Saturday 30 June 2012

Books Received June 2012

I was pretty ruthless about not accepting new review requests this month (as I've a pile of books I'd love to get to this summer). So I've only a few to showcase here. Plot synopses are from the Indigo website with the exception of Fat Girl in a Strange World, which is from the Crossed Genres Publications site..

Seven Wonders by Adam Christopher

Tony Prosdocimi lives in the bustling Metropolis of San Ventura - a city gripped in fear, a city under siege by the hooded supervillain, The Cowl.

When Tony develops super-powers and acts to take down The Cowl, however, he finds that the local superhero team Seven Wonders aren''t as grateful as he assumed they''d be...

The Hammer and the Blade by Paul S. Kemp

Egil and Nix, adventurers and swords for hire, are pulled into the dark schemes of a decadent family with a diabolical secret. A fast paced adventure redolent with the best of classic sword and sorcery tales.

vN by Madeline Ashby

Amy Peterson is a self-replicating humanoid robot known as a VonNeumann.

For the past five years, she has been grown slowly as part of a mixed organic/synthetic family. She knows very little about her android mother''s past, so when her grandmother arrives and attacks her mother, Amy wastes no time: she eats her alive.

Now she carries her malfunctioning granny as a partition on her memory drive, and she''s learning impossible things about her clade''s history - like the fact that she alone can kill humans without failsafing...

Fat Girl in a Strange Land edited by Kay T. Holt and Bart R. Leib

For every supermodel, there are thousands of women who have heard “Why don’t you just eat less?” far too often. Except as comic relief or the unattractive single BFF, those women’s stories are never told.

Crossed Genres Publications presents Fat Girl in a Strange Land, an anthology of fourteen stories of fat women protagonists traveling distant and undiscovered realms.

From Guatemala, where a woman dreams of becoming La Gorda, the first female luchador, before discovering a greater calling in “La Gorda and the City of Silver”; to the big city in the US, where superhero Flux refuses to don spandex in order to join her new team in “Nemesis”; to the remote planet Sidquiel in “Survivor”, where student Wen survives a crash landing, only to face death from the rising sun. Fat Girl in a Strange Land takes its characters – and its readers – places they’ve never been.

Friday 29 June 2012

Special Needs In Strange Worlds Reading List

Last month Bookworm Blues (Sarah Chorn) posted a series of guest blogs on a very important - and under discussed  - topic: disabilities in science fiction and fantasy.  I'd started a reading list on this topic months ago, but couldn't figure out a way of displaying it without seeming condescending.  So I put my incomplete list aside and went on to do other displays.

Then Elspeth Cooper did this post on disability in fantasy, and Bookworm Blues decided to do her amazing blog series.  And Dan Goodman suggested the amazing, and respectful, title: Special Needs in Strange Worlds.  If you haven't read her posts, they start here and end here.  She also did a half way point round up with links, here, if you don't want to scroll through all the posts.  With the suggestions offered in the posts and a wonderful title, my endcap/reading list was back in business.

A few notes on this list.  First, it's incomplete.  This is a topic that to a large extent requires having read the book in order to know if the book fits the topic.  And it's impossible to read everything.  I've tried to categorize the books I had listed into general categories and then subdivided issues that had several books each.  Even then some books fit several categories, and some categories are flexible.  I tried to leave off the 'magical cure' books, but left the books with blind characters who have second sight as a compensation for losing their physical sight.  I also recognize that some of the books deal with disability in more detail than others.

I wasn't looking for mystery books, which is why there are only two (+ one from the comments), and only mentioned general fiction books I - and those I spoke to (at work and at home) - knew.

If you have a suggestion, please leave the title of the book, author and which category it fits.  I'll try to add them to the list.  If I get too many suggestions I may just let people read the comments to find more.

I'd meant to post this list at the end of May to somewhat co-incide with the Bookworm Blues posts, but I wanted an endcap, and that takes a month (from ordering the books until it's up).  This is an important issue and I wanted to bring it to the attention of more people.

I wanted to credit those who helped bring this endcap to life, so I've mentioned them with shelf talkers on the display (at the World's Biggest Bookstore, Toronto).

SFX did a list, with several characters I missed and subsequently added, here.
Sarah Chorn (Bookworm Blues) did a post on SF Signal where she mentions several books on this topic.
Ada Hoffman has an excellent list of books containing autistic characters, many of which she has reviewed.  Do to the size of her list I've chosen not to add the titles here.

*List updated April 3, 2014.

For some 2014 books, SF Signal has a reading list for you.

Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure - Kathryn Allan, Ed.

Physical Issues:
The Blade Itself - Joe Abercrombie
Song of the Beast - Carol Berg
Rogue Moon - Algis Budrys (amputee)
Young Miles - Lois McMaster Bujold
Songs of the Earth - Elspeth Cooper
Mind Games - Carolyn Crane (hypochondriac)
Silent Dances - A. C. Crispin & Kathleen O'Malley
The Scar - Sergey & Marina Dyachenko
Talus and the Frozen King - Graham Edwards (damaged arm)
Earth Girl - Janet Edwards
Angel Fall - Susan Ee
Ether - Ben Ehrenreich
Miserere - Teresa Frohock
Handbook for Dragon Slayers - Merrie Haskell
Silver - Rhiannon Held (+ mental)
Spark - Brigid Kemmerer
Wolfsangel - M. D. Lachlan (mute)
Brood of Bones - A. E. Marling (sleeping sickness)
Game of Thrones - George R. R. Martin
The Ship Who Sang - Anne McCaffrey
Elric: Stealer of Souls - Michael Moorcock
Mister Monday - Garth Nix (asthma)
Galatea 2.2 - Richard Powers
Enclave - Kit Reed (epilepsy)
Scourge of the Betrayer - Jeff Salyards
15 Miles - Rob Scott
The Dream-Maker's Magic - Sharon Shinn
Hollow World - Michael J. Sullivan (idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis)
Sideshow - Sheri Tepper
Quarantine: The Loners - Lex Thomas (epilepsy) 
Among Others - Jo Walton
Blindsight - Peter Watts (epilepsy)
Beyond the Shadows - Brent Weeks
Shadowmarch - Tad Williams
Amped - Daniel Wilson (has technological implant that prevents seizures)
One-Armed Queen - Jane Yolen
Westlake Soul - Rio Youers (vegetative state)
Chronicles of Amber - Roger Zelazny

