Friday, July 31, 2009

Something Fishy about The Shat

The Vancouver Sun is running a story today about William Shatner diving into the debate about fish farms here on the BC coast.

Who'd have known that all these years when Captain Kirk was thinking about putting on his rubbers, it was to grab his hipwaders and go fishing?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Flip Side of the Con

Interesting post-San Diego Comic-Con article by Elisabeth Rappe over on Cinematical about what it's like for a reporter/fan to attend and have to spend the entire time conducting interviews rather than doing what all the other fans get to do. Sort of a grass-is-always-greener-on-the-other-side kind of a piece.

I can empathize with her. During my days as a reporter a few years ago, I had my fair share of assignments to cover fun events (though I was never sent out to file from the floor of a con) but not get to join in the fun. Hot summer nights at the Vancouver fireworks competition spent scribbling stories on a notepad, ear pressed to the recorder looking for the perfect soundbite, watching the crowd for the next happy partier to interview for the same clips as last year (while avoiding the more hostile drunks), trying to walk out of the cellphone dead zones by the beach, and keeping an eye on the clock to be sure I filed on time for the next newscast. The same thing with chocolate fundraisers for local charities - get the interview and get out... no time to stick around and enjoy the thing for what it was. The debut of Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace was a similar occasion. After a day of covering some criminal trial in court in Nanaimo, I was sent to the other end of town to interview the fanboys who'd been camped-out in front of the local multiplex for a couple of days waiting to catch the first screening. The geek in me wanted to join them - it was, after all, the first new installment in the franchise in a long, long time (and we were blissfully unaware of the Jar Jar factor) - but duty called, and that meant getting some tape from the cavorting fanboys, who were all too eager to share their enthusiastic predictions, before moving on to the next assignment. Luckily, this time I managed to finish filing that night after the city council meeting and leave the station with enough time to get to the theatre for the last show on the opening day. There was still a good-sized crowd cued-up outside too, and it was nice to be part of that waiting-in-line-for-the-big-show vibe again.

Yeah it's cool to have the press pass sometimes, but other times, it's a lot easier and more fun just to be part of the crowd.

The Simpsons in the Hack During the Olympics

The CBC had an article today about an episode of The Simpsons in the works for February that will see Homer and Marge (along with Principal Skinner and his mother) take on the world in Olympic curling. Finally, a sport that allows Homer to drink beer and handle his rocks in public without embarassing Marge.

I haven't watched The Simpsons regularly in a couple of years because it's started to get a bit boring (hell, even the once-hilarious Hallowe'en episodes are beginning to be a bit of a yawn), but this looks like it could be worth while. (Yes, I used to curl many years ago.) We'll see how it fares next to that epic of the ice: Men With Brooms.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Top 5 SF Characters You Wouldn't Want to Sit Next to on a Plane

With Worldcon coming up, I've got travel on the brain these days. One of the most annoying ways to travel (aside maybe from extended trips on a pogo stick - not speaking from experience here, just supposing) is without a doubt aboard commercial airliners. Cramped conditions, lousy service, food that doesn't actually qualify as food, and alleged safety restrictions and procedures that are less than effective and degrading to law-abiding taxpayers - but I digress. Put all of those technical factors aside and you've still got one big problem: enduring the quirks of the other passengers. Sure, I've met some nice folks aboard planes and had the odd pleasant conversation, but those are the rarities. The most resonable hope is for is a quiet, uneventful flight surrounded by quiet, un-noticeable people. This is generally not the case. Take your pick of screaming kids, snoring sleepers, incessant complainers, seat hogs pushing into your personal space, chatty cathies who really have nothing worth-while to say, and those who are clouded by various and sundry foul odors. Your inflight neighbours can be the toughest part of the journey to deal with. As hard as it is to imagine, it could be worse. Look through the worlds of SF and you'll find a legion of individuals that would put you off air travel for the rest of your life if you had to endure their company. To that end, I've assembled a list of the Top 5 SF Characters You Wouldn't Want to Sit Next to on a Plane:

5) John Valentine - Twilight Zone: The Movie (segment #4)
To address the nitpickers first: Yes, I know The Shat played this character back when the story was done on the original Twilight Zone on TV back in the late '50s, but John Lithgow's performance in '83 was infinitely better. Now, on to the reason for this selection: You've boarded the plane, you've got your bottle of water, a snack and a book or whatever and you're settling in to endure the flight when this guy gets on and sits down next to you. Sure, he's a little edgy, but you don't think too much of it. The plane lifts off, and over the next several hours he has a complete meltdown. The twitching, the constant slamming of the window blind up and down, the gasps and shrieks - and that's all before he finds a gun and blows the glass out. That would be bad enough, but what if, during the commotion, you looked out the window and actually saw the gremlin too?

