Monday 31 October 2011

Happy Halloween!

Hope you have a great night of safe and spooky fun!

Sunday 30 October 2011

Science Fiction and Fantasy Events in Toronto, November 2011

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

Wednesday November 2 

William Shatner Signing his new book, Shatner Rules: Your Key To Understanding The Shatnerverse And The World At Large.
Where: Indigo Manulife, 55 Bloor W, Toronto
When: 7 pm
Admission: Free - wristband policy in effect (the Indigo website did not have the details for the policy up, so call the store for more details: 416-925-3536)

Thursday November 3 

Dr Who Information Network (DWIN) Pub Night

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

Saturday November 5

CZP and Bakka-Phoenix Books launch Caitlin Sweet's THE PATTERN SCARS!
Where: Bakka-Phoenix Books 84 Harbord Street
When: 3 - 6 pm
Come join ChiZine Publications ( and author Caitlin Sweet as she launches her latest novel, THE PATTERN SCARS, with a special appearance by the illustrator Martin Springett.

Readings! Prizes! Snacks! Fortune Telling with special guest Sephera Giron! Plus, it's Guy Fawkes Day--which works out nicely, since Caitlin's book is EXPLOSIVE!

Saturday November 12

4th Annual Dotcon

Where: Days Hotel & Conference Centre (185 Yorkland Boulevard)
When: 11 AM - 2 AM

Cost: $25
Guests: BLOOD, Omega Zero, Jody Rodier, Cliff Goodman 

Monday November 14

Toronto International Film Festival Light Box Presents:
Otherworldly Exhibit Special Talk:
The Reality of Fantasy

Special guest Monique Prudhomme
Where: TIFF Bell Lightbox is located at Reitman Square on the north-west corner of King and John Streets (350 King Street West)
When: Monday, November 14 at 7:00 pm
Cost: Ticket Sales and booking information for the special events will be available at in late September 2011.

TIFF welcomes Academy Award®-nominated costume designer Monique Prudhomme (nominated for her work in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus) to present the keynote talk for Otherworldly: The Art of Canadian Costume Design, which will focus on the process of creating fantastical costumes by finding, adapting and transforming elements from contemporary fashion, vintage pieces and specially selected materials.  Prudhomme will also address Ontario post-secondary students and faculty at a Higher Learning session on November 15.

Wednesday November 16

Toronto Public Library Author Talk
Umberto Eco 
When: 7:00 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.
Where: Toronto Reference Library The Appel Salon
Cost: Free, but an advance ticket is required (details below)

In a rare visit, Umberto Eco discusses his latest novel, The Prague Cemetery, which takes readers through 19th century Europe, from Turin to Prague to Paris.

The philosopher, critic, and bestselling author of The Name of the Rose will also speak about writing intellectual mysteries that combine semiotics in fiction, biblical analysis, medieval studies and literary theory.

Note: Doors open at 6 p.m. Join us for a drink at a cash bar reception starting at 6 p.m.

Tickets are required for admission to all Appel Salon events. Tickets are free, and are available online at, starting four weeks before the event, unless otherwise noted.

As most Appel Salon events are free of charge, it is our policy to overbook. In the case of a full program, your free reservation may not guarantee admission. Unclaimed reservations will be released to standby customers ten minutes prior to the start of the program. We recommend that you arrive early.

Thursday November 17 

1. Toronto Public Library Author Talk
John Scalzi and Gardner Dozois at the Merril Collection of Science Fiction
Where: Lillian H. Smith
When: 7:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.

Science fiction writer and blogger John Scalzi and editor Gardner Dozois will talk at the Merril Collection of Science Fiction on Thursday, November 17. The appearance is co-sponsored by SFContario and the Friends of the Merril Collection. For more information phone 416-393-7748.

2. Toronto Public Library Author Talk
Black Holes are like Kinder Surprises and Other Short Stories from the Universe 
Whre: Gerrard/Ashdale Branch, 1432 Gerrard Street East

When: 7:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.

Hear stories of the Big Bang, dark matter, dark energy,
extra-dimensions, parallel universes, quantum computers, and more. Join us as we host the very engaging Johannes Hirn from the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of Toronto.

Friday November 18 to Sunday November 20

SF Contario 2
Where: Ramada Plaza Hotel (300 Jarvis St.)
When: Friday 6 - 11 pm, Saturday 9 am - 11 pm, Sunday 10 am - 4 pm
Cost: Weekend $65, Friday $25, Saturday $40, Sunday $35

Sunday November 20

Fan Expo Canada Premium Pass holders are admitted FREE!
All children 12 and under admitted FREE with adult admission.
Regular admission only $8 tax included!
[Note: I could not find a website for this event.  The banner and information are from an email I was sent.]

Monday November 21

Robert J. Sawyer, Free Public Talk: Humanity 2.0
Presented by the Literary Review of Canada and TVO's Big Ideas
Where: The Gardiner Museum (111 Queen's Park)
When: 7:00 p.m.
Light snacks, cash bar
It is free, but seating is limited. Please RSVP to:

Sunday November 27

Space-Time Continuum Discussion Group
Where: Bakka Phoenix Books, 84 Harbord Street
When: 1pm
Discussion Topic: Old Man's War by John Scalzi

Friday 28 October 2011

Hunger Games Character Posters and more!

