Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Game Changer? Only if we let it be.

Listening to coverage of attack on Parliament Hill, must have heard the phrases "Canada's loss of innocence" and "game changer" about a dozen times. *Sigh* Recognize that it makes for more exciting news coverage to announce that this is the event of the century, but really, are we expected to change fundamental features of Canadian culture (such as a relatively open Parliament Hill) in response to a single incident involving one (or maybe two or three--it's too early in the coverage yet know how many are involved in this, though not apparently early enough to make pronouncements on how we will have to change all our policies) gunman? And such a poorly planned attack that the shooter apparently didn't know parliament doesn't convene on Wednesdays until 2PM? Again, too early to know if this is a copy cat from the shooting in Quebec, or something he/they had been planning for awhile (possibly to coincide with introduction of anti-terrorism bill?) but either way, it is ridiculous to allow -- nay, to assist!--a couple of fanatics to hijack Canadian culture. Just because they want to abandon the ballot for bullets doesn't mean the rest of us should stampeded towards draconian counter-measures.

One of the first topics that caught my attention back when I started out choosing between sociology and political science was terrorism. I read a lot of the writings of the early anarchists and was fascinated by the conscious, explicit manipulation of mainstream culture through the application of tiny acts of terror. For the anarchists, the purpose of terror is to trigger an over reaction that makes the oppressive apparatus of the state visible to the majority. Thus, one idiot with explosives in his shoes leads to everyone having to take their shoes off in American airports for the next five decades. Does this measure really make us safer? It certainly doesn't make us feel safer. On the contrary, it makes everyone feel more nervous. So, score huge one for the terrorists. What the coverage of terrorists seems to miss, is the changes the media is advocating for are the changes the terrorist set out to trigger. Politicians like to say they don't negotiate with terrorists; but what they don't say is they cave completely and do exactly what the terrorist scripted for the politicians.

Or, if one tends towards the cynical, one could argue that (small c) conservative policy-makers have wanted to beef up security and cut down on democratic traditions for a long time, and simply use these incidents to forward their own agendas. Naomi Klien's "The Shock Doctrine: Disaster Capitalism" outlines a number of case studies. Attempts to use this incident to forward a conservative agenda must be vigorously resisted. Up until this week, there have been two political assassinations in all of Canadian history. If we count the two Canadian soldiers killed this week in that category, that brings the total to 4 in 200 years. I don't think that requires us to change to an American-style defensive posture just yet. And, I would like to note that the police / security response on Parliament Hill today was exemplary. If that is the best the terrorists can do, we have nothing to worry about. Our guys won handily.

Another thing that bugs me about the coverage of the Parliament Hill /Quebec shootings is the recriminations over why our security establishment hadn't discovered and stopped the plot ahead of time. Really? Short of hiring only telepaths for the job, how the hell were they supposed to have stopped it ahead of time? Short of arresting everyone who ever read an IS Facebook post or attended a Mosque? (Assuming these were IS supporters...early days yet on the full story). Two soldiers are killed, and I hear reporters calling for the allocation of massive resources to security establishment to allow them 24/7 monitoring of minorities so that they can, in the words of one reporter, "preemptively arrest" individuals the police think might someday do something. Head::Desk. Yeah, let's constantly monitor everyone everywhere to prevent the future deaths of another couple of soldiers in uniform...but no one seems very interested in dealing with domestic violence that kills at least one Canadian woman every week. Or the even less well recognized problem of domestic violence against men. You want to monitor assholes, then start with the statistically significant problem of domestic violence, or missing aboriginal women, or elder abuse, or whatever, not the vanishingly small problem of domestic terrorism. A Canadian soldier is twice as likely to be hit by lightening then killed by a terrorist attack in Canada.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Aurora Award 2014

Surprised and delighted to have won an Aurora Award this year [for “Why I Read Canadian Speculative Fiction: The Social Dimension of Reading”, Scholar Keynote Address at ACCSFF ’13, Toronto and subsequently published in Recent Perspectives on the Canadian Fantastic: Selected Papers from ACCSFF. Allan Weiss, ed. Jefferson, NC: MacFarland, 2014 (in press).]