Memory of Earth - Orson Scott Card 
Immobility - Brian Evenson
Heaven's Shadow - David Goyer
Dune - Frank Herbert
The Rapture - Liz Jensen
The Drawing of the Three - Stephen King
Fenrir - M. D. Lachlan
Last Hero - Terry Pratchett
Apollo's Outcasts - Allen Steele

The Daemon Prism - Carol Berg 
Eyes to See - Joseph Nassise 
WWW.Wake - Robert J. Sawyer 
Sojourn - R. A. Salvatore
Persistence of Vision - John Varley
Mind Games - Kiersten White
The Day of the Triffids - John Wyndham 

Mental Issues:
Debris - Jo Anderton
Xenocide - Orson Scott Card (OCD)
A Turn of Light - Julie Czerneda
Alien Shore - C. S. Friedman (also has an autistic character)
The Diamond in the Window - Jane Langton (children's book)
Dragonsinger - Anne McCaffrey
Swans & Klons - Nora Olsen
Bleeding Violet - Dia Reeves (bipolar)
Dying Inside - Robert Silverberg (ability to read minds destroys life)
Eight Million Gods - Wen Spencer (OCD)
Dracula - Bram Stoker (insanity)
More Than Human - Theodore Sturgis
Lost & Found - J. Sheehan (synesthesia)
Red Thunder - John Varley

Spellwrignt - Blake Charlton
God's War - Kameron Hurley 
Of Blood and Honey - Stina Leicht
The Lightning Thief - Rick Riordan

[Ada Hoffman has an excellent list of books containing characters with autism here.]
World House - Guy Adams
Winds of Khalakovo - Bradley Beaulieu
A Wizard Alone - Diane Duane
Speed of Dark - Elizabeth Moon
Silence - Michelle Sagara
The Real Boy - Anne Ursu (middle grade SF)

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
Mockingjay - Suzanne Collins
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep - Philip K. Dick
Lord Foul's Bane - Stephen Donaldson
The Magicians - Lev Grossman
The Fionavar Tapestry - Guy Gavriel Kay
Frankenstein - Mary Shelley
The Lord of the Rings - J. R. R. Tolkien 

Problems With Magic: 
A Spell for Chameleon - Piers Anthony
Assassin's Apprentice - Robin Hobb
Forging the Darksword - Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman

Graphic Novels:
Birds of Prey / Batman (Oracle - wheelchair)
Daredevil (blindness)
Hawkeye (hard of hearing)
Iron Man (heart problems)
With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child - Keiko Tobe (autism)
X-Men (Professor X - wheelchair, Destiny - blindness)

Alphas (autism)
Avatar (paraplegic)
Bionic Woman (bionic parts)
Cube (mental)
Dark Angel (paraplegic)
Defendor (mental)
Dr. Who (Davros - quadriplegic)
Guild (Venom is paraplegic)
How to Train a Dragon (Toothless's damaged wing)
Human Race (amputee, deafness - Note: this is a horror movie with lots of gore)
Lawnmower Man (mental issues)
Mantis (paralysis)
Memento (memory loss)
6 Million Dollar Man (bionic parts after accident)
Star Trek (Commander Pike - quadriplegic)
Star Trek: The Next Generation (Geordi La Forge - blindness)
Star Wars (breathing apparatus, dismemberment)
Twin Peaks (chief Gordon Cole was deaf, mental issues)
Unbreakable (brittle bone syndrome)
Wizard of Oz (fear, no heart, etc.)

General Fiction: 
Peter Pan - J. M. Barrie
A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
The Sound and the Fury - William Faulkner
Curious Incident of a Dog in the Nighttime - Mark Haddon (autism)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame - Victor Hugo (partial blindness and deafness)
Flowers for Algernon - Daniel Keyes (mental)
Last Snow - Eric Van Lustbader (dyslexia)
Moby Dick - Herman Melville
Blindness - Jose Saramago
Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck (mental)
Johnny Got His Gun - Dalton Trumbo 
Before I Go To Sleep - S. J. Watson (memory loss)

Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse - Lee Goldberg (OCD)
Divine Sacrifice - Tony Hays
You Die Today! - Baynard Kendrick

Thursday 28 June 2012

Movie Review: Robo-G

I saw this on my flight to Germany and was sorely disappointed to see that it's not available in Canada - yet.

Director: Shinobu Yaguchi, 2012

Pros: humerous, great cast of characters, fun plot

Cons: not available in Canada yet

Three employees of the Kimura Electrical Comany with no robotics experience are ordered to create a robot to display at the upcoming robotics expo.  When their prototype is destroyed a week before the expo, the men decide to hire an actor to play the robot, assuming thir boss will quickly axe the project.  The old man whom they hire does such a good job that their robot becomes famous and they must keep up the charade. 

The humour in this movie could have been clicheed, but feels fresh.  Perhaps it's the addition of Japanese cultural norms, or Mickey Curtis, the old man who plays the robot, or just that there's enough seriousness to the story and limited slapstick.  The audition where a group of people are asked to act like robots was hilarious, as were the engineers introductions at the Robo Expo (where one of them mentions that his job used to be washing machine repair work).

The premise, of something going wrong and hiding that fact, isn't new.  But this movie used it well.  As things start to spiral out of control, they come up with a daring plan.

