Sunday, March 30, 2008

Battlestar's Sackhoff & Park Interviewed in Maclean's

Maclean’s Magazine has interviewed Katie Sackhoff (Starbuck) and Grace Park (Sharon/Athena) about the soon-to-debut Season 4 of “Battlestar Galactica”.

Read the interview on the Maclean’s site. Warning: some spoilers.

Thanks to Drakkenfyre for the heads-up!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Finalists for the 2008 Aurora Awards

The list of finalists for the 2008 Aurora Awards (Canada’s awards for SF fiction in English & French, art & fandom) was released today. Visit the Canadian SF Works Database site for the entire list. Looks like most of the stuff I nominated in the first round didn’t make it on the ballot this year.

The nominees for Best Long-Form Work in English are:
-“As Fate Decrees” by Denyse Bridger
-“New Moon’s Arms” by Nalo Hopkinson
-“The Moon Under Her Feet” by Derwin Mak
-“Rollback” by Robert J. Sawyer
-“Cry Wolf” by Edo van Belkom

The only one to make it through here from my list was Sawyer’s great book about a man given a second chance when technology restores his youth while his still-geriatric wife tries to unlock the secrets of an alien transmission.

I struck-out completely on picking the finalists for the Best Short-Form Work in English:
-“Falling” by David Clink
-“Saturn in G Minor” by Stephen Kotowych
-“Metamorphoses in Amber” by Tony Pi
-“The Dancer at the Red Door” by Douglas Smith
-“Like Water in the Desert” by Hayden Trenholm

Better luck picking them in the Best Work in English (Other) category though:
-“Polaris: A Celebration of Polar Science” edited by Julie E. Czerneda
-“Under Cover of Darkness” edited by Julie E. Czerneda & Jana Paniccia
-“Tesseracts Eleven” edited by Cory Doctorow & Holly Phillips
-“Neo-opsis” edited by Karl Johanson
-“On Spec Magazine” edited by Diane Walton

I’d given the nod to On Spec and Neo-opsis, both fine mags indeed, but the latest installment of the Tesseracts anthologies was weak at best. Not sure how that one made it on the ballot, unless people just nominated it because there was so little to nominate.

The last category where I submitted my two bits was Fan Achievement (Organizational):
-Debbie Hodgins (KAG)
-Penny Lipman (Masquerades)
-Roy Miles (IDIC)
-Joan Sherman (IDIC)
-Geoffrey Toop (DWIN)

No love here either… I’d nominated VCon 32/Canvention 27.

Oh well.

Congratulations to the nominees who did make it onto the ballot! Best of luck to all!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Lucky Bastard

One of my wife’s coworkers, who happens to be a fellow "Battlestar Galactica" fanboy, got a very nice package in the mail yesterday – a copy of the script for the Season 1 episode “33” signed by 9 of the leading cast members! Seems he has a buddy who worked on the BSG production here in Vancouver in some capacity who asked the stars to sign the script. Nice to have friends like that, huh?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Writer's Odyssey - RIP Arthur C. Clarke

News today of Sir Arthur C. Clarke’s death.

It strikes me that this is another sign that we’re in a time of transition for science fiction. 30-40 years ago, the genre saw the rise of the New Wave, where Golden Age authors like Clarke and Asimov had to share space with young radicals like Harlan Ellison. Times changed and other movements rose, some finding their stride and developing staying power, others falling quietly by the wayside. But the Golden Age authors were always there – the respected elders still telling tales by the fire who we kept returning to. Sure, younger authors came and made their mark, but even if they were silent for years at a time, veterans like Clarke always came to the forefront again when they were ready, and because they tended to be toting something worthwhile in their bag of literary tricks, they always got our attention. But, to paraphrase a line from the movie “The Longest Day”, the thing about being one of the few, is that they keep getting fewer. Today, with the passing of Clarke, science fiction has one less venerable elder around the fire, and we’re forced to realize just how few of the Golden Agers really are left. Puts me in mind of that scene aboard the White Star in “Babylon 5” at the close of the Shadow War when Sheridan muses that it feels like some of the magic has gone out of the universe, now that the First Ones are gone. Sure, as Delenn points out, it’s time for the young to make magic. But still, there’s no denying we’ve lost something valuable.

