Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Fred Gambino's Dark Shepard Launched

Fred Gambino’s first novel, Dark Shepard, launched May 14th from the award-winning UK publisher, Newcon Press. Dark Shepard, the novel, is not to be confused with The Art of Fred Gambino: Dark Shepard, his 2014 art book from Titan Books. (Fred is a famous book cover artist and Hollywood/game conceptual designer and has been working on the Dark Shepard universe for decades.) The book is brilliant and the most cinematic novel I’ve ever edited&emdash;if somebody doesn’t pick this up as the next movie franchise, they’re missing a sure thing. I mean, he’s already done the movie trailers:

Wednesday, May 08, 2024

Book Launch for The Traitor's Son

May 7, 2024 was the official launch of the late great Dave Duncan's novel, The Traitor's Son, which I edited and shepherded through to publication on his behalf.

The Traitor’s Son is one of Dave’s few science fiction novels, and his most political. It’s about a narcissistic leadership that knows the (distant colony) world is dying but hopes not in their lifetimes and continues to ignore the problem for their personal enrichment. It’s a pretty obvious allegory, but wrapped in a daring-do adventure novel.

It’s also about people’s assumptions about inherited identities and how that can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The launch was held in Calgary in the 300+ seat Patricia A. Whelan Performance Hall in the main branch of the public library.

The launch was from publisher Edward Willtett's Shadowpaw Press, and organized by Robert J. Sawyer, whose trade paperback edition of The Downloaded is similarly from Shadowpaw. Sawyer was kind enough to share his launch with Duncan's. Turn out was good (especially given the terrible weather that day).

I reviewed The Downloaded for The Ottawa Review of Books. Given I was the editor on The Traitor's Son I can't really review it for ORB but can say here I thought it up to Duncan's usual high standards.

Duncan's next book, Corridor to Nightmare will launch Saturday, August 17, at Calgary's When Words Collide convention.

Sunday, May 05, 2024

Another Flash Fiction Published

My flash fiction, "Garbage In, Garbage Out", was published in the Summer 2024 issue of Sci-fi Lampoon (May 5, 2024). It is another in my series about Fami and his AI Watch.

Monday, April 22, 2024

My Serious Poem Republished

My poem, "Memory Loss" has been reprinted in the Fragments of Lost Time collection from Dark Thirty Poetry Publishing (Adam Shove).

"Memory Loss" is my only serious poem so far, so am pleased to see it given new breath in this collection.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Review of Robert J. Sawyer's The Downloaded (and other books)

Robert Sawyer is Canada's best known science fiction writer and has a huge fan following. His books are so popular, the trade paperback edition of his latest release, The Downloaded, hasn't even come out yet, but pre-orders are so high, the publisher has already had to go back for a third printing. Reviewing Sawyer's books feels a bit redundant because copies fly off the shelf faster than I can review them. Allow me, then, to address this review to those not already familiar with Robert Sawyer and his work.

Sawyer writes the purest form of science fiction in which he either takes current trends and extrapolates their long-term implications, or comes up with completely unique, sometimes jaw-dropping ideas and then works through their most subtle ramifications. His novel and subsequent TV series, Flashforward, for example, presents the premise that everyone on Earth simultaneously gets a two-minute glimpse of what they are doing in the near future. What do you do to comprehend, embrace, or avoid the future you just saw? Can the future be changed, or is knowing what happens what creates that future? Flashforward is every time travel paradox story ever, but inverted, so instead of risking changes by some meddling explorer going back in time, everyone is moving forward together. Sawyer's analysis is both deeply philosophical and character-driven. Told through the personal journeys of its characters, the novel is a fast-action read, but leaves you with questions about destiny and self-determination for years after.

Or, take my personal favourites, The Quintaglio Ascension trilogy, in which Sawyer examines the sociological impacts of Galileo, Darwin, Freud by following their equivalent breakthroughs in the evolution of an alien civilization. It is a thought experiment of extraordinary subtly that allows us to acknowledge the role of great thinkers and key paradigm shifts within our own culture. One of Sawyer's earliest series, I still highly recommend it.