I was also impressed that the film used several plot threads.  In addition to the main story, there's a side plot involving the old man and his grandkids, a collage student studying robotics and a local reporter looking for a scoop.

If you can find a copy, it's definitely worth a watch.

Wednesday 27 June 2012

Find Me Elsewhere On The Web

A friend of mine and former co-worker from the World's Biggest Bookstore asked me to write up a guest post for her Christian Romance blog, A Fair Substitute For Heaven.  The topic: 5 Canadian Fantasy/SF authors you should read (they're mostly fantasy authors, as that's my preferred genre).

I also participated in an SF Signal Mind Meld last week, talking about the most interesting books on our to be read piles.  There are some great books mentioned, so head on over and give it a look.

Artist Spotlight: Mark Adamus

While he's a photographer and not a fantasy/SF artist, his photos are stunning and many of them could pass for alien or fantasy landscapes.  He's based in Corvallis, Oregon and his work has been published in calendars, books, ads, and magazines, including National Geographic, Outdoor Photographer, Popular Photography, and more.  The photos I'm posting here come from his "Personal Favorites" gallery.  You can buy prints of his photos from his website.

Check out his site to learn more about him and see more of his work (the link goes to his gallery page, as his home page has a flash album running).

Forever Dreaming

Green Vision
The Hermitage

Tuesday 26 June 2012

Book Review: Quarantine: The Loners by Lex Thomas

Pros: unique plot, complex characters

Cons: most of the book centers around the gangs, lots of violence, no deeper meaning

For Parents:  there is a lot of violence in this book, all detailed (maimings, killings, gang warfare), some drug use, some swearing, no sex (though there's mention of a rape)

David is dreading the first day of school.  It's been several months since his mother died and he quit the football team, but he just learned that his girlfriend is cheating on him with Sam, a violent football player, and pounded Sam's face in at a recent party.  His younger epileptic brother, Will, is also nervous.  It's his first day of highschool.

Neither of them could have expected the day they had.  When the East wing is bombed and soldiers close off the school no one understands why their lives have irrevocably changed.  As the students band together into gangs, David and Will are shunned due to David's actions.  He vows to keep them alive, through food drops, Will's epileptic seisures and the horrors the school has become.

Unlike the Hunger Games, there's no underlying message here.  The book is violent and makes no attempt to mitigate that or teach anything.  I was expecting the book to center on survival, instead it was more about gang warfare and a romance between the brothers and a girl they're both attracted to.

I did appreciate the complexity of the characters.  Even the kids we're told to root for have negative traits and do things wrong.  Similarly, the 'bad guys' are occasionally sympathetic.  This kept all the students feeling real, and made the book more relatable.

While the premise of kids being quarantined in a school was interesting, it wasn't interesting enough to hold me for a novel of this lengh.  And I couldn't understand why they were cut off from the world via telephones and internet.  Surely the parents of the kids would want to make sure their own sons and daughters were still alive.  Not to mention the violence in the school might have been lessened had the kids understood earlier what was happening and/or had more outside contact and more assurance that they'd eventually be able to leave the school and live.

Readers who enjoyed the Maze Runner or Michael Grant's Gone series will see similarities (lack of adults, violence, gang mentality), and will likely enjoy this book a lot.  Readers who want a deeper, more thought provoking read should look elsewhere.

Friday 22 June 2012

Author Interview: Linda Poitevin

Sins of the Angels
Sins of the Son


> What is The Gregori Legacy series about? 

The Grigori Legacy series marries angel mythology with police procedural in a dark urban fantasy/thriller. If you're a television fan, it's rather like Supernatural meets Law & Order SVU. In book one, Sins of the Angels, Toronto homicide detective Alexandra Jarvis is tracking a serial killer who turns out to be a fallen angel. When Heaven assigns its own angelic hunter to track the same killer, Alex struggles to come to terms with a new reality that brings old memories back to haunt her — and to prevent the killer from triggering the Apocalypse. Sins of the Son picks up with Alex being thrown into the role of protector over the divine being who is supposed to save humanity  — only to find herself even more enmeshed in the events unfolding between Heaven and Hell, and in direct opposition to the same heavenly hunter she worked with in the first book.

> What drew you to writing about angels?

The "what if" questions leading to the series were originally inspired by the movie City of Angels. I loved the idea of invisible beings working among us and I wanted to explore the logistics of an angelic world existing alongside our own, and to examine the idea of free will -- why would we have free will and angels not? When I began my research, the more I discovered of angel mythology, the more fascinated I became. I'd had no idea of the sheer scope of angel lore until then, and the story possibilities seem endless.

> How have your connections with the police (as a civilian dispatcher and via your police officer husband) affected your writing and influenced the character of Homicide detective Alexandra Jarvis?  

I've worked with and known a great number of police officers over the years, and so writing a police character feels very natural for me. While Alex's character isn't directly built on anyone in particular, she very much reflects the dedication and professionalism I've seen in the female officers I've been privileged to know -- as well as the humanity and fallibility. As for the writing in general, my husband has acted as my personal reference system and beta reader, so I can state with relative confidence that the police procedural aspects are accurate. And I can blame any mistakes on him. :) 

> What were your literary influences for The Grigori Legacy?

Because I read so widely and eclectically, I think my writing in The Grigori Legacy has been influenced by a number of genres. I greatly admire how authors such as Stephen King and Dean Koontz build suspense; I love the multiple points of view used in many thrillers; I've taken great pains to study how various writers handle backstory in a series/sequel (Jim Butcher is a particular favourite for this); and I've always been a sucker for a good love story. This might explain why some readers think of The Grigori Legacy as primarily a thriller while others comment on its mystery and/or horror aspects and still others read it for the romantic elements. 