All this year's winners (front) and presenters (backrow).
My turn to present: Rich Leblanc accepting on behalf of On Spec Magazine


Legendary author William Gibson, who was inducted into the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association Hall of Fame (along with Spider and Jeanne Robinson; Spider is second from right in first photo) and me, showing off my Aurora Award.

Another highlight of the Aurora Awards ceremony (presented this year at V-Con 39 in Vancouver) was when Al Harlow (Lead singer for Prism) presented the Aurora Award for Music, which went to Chris Hadfield for his performance of Space Oddity — in, you know, space. Thought getting Al Harlow as presenter was pretty cool.

Also glad to see Frank Johnson (in tux in middle of first photo) receive recognition for his trophy design and 23 years of making them for the Association. I often felt that the trophy's unique design significantly added to how seriously people take these awards —makes it really worth getting one.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Writing After Retirement

Got my copy of Writing After Retirement: Tips by Successful Retired Writers [edited by Christine Redman-Waldeyer and Carole Smallwood. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press (Imprint of Rowman & Littlefield)] with my chapter, "Estate Planning for Authors" in the mail yesterday. My suggestions are pretty basic, and come with the disclaimer that I am no lawyer, but hopefully get people thinking about how they want their literary legacy handled after they're gone....

The other 26 chapters in the collection are filled with tips on how to write by successful authors from across a variety of genres and communities. Together, they provide a pretty realistic portrayal of the challenges / obstacles aspiring writers face. This collection is aimed at writers starting after retirement, but most of the advice would be applicable to everyone.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Missing Elephant

Sept 11 is the launch of the anthology, They Have To Take You In, in which my story, "The Missing Elephant" appears. The anthology is edited by Ursula Pflug and is a fund raiser for the Dana Fund:

    The Dana Fund was created in July of 2010 at the Canadian Mental Health Agency (CMHA HKPR) in Peterborough Ontario, at the suggestion of friends and family who wished to make donations in her memory. Dana Tkachenko inspired many people through her own experiences of struggling against tremendous obstacles and succeeding in creating a stable and fulfilling life for herself and her family. Dana’s memory is honoured through the Dana Fund, by dedicating donations to the cause of supporting young women and families in transition, experiencing similar challenges, who could benefit from some help along the way." - Gordon Langill

Basically, the anthology is about the importance of family and/or its various dysfunctions. I wrote the "Missing Elephant" specifically for the anthology, so it's my first attempt at CanLit rather than SF.

I'm quite pleased with it, but it's hard to be objective and I was outside my usual genre. I had my usual editor go through it before submitting to the anthology and made the requisite changes, but my editor wondered how credible it was...but of course, it is pure autobiography. Life really is stranger than fiction. The number of times in a month I'll say, "I'd put that in my novel, but who would believe it?" in reference to this or that incident with colleagues or family...or in this case, my own stupidity. Hardly credit the incident in question myself...but absolutely accurate, save for the changed names. But presumably Ursula liked it, since she took it for the anthology, and she is a pretty fabulous writer/editor, so I'll take that as sufficient validation.

Being somewhat satisfied with "The Missing Elephant" I tried a second CanLit story, though with a slight SF edge to it. I am really happy with that one, but it is still doing the rounds of Canlit mags.... Hard to tell if the rejections are because it's not up to standard, or if even a trace of SF is a hard sell to CanLit markets. I'll try it with SF markets next time it comes back, when the question will be whether SF markets will accept anything that Canlit.... Eventually, I'll put everything into a collection of my short fiction, but I would prefer to have the validation of previous publication before I include anything in it.

Monday, August 18, 2014

30th Anniversary of Neuromancer

"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."

I keep trying to get my kids interested in the movies I liked, and they always ask, "Is it old?" And I'll say, "No no, fairly recent." And they'll ask, "Is it in colour?" and I'll say, "Yes! It's in Colour! Geeze! I'm not that old" and then I'll look it up and it will have been filmed in the 80s, which my kids confuse with the 1800s... "Really Dad? That old?! Then, no." Because a lot of older movies do not hold up for this generation.

