Friday, January 18, 2019

Invaders From Planet 3 - Ep 27 - Nalo Hopkinson


Author, editor and professor Nalo Hopkinson joins us for our first episode of 2019. Nalo talks about her first loves in speculative fiction, including Harlan Ellison's "Shattered Like a Glass Goblin", Michael Crichton's The Andromeda Strain, and Kurt Vonnegut's "Welcome to the Monkey House". And she shares what it was like having the freedom to read what she wanted when she was growing up, with her library technician mother loaning Nalo her library card and letting her explore the stacks at work; and her mother and actor/poet/playwright/high school English teacher father letting her choose from their collection of books at home. We also talk about an early reading experience that didn't work out so well: her encounter with an Alfred Hitchcock anthology. And she tells us how her desire to become a writer was first sparked by a collection of Clarion short stories.

Our conversation then turns to the subject of diversity, with Nalo reflecting on Caribbean voices in the stories she encountered growing up. She talks about representation in speculative fiction, and the importance of seeing herself (or the effect of the absence of people like her) in the sf she was reading. She then discusses how this affected her own writing and her choices of how she populates her stories.

Next, we talk about Nalo's experiences working with publishers and artists to get the look of her book covers — and specifically the characters on them — right. She then goes into detail about what this has been like recently in her role as a writer contributing to the expansion of Neil Gaiman's Sandman universe at DC-Vertigo Comics. This leads to an examination of what it's like to step into a world created by another author and to make parts of it her own.

From there we move back to a discussion of what it was like to move from the Caribbean to the US and Canada, and how that shaped Nalo's writing. Here, she also reflects on her time working at Bakka-Phoenix Books, Toronto's sf specialty bookstore. Nalo talks about meeting sf legend Judith Merril during her time in Toronto as well. We also discuss what it's like in her current role teaching sf writing at the University of California Riverside.

Our discussion wraps up with a look at what Nalo's working on for 2019, including more House of Whispers stories for the Sandman comics, and her new novel that's in progress, Blackheart Man.
Our interview took place in October 2018 at the Surrey International Writers' Conference.

You can learn more about Nalo Hopkinson and her stories on her website:
https://nalohopkinson.com/index.html


To listen to Invaders From Planet 3, or subscribe, visit LibsyniTunes, Stitcher, Overcast and Spotify. Be sure to rate and review the show while you're there!


Let the Invasion begin!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Muddling the House Words as Game of Thrones Goes Game of Whisky

I was reading a story earlier today in the Richmond News (thanks to Thor Diakow for passing it along) about how the producers of Game of Thrones are celebrating the coming final season of the show by trying to drown fans in a new wave of merchandizing (cue Yogurt from Spaceballs: "Merchandizing, merchandizing, merchandizing! Where the REAL money from the movie is made!") with the release of a GOT-themed line of whiskies. Apparently the BC Liquor Distribution Branch will be carrying the line (Or is the correct term "flight"? Flight of whiskies for a flight of dragons [yes, I just did that] — but Daenerys' pair doesn't really constitute a flight, does it?) in a couple of its stores. The Westerosi noble houses that have been included (along with the Night's Watch) are represented by different whisky brands (Talisker is doing the Greyjoy bottle, Oban's taking the Night's Watch, etc).

Personally, I think this was a bit of a missed opportunity: BCLDB should have held a launch event for this hooch in partnership with White Dwarf Science Fiction Books in Vancouver, with the government offering a tasting and selling bottles on one side of the room, and the bookstore selling copies of the A Song of Ice and Fire series along with George RR Martin's other, related books from that world.

As much as I'm a fan of the books and TV series, I'm not sure that I'll be buying the booze (then again...). But it got me thinking along silly lines (without the aid of any other brand of Scotch), and I started reworking the house words (using their original mottos as inspiration) of the big players of the Seven Kingdoms (along with the Black Brothers) to reflect their new alcohol affiliation... and the inebriation that will surely follow. I only wish that I was an artist, so I could retool the house banners to also reflect their new whisky-soaked reality. Anyway, pour yourself a dram or two (or three, or four — I'm not judging) of your favourite brand of water of life, and prepare to say the new house words:

Stark: "Whisky Is Coming"

Greyjoy: "We Do Not Slurp"

Arryn: "As High as Single Malt Can Make Me"

Baratheon: "Ours Is the Furry Tongue of the Hangover the Morning After"

Lannister: "Hear Me Ralph"
*or: "A Lannister Always Pays His Bar Tab"

Martell: "Unsober, Unhinged, Unrepentant"

Tyrell: "Growing Shitfaced"

Targaryen: "Fire and Blood — with Notes of Honey, Tangerine, Peat, Pine and Chocolate"

The Night's Watch: "And Now My Bottle Has Ended"


So what other great — or minor — houses of Westeros need their their own whisky words? What should they be?