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

I'm going to assume that you mean the first one I actually finished, lol -- and that would be a romantic suspense entitled Renegades (which remains unpublished and probably always will!). That one took me about a year and a half...a paltry amount of time in comparison to the ten-plus years it took to write Sins of the Angels.

> What was the hardest scene for you to write?

To date, the most difficult was one of the murder scenes in Sins of the Angels. I'd never written anything quite that graphic before and it took several tries to make myself "go there" so that I could give it the depth and detail it needed. Scenes involving Lucifer in Sins of the Son have been nearly as difficult, especially the ones in his point of view -- inside Lucifer's head is not a nice place to be!

> When and where do you write?

I write best in my local coffee shop where there's no Internet connection, but that gets expensive, so I'm working on disciplining myself to work at home. Now that two of my daughters have moved out on their own, I have a dedicated home office (with a door!), so that helps. I try to keep to a regular schedule of mornings as I'm at my most productive while the caffeine is still fresh in my system. My routine works best if I rise at 5 a.m., feed the animals, walk the dog, have breakfast, and can be at my desk by 7:00 for about 4 hours of writing.

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

The best thing is being able to set my own schedule. That would be the worst thing, too, because I'm extraordinarily good at procrastinating. 

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

I had no idea the process was so involved...or that it involved so many people. There are editors, copy editors, proofreaders, art directors, artists, marketing directors, publicists, sales people...the list seems endless, and each and every one of them plays a major role in getting a book into the hands of readers. 

> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

Read, write, learn, hone your craft, tell the stories that are in your heart, and never give up. Never, ever give up. It took me twelve years and four completed novels (and a lot of incomplete ones!) to find an agent and then an editor who believed in my story -- a lot of that time the only thing that kept me going was what my husband calls sheer stubbornness but I prefer to think of as persistence. :)

> Any tips against writers block?

Against it? No, because I personally don't think there's any way to prevent writer's block. I do know from experience, however, that it's possible -- and when you're under deadline, necessary! -- to bulldoze through it. I have a whole arsenal of tricks that I use but my favourite is to walk away from the story for a while and focus on something else so that my subconscious has a chance to mull over the issues. I'll often have the answer I need as soon as I stop trying so hard.

> How do you discipline yourself to write?

Short answer? Not very well, lol! The longer answer would be that it's an ongoing battle for me. Once I become immersed in a story it's pretty easy to stay on track because I'm involved and anxious to get the words down on paper. The immersion process, however, can be a little more tricky. 

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

There were a lot, but I honestly didn't keep track. Some authors keep their rejection letters, but I'm not one of them. If there is a usable criticism, I absorb it and then move on...writing is difficult enough without hanging onto all the reasons you shouldn't continue!

** Linda will be signing books at the World's Biggest Bookstore (20 Edward St.) tomorrow (Saturday June 23rd), starting at 1pm.

Thursday 21 June 2012

Notes From an Author Talk on Disability

Two days ago I worked an offsite for the store, where we take books to another location and sell them for the speaker.  As often happens, I didn't know much about the author or the book before going.  Unlike many of these talks, I was actually able to listen in.  And it's a topic I'd like to share.

The book was The Boy in the Moon written by Ian Brown, an award winning journalist for the Globe and Mail newspaper.  Sixteen years ago his son, Walker, was born with a rare genetic disease, CFC (cardiofaciocutaneous syndrome).  This syndrome is so rare it's estimated that only about 150 people worldwide have it.  His son is able to walk and emote, but cannot speak or swallow properly (he's fed via a tube).

This isn't the first author talk I've heard that I enjoyed, but it is one of the first where I took notes.  Please be aware that my comments are all paraphrased, despite how thorough I tried to be with jotting things down.  I've tried to keep the meaning of what he said, if not the exact words.  Parts in brackets are my own thoughts/comments/clarifications.  

People are afraid of disability.  When you see someone who is disabled you are reminded of your own disability, your own weakness.  You're reminded of your own inevitable death.  You're reminded that you don't have control over your own body, that it will age and deteriorate.

While writing the book he mentioned that he had a lot of trouble with it.  When he started he didn't write what was true, he wrote what he wanted to be true.  Political correctness encourages this. [I was hoping he'd elaborate on this point but he didn't.]  It was only by describing Walker as he is, that it worked.  It was only when he stopped trying to make the boy sound 'normal', or when he stopped comparing Walker's actions and life to 'normality' that he was able to get at the truth of his son's life.

He used to think of Walker by way of comparison.  Why does he do that?  Why is he not normal?  He finally realized he should have been thinking 'he is this way' and interacting with his son as he is.  In other words, you need to pay attention to the present, to what is and not to what should be.

Disabled people are enormously important for social and empathetic abilities.  Fragility isn't the opposite of strength.  It forces us to think outside the box, outside the status quo.  They are also a reminder that we are not solely the product of our own doing.  For example, there is a bond of solidarity between the wealthy and the poor, even if the wealthy don't want to acknowledge that.

Our society is a meritocracy, meaning you only have worth if you merit it [via the markers of success: wealth, status, fame, etc.].  In our society success is the only crown of virtue even though the wealthy aren't necessarily wealthy because of their own actions nor the famous necessarily famous because they deserve to be.

He mentioned that pre-natal testing for disability made him nervous.  After their son was several years old he asked his wife if, knowing Walker would be born disabled, she would have had an abortion.  Her answer was yes.  Mr. Brown then reminded her that that would mean they wouldn't have Walker, to which she replied that it wasn't fair to say that, now that she knew their son.  That a fetus was unknown and unformed.  Their son was a person.  

Things like pre-natal testing only emphasizes perfection, they don't make room for chance.  "Chace is also gracious and generous."

He mentioned that group homes for the disabled in Canada focus on trying to make the lives of the disable as 'normal' as possible.  There's an organization in France, L'Arche, that does things the opposite way.  There, the disabled are able to live as they are, and visitors follow their way of doing things.

