Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Salvaged from the Signal: My Review of Shadows of Self

More relics from the secret vaults of SF Signal (gone, but not forgotten): this time, my review of Brandon Sanderson's Shadows of Self.

SHADOWS OF SELF by Brandon Sanderson Will Appeal to Fans of Mystery, Steampunk and Superhero Fiction
Posted on October 6, 2015 by Robin Shantz in Book Review // 0 Comments

REVIEW SUMMARY: A fast-paced mystery that shines with superheroic action and a steampunk feel, but is tarnished a little by choppiness and predictability.
MY RATING:  [5 stars]
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In the teeming industrial city of Elendel, where a some people have superpowers thanks to their control of metals, someone is trying to ignite a revolution. Former frontier lawman and steel-pushing metahuman Waxillium Ladrian steps in with his sidekicks to investigate a series of murders that seem tied to the approaching chaos, only to find that all of it may have a deeply personal connection to his past.
PROS: Rip-roaring action in a Victorian-esque urban setting with nods to the Old West — and superheroes!
CONS: The story’s transitions frequently feel choppy while the plot is somewhat predictable.
BOTTOM LINE: A fast-reading rainy-day-at-the-cottage novel that fans of mystery, superhero, and steampunk fiction might enjoy.

Somebody is going to love this novel.
Shadows of Self, Brandon Sanderson’s newest Mistborn novel, explodes out of the gate with an Old West-style firefight that’s reminiscent of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In short order, it settles into chases through a steampunky Victorian London-esque metropolis. And then things really pick up, with a murder mystery, political thriller, and race to prevent total societal collapse. If that wasn’t enough, there are also superheroes powered by metal-based magic.
The cast of characters includes troubled hero Waxillium Ladrian, a legendary lawman of the frontier, now leading the genteel life of a rich urban lord in the city of Elendel. Possessing superpowers rooted in a control of steel, Wax still gets involved in crimefighting when he’s not overseeing his business interests or preparing for his upcoming wedding. From time to time, he also talks to the god who’s currently ruling over the world of Scadrial, and that god, Harmony, occasionally talks back — or worse, sends him on a mission. There’s Wax’s sidekick, Wayne, who’s come with him to the big city, and whose abilities to blend in anywhere and gather intelligence are matched only by his talent for banter, a deft hand at mixing cocktails, and skill at rationalizing petty theft. And there’s Marasi Colms, an up-and-coming cop who’s smarter than most of her colleagues, and who uncovers crucial details of the plot while Wax is soaring over the rooftops in frequently fruitless pursuits of bad guys. The trio is also joined by MeLaan (one of the kandra: a race of angelic servants of Harmony — if angels were shapeshifters whose ability to transmogrify involved eating the bones of the dead), and sometimes by Wax’s quietly observant bride-to-be, Steris.
Shadows of Self is a book that grabs elements from different types of stories and throws them into a blender to produce something weird and new (a sort of broad, novel-wide magnification of a scene where Wayne saunters into a bar and decides everyone needs a change). There’s the above-mentioned Western homage, murder investigations that are straight out of a police procedural, and aspects of steampunk and fantasy. There’s also a flashback to Wax’s childhood that’s reminiscent of the Banks children’s visit to the Dawes, Tomes, Mousely, Grubbs Fidelity Fiduciary Bank in Disney’s Mary Poppins, with all of the looming cruelty and menace, but none of the singing. Its presentation of super-powered individuals as somewhat commonplace in this society — and specifically its depiction of most of these metahumans having to do everyday jobs to get by, rather than live the ideal as superheroes or super villains — owes a lot to the Wildcards shared world novels. In general, the book does a very good job of paying tribute to these disparate influences.
Sanderson also effectively ratchets up the tension in the story, with the ugly mood in the streets reflecting the increasing chaos in the halls of power as more of the elite are murdered. As the secretive killer taunts Wax, the characters become more on edge, feeling themselves accelerated towards the destruction of their city.
Yes, someone is going to love this book.
But not me.
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate Shadows of Self. I just didn’t particularly care about it.
Maybe it’s not fair to be introduced to a writer’s world through a book that’s the middle instalment of its series. Shadows of Self is not only the sequel to The Alloy of Law, it’s also part of a sequel series to the original Mistborn trilogy. That comes with a lot of plot- and character-related baggage. Sanderson doesn’t always assume that the reader knows everything — there are some brief explanations of various aspects of Scadrial and its history. But there are, nonetheless, plenty of points where those explanations are thin, or where the story takes it as a given that the reader will know what certain things are, such as ethnicities or bloodlines that are casually mentioned, or creatures like the koloss, or the relevance of the nightly mists. And even if one takes it for granted that a little extra work is required to make sense of it all when coming fresh into the middle of a series, it’s not unreasonable to expect that a novel should be able to hold its own as a self-contained story. Shadows of Self was a little too short on detail in too many places to accomplish that, in my estimation.
Additionally, in its quest to be fast-paced, the novel often felt choppy as it transitioned from scene to scene. There were times when it seemed as though the story was laid out more as a screenplay for a movie or TV show than as a novel, which has the luxury of more room to get into details of culture, explain the world a little better, or let an interaction between characters play out or a protagonist have a more full experience of a situation.
I also didn’t find the primary characters engaging. Sanderson includes plenty of scenes and internal monologues that show us different aspects of their personalities, but for some reason that I can’t quite put my finger on, there was nothing about any of these people that really grabbed me at an emotional level. In many respects, they seem like the types of characters you’d find in standard network TV cop shows, and since that’s well-covered ground, and because I don’t find that genre entertaining, I was indifferent to them.
I wasn’t even terribly interested in just watching the protagonists go through the motions to see how the story played out because I found the plot to be predictable. There isn’t much of a surprise to the end of the story, or to the emotional burden that Wax has to deal with, or to the fates of the other characters.