Character posters have been released for next year's Hunger Games movie!
The principle actors depicted on the posters are: 
top row: Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), Peeta (John Hutcherson) and Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Rue (Amanda Stenberg) 
bottom row: Cato (Alexander Ludwig), Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), Effie (Elizabeth Banks), Cinna (Lenny Kravitz),  .

And in case you haven't read the books yet, here's the synopsis from their press release:

Every year in the ruins of what was once North America, the nation of Panem forces each of its twelve districts to send a teenage boy and girl to compete in the Hunger Games.  Part twisted entertainment, part government intimidation tactic, the Hunger Games are a nationally televised event in which "Tributes" must fight with one another until one survivor remains.

Pitted against highly-trained Tributes who have prepared for these Games their entire lives, Katniss is forced to rely on her sharp instincts as well as the mentorship of drunken former victor Haymitch Abernathy.  If she's ever to return home to District 12, Katniss must make impossible choices in the arena that weigh survival against humanity and life against live.

And check out their website to see a sneak peak video and pictures from the film.  You can also register with The Capitol and be assigned a district in anticipation of the 74th Hunger Games.

New Author Spotlight: Ernest Cline

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 Ernest Cline.

Ernest Cline's first book is:

  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (Crown)

Here's the cover copy:
At once wildly original and stuffed with irresistible nostalgia, READY PLAYER ONE is a spectacularly genre-busting, ambitious, and charming debut-part quest novel, part love story, and part virtual space opera set in a universe where spell-slinging mages battle giant Japanese robots, entire planets are inspired by Blade Runner, and flying DeLoreans achieve light speed.

It's the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune-and remarkable power-to whoever can unlock them. 

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday's riddles are based in the pop culture he loved-that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday's icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes's oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt-among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life-and love-in the real world he's always been so desperate to escape.

A world at stake.
A quest for the ultimate prize.
Are you ready?

If you like this title, you might also like:

  • This is Not as Game by Walter Jon Williams (Orbit)
  • The Restoration Game by Ken MacLeod (Pyr)
  • Omnitopia Dawn by Diane Duane (DAW)

Thursday 27 October 2011

Stefan Petrucha's The X-Wives

Stefan Petrucha has written a bunch of children's books, comics and non-fiction and has recently published two adult urban fantasy novels (Blood Prophecy and Dead Mann Walking).  I was recently on his website and discovered that he does humerous videos too!  Among some he did years ago, is the X-Wives, a parody of the X-Files (and it assumes you've not only seen the show but loved it enough to notice a lot of the inconsistencies in plot and character that occurred over the years).  I especially love how each location is the same house, just with a different caption.  The production values are surprisingly good, so if you liked the show, check these out.  I've embedded the first of the 5 part web series here. 

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Random House Kids Preview

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend the fall kids book preview at the Random House offices in Toronto.  They've got some great things coming out and I managed to get reading copies for a few books I'm really stoked about.

James Dashner's third book, The Death Cure, is finally out!  This series is getting better and better, and I'm hoping this book explains more about the organization that's been putting these teenagers through hell.  Here's the synopsis for the first book in the series, The Maze Runner.

When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. His memory is blank. But he’s not alone. When the lift’s doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade—a large, open expanse surrounded by stone walls.

Just like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them have opened. Every night they’ve closed tight. And every 30 days a new boy has been delivered in the lift.

Thomas was expected. But the next day, a girl is sent up—the first girl to ever arrive in the Glade. And more surprising yet is the message she delivers.

Thomas might be more important than he could ever guess. If only he could unlock the dark secrets buried within his mind.
 Next up is a book I heard about a month or so ago, Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel.  It's a post-apocalyptic steampunk novel with... wait for it... a human/zombie romance.

Love can never die.

Love conquers all, so they say. But can Cupid’s arrow pierce the hearts of the living and the dead—or rather, the undead? Can a proper young Victorian lady find true love in the arms of a dashing zombie?

The year is 2195. The place is New Victoria—a high-tech nation modeled on the manners, mores, and fashions of an antique era. A teenager in high society, Nora Dearly is far more interested in military history and her country’s political unrest than in tea parties and debutante balls. But after her beloved parents die, Nora is left at the mercy of her domineering aunt, a social-climbing spendthrift who has squandered the family fortune and now plans to marry her niece off for money. For Nora, no fate could be more horrible—until she’s nearly kidnapped by an army of walking corpses.

But fate is just getting started with Nora. Catapulted from her world of drawing-room civility, she’s suddenly gunning down ravenous zombies alongside mysterious black-clad commandos and confronting “The Laz,” a fatal virus that raises the dead—and hell along with them. Hardly ideal circumstances. Then Nora meets Bram Griswold, a young soldier who is brave, handsome, noble . . . and dead. But as is the case with the rest of his special undead unit, luck and modern science have enabled Bram to hold on to his mind, his manners, and his body parts. And when his bond of trust with Nora turns to tenderness, there’s no turning back. Eventually, they know, the disease will win, separating the star-crossed lovers forever. But until then, beating or not, their hearts will have what they desire.