[He concluded with two thoughts, first by paraphrasing the ending of Paradise Lost, when Adam and Eve are kicked out of the garden of Eden.] 

You must find Paradise in yourself by seeing things as they really are.  This requires admitting what we can't do before discovering what we can.

The effort to accept the disabled as our equals, with a contribution to make, means we'd have to redefine what it means to be a success.  That struggle - to be considered equal -  is the cause of any repressed people.  It is always a struggle to not be thought of as one single, limiting idea - in this case disabled.  

It was a very insightful talk, and one I think more people should hear.  It made me wonder, and not the first time, if terminology - or political correctness - causes more problems then it helps.  I can understand why it's important, but I wonder if, rather than solving problems, it just ignores the problem by creating new terms that keep people apart.  For example, I wondered a few months back what the most accepted (and accepting) term for the LGTBQ community was.  But how do you ask that if you don't already know the answer?  How do you talk about it without insulting someone simply by asking the question? (Or how do you push past the fear that you will insult someone by asking the question to ask the question?)  How do I learn what it's like to raise a disabled child if I'm afraid of insulting the parents who have the experience?  If I'm afraid the words I use to ask my questions will be wrong?  And how does creating PC terms help when in 20 years those will be the new slurs used to insult the group it's supposed to empower?

The idea of pre-natal screening brings up an interesting - and difficult - issue as well.  In the past, people with severe disabilities simply died.  It takes a lot of medical care to keep some people alive.  The question is then, should they be kept alive?  Should they even be born in the first place?

I read an article (that night) in Chatelaine (we got a free subscription and I'm finding I enjoy the magazine more than I expected to).  The article was about a couple who wanted their child but were told he would be born handicapped.  It focused on the new laws in the States that require the woman to have extra procedures done before the abortion can take place - and how devastating it was to go through those procedures after already having to make a heart wrenching decision.  Now, I'm not a fan of abortion but I am a proponent for the idea that a woman's body is her own and that only she has the right (with her significant other) to decide if she wants to have a baby or not or to abort or not.  And who can tell a couple that they should dedicate the rest of their lives to caring full time for a child who can't care for him/herself?  

It's a tough call.  I can't even begin to imagine how difficult it would be to want a child and decide to abort because the child will face a challenging life.  A life many people would question the worth of.

It's a decision my parents had to make when my mother was pregnant with me.  She caught the mumps and was told that her unborn child would likely be disabled because of it.  She was advised to abort.  After thinking - and praying - about it, my parents decided to take their chances.  And I was born, fully formed and perfectly healthy.  I imagine the tests they do now are more exact, but still, mistakes are made, muddling an already difficult issue.

I'm not looking for a pro/con discussion here about pre-natal testing, abortion or anything else.  I liked Mr. Brown's thoughts on perfection, on acceptance, on 'normality' and wanted to share them.  If you want to hear him talk about his son (at different ages), here are some interviews he's done.

And here's a link to L'Arche International, if you'd like to learn more about that organization. Their main page states the following:

Beyond Inclusion!
Now operating in 40 different countries round the world, L'Arche works closely with people with an intellectual disability so that each person can play their full role in society.
Turning dreams to reality, each of our 137 L'Arche communities is a springboard of opportunity where members with and without disabilities get customised support to discover, develop and share their unique - and often hidden- talents.
Individuals are invited to share fully in community life, in both residential and non-residential settings, as suited to specific needs and hopes. More than just inclusion, it is about making the most of life! We welcome you to our network. Together we can make it happen.

Wednesday 20 June 2012

Crossed Genres Kickstarter Campaign posted about this yesterday on facebook and it's pretty cool.  Crossed Genres Publications is a small press that is asking for money to continue publishing books through 2013.  Their benefits for pledging are quite good - especially at the $25 mark (where you can choose to get all their currently published titles or all their upcoming titles in non-DRM ebook format).

Click here to find out more about their kickstarter campaign.

What interests me about this is their anthologies.  They've taken unique but interesting topics and gathered stories about them.  Like these:

For every supermodel, there are thousands of women who have heard “Why don’t you just eat less?” far too often. Except as comic relief or the unattractive single BFF, those women’s stories are never told.
Crossed Genres Publications presents Fat Girl in a Strange Land, an anthology of fourteen stories of fat women protagonists traveling distant and undiscovered realms.

Subversion: Science Fiction & Fantasy tales of challenging the norm is an anthology of stories about striking back at the status quo – whatever that might be. The Authority can be real or perceived; the act of subversion subtle or overt; and the consequences minute yet significant, or immense and world-shaking. 

They've got submission calls for two new anthologies that also sound interesting.  Click the links to see the submission guidelines.

MENIAL: Skilled Labor in SF  
Other people treat laborers like the dirt they work with. But skilled labor is crucial to the continuation of human culture on earth – and if we ever wish to visit the stars, skilled labor will be indispensable.
We want stories about men and women who understand the nuts and bolts, the atmosphere and the water and the soil. You know – the things that keep us alive. We want characters who get their hands dirty every day; people who aren’t too proud to work their bodies at least as hard as their minds.
We welcome and strongly encourage submissions with underrepresented main characters: characters of color, LGBTQ characters, women characters, etc.!

Winter Well: Speculative Novellas of Older Women
We’re looking for speculative stories featuring women of advancing age (late middle age and older). They’re smart, they’re tough, and they have wills of their own.
They may be warriors, politicians, adventurers, etc. Even if they are also wives, mothers, wise women or healers, those archetypes must not be their defining characteristics. Their motivations, their driving force, must be their own. Whatever was in their past, they’re not interested in being in the background now.

We want stories about women breaking free of suppression; we also want stories of women who’ve been empowered all their lives. 