And if you enjoyed the Oppenheimer movie, reading Sawyer's The Oppenheimer Alternative, is a must-read.

His latest release, The Downloaded, is similarly thought-provoking as Sawyer combines a bunch of unrelated future scenarios,

The initial premise is that astronauts have been uploaded to separate virtual worlds while their bodies remain in cryonic suspension for years as their starship travels the immense distance to another star. Downloaded back into their bodies, they discover that things have not gone exactly as planned. That's only the first of a half dozen major twists, but my "no spoiler" policy means I can say no more. As with Flashforward, the book has an array of character studies, philosophical and moral issues to grapple with, and the underlying theme of what choices one would make in the characters' shoes.

Almost as fascinating are the implications of Sawyer's choices for the publication of The Downloaded. Sawyer has always been in demand on TV and radio as a commentator on any and all future trends. He is a popular keynote speaker at writing conventions as an industry insider and a master of social media and marketing. Where he leads, many authors follow. So it was with special interest that we saw The Downloaded first released as an audiobook exclusive from Audible.

Audiobooks have been steadily increasing in popularity and market share, so it's no surprise that Audible (the largest player in the industry) approaches some of the top commercial authors, not just for their books, but to bring them out first and as full play productions. Audible's The Downloaded stars some top Canadian talent—Brendan Fraser, Luke Kirby, Vanessa Sears, Colm Feore, Andrew Phung—and is a compelling drama. I like to listen to audiobooks as I do household chores; The Downloaded was so edge-of-the-seat, I found myself actively looking for chores to take on, so I could keep listening.

Further, while many authors would sell their souls for a contract with one of the Big Five publishers, Sawyer—and increasingly other big-name authors—have been turning their back on these corporate publishers for smaller regional presses for their print editions, and self-publishing their own e-book editions. The print version of The Downloaded is therefore being released this May by Shadowpaw Press, a relatively new regional press from Saskatchewan founded by SF author, Edward Willett.

I confess, I haven't actually read the print version, but base this review on the audiobook. I understand there are minor adaptations in the audio version to make the story workable in play format, though the story is obviously fundamentally the same, and I have no hesitation recommending them both on that basis. If you have chores to do, check out the audiobook; if you want the authentic reading experience, The Downloaded is available now for pre-order from the usual outlets. Then, well, there are 25 other Robert J. Sawyer books to enjoy in e-book, print, or audiobook.

Review of The Lost Expedition

The Lost Expedition is the third and final volume in the Dream Rider trilogy. The first two novels, (The Hollow Boys, reviewed in ORB November 2022, and The Crystal Key, reviewed May 2023) were wildly successful, garnering critical acclaim including an Aurora Award and a juried IPA award. If you haven’t already read the first two Dream Rider books, you need to start there; if you’re already read those, I won’t need to sell you on this one because you will have already been waiting for answers and lined up for this one.

The story concerns rich comic artist,18-year-old Will; his street-wise girl-friend, Chase; and her kid brother, Fader. All three have mysterious but limited powers that have allowed them to enter dreams and move between the worlds of the multiverse, battling an as yet unidentified villain or power. The central mystery is to find out what happened eight years ago that caused their parents to go missing, and their powers to manifest. Thus, the search for the lost expedition.

I compared the first volume to a superhero comic or a graphic novel—sans graphics; I compared the second to the thrill of a 1950s movie serial, once a regular part of Saturday matinées. This time, The Lost Expedition put me in mind of A Wrinkle in Time. Both books are about the conflict between order and chaos, both place unreasonable demands on their young protagonists, both have the same sweeping scope that engages one’s sense of wonder. Evoking the same emotional response, The Lost Expedition took me back sixty years to the exact weekend I discovered A Wrinkle in Time and the forgotten memory of reading in the dark after lights out.