In Dearly, Departed, romance meets walking-dead thriller, spawning a madly imaginative novel of rip-roaring adventure, spine-tingling suspense, and macabre comedy that forever redefines the concept of undying love.

I'm not sure if this Juliet Immortal, by Stacey Jay, is quite my thing, but I do like Romeo and Juliet.

The most tragic love story in history . . .

Juliet Capulet didn't take her own life. She was murdered by the person she trusted most, her new husband, Romeo Montague, a sacrifice made to ensure his own immortality. But what Romeo didn't anticipate was that Juliet would be granted eternity, as well, and would become an agent for the Ambassadors of Light. For 700 years, she's fought Romeo for the souls of true lovers, struggling to preserve romantic love and the lives of the innocent. Until the day she meets someone she's forbidden to love, and Romeo, oh Romeo, will do everything in his power to destroy that love.
And now for something completely different.  I don't have a kid, and I'm not sure kids would like this, though it is a children's picture book.  It's Jon Klassen's I Want My Hat Back.  A rather deadpan faced bear is looking for his hat, asking the other forest animals if they've seen it.  It's got a surprisingly funny ending - at least, if you like black humour.  I could see myself reading this to my nieces and nephews, laughing my head off at the ending and them wondering what's so funny.  Look through it the next time you're at a bookstore.

Harry Potter: Page to Screen

Sorry to see the last of Harry Potter?  Well, here's a beautiful coffee table book that shows the progression of the novels onto the big screen. 

Harry Potter: Page to Screen opens the doors to Hogwarts castle and the wizarding world of Harry Potter to reveal the complete behind-the-scenes secrets, techniques, and over-the-top artistry that brought J.K. Rowling’s acclaimed novels to cinematic life. Developed in collaboration with the creative team behind the celebrated movie series, this deluxe, 500-plus page compendium features exclusive stories from the cast and crew, hundreds of never-before-seen photographs and concept illustrations sourced from the closed film sets, and rare memorabilia. As the definitive look at the magic that made cinematic history, Page to Screen is the ultimate collectible, perfect for Muggles everywhere.

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Book Review: The Postmortal by Drew Magary

(Note, this book was published under the title The End Specialist in the UK)

Pros: thought provoking, philosophical without being moralistic, good mix of personal intensity and world affairs, good mix of horror and humour


This is John Farrell's account of the years during which the cure for aging is legalized.  It is discovered several years after the cure (and most documentation regarding that period) has been destroyed.  This frame story gives the novel a similar feel to Max Brooks' World War Z.  The reader knows how the book will end, and wants - desperately - to understand how the world came to this horrible place.  And don't let the cover fool you, this book has more in common with Cormac McCarthy's The Road than it does with Christopher Moore's humorous satires.

Farrell is 29 when he gets the cure, and for the next few decades parties and enjoys life.  He's a lawyer when the idea of cycle marriages (which end after 40 years) become the vogue and is often at the wrong place at the wrong time when it comes to protests and reactionary thinking.  Because not everyone thinks the cure is a good thing.  And the novel is VERY clear that the wrong place is everywhere.  Farrell's experiences are not unique.

From protesters who want the cure legalized, pro-death terrorists, trolls who decide the internet isn't good enough for mischief - they want to maim those who are crowding their space-, to cure hotels in Vegas and the very real consequences of a population that can still catch diseases and die, but can't age beyond their treatment dates, this book covers a lot of philosophical issues.  It's impressive that Magary manages to not pass judgement on his characters, showing the different sides of the cure and how humans react to it - or even the promise of it.  On occasion Farrell will do roundups with internet links to news articles that mention how the rest of the world is coping with the cure: China bans it, Russia forces its military personnel to get it.  He'll also add interviews with pertinent players, like the cure's inventor, or pamphlets, like the one handed out by the Church of Man.

The cure affects every aspect of life, and as the book progresses, the dry humour of the first section slowly vanishes, as Farrell realizes that a life of partying gets old, even if his body doesn't.  And when he decides to do something worthwhile with his life, fate steps in.

Magary uses expressions and new language with no explanations (like plug-ins for electric cars), which adds authenticity to his well realized future.

Postmortal is a book about the best and worst aspects of humankind, a novel that will make you question life, the universe and everything.  Ultimately, it's a novel about hope, and how we can't live without it.

Sunday 23 October 2011

Final Frontier - Choose Your Own Ending

"After 17 years of cryo-freeze, three astronauts are marooned on a desert planet.  What would YOU do?" This is a short multi-ending film by Zeke Mahogany.  I love the space carpet.  :)

Friday 21 October 2011

New Author Spotlight: Kelly Meding

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 Kelly Meding.

Kelly Meding's books include:

  • Three Days to Dead by Kelly Meding (Dell)
  • As Lie the Dead by Kelly Meding (Dell)
  • Another Kind of Dead by Kelly Meding (Bantam)
Here's the cover copy for Three Days To Dead:
They'll never see her coming. . . .