It was Clarke who formed the nucleus of hard SF in my early education in the genre as a pre-teen. As I plundered the library and bookstores for stories that illuminated big ideas, Clarke showed how they could be grounded in what was really possible without losing the sense of wonder. As an adult, reading through some of his novels or short story anthologies that I purchased years ago, I’m impressed at how Clarke’s writing has withstood the test of time. As many of us have found out, one of the painful realities of revisiting favourite authors of our youth – even some of the legends whose works hooked us on SF in the first place – is that some don’t age well. Whether we find the ideas stale in our modern world of lightspeed technological developments, or whether in maturity we realize some of the oldtimers’ writing styles were clumsy or characterizations weak, it can be hard to enjoy their stories as much now as then. Frank Herbert comes to mind as a writer who’s style tends to invoke a “meh” from me, even if his ideas remain colossal. Even the mighty Asimov, whose works I devoured voraciously throughout my teens, all too often seems somewhat drab now. But Clarke, now Clarke’s another story. I still pick up some of Clarke’s old books and thoroughly enjoy his writing, never mind the cosmic scale of his imagination. Clarke succeeds through the decades because beyond the ideas he was a good storyteller. He knew how to use the language. And while he could always hold his own, in recent years he made good showings as well in his many novels that he co-authored with other writers.

Looking back at Clarke’s gigantic body of work, I thought I’d share some of my favourites…

Of his short stories, my favorite is “Superiority”, about an alien general imprisoned by Earth recounting his species’ failed attempt at conquest. Others rounding out the top 5 are:
"The Star" (a traditional Christmas read around my house)
“The Sentinel” (naturally) – inspiration for “2001”
“Expedition to Earth”
“Second Dawn”

Turning to his novels, number one on my list is “2001” (of course), but in a very, very close second is its first sequel “2010 – Odyssey Two”. I’ll never forget Heywood Floyd’s impression of Io as the Leonov flies past, or the destruction of the Chinese expedition that puts down on Europa. Others in the top 5 include:
“The Songs of Distant Earth”
“The Ghost from the Grand Banks”
“Rendezvous with Rama”

And again, Clarke did an impressive body of collaborative work, so I’ll tip my hat to his efforts there. Probably my favourite among his co-authored works was his most recent – the “Time Odyssey” series, where he and Stephen Baxter made a radically different re-imagining of some of the ideas behind “2001”.

So long, Arthur, we’ll keep a spot open by the fire for ya.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Okay, so I forgot to wear green today, I missed the parade at Celtic Fest on the weekend (complete with a myriad of multicultural performers from around the world amidst the traditional bagpipes and fiddles and packs of wolfhounds – ah, Vancouver, jewel of the Pacific, crossroads of the world), I didn’t have time to stroll down the road to the local pub for a celebratory pint of Guiness (although I did enjoy a double-shot of Bushmills from my liquor cabinet), I haven’t had time to crack open an SF book by an Irish author, and I’m not even Irish (although, typical Canadian mutt, I do have some in me), but this being St. Patrick’s Day, I figured I’d at least do a quick blog posting to highlight it.

Because it’s late after a full day at work (and that Bushmills is ever so gently easing my already considerable weariness into the forefront) I won’t go on as long as I could about all of the great contributions the Emerald Isle has made to western folklore and culture, nor do I have time to do a full role-call of all the great authors and books and actors and films. Rather, I’ll just give the nod to one who popped up on my radar again recently when I was re-watching the animated “Beowulf’ after purchasing the DVD: Brendan Gleeson. This Dubliner has always impressed me with his strong performances in a variety of roles, from the stolid but uneasy Wiglaf in the afore-mentioned Anglo-Saxon tale, to the uber-badass Snake-Plissken-on-a-broomstick Mad Eye Moody in the “Harry Potter” films, to the weary mourning father in “The Village”, to the vicious exploitative “entertainment” promoter masquerading as a righteous defender of humanity in “A.I.”, to the smooth-talking old scoundrel/new dad/ultra traffic jam-surviving hyper-evolved cat in an episode of the new “Doctor Who”, and the list goes on. You don’t need to chase rainbows to find treasure when you can watch a performance like that.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Another Con in the Works

Looks like the organizers behind VCon, the annual Vancouver science fiction, fantasy and gaming convention, are getting the ball rolling for this year’s event. They’ve made their first update of the year on the VCon website; keep your eye out for more as preparations for the 33rd SF shindig move forward.