Thursday, January 10, 2019

Belated Happy New Year!

A belated Happy New Year, everyone! I hope all of you had an enjoyable holiday season, and, if you don't celebrate anything, that you were able to relax and enjoy yourself in the manner of your choice for a few days.

One of the things I did over the holiday season was to (finally!) go the Capilano Suspension Bridge park in North Vancouver on New Year's Eve to see their holiday light display. I haven't been up to the bridge in more than 30 years, and when I heard they were stringing the whole place with lights — including their treetop walk on the far side of the gorge — a few years ago, I wanted to go. Couldn't do it previously since my ex is afraid of heights, and most especially of suspension bridges. But since I'm a bachelor once again, I figured I'd pay a long-overdue visit.

And it was definitely worth it! The whole park is a galaxy of colours glowing in the dark, from the road-side entrance, to the swaying suspension bridge across the gorge, to the trails on the far side, the cliff-face walkway, and the network of smaller suspension bridges and platforms of the treetop walk 50 feet up or more among some of the bigger trees.

In fact, it was the treetop walk that I enjoyed the most, especially as a nerd. The infamous Star Wars Holiday Special may have predated the addition of the Ewoks to the saga, but if they had been around  to celebrate Life Day, they might have decorated their village like the catwalks above the Capilano park. Or maybe the elves of Lothlorien in The Lord of the Rings, if they'd wanted to make their treetop kingdom a little more colourful. Here are some pictures I snapped on my phone:













And just to round things out, here are a few other shots from around the park:


A carpet of blue lights below a grove of white.

The lights along the cliff-face.



A little stream running beneath the trees of blue.

An arch along one of the boardwalks.

Waterfall in blue.

The lights dancing on the pond.




Sunday, December 23, 2018

Invaders From Planet 3 - Ep 26 - Charles Stross


In this episode, we're joined by author Charles Stross who talks about discovering his love of sf when he was 5 and started reading Andre Norton's books at his local library. By the time he was 15, he'd read everything in the genre. Charlie also reflects on how growing up in Britain of the 1970s — a place he describes as a "malfunctioning society" — affected his perception of the American speculative fiction he read. He also discusses the shift that took place in British culture  in the 80s, and how that steered him towards a career as a pharmacist — at least until he shifted to computer science and then technical writing.

Charlie tells us about his development as a writer, from his beginnings at age 12, to his first attempts to get published in his teens, to selling stories in his 20s, including a novel. He goes on to discuss how working as a pharmacist and in computers gave him insight into how organizations of different sizes function (or malfunction), leading to an understanding of bureaucracy as a villain. He also talks about his ideas around artificial intelligence and the Turing Test, and its relation to the Fermi Paradox.

And Charlie also shares some details about his new novel, The Labyrinth Index, as well as an upcoming book, Invisible Sun (in the Empire Games series), and a space opera story called Ghost Engine that's in the works.

Our conversation took place in October 2018 at the Vancouver Science Fiction, Fantasy & Games Convention (VCon).

You can learn more about Charles Stross and his stories on his website:
https://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/

To listen to Invaders From Planet 3, or subscribe, visit LibsyniTunes, Stitcher, Overcast and Spotify. Be sure to rate and review the show while you're there!


Let the Invasion begin!

Friday, December 14, 2018

Invaders From Planet 3 - Ep 25 - Matthew Hughes


We're joined by author and editor Matthew Hughes in this episode. Matt talks about his first love in sf: Jack Vance's "The Dragon Masters", as well as Galactic Derelict by Andre Norton, along with his discovery of Asimov, Heinlein, Bradbury and AE van Vogt. He also discusses some of the historical fiction novelists who influenced him, such as Geoffrey Trease, Henry Treece and Rosemary Sutcliff.

Matt talks about being "a guy just passing through" as he shares stories from his early years, starting with an unstable home life where his father, trying to stay one step ahead of money problems, occasionally uprooted the family at a moment's notice — sometimes in the middle of the night to move half-way around the world. There's the story of his teenaged knife fight. And he tells us how taking LSD made him a nicer person.