When Evangeline Stone wakes up naked and bruised on a cold slab at the morgue-in a stranger's body, with no memory of who she is and how she got there-her troubles are only just beginning. Before that night she and the two other members of her Triad were the city's star bounty hunters, mercilessly cleansing the city of the murderous creatures living in the shadows, from vampires to shape-shifters to trolls. Then something terrible happened that not only cost all three of them their lives but also convinced the city's other Hunters that Evy was a traitor-and she can't even remember what it was.

Now she's a fugitive, piecing together her memory, trying to deal some serious justice-and discovering that she has only three days to solve her own murder before the reincarnation spell wears off. Because in three days Evy will die again-but this time there's no second chance. . . .

If you like these titles, you might also like:

  • Working Stiff by Rachel Caine (Roc)
  • The Better Part of Darkness by Kelly Gay (Pocket Books)
  • Afterlife by Merrie Destefano (Harper Voyager)

Thursday 20 October 2011

Movie Review: Friday the 13th (1980)

Friday the 13th (1980)
Director: Sean S. Cunningham (IMDB)

Pros: more suspenseful than gory, good music, a young Kevin Bacon!

Cons: some overacting, very simplistic plot

Twenty years after closing down due to unsolved murders, Camp Crystal Lake is being readied for reopening.  On Friday the 13th, the six councillors and new owner are stalked by a killer.

The movie has more suspense than gore, which I appreciated.  But like all slasher flicks, don't expect much of a plot.  The reveal would have been surprising had someone not told me who the killer was earlier this year.  The film does a good job of showing the killer's POV without giving away any clues about who it is.

Harry Manfredini's score reminded me of psycho - lots of discordant 'slashing' notes.  There was also an upbeat undercurrent at times that deflected some of the horror.

There was so overacting, especially Adirenne King's portrayal of Alice Hardy.  Her character ticked me off towards the end of the movie.  She seemed bizarrely clueless when facing the killer, moreso than the other victims.  The inclusion of Kevin Bacon made up for that though.  :)

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Prophets of Science Fiction

I found this on Lou Anders' blog, and it looks really cool.  Almost makes me wish I had cable.

Tuesday 18 October 2011

Book Review: Debris by Jo Anderton

Pros: fascinating world, strong female protagonist

Cons: slow pacing

Tanyana is an extremely talented architect, manipulating pions to create a huge sculpture of Grandeur for the Veche, when disaster occurs.  Angry red pions, a kind she's never seen before, attack the statue and her, causing her to fall from a terrible height.  When she awakens, her ability to see pions has disappeared, instead she can now see debris, the by-product of pion work.  No one but her believes that her fall was anything but an accident.

I don't generally like character driven stories.  I find that half way through I get bored with the protagonist and want to see more plot.  Debris did not have that problem.  Tanyana Vladha is a strong, and strong-willed, protagonist.  She's feisty without being bi*chy, able to ask for, and accept, help from others, even if she doesn't particularly want to.  And despite the changes in her life she never forgets what happened, and never stops trying to find out more - advancing the plot just enough to keep things interesting.

Having said that, the pacing is fairly slow, allowing you to fully immerse yourself in the world.  This didn't bother me much, as I liked the characters and there was enough plot to keep me interested, but I suspect others will find that the story drags at points. 

I was a little surprised by the nature of her relationship with Devich, the technician who helps her become a debris collector and thought Tanyana made a few unwise decision with regards to her life post accident.  But given her trauma, it's understandable that she'd want to hold onto the things of her success and fall for a guy who's understanding and convinced she hasn't really fallen from her former position.

The publisher pegs this as science fiction.  The only real science could be the idea that pions are atoms, but their manipulation, the collection of debris and the world itself feel more like fantasy.  

It's a promising debut.

Margaret Atwood Interview on Studio Q

Margaret Atwood does an interview on Studio Q for her newest book, In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination.  It's an interesting interview in which she gives her own definitions for science fiction and speculative fiction, explaining why she places her books in a different subgenre than many genre readers would.

Friday 14 October 2011

Author Interview: Trent Jamieson


Death Most Definite
Managing Death
The Business of Death

> What can readers expect from the Death Works novels? 
 The Death Works books are about Steven de Selby, a guy who works for Death. He's a bit of a slacker to begin with but I like to think he grows up as the books progress. The books themselves are fast paced comedy-adventures: Urban Fantasy novels that deal with death, love and the apocalypse. They're set in Australia, in the hot and sultry - well hot and sweaty - city of Brisbane.
> And what's your science fiction novel, Roil, about? 
The world of Shale is dying. A vast, chaotic, monster-bearing storm known only as the Roil is expanding, consuming the land.

Where once there were twelve great cities, now only four remain, and their borders are being threatened by the growing cloud of darkness. The last humans are fighting back with ever more bizarre new machines. But one by one the defences are failing. And the Roil continues to grow.