In other con news, I’ve been stopping by the Anticipation site every now and then to see how preparations are going for Worldcon 67 in Montreal. I didn’t have the cash to make it out to the one in Toronto years ago and my wife and I have got too much on the go this year to fly down to Denver for Denvention 3 – the 66th Worldcon, so we figured we’d definitely head to La Belle Province for the 2009 edition. We’ll probably extend the trip with a jaunt into Ontario to see friends and family afterward. So far, the Anticipation crew seems to be putting together a good lineup of guests. Just waiting to see their streams. At some point I’ll have to get around to registering before the price goes up. Mind you, it’s not the price of membership that bugs me, it’s what the price of oil/gas will do to transportation costs to get there! Oh, Doc Brown, patron saint of wacky inventions, where’s that trash-powered, flying car when I need one?!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Big Group Steals the Record for Dressing Like Robin Hood

The BBC’s got a great story about a band of merry men (and women) who invaded Nottingham last weekend, not to topple the Sheriff, but to break the world record for the most people dressed as Robin Hood. And just like England’s famous outlaw, they took the gold, setting a new world record of 1,119. That easily splits the arrow of the old record, which was 607. To qualify, participants had to meet the dress code minimum: a feathered cap, a green or brown tunic and trousers, and leather footwear. As a couple of DJ’s from a radio station here in Vancouver quipped this morning: any one of those people could probably give a better performance than Kevin Costner.

Hearing the story this morning got me to thinking about the many, many takes on the Robin Hood legend in books, film and TV. There are quite a few I enjoy, but my favourite is probably “Sherwood” and “Robin & the King” – a semi-reimagining of the tale by Parke Godwin. The worst, hands-down, was an old cartoon from the late sixties (which I saw in reruns in the 70’s as a kid) called “Rocket Robin Hood” – terrible animation and stories so boring I felt like the writers must have been hit a few too many times with a quarterstaff.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

R.I.P. Gary Gygax

There was a note on SF Signal and a couple of other sites the other day reporting that Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons had died.

For more than a few of us, D&D was a presence (sometimes near, sometimes distant but still there) in our childhoods and teen years. And there are certainly many who still enjoy the game and its various spin-offs and clones as adults.

I can remember buying some of the toys and watching the game-inspired “Dungeons & Dragons” Saturday morning cartoon back in the early 80’s. Back then, it was one of the cooler shows, what with the constant barrage of monsters and magic and weird landscapes. Later, as a pre-teen, some of the older kids introduced me and my friends to the role-playing game that started it all. Soon enough we were buying modules and strange multi-sided dice and building our own adventures once or twice a month. I remember having to explain the game to my mother when my younger brother and his friends started to play it regularly (more regularly than my friends and I had done) – some uptight members of the town’s mothers’ grapevine were trying to convince her it was a dangerous game and I had to make the case that, like any game, roleplaying was only trouble in the hands of kids who would were themselves dangerous and would be dangerous in any activity. From D&D, my friends and I went on to play the Marvel superheroes RPG for a little while in high school – usually for an hour or two after school in one of the school library’s board rooms (sometimes our girlfriends would play, other times it was just the guys). My brother and his buddies favoured the Teenage Mutant Ninja turtles and the Rifts systems. Roleplaying had more or less lost my interest by the time I went to university, but I had friends who continued to play and my brother’s group kept at it for many years.

It’s pretty impressive how one game rooted in consensual imagination could spawn into so many sub-groups, inspire copies and branch out into other media. In fact, in the age of huge MMORPG’s, it’s interesting to note that the old game, the one that started it all, is still around. Yeah, there may be more people logging on to World of Warcraft and games like it, but most colleges and universities still have gamers clubs, comic and games shops host regular games and tournaments, and nearly every SF con has a gaming room where you can still see groups of men and women tossing strange dice as they explore the depths of their imaginations.

Getting people to come together to build their imaginations and tell stories is a great legacy for Gygax to leave behind.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

A New Look for On Spec's Website

Canada’s top SF magazine, On Spec, has redesigned its website: I have to say they’ve done a fine job of it. The new design is simple and elegant and the functionality works quite well. From the looks of it, there are still a couple of pages that need the content filled-in, but that’ll happen soon enough, I assume.

I’m not sure when exactly the new design kicked-in, but I suspect it happened sometime in the last week or two. As I mentioned not too long ago, I’ve been starting to wonder when the Winter 2007 issue of On Spec will be released, so I’ve been checking the site every now and again for the past couple of weeks. When I clicked on it earlier this afternoon, I was pleasantly surprised to find the new look (as well as the cover for the Winter ’07 edition, which made me doubly happy).