Tried to recommend Neuromancer to Tigana this week, and she asked "How old?" and I had to think...

"It's a very influential book," I said, stalling. "You know, half the stuff on the Internet was named after what Gibson predicted in that book. The nerds who read that book were the same nerds that went out and built what he had described!"

And Tigana looked at me and said, "Neuromancer was before the Internet? That old? Were there dinosaurs?"

Hard to believe it's 30 years old. I remember Gibson doing readings from chapters in progress at conventions two to three years before that even. Great book. Still a great book, though feels more contemporary than predictive these days.

(Same with Karl Schroeder's Lady of Mazes which came out before Facebook and other social media. Fabulously brilliant predictive SF, but it only came out in 2005 and everything in those first couple of chapters is just, you know, how things are....)

Guardian article on the 30th anniversary of publication of Nueromancer.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Tigana vs Plested

My family came up to Calgary to pick me up from When Words Collide Convention, and I had arranged with Mike Plested to meet Tigana. Mike graciously dedicated his second Mik Murdoch novel The Power Within (which was launched that weekend) to Tigana. Tigana, of course, had no idea he had done that until he presented her with a signed copy in the lobby of the Carriage House Inn at the end of WWC. She was kind of impressed! The dedication reads:

    For all those people who have supported Mik Murdoch: Boy Superhero and especially to Tigana Runté who told her dad Mik was worth publishing in the first place.

Of course, he then enlisted Tigana's promise to read his fantasy novel and pressure me to publish that too....

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Pairs for Lunch

When we were in London this summer, Mary arranged for me to go to Paris for lunch at the Eiffel Tower. Partly, it was the absurdity of going to another country and back for lunch, but mostly I had wanted to take the Chunnel. Ever since I can remember, I grew up reading about how they were going to push a tunnel under the English channel someday, but it was widely dismissed as scifi. I have crossed the channel several times by ship and hovercraft, but the Chunnel has always been on my bucket list as part of the future I had been promised in the 1950s. So, here it is, a reality, so had to take it. The Eurostar was well organized, very fast, and goes through a lot of (ear-pooping) tunnels before it gets to THE tunnel, so in someways a bit anticlimactic because it's, you know, just another tunnel, albeit slightly longer than the others. Still, you know, kind of cool that this SF future was real and I was actually doing it. Commuters all around me taking it for granted. So cool.

Halfway through the tunnel, the large black businessman squeezed into the seat next to me suddenly closed his computer and turned to me, and said, "We're under the ocean now, you know! Do you realize just how crazy that is! I mean, when you really think about it, how cool is that!"

And I said, "I know! It's the future!"

And we just sat there appreciating our mutual sense of wonder at it all, and then he opened his computer again and started typing and I went back to reading. But I loved that shared moment, and that at least some commuters still got it!

I'm still like that on airplanes sometimes too....

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Aurora Award Nomination (2014)

My keynote address at Academic Conference on Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy June 8, 2013: "Why I Read Canadian SF: The Social dimension of Reading" has been shortlisted for an Aurora Award. (an abstract is available at http://www.sfeditor.ca/Why.htm.)

Also pleased to see Susan MacGregor's The Tattooed Witch, a book I acquired and edited for Five Rivers Publishing, nominated for Best Novel! (Other novel nominees are Robert Sawyer, Gay Kay, Julie Czerneda and Chadwick Ginther, so one hell of an impressive crowd).

So that's the second year in a row that one of the books for which I was editor has made it to the Aurora ballot. (Mik Murdoch: Boy Superhero was nominated last year in the Young Adult Novel category, but lost out to YA giant, Charles DeLint.)

And although not one of the books I edited, I was also pleased to see another Five Rivers book on the Young Adult Novel short list: David Ladroute's Out of Time. And Susan Forest, another Five Rivers' author, is nominated for short story category. So four nominations in four categories for Five Rivers. Not a bad year at all (and that's only the SF line!)