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Book Review: Triptych by J.M. Frey

Pros: crisp writing, interesting alien culture, clever time travel plot

Cons: lots of time spent exploring sex (how humans and aliens differ), don't learn that much about the alien culture or technology

The novel is told in three parts by three narrators: Evvie, who survives an alien attack, Kalp, an alien and Dr. Basil Grey, a specialist at the Institute.  The book begins in media res with the shooting death of Kalp.   Readers are given little context for the murder, being told only that he was a traitor, and must quickly piece together what's happening from the clues provided.  

When Basil and his wife, Gwen, use a piece of alien technology somehow connected with Kalp's death, they find themselves transported not to another location on Earth, as expected, but to another TIME on Earth.  1983, to be exact.  There they foil the murder of Gwen as an infant, and must figure out what's really going on with the aliens and who the real traitor at the Institute is.

The writing is very crisp and detailed, yet not verbose. The author gives each narrator their own voice. Evvie, for example, has a quirky sense of humour and edits her thoughts.

What would Miss Manners have to say about vanquished alien invaders? Meeting your own adult children decades too early? Was Evvie supposed to offer tea? Cookies?

Kalp's narrative was the most interesting, as the reader is introduced to alien ways of thinking and acting. Information is given by way of comparison with regards to how humans act, rather then directly explaining the aliens.

Their shoulders are jagged and straight, unlike his, their limbs awkward, with only three easy-to-snap joints. They look like they shouldn't even be able to walk upright, their toes don't spread out far enough. And yet there they are, face to face with him, balancing.

The novel spent longer delving into the sexual relationship of the characters (the alien 3 person aglunate vs humanity's 2 person marriage). After a while it became less interesting and this reader would have liked to learn more detailed information about other aspects of the alien homeworld and technology. For example, you learn that the aliens use a hierarchy, but not much about it beyond where Kalp stands with regards to some of the other aliens in the dorm they share.

The time travel plot was handled with care, and everything tied up properly at the end.  It was surprising that the characters didn't use the device to fix the horrible times in their past (of which there were several), but understandable as well, given how unpredictable changing one past act could be.

This reviewer figured out who the traitor was well before the end of the book.  Knowing it didn't reduce reading enjoyment, though at times it seemed the characters should have picked up on some of the clues faster than they did.

If you like a lot of human interest in your time travel and alien contact stories, give this a try.

Sunday 17 June 2012

New Author Spotlight: Gord Zajac

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 Gord Zajac! His debut novel is Major Karnage published by Chizine Publications. Here's the cover copy...

It has been 20 years since The War, and Major John Karnage has finally settled into retirement: locked up in an insane asylum, with an explosive device embedded in the back of his neck to curb his violent tendencies. Karnage and his troopers have been deemed unfit to live in normal society. Like a bit of old chewing gum stuck under a coffee table, the world has left The War and its scarred, unstable veterans behind. The military has been disbanded and World Peace has descended upon the Earth. Its inhabitants live happy, profitable lives under the global rule of the benevolent Dabney Corporation. All is tea and roses in this new, sanitized world... until a terrifying threat from beyond the stars rears its squiggly head! An invading armada of aliens threatens to destroy the Earth, and it's up to Major Karnage to stop them - as long as he doesn't accidentally blow his own head off first.
Check out his book if you like never ending wars or soldiers fighting past their prime:
  • Veteran by Gavin Smith (Gollancz)
  • Old Man's War by John Scalzi (Tor Science Fiction)
  • The Forever War by Joe Haldeman (St. Martin's Griffin)

Saturday 16 June 2012

Linda Poitevin Signing at the World's Biggest Bookstore

That's right, next saturday, June 23rd, Linda Poitevin, author of the urban fantasy The Grigori Legacy (Sins of the Angels, Sins of the Son) will be signing books at the World's Biggest Bookstore, starting at 1 pm.  We'd love to see you there.

I'll be posting my interview with her this coming Friday, and reminding those of you in the area to come out and support a local (Toronto) author!

Friday 15 June 2012

The Book Business Is Changing

A few days ago HarperCollins Publishing announced HarperCollins 360:

a global publishing program for its authors. The goal of the initiative is to ensure that all books published by any division of HarperCollins around the world are available in print or digital format in all English-language markets. When the program is fully implemented, the HarperCollins global catalog — 50,000 print books and 40,000 e-books — will be available, limited only by the rights held, not by technology or geography. Authors published in the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, India, and Canada will be listed, published, and available to booksellers and consumers in the U.S. through the HarperCollins global print and digital platforms that include regional warehousing with on-site printing machines.
Seems like it's about time someone went global, and though it's small, it's a start.  Makes you wonder why other publishers aren't moving in the same direction, and acquiring world English rights for their books.  Oh, right, sometimes the author can sell those rights for more money by going direct...*

As Patrick Nielsen Hayden (senior editor at TOR books) explained on John Scalzi's blog recently, rights are a complicated thing.  Most interesting is his explanation of why people can buy physical copies of books anywhere and have them shipped to their home country, but they can't buy ebooks without a mailing address in a country that has the legal right to sell the book.  I'll give you a small excerpt, but the entire post is fantastic, so check it out.

The answer is a little arcane, but bear with me. The fact of the matter is that, when it comes to traditional printed books, neither the retail booksellers nor their customers (that’s you) are party to the contracts between John and his various publishers. Our contract with John says that _we_ won’t sell our editions of his book outside the territories in which John grants us exclusive and non-exclusive rights. Gollancz’s contract with John says that _they_ won’t sell their editions of his book outside the territories in which John grants them exclusive and non-exclusive rights. But if Amazon buys a bunch of copies in the US and someone in South Africa says “Hi, here’s my credit card, send me one,” no contractual agreement has been violated. Amazon owns those books, not us. They can do what they want with them, including selling them to people in South Africa, Shropshire, or the moons of Jupiter. Amazon is not John Scalzi, Tor, or Gollancz. You are not John Scalzi, Tor, or Gollancz.
But the agreements under which online retailers sell our e-books include restrictions, imposed by us, which require them to keep track of where orders are coming from, and require them to refuse to sell to individuals who seem to be trying to purchase from outside the areas in which we have the right to sell. Effectively, in this case, Amazon (or, or Apple, or Kobo, or whoever) _is_ a party to our agreement which John. So they can’t sell you that e-book, because we don’t have the right to sell copies in South Africa.
We recently saw TOR go DRM free (ok, they've only announced they're going DRM free, they haven't done it yet, but it's coming).  I wonder how long it will take more publishers to push for world English rights in their contracts (using either higher advances or higher royalties to make up for the potentially lost money on international sales).