We also hear about Matt's evolution as a writer, from the teenager writing stories, to the newspaper reporter and editor, to the go-to speechwriter for Canadian federal politicians, their provincial counterparts in BC, and business leaders as well. He talks about his first sale of a fictional story, "Fishface and the Leg", and how he developed his career writing crime stories, and science fiction and fantasy.

Matt also shares details of the new speculative fiction novel he's developing, about a man in his Jack-Vance-Dying-Earth-inspired world who wakes up with amnesia and finds himself on the road to a confrontation with wizards.

Our interview took place in October 2018 at the Vancouver Science Fiction, Fantasy and Games Convention (VCon).

You can learn more about Matthew Hughes and his stories on his website:
https://www.matthewhughes.org

To listen to Invaders From Planet 3, or subscribe, visit LibsyniTunes, Stitcher, Overcast and Spotify. Be sure to rate and review the show while you're there!


Let the Invasion begin!

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

A Little Christmas Magic

I know it's been a month since I've posted anything, which includes being two episodes behind on airing the Invaders From Planet 3 podcast, but I've been knee-deep in life lately and haven't been able to give the nerdiverse my full attention. My plan is to get the delayed episodes up in a few days to get the airing schedule back on track over the holidays. I promise, there are some good interviews coming up that are worth waiting for!

In the meantime, I thought I'd share a little story of Christmas magic that happened a couple of days ago:

Over the years, I've occasionally been Santa Claus at parties for charities and at offices I've worked at. This year, the Rotary Club of Ladner needed Santa to come to their first annual community tree-lighting celebration, and because my dad is one of the Rotarians, I agreed to be Big Red (to use the elfin security detail's code name for Kris Kringle in "The Tick Loves Santa!" — one of the greatest episodes of the animated series of The Tick). Lots of families came and had lots of fun.

When you're Santa (and this is important: when you don the suit, you are Santa — especially to the little kids — you're not playing him, you have to be him — like Victor Prinzim putting on the cape and cowl in The Cannonball Run and becoming Captain Chaos), you have to be ready for anything. 99.9% of the time, the kids are happy, you give them 100% of your focus, you try to make a connection with them and tell a little story about life at the North Pole or Santa's adventures to make their visit special, and things are more-or-less straight-forward. Sometimes a baby will cry (even when Santa is quiet and easygoing, it can still all be a bit much for babies and toddlers just getting used to the world), but, generally, you don't get too many curveballs. This time around, there was one visit that was a little different...

About mid-evening, a mother brought her little girl over. She was just a teeny little thing, couldn't have been more than 3 or 4, with a big smile, and was absolutely adorable. She looked up at Santa with big brown eyes full of wonder — think of a brunette, brown-eyed version of Cindy-Lou Who from the original, animated "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" — and hopped up onto my knee, and we began our visit. I asked if she'd be a good girl this year ("Yes!"), and if she'd helped her mommy around the house, again, "Yes!" and she looked so happy that she'd pitched-in. Then I asked what she wanted for Christmas.

She looked up at me with those big eyes brimming with hope and absolute, unshakeable faith that Santa could make her holiday wish come true, and, now with a little sadness in her voice too, she said:

"Can you please bring my kitty back? He's gone."

Boom. A 50-kiloton nuclear bomb to the heart.

Because this was a tough one. You see, Santa can't make promises. Some kids will ask for dolls, or LEGO, or radio-controlled cars or trucks, or even new kittens or puppies, but Santa can't promise to bring any of it, because there's no guarantee that their parents will come through, and you can't say anything that will cause the kids to lose hope. It's like J Michael Straczynski wrote in an episode of Babylon 5 (I think this was from one of G'Kar's monologues): "Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope." Or, as Lorien said in another B5 episode: "Hope is all we have." So all you can say is something like "I'll work with my elves and we'll try to make sure your Christmas is special." And that's generally enough to make the kids happy. Santa hasn't promised anything concrete, so they can't be completely let down if the item doesn't come through, but you're leaving them room to hope, and, as a result. to be happy and enjoy the holiday.

But this is something different. In this case, Santa REALLY can't promise anything, because a missing cat may never come home. Heck, for all I knew at the time, the cat may have died and the parents may simply have told the little one that kitty had wandered off, just to make things easier on her. So Santa couldn't say he'd bring the kitty back. But, at the same time, I couldn't crush this little girl's hope.

And I had to keep my game face on with only a millisecond to think.

So I gave her shoulder a sympathetic squeeze and said "Oh, sweetheart, I'm so sorry your kitty is gone. It's tough when kitties go off on adventures. This is a pretty tall order, but I'll talk to my elves and tell them to go out and keep a look out for your kitty."

