Sunday, December 31, 2017

Invaders From Planet 3 - Ep 19 - Spider Robinson


For the final episode of season 2 of Invaders From Planet 3 (posted on the final day of 2017) we're joined by author, editor, columnist, podcaster and musician Spider Robinson.

As we jump into our conversation, already in progress, Spider shares his thoughts about the loss of his wife and sometime collaborator, Jean; the passing of his daughter; and facing one's own mortality. He recounts his experience of dealing with a medical condition in his youth that caused his lungs to collapse frequently, the painful surgical procedure to cure it, and how listening to a Duke Ellington marathon on the radio got him through it.

On the science fiction front, Spider talks about his longstanding love for the works of Robert A. Heinlein, starting with Rocket Ship Galileo. He also mentions some of his other favourites, ranging from the classics to more recent fare, like James Alan Gardner's All Those Explosions Were Someone Else's Fault.

He also discusses writers' block, and what Theodore Sturgeon once said about an extended break from writing.

My conversation with Spider took place in October 2016 at the Vancouver Science Fiction Convention.

Find out more about Spider Robinson on his website:
www.spiderrobinson.com

Visit iTunes to subscribe to Invaders From Planet 3 and download episodes, and be sure to rate the show while you're there!


Let the invasion begin!

Monday, December 25, 2017

Making Space for Everyone - A Review of "Everyone: Worlds Without Walls"

Normally when I review books, I do several at once, posting big batches of them together, mixing the good, the bad, and the indifferent. This time, I'm posting a solo review because Everyone: Worlds Without Walls is important enough that it merits having the spotlight entirely to itself.

It would be tempting to say this anthology — edited by Tony C Smith of the StarShipSofa podcast — is simply a reaction to the divisive ugliness of nationalism and intolerance that have become a plague in recent years. Blowhards like Donald Trump and his ilk around the world attempt to inspire fear, distrust and hatred of other cultures to try to raise support for their own twisted values or to distract people from their wrongdoings. They talk about building walls.

Smith, like many of us, became fed up with this nonsense. His solution was to launch a fundraising campaign to publish a new anthology of speculative fiction, one gathering writers from a variety of backgrounds across the globe to celebrate diversity, share perspectives, and show that all of these different types of people and stories can work well together side by side.

And that's why it's only tempting to say that this anthology is merely a reaction. Because that wouldn't be correct. It wouldn't be the full story. While this book is a protest against divisiveness and intolerance, it's also much more than that. It's an assertion of faith and hope. Faith that most of us, as sf fans and as human beings, are better than those who would drive people apart. Hope that if we just keep talking with one-another (hey, there's nothing wrong with dropping a Pink Floyd reference), if we share our stories and our perspectives, our hopes and our fears, that we can somehow move past all this and learn to get along with each other, knowing that our differences are, in fact, complimentary, and that having this variety makes us better. It's appropriate that a collection of science fiction, fantasy and weird stories takes this stand, because seeing the possibilities, especially those that can propel us towards something new and positive, is something that speculative fiction is very good at. And Everyone: Worlds Without Walls excels in this role as a booster rocket, propelled by diverse voices, taking us to new heights.

Now, in the interests of disclosure, I have to say that I contributed a little money towards this project, and am listed among the many, many supporters on the Acknowledgements page at the back. Some might say that means I've got a bias and so, of course, I'd say nice things about this book. Not at all. I may have participated in the funding of E:WWW because I believe in what Smith is trying to do, but that doesn't mean that I'd pile unwarranted praise on the book if it didn't deserve it. On the contrary, if the whole thing had been a washout, I would have had no problem saying "good intentions, but it didn't work and here's why..."

Fortunately, this is a good anthology. Not only is its heart in the right place, it offers a solid lineup of stories, many of which I enjoyed. While I can't say that every story worked for me, that's not because they were bad. Rather, they just didn't click with me on some level. And that's not unusual for an anthology — it's pretty rare that I'm going to love every single story. Instead, it's a question of whether, on the balance, I enjoyed or was challenged by most of them, and, secondarily, were the stories I didn't enjoy at least well written. Everyone: Worlds Without Walls passes this test easily, and, as a bonus, it has introduced me to some fine authors I hadn't encountered before. Even better: these are authors from other parts of the world, and I love anthologies that show me different outlooks on life and give me a glimpse into how speculative fiction is being perceived and written in other cultures.