*[Just a side note for those who are wondering why the rates would have to go up and why this is such a complicated issue.  As far as I'm aware - and someone correct me if I'm wrong - when authors sell a novel to a publisher they get an advance against royalties (which must be paid back before they see any more money per book sold), and royalty rates for future sales.  When an author sells a book to an oversea market, they simply get a lump sum payment with no royalties (so regardless of how well or poorly a book does, that's all the money they'll see from that country/group of countries).  Selling foreign rights - location as well as language - can greatly increase an author's income for the year, which is why some authors would be reluctant to sell world English rights to their publisher.]

Do you think the book industry needs to become more global?  How do you think the ebook market would change if publishing territories didn't exist?

Thursday 14 June 2012

Movie Review: Black Death

Director: Christopher Smith, 2010

Pros: realistic medieval settings/costumes/ideas

Cons: witch finder is both worldly and naive, inauthentic execution methods

The bubonic plague is devastating England when news of an untouched village reaches the pope.  Convinced that the village is practicing black magic, a witch finder, Ulrich (Sean Bean), and several guards are sent to bring back the necromancer.  A young monk (Eddie Redmayne) who has had an indiscretion with a local woman, agrees to lead them to the remote village in hopes of reuniting with her along the way.

Black Death shows the middle ages in all its dirty, superstitious splendor.  The characters are surprisingly complex, given the way medieval historical films typically portray religion and superstition.

Despite having fantastic (and realistic) costumes and sets, the movie was ultimately disappointing.  The witch finder and his guards, quite worldly at the start of the film, are surprisingly naive when they reach the village, eating and drinking food prepared by people they know killed the previous witch finders who were sent.  

And the execution and torture methods used were... not typical for this time or place.  Witches were burned on the continent.  In England they tended to be hung.  Similarly, crucifixion was specifically Roman and, to the best of my knowledge, not used in England (a quick check of wikipedia varifies my belief but explains that crucifixion was used by more than just the Romans).

The ending was similarly disappointing.  I'm ok with films not having a happy ending, but at least give it an ending.  This seemed to peter off into nothing.

If you want a better - and more satisfying - medieval based movie, try The Name of the Rose.  There's an unnecessarily graphic love scene, but beyond that the film's pretty good.  Or, better yet, since the film messes with the ending, read Umberto Eco's book by the same name.

Tuesday 12 June 2012

Book Review: Claws and Saucers by David Goldweber

Pros: covers a LOT of movies, lots of cross-referencing, lots of interesting information about the films, directors, actors and DVD extras, spoiler warnings

Cons: limited commentary on famous films, mentions a lot of personal stories

Claws and Saucers: Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film 1902-1982 is a 680 page self-published movie guide covering a huge number of films.

Unlike most books, I did not read this through cover to cover.  After reading the introduction and the interesting films by decade feature, I started by reading reviews of films I've seen to get an idea of how the author approaches reviews and how my tastes/opinions matched his.  After that, I randomly flipped through the book and came away with so many movie suggestions I was afraid I'd miss interesting films, and so started at the beginning.  I then read reviews at random throughout the whole book.  And created a large list of movies to watch and short stories to read.

The book covers a LOT of movies.  There are over 1500 entries.  The author mentions a few adventure films (like the 1932 The Most Dangerous Game) but not Disney films, James Bond films or others that stray too far from the genre lines.  He gives a good explanation of what is in and out of the book at the beginning.

The author defers commentary on famous films, assuming the reader knows something about them, or is willing to look elsewhere for information if he/she doesn't.  Instead, for those films he often give stories - when he first saw the film, how he felt about it then vs now.  For example, with Jaws he gives some facts about great white sharks.

In other cases, the information he gives is fantastic.  For example, King Kong.  He sets the film in its place historically, critiques it with regards to other works (the score, the special effects), mentions the features worth watching on the bonus DVD, facts about the director, etc..  He also mentions when the movie is based on or has a connection to a short story (like Aliens' connection to the short story "The Black Destroyer" by A. E. Van Vogt), or comics that would appeal to people who like particular movies.

Despite the negatives, the book is fantastic value given all the movies it mentions.  The paperback is available through Lulu and priced at $45.95, which sounds like a lot until you consider its size.  Don't want to pay that much, then get the ebook for only $8.95 on Lulu (epub format) or 7.99 at the iTunes store.  (The author's website states that the book will be available from Amazon, but I was unable to find listings for it there.)

Want to check out the guide for yourself before you buy it?  The author's put up the entire "C" listing on his website

Out June 20th.

Monday 11 June 2012

Genre News

I've had some interesting notifications recently, which I thought I'd pass on.

First up, Angry Robot Books has opened their online bookstore, the Robot Trading Company, to other publishers (in ebook format, DRM free).  Currently those other publishers are Anarchy Books and Infinity Plus Books.

