Thursday 30 June 2011

Science Fiction and Fantasy Events in Toronto, July 2011

These events are from the science fiction & fantasy calendar I've started.  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.

Tuesday July 5

Toronto Geek Poetry Slam Spoken word on any geek subject, featuring Mike Bryant.
Where: Boat, 158 Augusta, Toronto, 416-312-3865
When: 7:30 pm
Admission: $5

Friday July 8

Harry Potter Dance Party!
Celebrate the release of the final Harry Potter film with a costume dance party at the Fox and Fiddle on Wellesley.
Where: Fox and Fiddle, 27 Wellesley Street
When: 9pm - 2am
Cost: Cover is $2.
Best costume wins two tickets to The Deathly Hallows: Part 2.
For more information, check out our facebook event page.
And remember: this event is one night only. So unless you own a Time-Turner, don't miss out!
*NOTE: This is a 19+ event*

Wednesday July 13

Chiaroscuro Reading Series: A Night of Wonders
Where: Augusta House (152 Augusta Avenue, Toronto)
When: 8:00 PM - 11:00 PM

Join us and three spectacular readers for a night of cosmic spectacles, ghostly hauntings, and fantastic visions...

Teresa Milbrodt grew up in northwest Ohio and received her MFA in Creative Writing from Bowling Green State University.  Her debut short story collection, Bearded Women: Stories, will be published by Chizine Publications in Fall 2011.  Milbrodt's stories have appeared in Nimrod, North American Review, Crazyhorse, Natural Bridge, Indiana Review, The Cream City Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and New Orleans Review, among other literary journals.
Karl Schroeder
I'm one of Canada's most popular science fiction and fantasy authors. I divide my time between writing fiction and analyzing, conducting workshops and speaking on the future impact of science and technology on society.  As the author of nine novels I've been translated into French, German, Spanish, Russian and Japanese.
Lesley Livingston is a writer and actress living in Toronto, Canada. She is the author of Wondrous Strange, winner of the CLA Young Adult Book of the Year 2010, a White Pine Honour Book, and shortlisted for the Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Speculative Fiction. Darklight, the second book in this series was shortlisted for the Indigo Teen Read Awards. The concluding volume in the trilogy, TEMPESTUOUS, was released in January of this year. Her next project, a YA time-travel romance-adventure titled Once Every Never will hit store shelves and Starling, a new trilogy set in the same universe as Wondrous Strange is set to release in the summer of 2012.

Friday July 15 - Sunday July 17

Where: Sheraton Parkway North Toronto (600 Highway 7 East)
When: Friday: 6 pm - 2 am, Saturday 10 am -2 am, Sunday 9 am - 6 pm
Cost: variable

Saturday July 16

Maggie Steifvater Discussing her book Forever.
Where: Indigo Yorkdale, 3401 Dufferin, Toronto,
When: 6 pm
Admission: Free

Sunday July 17

Space-Time Continuum:
Meet at Indigo (Bay & Bloor in the SF section) to see a movie

Monday July 18

Charlaine Harris Talking about her book True Blood.
Where: Indigo Eaton Centre, 220 Yonge, Toronto,
When: 7 pm
Admission: Free

Thursday July 21

July Cinemacabre:
Rue Morgue Magazine presents Tom Holland’s FRIGHT NIGHT
When: 9:30pm
Classic Trailers!

While The Bloor cinema undergoes renovations, we’ve moved CineMacabre movie nights to the Toronto Underground Cinema, and to celebrate we’re holding a FREE screening of Tom Holland’s 1985 vampire classic FRIGHT NIGHT. Before the remake starring Colin Farrell drops in August, join us for the ‘80s original, in which horror movie junkie Charley Brewster, his best friend Evil Ed and an aging horror host played by Roddy McDowell tangle with the bloodsucker next door (played by Chris Sarandon) who’s taken Charley’s girlfriend. See FRIGHTNIGHT on 35mm – on us!"

Watch the trailer at:

One Night Only!
Ghastly Prizes!

Wednesday 29 June 2011

Mizu no Kotoba (Aquatic Language)

This is a nifty animated short film written and directed by Yasuhiro Yoshiura in 2002.  It takes place in a cafe where things aren't quite what they seem.  It's a little slow, but the ending's pretty cool.  I grabbed it from DeadInHell255's youtube page.  The film has a website too.

Tuesday 28 June 2011

Movie Review: Cloverfield

Movie Review: Cloverfield
Director: Matt Reeves, 2008
IMDB listing

Pros: realistic alien invasion with regards to destruction and alien nature of invaders

cons: shaky cam, unlikable protagonists

Cloverfield begins with a farewell party for Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David) who's moving to Japan for a new job. His rather jerky best friend, Hud Platt (T. J. Miller), is asked to document the party and record clips of everyone saying good-bye.  Rob wonders about the direction of his life when his long time friend, and short term lover he recently jilted, Beth (Odette Yustman), arrives at the party with another man.

An explosion outside is the first sign that something horrible is happening in New York City. The party goers efforts to leave the city are frustrated by the collapse of infrastructure due to an alien invasion and the knowledge that Beth is trapped in midtown.

