's use of Language Prime towards the end of the book is not. I was given the impression that everything in the world is made of magic, and his ability to see Language Prime allows him to change everything. I expected him to be killing the grass as he walked and anyone he touched due to his cacography. Apparently (like the other languages), it only works when touched by skin. But all skin or only hands? If he were barefoot would he kill grass by walking on it or only if he bend down and touched the grass with his hands?

But my major complaint with the end of the book comes from the antagonists sudden desires to explain their plans. Fellwroth wants Nicodemus to come to him. So how does he try to convince the man to do so? By telling Nicodemus everything about his genesis. Nicodemus wants to know more about his parentage. He wants to know why he's a cacographer. Instead of hinting that he knows something, which might well entice Nicodemus to search him out, he tells Nicodemus everything he knows, even the information that he wants Nicodemus to be the Storm Petrel. Nicodemus does not want to be the Storm Petrel, so that's not exactly a reason for Nicodemus to put himself under Fellwroth's power.

And Fellwroth's master is no different, explaining the ins and outs of his plan when he's got Nicodemus cornered. It made me wonder why he didn't try to indoctrinate Nicodemus more when growing up. Allowing Nicodemus to grow up hating demons was hardly conducive to the demon's ultimate plans for him. Instead he decides to find him as an adult and hope he'll join because the demon arranged for his parents to meet and have him.

I was also surprised by the amount of information Tulki tells him. If Tulki hadn't mentioned the bestiary Nicodemus wouldn't have known about it. And considering the fact Tulki didn't want him to look at it, I wondered why he would mention it.

These points jarred me from the text, making the ending seem less cohesive and causing me to question more things about the plot. A disappointing end to an otherwise excellent debut.

Friday 2 April 2010

Guy Gavriel Kay - Author Interview


Under Heaven


Last Light of the Sun

Sarantine Mosaic: Sailing to Sarantium, Lord of Emperors

Lions of Al-Rassan

A Song for Arbonne


Beyond This Dark House

Fionavar Tapestry: The Summer Tree, Wandering Fire, Darkest Road

Websites: And

> What is the premise of Under Heaven?

Under Heaven is inspired by the genuinely dazzling Tang Dynasty period in Chinese history, in this case essentially the 8th century. Though the Dynasty began earlier and lasted longer, this is considered its peak, and one of the peaks of world civilization. Having said that, such peaks are not without extreme dangers, violence, tensions, amid the glory and sophistication, and I wanted the book to explore both aspects of the time.

> What made you want to be a writer?

In a way I have always wanted to write, but I also, as a kid always wanted to play in the NHL. I am old enough for my dream team then to have been the Maple Leafs (hard to believe, I know, I know!). At some point, rather earlier than I would have liked, the sheer and uttermost absurdity of the latter fantasy led me to the former one. On the way I pragmatically picked up, like a loose puck in the neutral zone, a law degree, for the classic 'something to fall back on' ... I've been lucky enough to never have needed that.

> In the books you’ve written, who is your favourite character and why?

Truly impossible question! In each book there are characters and moments that perhaps resonate most strongly for me within that story, but I honestly can't point to a single figure, or even two or three, and say 'I like them most'.

> Why have you varied the historical periods and geographical areas you've based your books on?

Simple answer is that I try hard not to repeat myself, in my approaches to themes and aspects of history. In a way this is not the smartest commercial decision, since we live in an age that devours sequels, but creatively this movement from one place to another keeps me energized, challenged, even anxious, which is good for the adrenalin flow that a three year writing project requires. And the research phase is always my favourite. Learning things, no responsibility yet to do something with it ...

> Which of your books would you consider the best introduction for new readers to your work?

I always ask people what interests them most. If, for example, they are fans of high fantasy, Fionavar is likely to work for them, as it is my 'statement' in that field. If they are drawn to the more historical approach I evolved towards, I try to find out what periods engage them, because the books - as you mentioned above - evoke different times and places, through the prism of the fantastic. For many book clubs, Ysabel was the easiest way in, because it has a contemporary setting, and a very appealing one, at that - the south of France.

> If you could live in one of your fantasy worlds, would you?

One of my ongoing themes, explored most directly in Ysabel, perhaps, is that there are often darker, dangerous undercurrents in even the most sophisticated civilizations. Having said that, since I’ve lived and written four different times in the countryside around Aix-en-Provence, I suppose I’d have to say that Provençal world of A Song for Arbonne or, in a modern version of the same place, Ysabel.

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

First novel was never published. I took a year off (having promised it to myself) after finishing law school, and ‘escaped’ to the island of Crete. Bought a typewriter (it was that long ago), found a fishing village, and spent a winter there drafting a book, working seven days a week, to assuage my guilt at being so irresponsible and living in such an absurdly beautiful place.

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

Well, as mentioned, I was called to the bar as a lawyer here in Ontario. I also have a degree in philosophy. Looking back, the legal training helped in several ways. In one aspect, a litigation lawyer (and my interest was always criminal law) needs to be capable of becoming an ‘instant expert’ in something, at least the level of being able to cross examine a real expert on his or her terrain. That aspect of research to a focused purpose comes into all my work. In addition, lawyers need to learn to juggle and keep aloft many files and variables at a time, and a novelist working with a large cast and a complex plot has to have that same skill set. Fiction writing on a grand scale needs to balance an intuitive, instinctive dimension with control, and I think my studies and training helped to develop that second aspect.

> When and where do you write?

I used to go abroad, as often as I could, for the relative isolation and the focus that gave me (and the chance to be in some gorgeous places). Once you have children you may labour under the naive illusion that you can ‘ground them’ for transgressions, but the reality is that they ... ground you. I’ve written primarily in my study/library here in Toronto for the last decade or more, with one return sortie to France in 2004-05.

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

Easy one! Best thing is ‘having written’ whether on the scale of a given day’s work, or the profoundly intense sensations that come when a book is done. Worst thing is the blank screen that starts all mornings, coupled with the never-absent feeling that one is just not smart enough, creative enough, good enough, to make a given scene come out right. I truly believe that if an artist never has that latter feeling, they aren’t pushing themselves hard enough.

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

Truly? Almost everything! One of the impulses behind the ‘Journals’ I have kept on, the authorized website on my work, is to offer readers a glimpse behind the scenes of how books get made. I discovered long ago that most people, even passionate readers, know almost nothing about the publishing world – and that included me, before I got into that world. I’m doing another Journal now online, and have even featured some ‘guest posts’ this time, by people involved in the making or editing of Under Heaven.

> How do you discipline yourself to write?

It may sound glib, but for me the core aspect is to remind myself that if I don’t write the book, no one is about to do it for me. There’s no ‘delegating’ here.

> How many languages have your works been translated into?

We’re at around 25 now, with some new markets being explored this spring for many of the titles. This is actually something I’m proud of, and something that gives me a great deal of pleasure: corresponding with editors or translators, having a chance to do promotional tours in foreign markets and meet these people and my readers there ... a major perk of what I do.

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

First one was never accepted, as I mentioned above. But the six or seven rejections were wonderfully generous and positive: everyone seemed to want to see what I would do next. My agent had sent it to major NY mainstream houses (it wasn’t a fantasy book) and we were both rendered hugely upbeat by these letters (I was only 24 at the time). His next submission on my behalf was the first seven chapters of The Summer Tree, and the whole trilogy was accepted starting from those.