4) Vogon Captain Jeltz - The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
This guy is a problem for all kinds of reasons. First, there's his size. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not coming down on heavy folks here (I'm a trifle portly myself), but a Vogon is a whole lot bigger - it's guaranteed there'd be some spillage into your seating area. In fact, given the Vogon lack of manners, he'd probably be one of those passengers who would automatically move the seat arm up and out of the way before he sat down, just to make it easier to crowd into your seat. Then there's the bureaucratic obsession... it's likely he'd quibble about every instruction given by the air crew, make unreasonable delays when they ask him to put up his tray table, and would probably run them ragged with his own petty demands. As odd as it sounds, given his species' lack of manners, he'd probably find some way to try to score both the aisle seat and the window seat. Last, there's the poetry. After having endured unresonably high ticket prices, long lineups at the terminal and everything else associated with flying, you'd then be subjected to the agony of the worst "verse" in the 'Verse until it finally made your brain collapse.

3) Jar Jar Binks - the Star Wars prequels
I don't think I have to prove this point, do I? The only question is, why is Lucas' folly only in third place? Because the worst is yet to come...

2) Rorschach - Watchmen
He stinks, he mumbles incessantly (varying between field notes and ultra-right-wing bullshit), and then there's his obsession with justice and punishment: snore while you're napping - he's probably going to punch you in the throat; let your foot accidentally drift over into his footrest area - he might snap your ankle. You wouldn't even want to know what he'd be likely to do if he went into the washroom after you'd been sitting in there for a bit.

1) Pizza the Hut - Spaceballs
Okay, he's got his own space limo, so why would he be riding coach with you? Who knows? Who cares? Point is, you wouldn't want him to. Strange as it may sound, I'd argue that he's the worst of the lot on this list. First off, he's a cougher. You'd never get any peace and quiet and you'd probably catch some awful space bug that would demand an insanely expensive antibiotic that wasn't covered by your employer-provided health insurance in order to cure it. He's also a gangster, so there'd probably be some threats rather than a polite request if he wanted to switch seats with you, and extortion if you asked to slip past him on the way to the washroom. He's also pretty huge, so there's definitely going to be some issues with him spilling into your seat, and given that he's half man, half pizza, he would actually be spilling. Which would lead to pizza burn, which is never fun. And if you had the guts/stupidity to complain about it? It goes back to the gangster thing again: he'd flip open his phone, and then you'd be faced with the grim realization that "Pizza is gonna send out for you."

So which SF characters would you really not want to have to sit beside on a plane?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Mind Melded

Looking for some great SF stories to read? Visit SF Signal for their latest Mind Meld feature where guests (including me) recommend their favourite tales and explain what makes them so memorable.

Here's Part I of the Mind Meld
Part II

I enjoyed reading the suggestions of the other contributors even more than I had coming up with my own list (and that was pretty fun). While some of us highlighted a couple of the same stories, by and large there are a lot of unique suggestions - some well-known and others that are somewhat off the beaten path - with something for pretty much every taste in the genre.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm experiencing a Southpark - Mr Mackey flashback: "My mind to yer mind, mmmmmkaaaay?"

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Worldcon Releases Draft Programming Schedule

Woohoo! The organizers of Anticipation/Worldcon 67 have finally released their draft programming schedule!

It's a hefty 104-pager (the content of each page is presented in both English and French because Montreal is in Quebec), so it's going to take a while to thumb through it to figure out what's going on and when. Hmmmm.... I'm gazing into my crystal ball and seeing some lounging out on the patio with the programming guide and a cold one this Saturday.

The site's also posted the list of program participants and it looks like it's stacked with a lot of heavy hitters.