Now for the breakdown. Here's the good:

Let's start with Smith's opening rant. It's presented as a copy of something he's handwritten. Profanity erupts through it. The words look like they've been blasted onto the page at a breathless, frenzied pace. The emotion in them is palpable. They are occasionally illegible. But this is what makes the piece effective. Smith is channeling the incredulous frustration that too many of us feel these days when reading/listening to/watching the news and trying to comprehend the viciousness stalking through politics and society. It's a torrent that splatters itself across the page like the literary equivalent of a rage-fuelled graffiti tag more than as an editorial. It just wouldn't capture the same raw emotion if it was neatly typed out, structured with an eye to order, and presented with restraint.

Dr. Amy H Sturgis follows with an editorial that reads like a hymn to what is best about sf, and what the genre can be. It was an absolute pleasure to read.

Among my favourites from the story lineup:

"Mother's Love" by Dayo Ntwari was enjoyable for its exquisite turns of phrase. My favourite: "foaming rapids of passengers".

JY Yang's "The Blood that Pulses in the Veins of One" was effectively creepy and alien, reminding me a little of "The Things" by Peter Watts, and yet it was a little sad.

"The Dust Garden" by Ken Liu was as brief and pretty as its namesake in the story.

Yukimi Ogawa's "The Seed Keeper" was a sweet, sad little tale that stayed with me for a while.

And, guaranteed to give any chocolate lover a shudder, Chikodili Emelumadu's "Candy Girl" is a story about a curse that's guaranteed to stick to the reader like toffee cementing your teeth together. It's also an interesting metaphor for overcoming colonialism, though there's an irony underneath that layer that may not have been considered.

The down side:

As I mentioned previously, there were a couple of stories that didn't click with me, but I certainly can't fault the writing.

Aside from that, the copy could have used another pass in front of an editor to catch some of the spelling and punctuation issues that made it through here and there, but that seems to be a common fact of life in publishing these days.

Overall, Everyone: Worlds Without Walls is entertaining and, as an anthology showcasing sf writers from around the world, it's important for its role in introducing readers to authors and cultures that they may not have known about before.

This book is also important because it is more than just an act of defiance by a single editor, or a small group of writers, against the forces of meanness, small-mindedness, insularity and racism. It is important because it is a declaration by a community — the editor, the participating writers, other writers who maybe would have liked to be included but couldn't for various reasons, the funders who backed the book, and everyone who reads it and talks about it and loans it out and likes even just one story from it — that we, as a genre, celebrate our differences. That we are better and stronger and, let's face it, more interesting for having different experiences and points of view and opinions and stories to tell. That we're a world that's better off without walls. A world where everyone is welcome.


Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Invaders From Planet 3 - Ep 18 - John Jantunen


We're joined by author John Jantunen in this episode. John starts off by telling us about his early influences, including David Gerrold's War Against the Chtorr series, Stephen King, old Hammer horror vampire films starring Peter Cushing, and post-apocalyptic movies like The Road Warrior, Escape from New York, A Boy and His Dog, The Quiet Earth, and Night of the Comet.

We also talk extensively about John's love for the works of Philip K Dick, especially Counter-Clock World; Valis; A Scanner Darkly; Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said; and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? He also discusses watching Bladerunner when it first hit the theatres, what it's like rewatching it now versus his experience as a kid, and how it compares with 'Androids. While John talks about how Dick's weird ideas and the fundamental desperation of his writing were the biggest influence on his own development as a writer, he also discusses the slippery slope of reading too much PKD.