My hope is that the On Spec blog will soon follow suit. Aside from the blog’s look needing to be in-line with that of the primary site, I think this is an opportunity for the gang at On Spec to take a hard look at their philosophy behind the blog. It’s got a lot of potential for good content and community-building (which, fan priorities aside, from a business perspective, feeds into subscriber loyalty and increased subscription and ad sales), but since its launch, the On Spec blog’s potential has been largely unrealized. The central problem is that they’re not adding new content anywhere near frequently enough. Months can go by between postings. In order to keep readers/community members coming back, in order to make it a top SF destination on the net, rather than a forgotten and rarely-visited waystation, the mag staff have got to start beefing-up the blog. I’m talking about regular columns by the editors or frequent contributors, I’m talking about guest editorials by some of Canada’s big name authors, I’m talking about online diaries of the staff attending cons across the country, or anecdotes from the assembly of each issue of the mag, or progress notes if the mag’s going to be late, or regular writing tips, or more book and movie reviews, or highlights from the annual Auroras, or… or… or… Well, you get the point. They could and should be doing more with the On Spec blog.

That being said, I’m betting there are probably very good reasons why we haven’t seen more from the blog. I’m guessing it’s got to do with staffing and time limitations, probably stemming from the fact that it’s a big job assembling a lineup of great stories and poems and then putting the mag itself together every quarter (never mind finding time for personal lives and possibly other careers). As a former radio newscaster who had to assemble casts, read the news on-air, get stories, and, when time permitted, update the news content on the station’s website, I’m well away that websites and blogs can come in a very distant second on the priority list. And yet, maybe that’s where the staff can tap into some of their regular contributors or reliable readers to help out. A web presence and its community-building power are integral for the success of a publication like this in our era. If the resources aren’t there in the mag’s office to supply the blog with regular fresh content, that’s where tapping the community at-large becomes a solution worth examining. I think there are probably legions of loyal readers (myself included) and contributors who’d be willing to lend a hand.

At any rate, these things can take time, and like the reader waiting for the next issue of On Spec to arrive in the mail or on the shelf of the local book store, we’ve got to be patient. I think though, that in re-imaging the On Spec website, the mag’s staff have definitely evolved in the right direction.

And the Nominees Are:

Just about the only advantage to being home this past week, too sick to go to work, has been that I’ve finally had time to give some thought to the 2007/08 Aurora Awards. The Auroras are Canada’s top awards for professional speculative fiction in English and in French, as well as artistic achievement and fan efforts.

It seems like it wasn’t too long ago that I was filing my nominations for the last round of Auroras (which were given out at VCon 32/Canvention 27 here on the Lower Mainland back in October), but the convention that will be hosting the awards this year (Keycon 25 in Winnipeg) is coming up soon.

A nice change this time around is the addition of an online nomination ballot – good to see the organizers behind an SF award finally getting around to joining the 21st Century. The balloting system lets you make three nominations per category, which makes the tough decisions easier (well, a little easier, anyway) if you’ve got a bunch of top contenders you want to put in the running.

The difficulty, admittedly, is that I haven’t read every piece of SF written by Canadians or residents of Canada this year, and because my French is somewhat rusty (the reality is we have far more use for Cantonese and Mandarin out here on the West Coast), I haven’t been keeping up with the stuff en francais that’s come out of Quebec, New Brunswick, St. Boniface or any other francophone part of the country except when it’s translated in anthologies like Tesseracts. But I think the reality is that, unless you’re a book or magazine editor, it’s pretty hard to keep on top of everything, so you read what you can when you can and make your judgments based on what you know.

Anyway, without further ado, here are my nominations for this year’s Aurora Awards:

Best Long-Form Work in English:
“From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain” by Minister Faust
“Rollback” by Robert J. Sawyer
“Axis” by Robert Charles Wilson
Edmonton’s Faust gave us hands-down the best SF book to come out of this country in 2007. It’s viciously funny while showing a knowledge and love of the superhero genre (especially for the warts on those heroic visages) and it acts as a platform for unflinching indictments of both the self-help book (or self-hurt as a friend once said)/pop-psychiatric scene and the modern political arena in North America.
Toronto’s Sawyer should be given credit for his sensitive portrayal of the lives of seniors and the complexities of relationships that change over time – and especially in this story as they’re changed by the technology of the times. Here he poses the question: what would you do if you were given a second chance?
I’ve reviewed this year’s solid showing by the other Torontonian on the slate, Wilson, so there’s no need to go into detail about “Axis” except to say that it’s a good book in the tradition of Arthur C. Clarke.