Two weeks and a couple of hours left until I'm off to Worldcon!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Fast Times At Hogwarts High

Warning: Spoilers
(spoilage factor: about the same as any drink that Malfoy gets his mitts on)

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is an example of how a movie can contain a lot of good scenes without actually being a very good movie.

The sixth installment in the franchise brings the boy wizard and his gang back to Hogwarts for what's supposed to be another year of schooling, but instead turns into two parts teenage angst and one part magical mayhem. There's a significant amount of tonsil hockey going on as some of our young heroes get to know their classmates better, and those who aren't in on the action are pining away on the sidelines for their unrequited loves. When they're able to pause for a breath, they find that someone's been setting deadly traps for their schoolmates, meanwhile Harry comes into possession of a Potions textbook where someone called the Half-Blood Prince wrote all of the answers, and there's an occasional attack by the badguys. And then there's some stuff about Tom Riddle/Voldemort once in a while that really isn't about He-Whose-Name-Must-Not-Be-Spoken so much as it is about Harry trying to get a teacher to reveal something about an incident with the future-dark-lord but not really getting anywhere as the teacher refuses to fess up, and those scenes felt kinda creepy, especially the way the teacher stared at Harry. Once in a while Voldemort makes an appearance as a snotty little bugger only barely restraining his viciousness in somebody's reminiscences of him as a school boy.

The problem with this movie is that there's way, way too much going on in the story to cram into a couple of hours of screen time. But the film doesn't realize this and tries to fit in all the bits it can anyway. Unsuccessfully.

This is most obvious in two plotlines that didn't get anywhere near enough screen time to properly explain them to make them worth the bother, or, most importantly, to make us care. The first was the mystery behind the so-called Half-Blood Prince mentioned in the annotated/graffitied Potions book. Harry gets the book, reads the name, basically goes "huh" and gets on with exploiting its bonus notes. Hermione, as usual, gets jealous then righteous and says "you shouldn't use that!", to which Harry more or less replies "meh" and continues. There's one, maybe two more times where they ask in an attempt at earnestness who the HBP could be, but we're never really given any scenes of Harry actually trying to find the answer. More importantly, it's never really conveyed to us why the answer matters. This leaves us in the end, when Snape spills the beans, not really caring. Oh, you just murdered Dumbledore and it's supposed to matter that you've also made some revelation about scrawling all over a book that really hasn't done much except get Harry good grades and give him a spell to shotgun Malfoy? How could we possibly care?! Dumbledore's just taken a nosedive off the top of the tower, and the rest of the movie was pretty much entirely concerned with teen love lives to a degree not seen since the Molly Ringwald films of the 80s, and somehow this book is supposed to matter?! The flick hasn't gone to the effort to show that the story hinges on this book at all! More effort was needed here, especially since the alias in the book is the title of this installment in the series.

The other plotline that was highly problematic was the childhood of Voldemort. There just wasn't enough to matter. Okay, he was a disturbing and disturbed kid. From his adult behaviour in the other films (we won't go into the books because adequate time was taken in them to make this plot line relevant) we pretty much already guessed that. These scenes were brief, nowhere near as powerful as the entire Riddle family history, and Tom's story specifically, as outlined in full in the book, and ultimately, for the purposes of this movie, were entirely pointless. There was no context (like we got in the book by seeing the family story) that gave them any meaning. Think about it, what would the structure of this film have lost if the director had removed the Riddle scenes? Nothing! We would have had a plot that looked something like this: Harry meets up with his friends and they go to school, there is snogging and pining, Malfoy behaves like a douchebag as usual, more gawky teenage love and angst, Harry and Malfoy scrap it out, insert more kissing, holidays arrive and so do the Deatheaters, back to school and back to relationship woes, Quiddich!, more snoggifying encounters, Harry and Dumbledore go looking for a horcrux and say hi to some zombies, back to school for murder most foul and some apparent betrayal, Harry resolves to go questing and kick some ass while it's implied that Ron and Hermione will engage in some practice mouth-to-mouth resusitation. See? Nothing's lost by the absence of young Master Voldemort. It's as though they panicked and said to themselves "Oh shit! We can't have a Potter movie without old snakehead in it! A scene or two of him as a kid will keep the audience happy!" (and let me add that the scenes with Hagrid felt pretty much the same). It would have certainly been a tighter film without him.