Looking back as an adult, though, I far prefer Smith’s world building and politics to Madeleine L’Engle’s. Smith has written a series that is far more inclusive and far less elitist than L’Engle’s. Smith’s characters represent different social classes, ethnicities, abilities and weaknesses. The Dream Rider series is targeted to today’s modern YA audience and so better suited to current sensibilities. Whoever reads this book will find at least one POV character with whom they can identify.

Which is not to say The Lost Expedition doesn’t have a few flaws. I was annoyed and distracted early on by a logical flaw in the plot, only partially mitigated by the characters recognizing that inconsistency themselves twenty pages on, and that was therefore an important clue. I was similarly annoyed that one of the characters, Nix, can only remember key facts when it is time for the next clue to be handed out—again, somewhat mitigated by a reasonable explanation in the denouement. Withholding key information from the reader in a mystery feels like a bit of a cheat, even though Smith eventually explains why and the reader has to grudgingly admit it all makes sense. Still, waiting until the end to explain everything from all three books in the final chapters of this one meant the denouement went on a bit too long after the grand climax. Indeed, there are several occasions throughout the novel when the characters get bogged down explaining things to each other while the action grinds to a stop.

Notwithstanding these minor reservations, The Lost Expedition is a solid ending to a great series. The various mysteries are finally revealed in all their intricate complexity; there are several twists I totally did not see coming; and there is a sweeping majesty to the world building we have not seen since—well, since A Wrinkle in Time.

Marathoning all three books at once is probably best, so that one can keep all the fiddly bits of the mystery in mind and so that the denouement in book three becomes proportionate to the series as a whole. If you haven’t done so already, you should package up all three volumes to gift to any young adults in your life—or any adult in your circle nostalgic for the Golden Age of science fiction fantasy.

The Lost Expedition is published by Spiral Path Books.

This review originally appeared on The Ottawa Review of Books.

Monday, April 15, 2024

"Exit Duty" Reprinted on Short Story Substack

My shot story, "Exit Duty" was reprinted on Short Story Substack today.

"Exit Duty" originally appeared in the William and Mary Review, a university literary magazine so I am very pleased to see it now available to a wider audience.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Keynote Speech at WordBridge 2024

I was honoured to be one of two keynote speakers at the 2024 WordBridge Writers Conferencce in Lethbridge Alberta. I was asked to speak to the theme "Home/Writing From the Heart" so talked about building a writing community in Lethbridge, the advantage of choosing a smaller Canadian regional publisher over going for the Big 5, and writing authentically.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

"Crossing Avenue" Reprinted On-Line

My flash fiction, "Crossing Avenue", was published by Stupefying Stories and is available for free online.

The story originally appeared in the literary magazine Meat for Tea:The Valley Review Vol. 14 #1, 2020; and was reprinted in Polar Borealis #Dec 2022, pp31-32.

Monday, March 18, 2024

Review of Year's Best Canadian Fantasy and Science Fiction

This review originally appeard in The Ottawa Review of Books January 15, 2024.

When John Robert Columbo came out with the first anthology of Canadian speculative fiction, Other Canadas, in 1979, it was the first time most of us realized that there even was a Canadian version of the genre. To cobble the collection together, however, Columbo had to scour all of history and pad the list with the likes of Cyrano de Bergerac and Jules Verne—non-Canadians who happen to have set a story in the polar north—to fill his pages. By 1985, the field had expanded sufficiently that Judith Merril was able to solicit enough contemporary Canadian SF to fill the first Tesseracts anthology.

When I co-edited the fifth Tesseract anthology over a decade later, we had over 400 submissions, and I confidently predicted further explosive growth for Canadian SF&F. The Tesseract series is now up to number 22 though the series has morphed into themed anthologies rather than a general survey of the Canadian genre. Imaginarium 2012 was the first attempt at reprinting the “Year’s Best” but the series ended with Imaginarium 4. We therefore have lacked a “Best of Canadian SF&F” series for the last eight years.