And we go into detail about John's love of the post-apocalypse as subject matter, and specifically the question he continuously asked himself as a kid in the shadow of the Cold War in the 70s and 80s: what would a Canadian apocalypse look like? These thoughts fed into his eventual development of his short story "The Body Politic", and most especially his novel A Desolate Splendor, which we examine.

Our interview took place in December 2016 via a Skype connection between John's home in Guelph, Ontario, and my location in the Lair of bloginhood, located in a cave beneath a hill fort in Kent.

Look for John Jantunen's books in your nearest bookstore or online.

Visit iTunes to subscribe to Invaders From Planet 3 and download episodes, and be sure to rate the show while you're there!


Let the invasion begin!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Invaders From Planet 3 - Ep 17 - Alyx Dellamonica


Author Alyx Dellamonica joins us in this episode of the podcast. She tells us about her first loves in the genre, including Spider-Man comics, Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, and Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man. We'll also talk about how she grew up in a home where, from a very young age, she was free to read anything, from children's books like Island of the Blue Dolphins, to more adult fare like Jaws.

We'll also talk about her development as a writer, starting with her first attempts at "Dr. Seuss-inspired doggerel" during childhood, to submitting stories to magazines at 16, and her eventual success in getting published. Alyx tells us about how being steeped in the world of theatre helped her writing, and what other writers can learn from the dramatic arts. She also talks about why she feels most at home writing speculative fiction, and we discuss some of her work, including her Hidden Sea Tales trilogy, and her contribution to the 007-inspired anthology License Expired: The Unauthorized James Bond.

And Alyx tells us about some of her latest stories. Those include the short story "Tribes" in the anthology Strangers Among Us: Tales of the Underdogs and Outcasts and "Bottleneck" in The Sum of Us: Tales of the Bonded and Bound — both collections published by Laksa Media as  a benefit for people with mental health challenges. She's also working on a novella, "Of Things" and a novel, Win Conditions — both set in a world of resource scarcity where popularity is like currency.

Our interview took place in December 2016 via a Skype connection between Alyx's home in Toronto, and my studio in the Lair of bloginhood, located on a house-sized chunk of ice in the rings of Neptune.

Find out more about Alyx Dellamonica on her website:
alyxdellamonica.com

Visit iTunes to subscribe to Invaders From Planet 3 and download episodes, and be sure to rate the show while you're there!


Let the invasion begin!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Goodbye and Thank You, Kit Reed

Sometimes life pounces on you like an automatic tiger.

On Sunday, I'd just finished writing something for a client and decided to catch up on gossip on Facebook. A minute after logging in, it felt like I'd been kicked. My wife, hearing me say "Oh no", came in, and asked what was wrong. Kit Reed had died.

The news, posted to her feed by her son Mack, was that she'd gone in her sleep, at 85, after a battle with brain cancer.

Kit was one of my favourite authors. There are a lot of writers whose work I like. There are a few I absolutely love. Beyond that, there is a select core of absolute favourites — the ones whose work penetrates the deepest, and resonates once it gets down there so hard that it rewires my brain. Authors whose books are so damn good that I'm willing to push just about everything else on the to-be-read pile out of the way so I can crack them open as soon as they're available. Kit was one of those.

My first encounter with her work was her novel Thinner Than Thou, probably back in 2006. I don't recall whether I read about it online, or if it just caught my eye on a shelf at the bookstore, but the title just grabbed me, and after devouring the first page, I had to have it. The frankness, the cynical humour, the unflinching examination of what makes people tick and the hypocrisy of society and its portrayals of — and judgements of — weight and body image, the intelligence of the book, and its ability to be deeply dark while still allowing the possibility of hope and redemption were all served up masterfully. The descriptions of a landscape overrun by suburbs and identical mini-malls conjured up the Pretenders' song "My City Was Gone" as the relentless soundtrack to the Abercrombie family's trek to rescue Annie. William Gibson may have talked about the post-industrial tech midden of the east coast sprawl in his cyberpunk novels, but Kit's endless strip malls, though more tame in appearance, were more apocalyptic for their visceral, banal realness and inevitability.

After that, I snapped up every Kit Reed book that I could find.