With the land in turmoil, it’s up to a decadent wastrel, a four thousand year-old man, and a young woman intent on revenge to try to save their city – and the world.
> You've been writing the Death Works novels for Orbit and the Nightbound Land duology for Angry Robot Books. How do you find time to write two series at once?  And does it ever get confusing, working on two series at the same time?
The books are quite different tonally so I didn't find it all that confusing, and I guess I'm used to working on several things at once - I'm a bit crazy that way. I did have to be quite disciplined, but when you get into the habit of writing (and writing to a deadline) it gets easier. Though I do walk around talking to myself a lot!
>Do you find it easier to write urban fantasy or science fiction?
I think they have their own challenges, I can say that they're just as enjoyable to write, and it's been a lot of fun to switch between the two modes. I love making up worlds, but it's also been great writing about the city that I know so intimately and love. So both have their appeal.
> What's the story behind your 'Trent's Book Corner' videos?
It's a bit of a hobby and a bit of fun. I realised that my computer had a camera in it and then, well, I thought, why not? A lot of my friends do really cool podcasts, I was never going to compete with that so I thought I'd do these instead. They're meant to be silly, and, hopefully, fun.
> What made you want to be a writer?
I've written (and written Science Fiction and Fantasy in particular) since I was five. It was always something that I did to entertain myself, and help me make sense of the world. It's still my greatest source of comfort, and I think it always will be.
> In the books you’ve written, who is you favourite character and why?  
 In the Death Works books it's Lissa because I think she's very cool, and resilient, and she has a wicked sense of humour. In Roil it's probably the Aerokin pilot Kara Jade for very much the same reason. They both have a real loyalty to their friends as well, and I think that they're fundamentally good people.
I do love my villains, too. Particularly Stade and Morrigan!
> If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?
No, I put my characters through hell! I really wouldn't want to be any of them - though they do get to wear some rather nice clothes.
> What was the first novel (published or unpublished) that you wrote and how long did it take to write it?
It was a sword and sorcery novel called Stilloch of the Plains. I wrote it when I was in my early teens and it's AWFUL! But it was the first thing that I ever finished so I secretly love it as much as I hate it.
> Has your day job as a bookseller helped with your writing? (by meeting publishing people, knowing what sells, etc?)
I don't know if it has helped with my writing other than that I have a VERY understanding boss, when I say I am least available casual staff member I'm not joking. There's a lot of published writers at my bookshop, and we all encourage each other, and celebrate each other's successes. It's a very special place. So, I guess, yes, it has helped.
As for knowing what sells, sometimes I think trends change too quickly to chase them. You're always better off writing what you enjoy as well as you can.
> When and where do you write?
Everywhere, and whenever I can. I write on the bus to and from work, I've written in cafes, malls even pubs. Of course, most of my writing gets done at home, at my desk or the kitchen table. I write in the mornings, I write late at night. And, when I'm getting close to finishing a book, I write almost all the time (see how terrible I am as an employee?). Oh and there's usually coffee involved!
> What’s the best/worst thing about writing?
It's been part of my life for so long now, but I think the best and worst thing about writing is that it's endlessly challenging. You never stop learning things or risking failure. It keeps it interesting, and scary.
> What is something you didn’t know about the publishing industry before you had your first book published?
I really understand just how much hard work and love goes into a book from the cover design to editing and marketing. Books are produced through real passion. You sit alone writing, but once that book is shared with your publisher amazing things happen.
> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?
Write what you love. Write when you can, and honor that writing by enjoying it. And read, read, read, read.
> Any tips against writers block?
Don't panic if it happens. The worst thing you can do is get depressed about it: it just makes it harder to get back into the writing. Sometimes writers block is just life getting difficult, things will pick up again. Try and find something fun to write, or if it's a particular scene that is blocking you, write around it.
> How do you discipline yourself to write?
I try and make space to write every day, even if it's only a couple of sentences or a quick sketch.
> How many rejection letters did you get for your first novel or story?

I'm not sure, but it was a lot. I've a large concertina folder filled with them. Rejections are part of the job: it's good to learn that early. It makes the acceptances all the sweeter when they come - it also helps keeps things in perspective.

Thursday 13 October 2011

Movie Review: The Andromeda Strain (1971)

Director: Robert Wise, 1971 (IMDB)

Pros: hard SF, interesting scientific premise

Cons: slow, dated

A satellite crashes near a village in New Mexico, after which all but two of the inhabitants die.  The site is quarantined and the satellite and survivors taken to a special laboratory designed to deal with extraterrestrial diseases.

This is definite hard SF, with a scientifically possible premise that follows scientific procedures to determine what the satellite brought to earth and how to counteract its effects.

I mention that it's slow in the cons as I know a lot of people don't like slow SF films.  This is not a film with action and explosions.  It's a movie designed to provoke thought.  I imagine the effects were quite good at the time, though it's hard to see their 'state-of-the-art' computers without cringing.

There are some interesting twists as the scientists learn more about the space germ.  Fans of Michael Crichton (author of the novel the movie was based on) will note his signature pattern of introducing a series of small crises that balloon into giant problems (as seen in Westworld and Jurassic Park to name two).