Shaky cam makes this film painful to watch. I imagine the purpose for it was to make the action feel reel and immediate.  Instead, it meant seeing shots of feet when I'd have rather seen the alien menace.  The action takes place mostly off screen or on a tilted or jiggling screen. The scenes where you finally get to see the aliens are amazingly terrifying.

The protagonists had irritating personalities.  Shaky cam meant deaths were mostly off screen and confusing (sometimes I wasn't sure someone had actually died) so it was hard to sympathise with their pain. And, despite getting to know them a bit, or perhaps because of it, I didn't care when people died.

The special effects were great and the aliens were delightfully creepy and evil, killing and destroying indiscriminately.

Ultimately, despite some awesome aliens, it's not the best invasion film.

Friday 24 June 2011

New Author Spotlight: David Nickle

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 David Nickle.

David Nickle's books include:

Here's the cover copy for Eutopia: A Novel of Terrible Optimism:
The year is 1911. In Cold Spring Harbour, New York, the newly formed Eugenics Records Office is sending its agents to catalogue the infirm, the insane, and the criminal - with an eye to a cull, for the betterment of all. Near Cracked Wheel, Montana, a terrible illness leaves Jason Thistledown an orphan, stranded in his dead mother''s cabin until the spring thaw shows him the true meaning of devastation - and the barest thread of hope. At the edge of the utopian mill town of Eliada, Idaho, Doctor Andrew Waggoner faces a Klansman''s noose and glimpses wonder in the twisting face of the patient known only as Mister Juke. And deep in a mountain lake overlooking that town, something stirs, and thinks, in its way: Things are looking up.

Eutopia follows Jason and Andrew as together and alone, they delve into the secrets of Eliada - industrialist Garrison Harper''s attempt to incubate a perfect community on the edge of the dark woods and mountains of northern Idaho. What they find reveals the true, terrible cost of perfection - the cruelty of the surgeon''s knife - the folly of the cull - and a monstrous pact with beings that use perfection as a weapon, and faith as a trap.

If you like historical fiction with a paranormal twist, you might also like:

Thursday 23 June 2011

Rome: 3 Dreams of Black

Rome is an interactive film by Chris Milk.  It uses WebGL, so you have to use Chrome as your browser when viewing the film.  It starts off with a post apocalyptic setting.  Three times in the film your cursor/mouse interacts with the footage; allowing you to draw flowers, plough paths of destruction and follow a flock of birds over a desolate landscape respectively.

Enter here.

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Two Creepy Book Trailers

I got an email about Glen Duncan's book The Last Werewolf, out July 12th.  Looks and sounds interesting.  From the Knopf youtube page:

Meet Jake. A bit on the elderly side (he turns 201 in March), but you'd never suspect it. Nonstop sex and exercise will do that for you—and a diet with lots of animal protein. Jake is a werewolf, and after the unfortunate and violent death of his one contemporary, he is now the last of his species. Although he is physically healthy, Jake is deeply distraught and lonely.

Jake's depression has carried him to the point where he is actually contemplating suicide—even if it means terminating a legend thousands of years old. It would seem to be easy enough for him to end everything. But for very different reasons there are two dangerous groups pursuing him who will stop at nothing to keep him alive.

Here is a powerful, definitive new version of the werewolf legend—mesmerising and incredibly sexy. In Jake, Glen Duncan has given us a werewolf for the twenty-first century—a man whose deeds can only be described as monstrous but who is in some magical way deeply human. 

One of the most original, audacious, and terrifying novels in years.

I heard about this second book a while back and unfortunately forgot about it.  Thankfully, Dark Wolf's Fantasy Reviews posted the synopsis and trailer, and it's now firmly at the top of my to be read pile.  Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs, has one of the best book trailers I've ever seen.  It's in stores now. 

From Irreference's youtube page:

A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. And a strange collection of very curious photographs.

It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience.

Tuesday 21 June 2011

Book Review: Blood Red Road by Moira Young

Disclaimer:  This is the last book review I did before realizing I needed a break.  So it's a little more... critical than usual. 

Pros: bleak post-apocalyptic world, good fight scenes, smooth writing

cons: uneven pacing, unlikable protagonist, written in dialect with limited punctuation

Blood Red Road is the narrated account of Saba's quest to find and save her twin brother from the cloaked men who kidnapped him. The world is a bleak place and despite her 18 years, Saba knows little about it. Using her wits and the crow she keeps as a pet, she's determined to find out where her brother is and bring him home no matter what the cost

While the setting is interesting - a post-apocalyptic desert - the pacing's uneven, with long quiet stretches occasionally broken up by an action sequence.  And Saba is surprisingly unlikable for a narrator.  She treats her younger sister horribly and insists she can do everything alone even when its clear she can't.  She's a bad judge of charcter, trusting easily when she shouldn't and treating badly those she should trust and be greatful to.

The novel is written in Saba's dialect meaning a lot of misspelled words like 'yer' for 'you are' 'aks' for 'ask, etc.  It does bring you into her mind, but the dialect and the lack of quotation marks around dialogue meant I occasionally had to reread passages to understand them correctly.  Having said that, once you got the hang of the dialect the work was highly submersive.