It would be easy to talk about Kit as an author in comparison with literary giants of the past. She was as incisive as Thackeray, with her surgical dissection of American upper-middle-class individuals in their suburban community in Son of Destruction being as keen as the examination of its Victorian England counterparts in Vanity Fair. Their masks, self-delusions, hypocrisies, crimes, weaknesses and flaws laid bare and catalogued, the characters are then probed deeper for possible (but not guaranteed) signs of hidden strengths or redemption. In her collections The Dogs of Truth and The Story Until Now, she sometimes conjured images as soulful and melancholy as anything from Poe or Hardy. And, in everything she wrote, Kit had the ferocious, merciless wit of Twain. But her voice was all her own. Even when she played with different styles of writing, skipping gleefully and unpredictably between subjects as varied as rampaging giant babies, nocturnal visits from zombie princes, the hunts of feral girl scouts, and the hijackings of entire towns to pale alternate dimensions, you always knew you were reading a Kit Reed story.

There were two tropes in particular that were hallmarks of her stories: the transformation of banal settings into the surreal; and the notion that it's inherently dangerous for an individual to be completely isolated from a group, even if that group is itself in a dangerous situation or place, or making questionable choices. We see these tropes come up again and again in her work, especially her novels, from the theme park secretly doubling as a reality show in Magic Time, to the disease outbreak at the private school/mountaintop prison in Enclave, to the various types of hauntings taking place at the family home/trap in Mormama. Each time, Kit would pick up these tropes and re-examine them from different angles in an attempt to reveal something new and interesting about human beings, and how they behave and see the world — and each other — from within and outside of groups.

Over the years, I had the pleasure of getting to know Kit a little beyond her stories. It started when Mack came across an online review I'd written for one of her books, got in touch, and connected me to her via Facebook. She was warm, sharp, funny, and genuine, and I always enjoyed chatting with her about her stories (I still remember one day when she mentioned someone was trying to get Thinner Than Thou banned from some school somewhere in America, and I replied that it should be required reading — especially at the high school level) or what made a con just the right size to attend, or reading her posts about everyday life — from heading out to the matinee to catch some over-the-top popcorn flick, to baking for company, to the continuing adventures of her little dog, Killer.

It was also an honour and a real pleasure when I had the chance to interview her for an episode of my podcast, Invaders From Planet 3. We talked about a lot of things — the stories that were early influences, her career as a journalist, her own writing — but I think my favourite part of our conversation came near the end when we talked about comics. I listened that episode again the other day when I was in the car, and you can hear her just light up and get so excited talking about Preacher and other comics. Those are the kinds of moments that turn an interview into a delight.

And then the news came down that she was gone. No more new Kit Reed stories to challenge and entertain us. No more warm, thoughtful personality for the rest of us to orbit, whether at the distance of the internet, or — for those luckier than I, who knew her as a friend, family member, or mentor — more closely in person at her home, the university, or cons. Sure, there are other intelligent, entertaining authors who are great people to get to know, but the speculative fiction community is still diminished because she is gone. But then I look over at my bookshelf, at all of her wonderful stories waiting patiently to be revisited, and I think how lucky we all were to experience her work, and to get to know her as a person, if only for a while. And I'm grateful for that.

Thanks, Kit.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Invaders From Planet 3 - Ep 16 - Kelly Robson


In this episode, we're joined by author Kelly Robson. We talk about her first love in the genre, Star Wars — how it was big, exciting and sexy, but also an escape from family drama at home; and what it's like to look back on the movie now as an adult and a professional speculative fiction writer. We talk about other early sf pleasures, like the original Battlestar Galactica; books by Piers Anthony, Anne McCaffrey, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, and others; and the genre magazines of the 70s and 80s. Along the way, we also discuss the early superhero Zorro (and specifically the George Hamilton movie Zorro — The Gay Blade), and why you may have to read Heinlein before a certain age in order to enjoy his stories.