If you liked Moon, this might be a good film to pick up.

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Amazing Stories Magazine Reboot + Technology Review's SF Anthology

Last week I had an email conversation with a gentleman who turned out to be restarting the Amazing Stories Magazine!  He's already posted pdf's of some of the original Amazing Stories Magazines, ones that have fallen into the public domain, for download.  His goals for the site:

I hope to be able to bring the magazine back into publication in an electronic format (with plans for print if and when).  I hope to be able to pay a professional rate, to discover new talent, to provide a new and vibrant market primarily for the shorter forms, and to investigate and experiment with new forms.
For now, I intend to publish information regarding Amazing Stories’ history, to engage with the folks who have gone before me and to geometrically arrange the water fowl, preparing for the day when I can roll out the first issue of the New Amazing Stories.
Check out the site here.

 Earlier this week, when restocking the SF/F magazines we keep in the fiction section, I came across this:

That's right, Technology Review has published their first annual anthology of original science fiction "inspired by today's emerging technologies".  They've put the emphasis on technical plausibility for their hard SF collection, and picked a mix of authors from both genders from around the world, with cover and interior art by Chris Foss.

The magazine is $7.95 (in Canada and the US) and consists of 80 pages of stories.  There are only 4 ads in the magazine, all for Technology Review.

The contents (in the order the authors appear on the cover, not their order in the table of contents):

Cory Doctorow "The Brave Little Toaster" (Communication)
Joe Haldeman "The Complete Sentence" (Computing)
Elizabeth Bear "Gods of the Forge" (Biomedicine)
Ma Boyong "The Mark Twain Robots" (Robotics)
Tobias Buckell "Lonely Islands" (Energy)
Pat Cadigan "Cody" (Biomedicine)
Paul DiFilippo "Specter-Bombing the Beer Goggles" (Web)
Gwyneth Jones "The Flame is Roses, The Smoke is Briars" (Communications)
Geoffrey Landis "Private Space" (Spaceflight)
Ken Liu "Real Artists" (Computing)
Ken MacLeod "The Surface of Last Scattering" (Materials)
Vandana Singh "Indra's Web) (Energy)

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Book Review: Mad Skills by Walter Greatshell

Pros: clever plotting, thought provoking story, interesting characters, hard SF

Cons: occasionally the protagonist would learn important things offstage that would have been better learned within scenes of the book, climax felt like a rushed information dump, Maddy is surprisingly unconcerned about the consequences of her actions with regards to others

Maddy Grant and her potential step-brother are in an accident at a fair.  Ben dies, but Maddy is left severely brain damaged.  Luckily for her, her parents contact the Braintree institute, which is experimenting with the use of computer implants.

With the implant, Maddy's as good as new.  Better even.  She knows things - things she didn't know before, things she doesn't want to know now.  Like how to make a rocket out of convenience store items.  Like how to kill a man.

Her heightened intelligence causes Maddy to question things that most people ignore, don't question or take for granted.  Where does fast food come from?  Why do people live in suburbs and commute to cities to work when it takes so much time to get back and forth?  Why do we adhere to gender mores that demean and cripple (dieting, high heeled shoes, genital mutilation)?  Mr. Greatshell avoids too much social commentary by mentioning these points for discussion from readers but not dwelling on them in the book.

I don't know how accurate the scientific technobabble was, but it sounded convincing and wasn't overwhelming in quantity or detail. 

And when Maddy starts to learn what's really been done to her...  Well, it's a fascinating story.  It's also a surprisingly quick read for all the thought provoking points and scientific experimentation.

At least once in the novel, she learns something off page that confused me when it was mentioned, as there was no hint of it elsewhere in the story.  And the 'reveal' finale was quite an info dump, requiring a few chapters to explain.  I'd have liked a slower climax to match the pacing of the rest of the novel.  I liked the nod to the Firemen of Fahrenheit 451 and the (perhaps unintentional) one of indentured slavery a la Parable of the Sower.

If you like hard SF set in the modern day, I highly recommend this.

Monday 10 October 2011

SF Gateway Goes Live!

SF Gateway, Gollancz's website designed to bringing back out of print classic SF novels in ebook form, is now live!

The SF Gateway is your portal to the classics of SF and Fantasy, where we hope you'll renew acquaintances with old favourites and discover new guides to strange and wonderful worlds . . .
They've got a number of books already, but their "ambition is to build the most comprehensive electronic library of classic SFF titles ever assembled, and to provide a place for readers to talk about them".  And while their books are not available in all countries yet, they're available to quite a few. There are some notable exceptions though:

Will the books be available outside the major English-speaking territories (i.e. UK, US, Aus)?
Yes. We have English language rights on all titles everywhere in the world except for the USA, its dependencies, Canada and the Philippines. And as noted above, we have English language rights everywhere in the world in one third of our titles. SF Gateway ebooks will be available from retailers in every country provided they have established commercial terms with the Hachette UK Group.
 And yes, the books will be DRM protected. Check out their FAQ page for more information.

Friday 7 October 2011

Author Interview: Jo Anderton

Novel: Debris

Short Stories: listed here

> What is Debris about? 