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Hyperbole and a Half (Review)

Saw a copy of the newly released Hyperbole and a Half book in the airport bookstore and immediately bought it even though it weighs the same as a brick (and I don't mean the red brick bricks, but one of those giant fancy patio bricks you use to hold up your bookshelves before you are well off enough to buy real bookcases) and would be an enormous pain to carry around, not only on the plane, but for the rest of our vacation. I thought, "this would be a fun read on the plane" and better than working on the paper that was due the instant I got back from our trip, so I impulsively bought it.

I did not, however, get to actually read it on the plane. I stupidly carried it out in plain sight (well, I had the backpack and carryon in my hands already, along with my passport and boarding pass, so what else could I have done in the fourteen seconds between buying the book and rushing to the gate?) where anyone could see it. And Tigana, my 15 year old, said "What's that?" And I probably could have said, "It's a dissertation I have to read for next Monday", and everything would have been fine, probably, but instead I stupidly said, "It's a book by this guy with a great website" (which incidentally shows I wasn't really paying attention because it is by a woman and—turns out those drawings are autobiographical drawings of a woman, not an alien unicorn) and Tigana said, "Okay, I'll read that on the plane instead of The Glass Menagerie, which sounds like a perfectly reasonable decision for a high school kid to make while on vacation. Except, you know, it meant I didn't get to read it on the plane which had kind of been the point.

Two flaws here: first, planes are small confined spaces where people are crowded in very closely together and if one starts laughing hysterically, and banging one's head against the window in the window seat, other people are inclined to turn around to stare and/or glare at you. We were surrounded by babies and toddlers, but nobody was glaring at them, because everyone, including the babies and toddlers, was too distracted by the teenager who apparently suffered from intermittent fits that would cause her to bash around uncontrollably in her seat. Second, Tigana's little sister sits beside Tigana on planes and you cannot tell a ten-year old, "It's nothing, go back to your Archie comic" repeatedly when what you are reading is causing you act like a crazy person. So eventually Tigana had to read portions of Hyperbole and a Half to Kasia which is not entirely a good idea, role-model-wise, when several of these stories are in fact autobiographical explorations of the author's childhood. And the stories of adulthood are definitely not always appropriate for 10 year olds. Probably not 15 year olds, or anyone, really, but Tigana read Kasia the stories about the dogs, which is fine, except that they describe two of our own dogs perfectly.

Anyway, it's that kind of a book. The backcover testimonial for the book is from the author of Let's Pretend This Never Happened which is on my to-be-read list but I haven't actually got around to reading yet, but which the rest of my family found very funny, only now they agree thatHyperbole and a Half is way funnier. Falling-out-of-seat-even-though-you-are-still-wearing-the-seatbelt funny.

Except for the chapter on Depression, which Mary read and said it didn't seem even remotely funny to her, but which struck her as the best, most profoundly accurate depiction of depression she has ever come across in print. And which she told Tigana to keep handy for whenever one of her friends was suffering depression so that Tigana could understand what they were going through. I have to say that I also found that chapter really helpful in understanding what it is like to be depressed, though I did, you know, laugh a lot. [The other book I usually recommend to people trying to understand what it is like for their depressed significant other is Alicia Hendley's A Subtle Thing which provides a lot of insight but is, um, well, really depressing to read. (Probably why Alicia's other book, Type which is a brilliant YA about a society that sorts kids by their Myer-Briggs results, sells way better....)]

So stop whatever you're doing and buy Hyperbole and a Half right now. If you don't love it, I will personally refund your money.

Okay, that last bit was a lie. I maybe got carried away there. Actually, if you don't find it funny, I will just respect you less as a friend. But pretty sure you will like it, that's what I'm saying.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

SF Canada Bookstore

Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy for 2013 (also links 2012 if missed last year's) http://astore.amazon.ca/sfca-20 If you know SF/F readers, give Canadian for Xmas!" I have to say, that's a nice looking collection of books. Considering that back in the 1970s, when I was first starting to think that there might be Canadian SF authors, I could only identify about two dozen books...that's not a bad annual output! Does a Canadian proud.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013 Update #1

Coming up on November, so NaNoWriMo time again. Here is an interesting set of posts on whether it is better to plan out one's novel in detail, or to just start writing and see where it goes.