Turning to her own career, Kelly tells us how the Connie Willis story "Blued Moon" reprogrammed her brain and made her want to become a writer. She talks about the positive aspects of starting her career in middle age, and how, despite writing being a selfish line of work, she's still able to be happy as an author married to another author. We also talk about how growing up on a farm in a small town in rural Alberta has influenced her work.

As well, we discuss Kelly's unique suggestion to resolve the Sad/Rabid Puppies controversy that wracked the Hugo Awards in 2015 and 2016.

And Kelly tells us about some of her recent stories, including "A Human Stain" on Tor.com, and her contribution to the Kickstarter project NASTY — Fetish Erotica for a Good Cause.

Our interview took place in December 2016 via a Skype connection between Kelly's home in Toronto, and my studio in the Lair of bloginhood, located in the rafters of an abandoned whisky distillery in the Highlands of Scotland.

Find out more about Kelly Robson on her website:
kellyrobson.com

Visit iTunes to subscribe to Invaders From Planet 3 and download episodes, and be sure to rate the show while you're there!


Let the invasion begin!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Farewell to Brian Aldiss

It's a strange feeling being a middle-aged fan these days. When I first started reading adult-level science fiction and fantasy back in the 80s, the giants of the Golden Age and New Wave still walked the Earth, and more importantly, were still publishing. One by one, over the years, the stories stopped, and their lives came to a close. A week ago, Time claimed another: Brian Aldiss.

My first encounter with Aldiss' work was as a teenager in 1989, when I read "Let's be Frank" in the anthology Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories: 19 (1957), edited by Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg. The short story chronicles the life/lives of Frank, a minor noble born at the time of King Henry VIII, who passes a genetic mutation down to some of his descendants, causing them to become new vessels of his consciousness. They are not clones/separate versions of Frank; rather, a single mind existing simultaneously throughout every member of the family who shares this gene (like a fully biological version of The Borg from Star Trek: The Next Generation). This allows Frank to live forever, gain wealth and power, and eventually spread his mind across the world until, through his many descendants, he constitutes about half to two-thirds of the Earth's population. It was a clever little story, and a bit funny, but there was something sad (though this isn't reflected in the story's tone — it's just my impression) and disturbing about it too, with all those new humans being born, but more and more of them just being more and more of the same old Frank, rather than unique individuals.

Over the years, I read other Aldiss short stories and novels from time to time. Some, like Super-State, were okay reads, but didn't leave much of an impression, while others, like Frankenstein Unbound, were absorbing, unsettling and left a permanent mark (the protagonist desperately treading existential water as realities shift around him with increasing frequency; the mating dance of the monsters). On the shelf right now, Harm and the Helliconia trilogy are still waiting for me to crack them open. There were also movies based on his work: Roger Corman's version of Frankenstein Unbound wasn't very good, but Spielberg and Kubrick's A.I. — Artificial Intelligence (based on "Super-Toys Last All Summer Long") was deeply affecting in places (Teddy settling resignedly back as David leans forward against the windscreen of the submerged copter, desperately praying to the Blue Fairy statue in the murky distance for ages until their power cells run out gets me every time).

One afternoon at Worldcon 2014 in London, I was trying to choose between a number of program options. One of them was a session with Brian Aldiss. While the other panels, presentations, etc looked interesting, I thought there aren't many chances to sit and listen to one of the giants of the field reminisce, and (yeah, I know, this was a bit morbid) Aldiss wasn't getting any younger, so there might not be many more to come. I met up with my buddy Geordie (who has some nice stories about meeting Aldiss at conventions throughout the years) outside, and, along with way too many other fans, we jammed ourselves into a room that was much too small and listened to Brian talk about his life and his work. Sure it was uncomfortable seating, and yeah, the AC just couldn't keep up with the heat generated by all those bodies, but it was worth every minute. Brian was funny, charming, and interesting. At the end, the con organizers wrapped up the session by leading us all in a rousing chorus of "Happy Birthday". I'm glad I had the chance to be part of it.

Brian Aldiss died on August 19, 2017 at the age of 92.


What are your memories of Brian Aldiss and his work? Share them in the Comments section below.