She gave me a huge smile and a thank-you, and held onto her hope, and I steered things back on track, asking her about toys she'd like, gave her a candy cane I'd said the elves had made especially for her earlier that day, and she eventually left happy.

The whole thing has stayed with me for the past few days.

And now, just this morning, Dad forwarded me an email from one of his fellow Rotarians: the little girl's mother had been back to the community centre and had told the staff (who passed the word along to the club) how much they'd enjoyed the party and their time with Santa. But, best of all, she said the cat came back that evening after they'd returned home from their visit with Santa. So it seems the little girl got her Christmas wish!

Now I certainly can't take any credit for the cat coming home. The wayward fuzzball probably just got cold, wet, tired and hungry enough (even without pursuit by dogs, other cats, raccoons or coyotes) to come home on his/her own.

But if this coincidence made that little girl happy, and gave her a sense of holiday magic to make this year extra special — something that will stand out in her memory in the years to come, and hopefully help her make the season special for other people — then that's a real bit of Christmas magic.

Whatever you celebrate, and even if you don't celebrate anything in particular, I hope you have a wonderful holiday season. Merry Christmas, everyone.

Monday, November 12, 2018

So Long, Stan

My first memory of comics god Stan Lee was his narration of the 1982 Saturday morning cartoon The Incredible Hulk. Sure, I'd seen his creations before, in the form of reruns of the 1960s cartoon Spider-Man, and during the original run of the late 1970s live-action TV show The Incredible Hulk, but the 80s 'Hulk cartoon (along with Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends — later combined into The Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends and the Incredible Hulk Adventure Hour) was the first time I'd heard Lee's name and voice, and his intense voiceovers permanently cemented him to the those iconic comic characters in my memory. My appreciation for the actual comic books that had given rise to these characters (as well as the character of Stan, in the fan and larger public perception) would come years later.

When I read the news about Stan's death earlier today, I have to admit, it didn't come as much of a shock. He was 95, and, from the news and internet coverage over the years, it seemed as though he'd been in decline since his wife's death. Time passes, as do our heroes.

And Stan certainly was a hero to many. One of the creative forces behind so many of the superheroes and superhero teams that have been a part of our nerdy lives and fan culture conversation (along with Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and others), a pop culture figure who interacted with fans at conventions and other venues, and, in a larger sense on the pop culture stage, a reassuring voice that told us it's okay to like this stuff, and that our comic book characters and the stories they tell have real, meaningful value, beyond a few minutes or hours of entertainment. That value was especially evident in Marvel Comics' presentation of normal, later diverse, characters with identifiable lives (beyond — sometimes influenced by, and sometimes influencing — their superheroic adventures) and problems that we, as readers, can understand and have experienced. Peter Parker has to try to hold down a job outside of his costumed vigilanteism because, you know, food and shelter; and he worries about how to attract the girl he likes. The X-Men deal with discrimination, infighting, self-doubt, depression, and strained romantic relationships. Bruce Banner, in struggling to deal with the Hulk within, has to grapple with stress and emotional control, isolation, and the consequences of being persecuted and living without a home. Even the gods (and god-like alien entities) have problems in Marvel's universe. Thor has family issues, and, over the years, has made more than a few bad decisions. Galactus is alone — the sole survivor of not only his race, but his universe — and has to battle superheroes because, in order to survive, he needs to feed on the life force of planets (perfectly understandable and justified to the star titan, not so much to the inhabitants of Earth and other worlds). Thanos just wants Death to love him, and is rejected. Thus Stan's legacy of crafting characters with recognizable challenges and flaws is clearly present not just in his own creations, but in those of other Marvel writers and artists. And, beyond the empathy factor, it's this attempt to create three-dimensional characters that made Stan and Marvel's heroes — and villains — more interesting than their counterparts (at least until DC — and other publishers — started to catch on and flush-out their own characters' lives — internal and external).

Beyond the comics, cartoons and conventions, Stan was also a highly recognizable figure thanks to his media interviews and cameos in everything from Kevin Smith's Mallrats, to The Big Bang Theory, to the various Sony Marvel-related and official Marvel Universe movies. The overall impression was of a friendly, if occasionally curmudgeonly old guy. The loveable grandpa of comics. How true-to-life that was is up to those who knew him to say. But to the rest of us, it was the perfect representation of that person we'd always imagined was cobbling together the comics we loved.

Thanks for everything, Stan.

Excelsior!