And that's fundamentally the problem with this movie: there were a lot of really well-acted, well-written and well-composed scenes (and that includes the mushy puberty love and angst scenes because they made the film very believable in the sense that its main characters were teenagers), some of them very funny or poignant, but they just didn't fit together into a well-made film. It was a great, shambling shitmix of a thing with all kinds of spare parts/scenes dragging along in its wake and sticking out in all directions. The Potter movies thusfar have done a great job of holding to the major plot points in the books they were based on, but HBP was just too big and complex to try to fit everything in. Director David Yates should have had the guts to either make some cuts to keep this thing focussed, or to have split the story into two movies the way they're going to be tackling the finale, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

I don't regret paying to see Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince on Saturday, but because I didn't really see a cohesive movie, I do wish that maybe I'd waited to see it on video.

Another Item Checked-off the Pre-Con To-Do List

I finally got around to buying my Aurora Awards Banquet ticket tonight. Although a small part of me wants to grumble about having to pay another $40 on top of what I've already shelled out in WorldCon membership fees, airline tickets, hotel costs, etc, I have to ultimately shrug and look at it in terms of "well, I've already shelled out how many bucks on con membership, airline tickets, hotel costs, etc - what's another 40 bones on top of that?" Besides, they've gotta pay for the shindig and the awards somehow, and I don't begrudge the organizers selling tickets to do that. Going to the banquet a couple of years ago when VCon hosted it in Richmond (okay, that year it was a lunch, not a supper banquet) was a nice opportunity to meet some good folks from different parts of the country. And hey, with all of my carry-on of boosting Canadian SF, I can't very well miss our national awards ceremony when I'm already flying half way across the country to be at the con, can I?

Now, if only the con organizers would get around to releasing the programming schedule so I can figure out how I'm gonna spend the rest of my time there. I want to see if I'll have a few windows to slip away from the con and do a little touring - and eating! - around Montreal.

Anyhow, next item on the pre-con checklist: head on over to White Dwarf Books to pick up some business cards or brochures to drop off at whatever table the con sets aside for promotional stuff. Sure, White Dwarf is a long, long way from La Belle Province, but there's always a chance someone looking at the table will be heading west at some point, and if I can help steer a little geek traffic towards my friends at the store, it's the least I can do to thank them for all of their hospitality.

After that, I think it's just a matter of waiting until my flight out on the 5th.

I'm starting to look forward to this geeky getaway.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Top 5 SF Road Trip Movies

First off, let me appologize for the lack of weakly lists over the past couple of weeks. I was travelling at the beginning of the month and last week I was too busy to give it enough thought. (Not that, admittedly, these lists demonstrate much in the way of thought anyway, but I try. Kind of.)

At any rate, this time out I thought I'd delve into the exploration in SF movies of that age-old summer tradition of the road trip. The signature of the road trip movie's plot is a trip (sometimes by an individual, but usually by a group - or a group that's assembled along the way) from point A to point B, usually for a fairly normal reason (to pick something up, to drop something off, to meet somebody, to get to work, etc). It's important to make the distinction though between the road trip movie and the quest movie. The quest movie is also about getting from one location to another, but it's very definitely for a higher purpose - to defeat the ultimate force of darkness (as in Frodo's trip to drop The Ring into Mt Doom in the Lord of the Rings) or to rescue an important person (like Snake Plissken going after the president in Escape from New York). The road trip doesn't have such lofty goals, at least not in the final analysis. What makes this type of film enjoyable isn't usually the otherwise banal plot of going from one place to another, rather it's the characters met on the road and the adventures that crop up along the way.

And so here are the Top 5 SF Road Trip Movies:

5) Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
The title says it all, folks: the central purpose of the entire flight that the movie follows was to drive some Klingon rustbucket home. Oh sure, along the way the gang from the recently-destroyed Enterprise travelled through time, saved an extinct species from extinction (huh?), saved the Earth, introduced the newly-regenerated Spock to profanity, and gave Kirk the chance to hook-up. Substitute the bird-of-prey for a Volkswagon, the Earth for a friend's grandmother's house, and the cetacean specialist for a sorority girl, and you'd have a disposable teen road movie.