Debris is set in a world where everyone can work a kind of magic by manipulating sub-atomic particles with their mind. At the beginning of the book Tanyana is very skilled at this, and she earns a lot of money by doing so. However, she is involved in a terrible accident that scars her body, and strips her of her abilities. She is forced to the lowest rung of society, collecting debris -- the garbage created by all that manipulation of sub-atomic particles. But nothing is quite what it seems. Was her accident really so accidental? Is debris more than the waste product everyone else thinks it is? Tanyana fights to learn the truth, and discovers a world she could never have imagined.

> You've written and published a number of short stories while Debris is your first novel. Beyond the matter of length, do you find it easier writing short stories or novels?

Writing novels and short stories has always felt like using different muscle groups. Working on both keeps the overall body healthy. Novels build stamina, short stories are all about discipline. I wouldn't say one is easier than the other, just that they are different, and I like to keep a balance between the two.

>Your writing alternates between science fiction, fantasy and horror.  Which genre is the hardest (or easiest) to write and why?

Horror seems to come naturally to me (I wonder what that says about me?) so in a way I find it the easiest genre to write. It's like an addiction -- I feel so much better if I just have a little fix of something horrific! I've started all sorts of stories that have turned into horror by the end, even romance. The hardest genre for me is always science fiction. I worry about getting the 'science' part right. So I tend to sneak a bit of horror in my Sci-Fi stories, just to calm the jitters.

> Did your day job as the marketing coordinator for a book distributor help with regards to learning about the book industry and getting published?

Yes and no. My day job has taught me a lot about what happens 'on the other side' of publishing, and it's great to go into this with that knowledge and support. I wouldn't say it's helped with the getting published part -- apart from teaching me to be patient! I know how busy publishers are (I sit opposite one, and let me tell you, publishers are flat out busy all the time, and wonderfully dedicated to their authors and their books).

> What made you want to be a writer?

Stories. I've always been addicted to stories. As a kid I used to get lost in the stories in my head and I've never really grown out of that. Writing is my way of getting the stories out -- I stick a pen in my hand, or a keyboard under my fingers, and set them free.

> In the book and short stories you’ve written, who is you favourite character and why?

You want me to play favourites? What if my other characters find out and stop co-operating? Okay, well in Debris I can't help but love the main character, Tanyana. She's arrogant, she's opinionated, damned stubborn and strong too. Get on her good side, and she'll be loyal to you for life. Piss her off and...well...don't piss her off. I also love Lad. He's a large, volatile man who seems simple and child-like on the surface, but is hiding some of the book's biggest secrets. I love his honesty and earnestness. He made me laugh, and cry, more than anyone else.

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

I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in English Literature and Modern History. Strangely enough, I learned the most about writing from studying history. I loved drilling down through what happened to why it happened, and I think that's vital to the creation of characters, worlds, and the stories themselves. What happens is just the surface, why it happens is what really matters.

> When and where do you write?

Evenings and weekends are my writing time. I've got myself set up in a study at home. Unfortunately I'm not very good at writing 'anywhere' or 'anytime', thanks to a persistent back injury. The idea of sitting in a café chair and typing on a laptop makes me hurt just to think about! And regular breaks are a must. I need to get my arse out of the chair at least every hour, and move, and stretch, do a bit of yoga or go for a quick walk.

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

The best thing is the good writing days -- when I'm not even aware of typing any more, because I'm there, in that world, with those people, and they feel just as real as the so-called 'real world'. Woe to anyone who tries to disturb me on a good writing day! The worst thing is all the damned sitting.

> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

Write. Revise. Join a writing group and get feedback from other writers. Listen to what they have to say. Revise some more. Keep writing. Above all, keep writing.

> Any tips against writers block?

Exercise. For me, the best thing is to get away from the screen/paper, get outside, and run. If you don't want to run, at least walk. Don't go to a gym either, get some open sky and fresh air and green into you. It does wonders.

> How do you discipline yourself to write?

I'm a creature of habit. If I have a nice routine going, I can stick to it. When my routine gets disrupted, then I run into difficulty, and I just have to force myself to get off the couch and back to the desk. I use food rewards (like I do for my dog!) and tea rewards to make it easier. "Write a thousand words and you can have a piece of chocolate and a peppermint tea. Come on Jo, that's a good girl."

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

I stopped counting them a long time ago! About the same time I learned to love them. Rejection letters are great, they mean you're writing, and submitting, and writing more, and submitting more. And that's all good.

Thursday 6 October 2011

Movie Review: The Thing From Another World (1951)

The Thing From Another World

Director: Christian Nyby, 1951
imdb listing

Pros: decent suspense, some romance and lightheartedness, interesting characters, realistic reactions

Cons: not particularly scary, some overacting

A team of scientists in the Antarctic ask a local US military base for help when a spaceship crashes nearby.  They find and bring back an alien life form that ends up terrorizing the research facility.

This black and white film, *based on John W. Campbell, Jr.'s short story, "Who Goes There?"*, holds up remarkably well, retaining the suspenseful tension, interspersed with moments of romance between the military captain and a base secretary and jokes between the army flight crew.