On planning: http://theaccidentalnovelist.wordpress.com/2012/10/12/weekend-workout-prepping-fo-nano-or-not/

On just going with the flow: http://theaccidentalnovelist.wordpress.com/2013/10/30/nanowrimo-2014-team-pantser/

I'm usually some combination of both. I often have an idea that has been perculating in my head for years, often decades, where I have daydreamed various scenes here and there while walking the dog or shoveling snow. So I have a general idea of what the novel is about, who the main characters are, and where the novel is going, but with really only fragments of scenes here and there and big gaps between. No real structure or outline. So NaNoWriMo is a chance to get what I have down on paper and to see if I can connect the dots. The end result is often very different than where I started, and I occasionally write myself into corners by writing blindly; but on the other hand, I often generate new scenes and characters I would never have thought of if I were using a disciplined outline. By writing myself into corners, I force the protagonist to come up with a way to extricate himself, which I would never have thought of in an outline, because I would have known better than place him in that corner in the first place, if I had had a plan. So my hero is much cleverer and a much faster talker than he would have been otherwise.

It's true that I have had to cut whole sections of the novel that haven't worked out, because by going in that direction I precluded something that I realized had to come in later for the novel to work, or that went against character, or otherwise didn't work out. But at 2000 words a day, I could afford to dump a ten or twelve page section and try again; whereas if an outline had called for that scene and it had taken me a month to write, I would be far more reluctant to give up on it, persisting to the point of such frustration that I might be tempted to abandon the whole project as undoable.

I'm also quite a slow writer and tend to write longish novels, so has taken me two to three NaNoWriMo to get first complete draft. Now is the time for outlining, to make sure that I haven't lost track of any of the bits I started with (I lost two of the main characters there for awhile, and had to go back an account for their absence) and that everything works logically. I was actually surprised to find that my subconcious had indeed planted many of the clues in early chapters to foreshadow the unfolding of the mystery, even though I had had no idea what that mystery was when I set out.  So having a first draft, I can go back and get a plan for the revision; I can use what my subconscious provided as raw data and use the resulting outline to tighten everything up so that the structure really works.

Or at least, that's the plan.  Come Friday I start work on my new novel (opening scene clearly in my head, though getting that scene down on paper is a whole other thing) so will have to see how far on the back burner the previous novel gets pushed.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013

Well, gearing up for NaNoWriMo for November 2013. Not hopeful I will achieve a lot, given that I am both teaching and editing during November. I will feel too guilty if I work on my own novel when there is a significant stack of others' manuscripts languishing on my desk awaiting my editing. But I routinely daydream/work on the opening scenes of this novel as I go to sleep each night, so would like to get those down on paper, so I could move onto the next set of scenes without fear of forgetting the details of what I have so far. We'll see if I can achieve a modest goal of say, 10,000 words. That ought to cover the protagonist's arrival and first night at his new command, at least.

I started this novel when I was in grade 9, so that's over 45 years ago. Current version is probably somewhat different than the original: for one thing, book now starts in the middle, and uses flashbacks for the slower original opening chapters. But basic concepts haven't changed. Ironically, hero is 64, which I thought was pretty innovative back when I was 15 and tired of all the coming of age fantasy novels that dominate that genre. Now of course, everyone will just assume I made the protagonist that old because I am myself coming up on that age. So funny. Hopefully, I am a somewhat better writer than I was at 15, but still like the cast of characters and world building from back then. Just now I maybe have the requisite skills to actually get my ideas down on the page.


Friday, September 06, 2013

On Becoming a Scientist

So after her rant against Canadian history yesterday, Kasia (my almost-10 daughter) said that she wants to grow up to be a scientist. "Dad, for my 13th birthday, instead of a horse, I am thinking now that what I'd really like is if you could arrange for me to visit a scientist's lab where I could learn how to be a scientist. Could you do that?" Um, yeah, I could. And I'd like to officially note that today is the day she first decided to be a scientist, so that we have that down in writing for her biographer.