4) 2001 - A Space Odyssey
Again, fairly simple plot here: Dave Bowman is on a long drive to get to a job and runs into some trouble along the way. You may argue that in addition to being a pilot, Dave is a scientist off to explore another world and that's far from banal. But the fact that this is his job, rather than something he was abruptly catapulted into, is what gives this journey enough semblance of normalicy that it can be classified as a road trip. The murders, the alien artifact, the trippy interstellar travel, and the apotheosis all just kinda happen along the way.

3) Star Wars - Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Okay, I know some of you have got your hackles up just having read no farther than the title of this nomination, 'cause I'm treading on holy ground here, but just bear with me. What is the first and essential task that the bulk of this movie really revolves around? The Rebel techie says it best during the retreat at Hoth: "Good luck, Luke! See you at the rendezvous point!" The same holds true for Han & Leia and the rest of the gang: the whole point of the movie is to leave Hoth and meet up with the Rebel fleet. Everything else is a distraction. Sure, Luke is secretly plotting to pay a visit to Dagobah, but that's like Fanboys where the guys make a detour just to piss off some Trekkies. Sure it's a whole adventure in itself, and Luke's training is ultimately of vital importance to the fate of the galaxy, but it's a side trip and a side trip only because he always intends to get back on track when he's done his training and meet up with his friends. The gang on the 'Falcon may have caused a sinus infection in an overgrown tube worm, and sure they dropped in to visit an old poker-buddy-turned-sellout-millionaire, but that was all just something that happened on the way to the fleet. Yeah, Han didn't make it, but that's like Curly dying on the cattle drive in City Slickers - doesn't change the purpose of the journey. The next question, of course, is why doesn't Empire rank higher on the list, given that it is such an amazingly good film? Keep reading.

2) The Muppet Movie
Talking frogs and other anthropomorphized animals, and scientists living lives of hermits in secret locations perfecting titanic growth serums are ideas that are pretty firmly within the realm of science fiction and fantasy, so let's get the debate about the appropriateness of this film for an SF list out of the way right now. Why does The Muppet Movie rate number 2 though? Because of all the films here (including those on the Honourable Mentions list to come) this one actually takes place in a car, on the road. As with Dave Bowman's trek across the solar system, the fact that Kermit is answering an ad offering to make him rich and famous is secondary to the fact what he's doing in the most fundamental sense is going for a job interview - something fairly typical. Along the way he makes some great friends, meets the rather problematic and pudgy love of his life, evades an overzealous restauranteur, and gains some insights about life. Another reason why this film ranks so high on the list is that after 30 years (and I can still vaguely remember my parents taking me to see it in the theatre) this is still a very, very entertaining story for people of all ages. Henson & co were geniuses.

1) Star Wars - Episode IV: A New Hope
The ultimate SF road movie: a teen and his friends hit the road because they have to drop something off at someone else's place. Along the way they rescue a hot (if foul-tempered) girl and save the galaxy. Now, there are some who argue that Empire is the best of the holy trilogy, and they might assert (if they're not too busy hopping up and down frothing at the mouth in rage because I've soiled The Trilogy by alleging that two of its installments are mega-scale road movies) that it should hold the number one spot, rather than ANH. But I think ANH gets first place because, firstly, it was the FIRST of the movies, and thus Empire could have been titled Yet Another Road Trip. My other reason for giving ANH the number one spot though is because it ends on a high note. Sure, bad things can happen in road trip movies, but the stories tend to resolve themselves along some kind of positive lines. Empire doesn't. Han gets freezer burn. Luke has to make a large health insurance claim. Lando gets squeezed out of his business in a hostile takeover and winds up poor and on the run. Leia loses the love of her life and has to live with the guilt of knowing that most of the time she treated him like shit. C3P0 got blown up real good. R2D2 saves the day yet again but is still generally ignored and unappreciated. And Chewie's still the dog. ANH, on the other hand (no reference intended to Luke's prosthetic-enabled condition), ends on just about as high a note as you can get: Luke's found his place in the universe, Leia is free from Imperial imprisonment, Han & Chewie (okay, probably mostly just Han) are rich, the droids are shiny, and the galaxy has been saved from the terror of the Death Star. Best of all, they have fulfilled their road trip reason for existence: they have successfully transported the goods (R2) from point A (Tatootine) to point B (the Rebel headquarters in lieu of Alderaan). What more could you ask for in a road movie?