What we hope to do long-term is stock ebooks from as many genre fiction (and non-fiction) publishers as we possibly can. And we'll only be stocking genre-interest titles; no mainstream literary stuff, no chick-lit rom-coms, no home-gourmet cook books and definitely no z-list celebrity biogs. In short: we're aiming for an independent genre-only ebook webstore, run by genre fans, for genre fans.
They're asking for help spreading the word by:

1) Visiting and browsing our catalogue to see what catches your eye or takes your fancy…
2) Signing up for the Robot Trading Company Mailing List, so we can keep you up-to-date with details of new releases, special offers, competitions and more.
3) Liking the Robot Trading Company on Facebook or following the Robot Trading Company Twitter Feed.
4) Telling your quality-genre-fiction-loving friends about us, too. 

In other news, Kelley Armstrong is releasing her first eSpecial in honour of publishing her final Otherworld book, Thirteen.  The eSpecial, available tomorrow for $1.99, includes two short stories, "Stalked" and "Off-Duty Angel", and an exclusive look at what's to come in Thirteen.  From the press release:

Most honeymoons are all strawberries and champagne, Elena Michaels and Clayton Danvers, two of the most powerful the world, a run-of-the-mill romantic retreat is out of the Stalked, Elena and Clay are the picture of a classic honeymoon when a non-pack werewolf appears on the scene, clearly tracking intention of letting him spoil their vacation, even if that means on his own. Originally part of an anthology of supernatural the perfect action-packed interlude for fans not quite ready to say goodbye to the two characters who started it all.
Off-Duty Angel is an original new story, exclusive to this eSpecial, that features dark witch,
half-demon, and afterlife angel Eve Levine. Desperate for entertainment while her lover, Kristof Nash, is detained in court, Eve stumbles upon a mission of her own—to trail a shaman that might prove useful in Kristof’s court case. Following her target is a breeze at first, but when he inadvertently steers Eve into a secret alternate dimension, she stumbles upon a far more enticing puzzle—one with a much greater danger lurking at the end. Packed with suspense and surprising twists, Off-Duty Angel reveals fascinating insight into a beloved character.
Finally, THE HUNTER AND THE HUNTED will leave readers with just a taste of what’s to come in Thirteen, with an exclusive excerpt from the grand finale. Once again, Kelley Armstrong reminds us all that even thirteen novels in the Otherworld just isn’t enough.

Friday 8 June 2012

Author Interview: Ryan Oakley

Novels: Technicolor Ultra Mall


Voted by Toronto Life as one of city's 12 Most Stylish People.

> What is Technicolor Ultra Mall about? 

It's about capitalism and violence. About how the two intersect. How either might be versions of the other. And how all this effects our relationships.

There's also a very human story at its heart. About a young man trying to get out of the situation life has dealt him and be a better person.

It's about people and how we dehumanize them and ourselves when we view them as products or as means to an end.

> How would you categorize your book? 

It's probably easiest to call it a dystopia though I view it as a satire and a love story with a large dose of black comedy. It's about our world.

The politics of the thing are pretty front and centre but, as a writer, I see politics as incidental. I'm more interested in characters.

Having said that, one of the things I enjoy about speculative fiction is that it allows the setting to be a character. I try to take full advantage of this.

People do tend to view the world I've created as being a villain, and the book, therefore, as dystopian but that's a matter of perspective. Some people in Technicolor Ultra Mall's world are doing quite well. Others are not. Some people in our world would trade places with any of them.

>Would you change places with any of your characters?

Doing so is how I wrote it. I wouldn't do it again.

> What made you want to be a writer?

I want to write. Being a writer is a side effect.

I have different reasons for wanting to write. Usually, there's a question. Or an unbeckoned image that I need to explore. Sometimes, just a need to subvert. Often, it's a combination.

I also have this weird fear of losing my memories. It's similar to the sense one has after waking from a dream. When you reach for the notebook.

That feeling, more than anything, is probably what started me.

> How does it feel, having your book nominated for the Prix Aurora Award?

I never expected anyone to even publish Technicolor Ultra Mall. To find it nominated for an award is startling. I almost feel like I did something wrong or have been misunderstood in some important way.

> What were your literary influences for Technicolor Ultra Mall?

I was strongly influenced by the Situationists, particularly their concept of détournement – that is, putting existing work in a new context with the goal of undermining it-- and by John Dos Passos by way of John Brunner.

The main influence was anti-literary. It was the act of watching television.

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

The first novel I wrote was in highschool. It took me a few months to write it. But it was terrible. At least, I assume it was. I threw it out without looking at it.

Technicolor Ultra Mall is my first published book but my fourth or fifth novel. It took me about nine months to finish the first draft and about three months of rewrites before it was submitted.

> What was the hardest scene for you to write?

To answer this without spoilers, I'll try to make an educated guess about the reader's response to my work.

The hardest scene to read in the book was the hardest for me to write. To this day, I don't know if I handled it well or if it could have been handled well. People have told me they felt physically ill while reading it. Others have put the book down. I felt that way writing it.

I threw up, lost weight and could not sleep.

All I can say is, I really think that if that scene was not there, the entire meaning of my book would have not only been lost but reversed. It would've been some third rate celebration of the violence I detest. The book would've been that which it purports to despise. I sometimes wonder if it is.

> When and where do you write?

I write in what we call the Brown Room. It's a brown room.

Because I have a wife, a roommate, two cats and a dog, I do most of my writing between three and seven in the morning. That's about the only time I get to myself and I had to negotiate it.

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

The best thing about writing is the sense of remembering something that has never happened. The worst is when it happens.

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

I had no idea that it was all run by a secret cabal that initiates people with a blood ritual. Had I known that, I would've brought a change of pants.

> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

Write the books you want to write. And pay no attention to trends or what you think people are buying. Also ignore all those folks who talk to you about branding. One day, you're going to die. And I doubt you'll be thinking 'I wish I spent more time branding myself.'

> Any tips against writers block?

Enjoy it while it lasts.

> How do you discipline yourself to write?

I force myself to sit and listen. If I'm lucky, the ghosts have something to say.

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

Not many. I've always been really lazy about submitting. Hearing about other people's stacks of rejection letters always makes me uneasy.