The ending seemed a little contrived and by the time people started dying I didn't care about any of them.

Still, for a debut, the writing showed a lot of promise.

Friday 17 June 2011

New Author Spotlight: Jesse Petersen

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 Jesse Petersen.

Jesse Petersen's books include:

Here's the cover copy for Married With Zombies:
A heartwarming tale of terror in the middle of the zombie apocalypse.

Meet Sarah and David.

Once upon a time they met and fell in love. But now they're on the verge of divorce and going to couples' counseling. On a routine trip to their counselor, they notice a few odd things - the lack of cars on the highway, the missing security guard, and the fact that their counselor, Dr. Kelly, is ripping out her previous client's throat.

Meet the Zombies.

Now, Sarah and David are fighting for survival in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. But, just because there are zombies, doesn't mean your other problems go away. If the zombies don't eat their brains, they might just kill each other.

If you like these titles, you might also like:

Thursday 16 June 2011

Book Excerpt: Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello

A few months ago I reviewed Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho for Open Road Media.  To commemorate the film's release, on June 16th, 1960, they're letting me post the following introduction and excerpt from the first chapter of the book.  Please be advised that the passage is a little gruesome, giving some details about the murders of Ed Gein.  The book itself is fascinating and if you're in any way a fan of Psycho, a must read.

First released on June 16, 1960, Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho altered the landscape of horror films forever. But just as compelling as the movie itself is the story behind it. Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho is a behind-the-scenes look inside the classic suspense shocker—and the creative genius who revolutionized filmmaking.

Author Stephen Rebello explores the creation of one of Hollywood’s most iconic films, from the story of Wisconsin murderer Ed Gein, the real-life inspiration for the character of Norman Bates, to Hitchcock’s groundbreaking achievements in cinematography, sound, editing, and promotion. Filled with insights from the film’s stars, writers, and crewmembers, Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho is a riveting and definitive history of a signature Hitchcock cinematic masterpiece.

Excerpted from Stephen Rebello's Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho

There was a young man named Ed Who would not take a woman to bed
When he wanted to diddle, He cut out the middle
And hung the rest in a shed.

In late November 1957, no one would have marked Plainfield as unlike any other hardscrabble, rawboned Wisconsin farm hamlet. That winter was especially raw. Ask any of the friendly townies of third- and fourth-generation German and French stock. In flat, laconic tones, they recite litanies of burst water mains and permafrost; of nights spent hunkering down against slashing winds and rains that blew east along Canada’s border. But that November also saw Plainfield mentioned in newspapers across the country. Remind these dairyland types about that little bit of business and their open faces wall up. They begin to study their shoes or make excuses before they beg off. That month, in 1957, Plainfield police smoked out an oafish fifty-one-year-old, odd-job-and-errands-man named Ed Gein (rhymes with mean) as one of the grisliest mass murderers America ever spawned.

Long before the headlines were to brand Gein as a bogeyman, his rural, God-fearing community of seven hundred had chalked him off as a crank. A perpetually grinning, unmarried recluse, Gein rambled over 160 ruined acres once farmed by his parents and brother. Even locals who never gave a second thought to hiring Gein for errands or baby-sitting had wearied of his harebrained theories. He liked to rag on the whys and wherefores of criminals who fouled up, or yammer endlessly, and pitifully, about women. Plainfield-ers recall his clinical obsession with anatomy and with the sex-change operation of Christine Jorgensen. But there was more to Gein than loony talk. That came home with a vengeance with the discovery of bloodstains on the floor of Bernice Worden’s general store on November 16.

Customers had marked it as odd that Worden’s store had been closed since before noon that Saturday, her busiest day. No one had seen the steady, well-liked storekeeper since the previous day. Her pickup truck was missing from its usual spot. Concerned, Worden’s deputy sheriff son, Frank, let himself into the store. A late entry in Worden’s sales book (“1/2 gall, antifreeze”) triggered Frank’s recollection of Ed Gein’s loafing about the store the previous week. Gein had asked whether Frank would be out deer hunting on Saturday. When Frank answered that he would, Gein casually mentioned he might be back for a can of antifreeze.

On Frank Worden’s tip, Sheriff Art Schley and Captain Lloyd Schoephoerster made tracks for Gein’s lonesome, decaying hermitage. The hand of death had first passed over the stark farmland when Gein’s father succumbed to a stroke in 1940. Four years later, a fire claimed the life of Ed’s older brother, Henry, and, the following year, Gein’s hellfire-and-brimstone-spouting mother met her maker, too. Now, Gein lived alone—or so it had seemed.

Gein was elsewhere when the law came to call. Schley and his officers lighted the way with kerosene lamps and flashlights; the old house was only partly jerry-wired for electricity. The lawmen picked their way through a rat’s nest of browning newspapers, pulp magazines, anatomy books, embalming supplies, food cartons, tin cans, and random debris. Upstairs, five empty, unused rooms slept under blankets of dust; by contrast, the bedroom of Gein’s late mother and a living room, both nailed shut, were kept pristine.