Honourable Mentions:

The Fountain - at least 1/3 of it is a road movie (getting to that star) anyway.

Macross - forget fighting the Zentradi, it's all about driving the SDF1 home.

Fanboys - not an SF film itself, rather it's about people who love SF. Great road movie.

Red Dwarf - not a movie, but a TV show that's all about cruising across the galaxy to get home.

Doctor Who (some episodes anyway) - again, a TV show, not a movie (although some movies have been made) taking a trip from one place to another and getting into trouble along the way. The problem is there's very little emphasis on the trip and a lot on the stuff that happens along the way.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - lots of on-the-road, but only very loose direction.

belated addition:
Damnation Alley - how could I have forgot? Landmasters - the winnebagos of SF road-tripping!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Doctor Who - Dallas Mash-up

If you're hurtin' for a Who fix (and not in the Dr Seuss sense of all the Whos down in Whoville), here's just what The Doctor ordered:

A Doctor Who - Dallas mash-up on Youtube.

Had a good laugh over this one as alternated between flashbacks to the 80s (I'm ashamed to admit my parents were Dallas fans and I remember seeing some of it before giving up in disgust and going upstairs to read) and memories of the past couple of weeks where we've been doing a Doctor Who marathon in the evenings after work. The question is... who shot The Doctor? Or was that JR?

Thanks to Steve for passing this along.

And, if you're looking for more legitimate Doctor Who fare, Steve's got a review on his site of the Whovian comic Autopia. When you get into expanded universe media, there's always the risk of it being hit and miss because it's so removed from the creators of the source material (with the exception of The Ranch's tight control of all things Star Wars - which is probably a good thing). This time... well, read Steve's review for yourself.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Hidden Talent Right in Front of Our Eyes

Recently, the gang at SF Signal has been exploring a very interesting and important question in its Mind Meld feature: "What is going on right now in international sf/f that anglophone readers might be missing out on?" Writers and editors and fans from around the world have weighed-in on the subject, giving an overview of what's happening in SF in their countries/languages that English-speakers should know about, but probably don't.

It's definitely worth reading for yourself:
part I
part II
part III
(and there may be more installments coming)

As someone who loves to read, any discussion that introduces me to writers and stories I haven't previously heard of is irresistable. Even if many of the works they're referring aren't available in English, this kind of discussion can spur the movement to have them translated, either in print or online. Sure, it may not happen right away, but if the will is there, we might gradually begin to see things open up, linguistically - or at least more so than they are already. When the time comes, I might remember some of the names that have been recommended and know which avenues to follow.

One of the submissions that really stood out for me was that of Jean-Luis Trudel (in part II), who noted that here in Canada, we're in a bit of a privileged position, with strong SF communities in both English and French. Because of our official bilingualism, we're able to see a number of works originally written in French (by authors who are Quebecers, or Acadie from New Brunswick, or Francais from St Boniface in Manitoba, or people from any of our other Francophone communities) published in English magazines and anthologies (take Tesseracts Q, for example: an anthology composed entirely of stories by Quebec authors that have been translated into English). In fact, our national SF awards, the Auroras, present awards for achievements in English and in French.

But that got me thinking about what the broader Canadian population has to offer because, see, it's a myth that we're bilingual. The word implies there are only two languages here in the Great White North, which has never been the case. The infamous "Two Solitudes" may be the most vocal, but there have always been many other linguistic groups here, and some are growing larger and contributing a significant amount to our national cultural mosaic, and to the world's.

Firstly, there are, of course, the First Nations who were here thousands of years before the Europeans arrived. Theirs is an oral storytelling tradition, but Aboriginals are using every media now and using their cultural traditions and mythology to branch out into other types of tales, including SF. One example that comes immediately to mind is a comic series published by the Healthy Aboriginal Network, which started with an issue called Darkness Falls (which I discussed in a posting back in 2006). While the series is meant as a health and wellness educational tool, it is a legitimate foray into comics and is well put together. While other examples don't immediately come to mind, I have no doubt there are many other First Nations authors and artists who are contributing to the broader SF scene.

And there Canada's many, many immigrant communities whose members are adding their unique voices to SF, many writing in English. Too many to name, in fact.