Enter Stephen Kotowych, the editor of the Year’s Best Canadian Fantasy and Science Fiction, Vol.1 (2023).

If I thought working on Tesseracts 5 was challenging, I cannot begin to imagine trying to keep on top of a field that has expanded continuously over the last thirty years. The undertaking, especially by a single individual rather than a team backed by an established publisher, is outrageously audacious. And yet, Kotowych seems to have pulled it off. With 37 entries from 24 different magazines and 6 anthologies—a total of thirty different venues—the collection is certainly a representative survey of the field. The stories range from hard science fiction through fantasy, horror, and fevered dreams to pure CanLit. Inevitably, as with any anthology, tastes differ and one might quibble whether this or that entry is the “best” Canadians have to offer, but there’s no question Kotowych has nailed the breadth of what’s out there. Story quality ranged from “solid” to “outstanding” with the overall weighting tipped heavily towards the “excellent” end. If I’m honest, I think this collection is better than the one I co-edited, a reflection of how Canadian speculative fiction has expanded and matured in the decades since.

Best of all, the collection introduced me to a number of authors with whom I had not previously been acquainted. How had I missed, for example, Suyi Davies Okungbowa? I was shocked to find a stack of novels by this University of Ottawa prof, whose “Choke” is one of the outstanding stories in the current collection. That one discovery is worth the price of the collection five times over. Although “Choke” feels as if it would be comfortable in any CanLit magazine, it originally appeared in Tor.Com, so legitimately qualifies as speculative fiction. But wow! The freshness of the phrasing, the passion of the writing, the absolute resonance of the contemporary experience just floored me. That’s six new novels added to my To-Be-Read pile right there.

Similarly, I had no idea Nebula-nominated Ai Jiang was Canadian. Her “Give me English” is a great opening to the anthology, not just because it’s a gem of a story, but because it nicely illustrates how the current generation is infusing fresh themes and viewpoints into the Canadian genre. I have banged on for years how Canadian SF differed from that of the American (and to a lesser extent, the British) mass market SF&F, but I have to concede that the (English-language) Canadian genre often lacked culturally diverse voices, beyond some influences from Quebec. Jaing’s story speaks not just to the immigrant experience, but to the post-colonial, anti-capitalist themes that have become a natural part of the SF scene. Chelsea Vovel’s “Mischif Man” story of a Métis superhero similarly takes on Settler colonialism, and Lavigne’s “Choose Your Own” is one of the best feminist pieces ever: wincingly on target.

These and the majority of the entries fit my argument that Canadian speculative fiction is oddly optimistic despite the often downbeat premises. The future is on fire in Premee Mohamed’s “All that Burns Unseen”; perpetual war and exploitation are central to Michelle Tang’s “Vihum Heal”; oppressive religion stifles life in Kate Hearfield’s “And in the Arcade”; Charlotte Ashley’s “Distant Skies” features capitalist manipulation of our destinies through genetics; Holly Schofield’s “Maximum Efficiency” has robot soldiers vs humans; KT Brysk’s “Folk Hero Motifs in Tales Told by the Dead” is set in hell, for heaven’s sake. And yet, life goes on and people (or other sentients) find a way. I love this approach of ordinary people bumbling through tough times to carve out acceptable outcomes. It is the literature we need amidst the dumpster fire we’re living through.

Reynold’s “Broken Vow: The Adventures of Flick Gibson, Intergalactic Videographer” provides some needed comic relief, and the fiction is broken up by the inclusion of nine rather good, accessible poems.

Overall, it is a great collection, a great reflection on what Canadian speculative fiction has to offer, and a great first entry in which one can only hope will continue as an annual series.

The Year’s Best Canadian Fantasy and Science Fiction Vol.1 (2023) is published by Ansible Press.