Raking the rubble of Gein’s kitchen and bedroom, the officers uncovered sights for which no highway wreck or Saturday night special shoot-’em-up had prepared them. Grinning, loose-toothed Ed Gein did not live alone, after all. Sharing his abode were two shin bones. Two pairs of human lips on a string. A cupful of human noses that sat on the kitchen table. A human skin purse and bracelets. Four flesh-upholstered chairs. A tidy row of ten grimacing human skulls. A tom-tom rigged from a quart can with skin stretched across the top and bottom. A soup bowl fashioned from an inverted human half-skull. The eviscerated skins of four women’s faces, rouged, made-up, and thumbtacked to the wall at eye level. Five “re-placement” faces secured in plastic bags. Ten female heads, hacked off at the eyebrow. A rolled-up pair of leggings and skin “vest,” including the mammaries, severed from another unfortunate.

In the adjacent smokehouse shed, police found what they would later identify as having once been Bernice Worden. Nude, headless, dangling by the heels, she had been disemboweled like a steer. Sitting atop a pot-bellied stove in the adjacent kitchen was a pan of water in which floated a human heart. The freezer compartment of the refrigerator was stocked with carefully wrapped human organs.

“I didn’t have anything to do with it. I just heard about it while I was eating supper,” mumbled Gein when Frank Worden located and confronted him about the discovery of Bernice’s corpse. Worden arrested Gein on the spot. In no time flat, Plainfield’s Caspar Milquetoast underwent a lie detector test, a murder charge, and psychiatric examinations at Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Until then, no one had credited the mutterings of a shiftless crank about his “collection of shrunken heads.” No one paid any mind to his inside knowledge of the area’s many unsolved disappearances of women. The Gein farmhouse offered testimony not only to man’s fathomless capacity for the barbaric, but also to the ability of an entire community to deny its very existence. “It can’t happen here,” insists the satiric lyric of a Frank Zappa song, “Help I’m a Rock.” The “here” in question is the human heart and mind.

Gein met the probing of his examiners with barely audible, monotone ramblings. His memory was murky. He admitted to only two murders, claiming he was “in a daze” during both. No law officer, psychiatrist, or court examiner could penetrate Gein’s motivations. Yes, he admitted to dismantling Bernice Worden’s cash register and removing $41. Yes, he had also exhumed his first cadaver with a farmer crony, Gus. Yet his rationale for both was identical: He liked “taking things apart” to see “how things work.”

Deep in the night, while his hard-working neighbors made love, snored, studied the Good Book, and fretted over bills, bland, simple Ed Gein delved into the mystery of “how things worked” by traipsing around the farm with the skin, hair, and face mask of newly exhumed corpses strapped to his naked body. Authorities discovered that Gein’s first graveyard visit led to forty-odd other digs—always graves of females—often just a stone’s throw from the final resting place of his mother. He told his examiners that he and Gus (who had died several years earlier of natural causes) buried the bones and incinerated less-interesting body parts in the Gein stove. When newspapers reported that Gein claimed “I never shot a deer,” how many locals shuddered at the memory of plastic bags packed with tasty “venison” given them by Gein?

Gein made his first kill in 1955 when, late one bitter winter night, his .32 rifle drew a bead on a bosomy, fifty-one-year-old, divorced tavern owner. Using a sled, Gein dragged the body of Mary Hogan to his “summer kitchen” shed. Police suspected Gein of torturing and murdering at least ten other victims between Mary Hogan and Bernice Worden. He never owned up to them before being judged criminally insane and sentenced to life at Central State Hospital.

Local newspapers, some of which dubbed Gein “the mad butcher,” reported only his murders and alleged cannibalism. Transvestism, grave robbing, and, as some speculated, an incestuous relationship with Mom apparently went beyond the limits of even big-city reportage of the 1950s. For “America’s dairyland,” such topics were literally unspeakable. But what the newspapers suppressed, back-fence rumors and sick jokes spelled out. The press and the ambulance chasers attached themselves to Plainfield like piranha on a drowning sumo wrestler. Cars packed with the curious drove miles to aim Brownie cameras and to stone Gein’s “murder house.” Outraged locals circled the wagons and closed their minds. Yet many natives were known to drive miles out of their way to bypass the Gein farm. Inevitably, there were cracks in the wall of denial. Physicians throughout the state found their offices packed with patients complaining of gastrointestinal symptoms. Local psychiatrists treated many ids scrambled by Gein’s penchant for “spare parts.”

Sick jokes, “Gein-ers” the locals called them, ran rampant. Setup: “How were Ed Gein’s folks?” Payoff: “Delicious,” Or “What’s Ed Gein’s phone number?,” which drew the response: “O-I-C-U-8-1-2.” And this to defuse another unspoken terror: “Why could no one ever keep Gein in jail?” Punchline: “Because he’d just draw a picture of a woman on the wall and eat his way out” Bar hounds roused boozy yuks by ordering Gein Beer (“Lots of body, but no head”), and corn-fed tykes with faces like Campbell’s Soup can kids jumped rope, chanting:

’Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the school,
Not a creature was stirring
Not even a mule.
The teachers were hung
From the ceiling with care
In hope that Ed Gein
Soon would be there.