But the more I thought about the question of what Anglophones are missing out on, the more I wondered about what might be happening here in our own backyard that we don't know about. The great thing about Canada is that we have a lot of people who move here and join in our wider culture, while still participating fully in their own cultures and languages. As a result, it's not unusual to hear about Canadians who were born here, but who are also part of immigrant cultures, who use their talents in other languages overseas. One rather infamous example is actor/singer Edison Chen, born in Vancouver but a star in Hong Kong film (and in his own sex tapes, as has been scrutinized by the gossip columns and the courts). I wonder if the same thing is happening right now in the world of SF (no, not sex tapes), where talent born and raised here in an English/French environment is being published in other languages in other countries? If it's not happening now, I'm certain it will happen very soon in the coming years.

The irony, of course, is that because it would be published in other languages, it's unlikely the majority of Canadian SF fans would know about it. And that's unfortunate, because we ought to take pride in the literary/cultural contributions made by all Canadians in all of the languages that we speak. And we can't do that if we don't know that it's out there.

But this is not an argument for all new Canadians to drop their mother tongues and start writing in our official languages. Far from it!

We need to look for new voices in SF with an eye for linguistic diversity beyond English and French. We have only ourselves to blame if we're missing-out on talent because it speaks other languages. Canada's SF community (our arts community in general - but let's keep to the spaced-out focus of this blog) needs to make this a part of our dialogue when we gather for conventions. We also need to exercise our power as consumers and tell publishers that we want them to translate works from other languages. As fans we can make a concerted effort to start learning other languages (or, just as importantly if you're from an immigrant community: make the effort to stay fluent in your other language or the language of your parents) so we can start exploring theese other worlds on our own. But most importantly, we have to do what our country does best: keep lines of communication open with colleagues in SF who speak other languages - both in our country and around the world. When we talk with people elsewhere who share our passion for SF, we'll hear about it when they're publishing great works by our own people and we'll be able to translate those stories, to bring them home for everyone else to enjoy.

Life Imitates Londo

I sometimes forget that because my wife is from Hong Kong, she wasn't raised with the same children's songs and nursery rhymes that I was. The other day she came home from an agency that she volunteers with where she works with children, and asked me if I'd learned "the hokey pokey" growing up. I shrugged and said "Yeah, pretty much everyone here did. It was just one of those songs from playschool and kindergarten." She said she'd never heard of it before and thought it was a weird song, especially since it wasn't really about anything.

That made me flash back to the episode of Babylon 5 when Centauri Ambassador Londo Mollari was trying to figure out the song and was becoming increasingly frustrated with its meaninglessness. For the rest of the day I felt the need to occasionally flavour conversations, regardless of subject, with lines from The Hokey Pokey delivered in my best Londo accent.

Now, if only I could get that crest going with my hair...

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Judge Yoda

Sometimes when you least expect it, lines from science fiction force their way into real life - this time into a northern Vancouver Island courtroom:

A story in the Campbell River Mirror a little while ago observed that in a Provincial Court trial back in February, the judge invoked the wisdom of Yoda when dealing with a crook. 23-year-old Justin Upton was pleading guilty to a group of charges. When the proceedings turned to the subject of Upton turning his life around for the better, Judge William Jack told him: "Don't try, just do!"

To be fair, what the Jedi Master actually said in The Empire Strikes Back was "Try not! Do or do not. There is no try." but the fact that His Honour came close is very cool.

Unfortunately, the famous words seem to have fallen on deaf ears. It wasn't long before Upton was back in court again on new charges.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

My Aurora Award Vote

I promised the other day that I'd quit procrastinating and get my Aurora Award voting out of the way. After all, I don't want to miss out on backing my favourites for Canada's SF awards. Bad enough that I wasted my chance to weigh-in on the final ballot for the Hugos by missing Friday's deadline (damn eastern time poll closures!). So, I filed my Aurora vote online tonight - well before the July 15th deadline.