It avoids cheesiness by only giving a few glances of the alien ship and creature, leaving most of the scares to your imagination and sudden attacks (think Jaws).

There are a few moments when the actors' expressions are a little too pronounced, but on the whole it's a well scripted story with some interesting characters.

There's a definite undercurrent of military good, scientists bad, as the head scientist argues with the captain about how he's handling the situation.  And by the end, the scientists are acting a bit like mad scientists, which is fitting in a way as we finally get to see the alien for several minutes, and it looks a lot like Frankenstein's monster.  *This fear of science was common in films of the era, when the atomic bomb had recently been used and the Communist U.S.S.R now had access to such.*

The explanation of the alien life form is very interesting, and creepy.

If you like suspenseful sf with a few chills, this is a good one.

The comments between *s are due to Steve's comment on the original post, that background information would be helpful in understanding the message of the film.

Wednesday 5 October 2011

Microcopter Videos

One of my co-workers pointed this site out to me a few weeks back.  There's a guy in Spain who has built remote control helicopters with cameras on them, who then takes videos of some pretty awesome things.  He's posted some great videos, but one of my favourites is the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral.  Alas, he didn't get any shots of the indoor, original medieval, west facade.  But he does show the stone roof and a lot of details in and around the cathedral.

Here's a link to his site (in Spanish) explaining who he is.  And his Vimeo site, with a lot more videos.

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral by albertocvr oktokopter from albertocvr on Vimeo.

Tuesday 4 October 2011

Book Review: Matched by Ally Condie

Pros: interesting protagonist

Cons: nothing new or special about this dystopian world, best suited for the target YA audience

For Parents: no objectionable content

Reading this book has shown me that I need to take a break from dystopian fiction.  While the story was interesting, it's a teen book that adults won't enjoy as much as the target audience.  I'm not a big fan of love triangles or of societies that have somewhat inexplicable rules, and this book deals heavily with both.

It's Cassia's 17th birthday and the day of her Match Banquet, when she'll learn who the Society believes will be her perfect (and only possible) match.  But after the banquet, when she looks at the data chip that gives her more information about this person, she's surprised to see a second face.  Rather than accept that the second face was a mistake and move on with her match, she becomes obsessed with this second person and starts questioning the way their society is run.

For newcomers to dystopian fiction who enjoy a bit of romance, this will be a fun read.  For people who have read several dystopian worlds already, this one doesn't add anything particularly new or shocking.  People have few choices in their lives, matches are decided for couples and lifespan is controlled.

Cassie is an interesting character, but as an adult there were times when I wondered at her choices.  Her Official with regards to the matching warns her about her obsession with this second man, giving her some really good advice (from an adult point of view).  I can understand that Cassie wouldn't think it's good advice, but as an adult reading the book it was hard to sympathize with Cassie's need to make her life harder.  She risks a happy future with a man who has some amazing qualities and whom she loves and respects in order to get closer to a man whom she barely knows (and while he also has good qualities, it's a choice that will ultimately bring her suffering given their society).

****Spoiler Area****

One thing that annoyed me greatly about the book was that Cassie's Official gives her the glance of a second boy as an experiment.  I couldn't understand what experiment would be so important that she purposely arranged to have Cassie question their world.  Cassie is perfectly happy with the way things are.  Why change that?  It reminds me of 1984 where people are encouraged to break the rules so that they can have the desire to break rules tortured out of them by the state.  But the protagonist of that book didn't start out wanting to break the rules and so shouldn't have needed to be taught to not break them.  Cassie's the same.  The experiment simply caused her to question things about a world she thought was otherwise perfect.  And yes, her grandfather's actions before dying and some other events may have caused her to question things, but that's no excuse for an Official to purposely give her reasons to rebel.

Monday 3 October 2011

SF Signal Podcast: Science Fiction Movies Every Fan Should See

I had the pleasure of being on one of this week's SF Signal Podcasts, talking about SF movies.  I took the stance that to truly understand modern films, you have to have a basis in what's come before.  So I suggested some older science fiction movies, based on what I've seen myself and the SF film history page on Wikipedia.  Namely: Metropolis (1927), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Godzilla (1954), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Planet of the Apes (1968), Star Wars (1977), Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982), Terminator (1984), Aliens (1986) Gattaca (1997), and Matrix (1999).  These are movies that, even if you're not a fan of them, they're worthwhile watching for the impact they had on society and the films that came after them.

Obviously a lot of fantastic films are missing, some of which the other podcast members mentioned, and some we merely discussed at the end (or after the podcast ended, thinking of the films we'd forgotten to mention).  Films like Westworld, Jurassic Park, 5th Element, 12 Monkeys, Logan's Run and on and on.

I've noted down a bunch of movies I've yet to see (including Forbidden Planet - for shame), that were mentioned on the podcast and will be watching them (and posting reviews) over the next few months.  So far I've seen The Thing From Another World and John Carpenter's The Thing.

Also on the podcast were:

What would make your SF essential film list?