To the day of Gein’s quiet, uneventful death on July 26, 1984 in the asylum, hospital workers described him as “tractable,” “harmless.” His awareness of the outside world was minimal. Of his crimes he was virtually an amnesiac. Perhaps hoping to purge Plainfield of the Gein legacy, unknown persons torched the farm over two decades ago. To this day, the morbid, the crime buffs, the thrill seekers, and the marginals make pilgrimages to the ruins. And locals admit a Yuletide never passes without some child’s warbling, “Deck the halls with limbs of Mollie.”

No one can measure the shock waves unleashed by Ed Gein’s monstrous acts or the anguish he inflicted upon his victims or their survivors. In 1957, most Americans preferred to perceive themselves as God-fearing, clean-living men in gray flannel suits, or perfectly perfect Doris Day wives, or wholesome kids next door like Shirley Jones and Pat Boone in April Love. We elected a president named Eisenhower, twirled hula hoops, and watched “Ozzie and Harriet.” But in a town less than forty miles from Plainfield, at least one man stared hard into the bathroom mirror while shaving. He brooded over Gein, thought of himself, and shuddered.


Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello is available from, the Apple iBookstoreBarnesandnoble.comKobo BooksOverDrive, and the Sony Reader Store. It is currently in development as a feature film, and you can follow updates from the author on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday 15 June 2011

Taking a Reviewing Break

I posted a while back about how I needed a break from reviewing and was trying to finish my review pile so I could relax and read books of my choosing for a few months.  Well, more books arrived and the pile grew rather than shrunk, and I ended up in a reviewing funk that's caused me to become ultra critical when reading.  How do I know this?  I'm used to putting aside a book every now and then, but I've stopped reading more books lately than I've finished.  Here's a sampling of the books I couldn't finish and why.

Note, these books weren't horrible, I just didn't have the attention span or patience for them.

Hater by David Moody.  I actually liked this book.  The first person narrative read more like stream of consciousness, which was hard to get use to, but beyond that it was a delightfully creepy story.  Why didn't I finish it?  Because it was too dark and creepy for me at the time.  I fully expect to go back to it when I'm in the mood for something scary, but it was too much when I tried to read it.

Water Wars by Cameron Stracher.  This book had some very immersive writing, almost making me miss my subway stop on my way to work.  Why did I stop reading?  Because while I liked the premise - water has become a commodity countries fight over - the execution consisted of two teens stumbling into dangerous situations that they consistently and almost magically escape.  And the pirates who kidnap them early on become heroes who rescue them later (I only got half way through the book so this isn't an end of book spoiler).  I understand that issues aren't all black and white, but this didn't sit well with me.

Robopocalypse by Daniel Wilson.  Yes, I got an arc of the much anticipated novel.  I was looking forward to reading it too, which made me that much more annoyed that I wasn't enjoying the reading experience when I started the book.  First, the premise of an AI that kept records of the human 'heroes' discovery of the robot uprising and eventual triumph struck me as bizarre.  Why would the robots care how they took over and what the humans did?  They're not human, they have perfect memories.  They can store information in several locations rather than having one black box repository with all this information. 

And the 'narrations', told in first person, didn't ring true.  One in particular struck me as bizarre.  The reader is told that the story is pieced together using highway surveillance footage and narration after the fact between two people at an internment camp.  Somehow, using these pieces of information, the narrator discovers a bird chirping in the distance and the steam rising from a young boy's urinating by the side of a road.  Surveillance footage doesn't normally include sound, and I can't imagine the mother being so crass when telling her story as to mention some of the narrative details.

Finally the book read as a poor imitation of World War Z.  I'm sure it wasn't, and had I tried reading it some other time I might have really liked the book (I've noticed some good reviews popping up on the internet).  But that's what happens when you spend too much time reading as a 'job'.

The last book I can remember not finishing is The Fecund's Melancholy Daughter by Brent Hayward.  I have no excuse for not finishing this book.  The writing was good, if wordy.  The story was interesting.  I stopped fairly quickly because I wasn't in the mood for it and too many people and situations were being introduced without any cohesive plot or protagonist showing up.  I may return to it when I've had a break.

So, what do I have planned?  I'm going to start rereading some of the books that I know I love, which I haven't read in years.  I'll do reviews for them (or new reviews for some books that got short, incomplete reviews back when I started up).  When I'm ready, I'll get back into reviewing newer stuff again. 

Tuesday 14 June 2011

Book Review: The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov

Pros: clever plotting, hard SF

Cons: protagonist is not particularly likable and is surprisingly naive and narcissistic

Andrew Harlan is an Eternal, those who live outside time, Observe and create Reality Changes which positively affect the greatest number of people throughout history.  Only two periods are unaffected by them - the prehistoric age, before time travel was invented, and the far FAR flung future. 

Harlan's skill as an Observer in the 482nd attracts the attention of Computer Twissell, who arranges for him to become a Technician (someone who actually performs the change) and teach his hobby of primitive history to a student.

On an assignment back to the 482nd, he meets the beautiful, non-Eternal, Noys Lambent, who changes his life.  He breaks numerous laws to rescue her from the proposed change to her era and makes plans to request her removal from time so they can stay together. 