Here are my choices for the 2009 Aurora Awards:

Best Long-Form Work in English
Identity Theft and Other Stories by Robert J Sawyer

Best Long-Form Work in French
-no vote-

Best Short-Form Work in English
"Ringing in the Changes in Okotoks Alberta" by Randy McCharles

Best Short-Form Work in French
-no vote-

Best Work in English (Other)
(here I exercised the preferential balloting option)
On Spec magazine - first choice
Tesseracts Twelve - second choice
Neo-opsis magazine - third choice
The Gaslight Grimoire - fourth choice

Best Work in French (Other)
-no vote-

Artistic Achievement
-no vote-

Fan Achievement (Fanzine)
-no vote-

Fan Achievement (Organizational)
-no vote-

Fan Achievement (Other)
-no vote-

To top it all off, I finally got around to booking my hotel room in Montreal for Anticipation/Worldcon (wouldn't do much good to have my con registration and the plane tickets booked without a bunk for the night!). How's that for having everything in order?

Just over one month and counting...

Part of the IRoSF Team

I've got a new side project in the works: I've recently joined the team over at the Internet Review of Science Fiction (IRoSF) as an editor.

The site is populated with thought-provoking essays on SF and its themes and tropes, as well as reviews and news. I've browsed over there from time to time in the past and will now, obviously, be spending a lot more time reading its content.

This volunteer gig is going to be a real pleasure because I'll be combining my life-long love of SF with my professional passion for editing (I'm lucky enough to have a paying day-job where a large part of my duties include writing and editing, sadly none of the content there is geekified). Bluejack and Stacey have put together a great crew of editors and I know it's going to be a lot of fun being a part of IRoSF and working to support authors in publishing their insights into the genre.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Missed It By That Much!

I should put off procrastinating for a while. It's caused me to miss the Hugo Award voting and it's my own damn fault.

Earlier this week we were on a short vacation over to Vancouver Island. Gave me a chance on the ferry rides over and back to catch up on my Hugo nomination package reading to the point where I was able to make an informed vote. I knew in the back of my mind that I had until midnight Friday to cast my ballot and even though we were being fairly leisurely about our return, making a few stops on the way back down the Island, I figured I'd have a couple of hours once we got home to exercise my Worldcon membership right. So we finally drove The Ol' Porkchop Express onto the scow, made the 2 hour crossing from Nanaimo to Tsawwassen, picked up some take-out from a favourite Chinese diner and got home and ate, spent some quality time with the cat, and unpacked.

By the time I made it to the computer, it was 10:00pm. No problem, right? Wrong. I pulled up the Hugo voting site and found a message saying voting was closed. It had ended at 11:59 Eastern. Dammit!

No one to blame but myself though. I could have read the nomination package a couple of months ago, and then I would have been able to get voting out of the way. But there were other books and short stories that caught my eye. Always figured I'd have enough time. I should have known better. Woulda, shoulda, coulda. Shit. Where's that Delorean time machine when I need it?

Ah well, at least the voting period is still open for the Auroras. The deadline is July 15th. I'll try to take care of my voting tomorrow evening, but at the very least I'll get it out of the way by the end of the week. I'll post my choices after I've voted.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Notes from the Road

We've been out of town for a couple of days for a short holiday on
Vancouver Island.

Spent the Canada Day holiday (142 years old and still lookin' great!)
in Victoria yesterday. While moseying through the street party we came
across a busker dressed as Darth Vader and playing the violin (see
yesterday's photo post - I tried to include a note but only the pic
went through). Couldn't resist taking a picture with him. He played a
mean fiddle too - even sawed out the Imperial March. Problem was, that
Dark Lord of the Sith was no match for the heatwave we've been having
and had to unmask himself from time to time.

I also had a chance to duck into Munro's Books (great independant
store, if you're ever in the area - I always try to pay a visit
whenever I'm in Victoria) and picked up a copy of Matt Ruff's The
Public Works Trilogy and Ann and Jeff Vandermeer's anthology Steampunk.

Today we headed up-Island to spend a little time in the Comox Valley.
After a great hike in Nymph Falls regional park, I went back into
Courtenay and scored a copy of The Best of John W Campbell from the
local comic and used book shop, Inner Sanctum. Best part of all, it
was only a buck 30. That shouldn't be a big deal, but back in
Vancouver, the markup at used book stores is huge (presumably because
of higher overhead) - you'd never find a book, even though it was
previously owned, a bit battered, and more than 30 years old, for
anywhere near that little.

All in all, a good trip so far, but it'll be nice to head home tomorrow.

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