Best Long-Form Work in French:
Again, I haven’t read from this year’s francophone fare, so no nominations here.

Best Short-Form Work in English:
“Why the Poets Were Banned from the City” by Jerome Stueart (in the Spring 2007 edition of On Spec)
“The Object of Worship” by Claude Lalumiere (in the “Tesseracts 11” anthology)
“…But With a Whimper” by Greg Wilson (in the Fall 2007 edition of On Spec)
This was a really tough category to pick favourites. There were a hell of a lot of good short stories to choose from this year, many gracing the pages of On Spec (I’m still waiting for my Winter 2007 issue to be delivered, so who knows how many other options could have frustrated my selection process if it had arrived before I filled out the nomination ballot!)
Stueart’s tale illustrates the power of writing while warning about current trends in politics and society that favour pragmatism and ignorance over creativity and knowledge.
Lalumiere examines religion and relationships.
And Wilson makes a cutting display of how revenge truly is a dish best served cold.
But because the process of choosing nominees was so hard this year, I thought I’d also rattle off my list of other top contenders you should try to read if you’ve got some time:
“The Pursuer” by Scott Mackay (On Spec, Fall 2007)
“Nine Sketches in Charcoal and Blood” by Marie Brennan (On Spec, Fall 2007)
“The Laws of Motion” by Catharine Macleod (On Spec, Summer 2007)
“Manna” by Leslie Brown (On Spec, Summer 2007)
“Quiet Empire” by Michael Vance (On Spec, Summer 2007)
“Made” by Paul Hosek (On Spec, Spring 2007)

Best Short-Form Work in French:
And because the one or two stories translated from French that I’ve read this year didn’t make an impact on me, no nominations here.

Best Work in English (Other):
On Spec Magazine
“Overclocked – Stories of the Future Present” by Cory Doctorow
Neo-Opsis Magazine
This is kind of the professional catch-all category, so it’s a great chance to pay respects to On Spec, a world-class SF mag by anyone’s standards (although I wish they’d add more new content to their website on a regular basis!) showcasing the best work by Canadians and others from around the globe. And Neo-Opsis deserves to be highlighted as well for their continuously solid effort. This is also the category where I think it’s appropriate to give the nod to Doctorow’s anthology, which was pretty entertaining overall, although I’m not sure whether it counts given that the stories were available online far in advance of the book getting published.

Best Work in French (Other):
Merde. I wish I had something to say here, but I don’t. Moving right along…

Artistic Achievement:
Another category where I don’t feel qualified to make a nomination. While some of the artwork on the various mag or book covers is interesting enough, none of the pictures, by themselves, have been absorbing enough to me to really merit nominations. While I give the artists full credit for their creativity and efforts, I’m more interested in the art of the words than that of the paintbrush.

Fan Achievement (Fanzine):
I don’t have time to read fanzines (which is not to comment on their quality, I simply don’t have enough time in my day), so nothing much to say here either.

Fan Achievement (Organizational):
VCon 32/Canvention 27
Cheers to the folks who put on a good con last year. Keep ‘em coming!

Fan Achievement (Other):
I guess this would be another catch-all category where things like blogs and websites and fan groups or fan support efforts would go. It would probably be crass to nominate myself, so I can’t put down bloginhood. And there isn’t much else I can nominate either… I don’t have enough time in the day to be a part of fan groups or support efforts, and as for other websites/blogs… I certainly can’t nominate Spacecast (the site for Space, Canada’s SF TV channel) because, well, it’s pretty lame, especially since they stopped posting the text version of Hypaspace (which itself, as a weekly feature, is getting pretty tired). As for other fan sites originating here in the Great White North (doff your toques and insert cuckoo theme by the Mackenzie brothers), I haven’t stumbled across any that have grabbed my attention. Probably my fault for not looking hard enough, but it gets back to that time thing. If someone sent me a link to a good site run by fellow Canucks, I’d definitely give it a look and maybe find something to nominate next year.

So that’s my nomination ballot for the 2007/08 Aurora Awards. The organizers are accepting nominations until March 17th (unless they start extending the process ad-nauseum like they did last year), so there’ s still plenty of time for you to have your say. Visit the awards page at