Naturally, things don't go as smoothly as he hoped they would.

For some reason I always think of Asimov as a writer who's concerned more with science and plot than character.  While the science is sound (even to mentioning how time travel can work with the movement of the Earth around the sun), and the plot is clever, character development isn't neglected. 

Harlan begins the book as a self-absorbed resident.  He works hard and resents how the others who work towards the changes they all make in history shun him as one of those who actually performs the changes.  Meeting Noys changes him.  He initially becomes more narcissistic and paranoid, then slowly learns to smile and enjoy his time with her.

The question of why she's interested in him is satisfactorily answered by the end of the book when the plot within a plot is revealed.  And by this time, as a reader, I'd warmed to him.

While I am happy to see this title brought back into print, I was annoyed to find that the publisher's cover copy was misleading in terms of the book's plot.  Asimov told a fantastic story, just not quite the one the publisher lead me to expect. 

If you're not a hard SF fan, don't despair.  He includes enough science to understand the plot but doesn't bog down the story with pages of explanation. 

Friday 10 June 2011

Author Interview: Brent Hayward

The Fecund's Melancholy Daughter

Amazon Profile

> What's The Fecund's Melancholy Daughter about? 
I always find this one of the hardest questions to answer. Literally, the book is about an aging queen who come to a realization about her life and life in general. But it's also about discrimination, creation, motherhood, and cities. There are a lot of characters, not all of them human, and a lot of settings, but primarily the story is about a woman's epiphany and her discovering the ability to improve herself.

> Is there a story behind the title?
The title for The Fecund's Melancholy Daughter grew slowly as I wrote the book. I had been reading Robert Burton's Anatomy at Melancholy, a massive tome about what makes people sad. Burton was a brilliant, obsessed man, but he wrote his treatise in the 1600's, when the general belief was that people had different compositions in their veins, called humours, and that their personality traits were dictated by these humours: some had a darker bile, doctors of the day claimed-- melancholy-- which made the patient's destinies pretty much miserable from the start. I imagined a city where this theory was true, and that in this city there would be a caste system based upon it. This was responsible for the 'melancholy' part of the title. The fecund-- a monster living under the castle where the queen lives, a narrator of sorts-- was named because it's constantly in a state of pregnancy and is responsible for much of the creation in the book's world. Without giving away any spoilers, there is an implication in The FMD that a certain major player was born with melancholy flowing through her body, and that the fecund was her mother. Hence, the title is a literal description of a main character. Plus, I wanted a long title, after the one-word title Filaria.

> Does working in the aerospace field help when writing science fiction?
Because my day job has nothing to do with writing-- except for the occasional e-mail-- it doesn't exercise the same muscles that writing fiction does. I've purposely steered away from any type of employment that involves writing for someone else. My science fiction has very little science in it, so there's no connection there either. So for me, having a job like I do helps my writing a lot, by being so separated from it. 

> What made you want to be a writer?
I've always loved reading, and when I came across authors like Ballard and Delany, I realized the potency of words, and how incredible they could be when strung together in the right way. I wanted to affect someone out there the way these authors affected me. A tall order, but I wanted to try. 

> Beyond the matter of length, do you find it easier writing short stories or novels?
Novels. I have a difficult time reining myself in. I like the expanse of a novel, the ability to scatter characters throughout geography and time, to meander and venture into asides, exploring nooks and crannies off the beaten path. Short stories don't have that luxury, but it's also good to write them once in a while, to balance things out, and practice restraint. 

> In the books you’ve written, who is you favourite character and why?  
I like most of the characters in my books- I think you need to like them, in order to get through the writing process. They all need to be treated fairly. I try not to have clear 'good' guys and 'bad' guys, so I don't set up certain characters as unlikable from the start, even by me. I suppose if I had to pick, though, it would be Phister, from Filaria, and the chatelaine from The Fecund's Melancholy Daughter. To me they are the most sympathetic. They were my principal avatars during the writing of the books. 

> If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?
I don't think so. Some of them briefly do fun things-- go to cool places and meet odd people-- but ultimately the settings and situations would become a bummer. My books are much darker than I am.

> What was the first novel, published or unpublished, that you wrote and how long did it take to write it?
The first novel I wrote was a second-by-second description of a bombing raid in London during WW2, written longhand in pencil on lined paper. A litany of how the denizens died. Pretty gruesome. I'm not sure how long it took me to fill up all that foolscap. I was about twelve. Trust me, that's a long time ago.  

> What was the hardest scene for you to write?
I struggle with action scenes. I tend to write introspection mostly, but car chases stymie me. In The Fecund's Melancholy Daughter, there are fight scenes involving sentient craft that needed to be buffed quite a bit before seeing the light of day. 

> When and where do you write?
Mostly I write at my desk, at work, during my lunch break. This adds up to about fifteen minutes a day. I do editing at home.

> What’s the best/worst thing about writing?
The best thing about writing is holding a published book, or seeing a potential cover for the first time. Getting a good review or feedback from someone far away who likes your writing is pretty great too. The worst thing is running into snobbery. A lot of writers seem to believe that what we are all doing is more important than what other people end up doing. I can't abide by that.

> What is something you didn’t know about the publishing industry before you had your first book published?
To be honest, I had no idea that the whole process could be as painless as it was with my two novels. CZP are pretty ideal publishers.

> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?
Don't write for a particular audience or follow any trends. Develop strong discipline and, most of all, develop a really thick layer of skin.

> Any tips against writers block?
Sit there, even if nothing comes. Often the best passages are the one that hurt the most to write or the ones that take forever to gel.

> How do you discipline yourself to write?
By chipping away. A few lines a day adds up. Don't wait for inspiration - it's fickle, and can't be trusted.

> How many rejection letters did you get for your first novel or story?
I didn't send anything out until several rather bad stories and a rather bad novel had been completed. When I did start submitting, it was infrequent and I retired the works after a few failed attempts. I think the most rejections I ever got for one story was about seven. The novel that I completed before Filaria was rejected by an agent but never a publisher. Filaria was sent out to one place but I never heard back from them. Then along came CZP, and here we are. So zero is the answer, I guess.

Thursday 9 June 2011

Portal, Live

A cool real life portrayal of Portal by Ninja of the Night at Fanime 2011.  From their youtube page:

Ninja of the Night (NOTN) is a cosplay group based out of the Pacific Northwest, although its members are scattered all across the country. They pool their creative energies into producing and performing cosplay skits at conventions in their home region, and occasionally in other parts of the country. The four principle members are Kayla [BlitzAceTidus], Mandy [Nutcracker], Kathryn [Rynn], and Krystal [Sumikins]. They most often perform at SakuraCon in Seattle, WA and KumoriCon in Portland, OR.

Wednesday 8 June 2011

Geek Gifts: Jigsaw Puzzles

Now, I know what you're thinking, you can get jigsaw puzzles everywhere.  Why are you mentioning them?  But I don't think most people realize how diverse jigsaw puzzles have become, or how cool.

For example, Bits and Pieces in Canada (I've used this company several times), and The Puzzle House (found using a quick google search, I've never bought from them before) list quite a number of different puzzle types: 1000 piece, glow in the dark, shaped, 3D and 4D to name the more unusual.

My husband bought me a glow in the dark puzzle from Bits and Pieces (unfortunately they don't have that particular one on their site anymore).  Not only was it challenging to put together - the pieces not being the traditional jigsaw shape - it looked fantastic in the dark (once you ran a strong flashlight over it to 'charge' the glow in the dark paint).   Here's one they do have in stock, under normal lights and our train puzzle, glowing.

Shaped puzzles look cute, so if you can find a shape your recipient likes, that's a bonus.  They're usually smaller puzzles though, so don't pick one of those if you want to give them a challenge.
I came across 4D puzzles at the Toronto Science Center.  We haven't put ours together yet, but they sure look cool.  Here's New York: 
3D puzzles are fairly common now.  You can find them in a lot of games shops, toy stores, science stores and department stores.  Some of the things you can make are pretty awesome, like globes and castles.  My husband's got the CN Tower, a working grandfather clock (it's tough to change the battery),R2D2 and more.  Here's a globe and Neuschwanstein Castle:

If you want more story with your puzzle, I stumbled across mystery puzzles at a boutique shop on a trip up North.  You can buy similar things online at places like The Puzzle House or Are You Game.  The one I bought was an Alfred Hitchcock mystery jigsaw that requires you to read a small book about various characters who, in this puzzle, have 'an unusual "obsession" with Alfred Hitchcock and his films'.  You then assemble the puzzle - which doesn't match the cover (so you can't cheat and see what the puzzle's supposed to look like while assembling it), and then solve the mystery.

Or you can just go with nigh impossible black and white 1000 piece puzzles, like High Security by artist Thomas Barbey (available, among other places, at which my husband recently finished.  I helped with the castle.  :)

Tuesday 7 June 2011

WBB Presents: Speculative Fiction

The World's Biggest Bookstore's Speculative Fiction event on Sunday June 5th, was a lot of fun. We had 3 ChiZine Publications authors in to read from their most recent works and discuss the business.  David Nickle read from Eutopia: A Novel of Terrible Optimism.  Gemma Files read from A Rope of Thorns.  And Brent Hayward read from The Fecund's Melancholy Daughter.

The post reading discussion was led by ChiZine co-publisher Sandra Kasturi.  She asked some interesting questions, like: "Why on earth do you write that weird, terrible dark stuff, like, what's wrong with you?"

Why do you write horror? from Jessica Strider on Vimeo.

And, "What does a short story allow you to do that a novel does not?"

What does a short story allow you to do that a novel doesn't? from Jessica Strider on Vimeo.

Finally, here's the publisher's endcap with lots of signed books.  So if you're in the Toronto area, come on down to the WBB and get yourselves signed copies of some local authors' works.

Friday 3 June 2011

Book Review: Embassytown by China Mieville

Pros: truly alien aliens, unique alien language, full immersion in alien world with little to no explanation

Cons: because the books is told from the POV of an indifferent narrator you don't learn as much about the world/aliens as you'd like

Avice Benner Cho grew up in Embassytown, escaped to the out for several years and was drawn back by her current husband's interest in the language of the indiginous life forms of Embassytown's planet, the Hosts or Ariekei.  She doesn't realize how much her home town is about to change by the arrival of a new Ambassador from their governing world of Bremen.  Ambassadors are usually made in Embassytown, and are the only ones with the talent to be understood by the Hosts.  She's about to learn how little she truly understands about the Hosts, their world, and the politics of Embassytown.

The novel is told in two parts.  The first alternates between her present situation, waiting to see the new Ambassador at his welcome party, and her past (childhood in Embassytown and how she became a simile for the Hosts, and her time in the immer where she met and married Scile, the man who convinces her to return to Emabassytown).  The second part deals with the fallout of the new Ambassador's first speech.

This is the first of Mieville's novels I've read.  It won't be the last.  The writing is absolutely brilliant.  He dumps you in the middle of an alien world filled with alien concepts, takes you into space using undescribed technology and expects you to figure out what's going on.  A lesser author would have failed, leaving the reader fumbling to understand unexplained words and concepts.  Not Mieville.  There's no glossary and no translation except for the Host's speech, when required.  Yet there's also little confusion beyond the first few times a word/concept is mentioned.  Much of what he brings up is understood in context and it makes the world come to life in a way that feels real.

The Hosts and Ambassadors are fascinating and truly alien.  If you like languages, as I do, then you'll enjoy the intricacies of thought that are played out with the truth of Language and the Hosts' festival of lies.

My only complaint is that Avice doesn't really like her home world, and so doesn't always tell you things that as a reader you want to know more about.  And she ignores some of the more interesting intrigues the Embassy gets into.  I wanted to learn more about Scile's theories about the Host Language and about the various Host factions and how their interests intersect with the power struggles of the Embassy.

From what I could tell (I'm no physicist and my knowledge of space travel is quite limited) the science isn't accurate, so hard SF fans may be annoyed by that.  But the Host planet has an atmosphere unbreathable to humans, which is dealt with realistically

If you like intelligent SF this is a fantastic book to pick up.

Thursday 2 June 2011

Genre News

Got a few more bits of interesting news, that I'll post together.

First up, Online Degrees keeps sending me SF related lists they've done but by the time I get around to posting them, they're already up everywhere so I generally don't bother.  Their new list, the 10 Best Post-Apocalyptic Movies [Edited July 2013 to add: I've removed the link per an email request by Online Derees], is pretty good if not earth shattering (ie, you've probably heard of, if not seen, all of them already).

Sea Lion Books has new graphic novel coming out in July that sounds pretty awesome. Pariah.  From the press release:

They’re not super powered, they’re just super smart. The teen protagonists who lead us through the world of Pariah, a twelve-book graphic novel series from the mind of Oscar-winning film producer Aron Warner and published by Sea Lion Books, are the next generation of heroes in the comic book world. Eisner-nominated illustrator Brett Weldele (The Surrogates) will bring the stories to life in ink, and Philip Gelatt will pen the scripts set in Warner’s world for the twelve books. As buzz builds about this unlikely collaboration and the unique story of Pariah, the series will premiere at San Diego Comic Con on July 20 – 24th. 

"I came up with Pariah after reading an article about in vitro genetic manipulation,” Warner says. “We take medications every day without fully understanding how they work. It’s kind of terrifying if you think about it. In Pariah, kids grow up with incredible intelligence as a side effect of modern ‘cures.’ The problem is that they’re so smart, they question everything – even things we hold as sacred. All of our laws, morals, and even physical constraints will be torn apart and re-built. These kids are adrift in every way, equipped with mental tools we can’t even imagine. On top of all of that, they’re persecuted, feared and hated. As if being a teenager didn’t suck enough…”

The Vitros, as the characters are called, are a group of several hundred kids from all over the world who possess beyond-human intelligence produced via genetic manipulation. As teenagers in the process of trying to uncover their identities, they live relatively normal lives, though not without a fair amount of suspicion thrown at them from the fringes of society. When the Vitros are framed for a deadly explosion at a laboratory that releases a virus on the population, the government systematically begins to round up these pariahs, sending our heroes on the run from the authorities and their lives.

Says Sea Lion's Publisher, Derek Ruiz, "Aron has captured the essence of being a Pariah as seen through the eyes of a group of scientifically created teens. They are a Petri dish of innocent souls infinitely more intelligent than anyone else on Earth. Yet their creation and existence has left them shunned and condemned.”

What happens when the society that created them also tries to destroy them? The Pariahs fight back this July. For updates and additional information join Pariah on Facebook or follow PariahComicBook on Twitter.

Phoenix Pick's free book of the month is, "a Hugo and Nebula winning novelette by Charles Sheffield, titled Georgia on My Mind."  Go to their website, follow the instructions and enter the code for June: 9992231.  You can also sign up to receive their free ebook offers every month.

Lastly, this is a video my husband and I stumbled upon a few days ago.  It's a cute interpretation of what crop circles really mean called Invasions.  It's a French animated short, but there's no language so don't worry about having to read subtitles if you don't know French.  I grabbed it from the director, Clement-Morin,'s site.  He has several other videos as well.

Invasions from Clément Morin on Vimeo.