And so I find myself on the fence. While I didn’t particularly enjoy Shadows of Self, I can appreciate that it has enough of the right elements that others will enjoy it. Maybe this book deserves a steel medal, rather than gold.

Reminder: Guy Gavriel Kay Book Launch in Vancouver

Just a quick reminder to fans of Guy Gavriel Kay in the Metro Vancouver area (and Vancouver Island if you missed the event in Victoria) his local stop on his reading/launch tour for Children of Earth and Sky takes place:

(3214 West 10th Ave, Vancouver)

The event is free.

If you need to buy a copy of Children of Earth and Sky — or if you need to round-out your collection with some of his other novels — White Dwarf Books will have a sales table on-site.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Salvaged from the Signal: Recollections of Memorable Short Stories

Another piece from the archives of the dearly departed SF Signal: part of a Mind Meld.

The Mind Melds were a popular feature on the site where a question on an sf-related topic would be put to a panel of participants, with their written responses collected into a post. These would usually prompt lively discussions among other community members in the comments section, sometimes with further thoughts from the original panelists.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to contribute to a Mind Meld on memorable short stories. While I haven't included the notes from the other panelists (there were so many participants that it had to be broken up into two separate posts), here's my two bits:

MIND MELD: Memorable Short Stories to Add to Your Reading List (Part 2 of 2)
Posted on July 22, 2009 by John DeNardo in Mind Meld // 5 Comments
This week’s question is a simple one, but yielded lots of responses. We asked this week’s panelists:
Q: What are some of your favorite short stories in sf/f/h and what makes them so memorable?

Robin Shantz
Robin Shantz writes about all things SF on his site: bloginhood. He’s also a member of the editing team of the Internet Review of Science Fiction and is the author of “Passage” – the third place winner of the On Spec postcard fiction contest. When not babbling about science fiction, fantasy, etc, he works in communications for the non-profit sector in Vancouver, BC.
It’s a funny thing that my favourite short stories aren’t necessarily the ones I remember best, and those that jump immediately to mind when someone says “SF short stories” aren’t always the ones that mean the most to me. Sometimes a story will lock itself in my brain simply because of its visceral impact, or maybe because I really didn’t like it. Some just kind of hang around like old friends at a college or high school reunion – I like them well enough, even if they aren’t my favourites. As for the favourites, while some are beacons for the genre, others may just become one more tree in the forest as memories of other enjoyable reads spring up. In any case, for the purposes of this Mind Meld, here’s a selection of stories that for one reason or another were all memorable:
There’s no question that Ray Bradbury is the master of writing short stories that really hit home. There are a lot of his works that stick out in my mind, but the two that stand head and shoulders above the others are There Will Come Soft Rains and “Last Rites”. TWCSR is probably one of the best-known installments in The Martian Chronicles and is memorable for being completely emotionally devastating. The Earth is in wreckage, a family’s dog drags itself home to die alone (a scene guaranteed to bring a tear to the eye of just about anyone, especially pet owners), and after disposing of the corpse, the house itself malfunctions and is destroyed. The end of this story has literally scoured the Earth of any legacy, physical or emotional, of mankind. It makes you not only think, but feel what the ultimate price of mankind’s folly could be. Meanwhile, in his collection Quicker Than The Eye, Bradbury gives us a story full of deaths with a far different tone. “Last Rites” is a time machine story, but a very different kind of time machine story than we’re used to. The protagonist isn’t interested in launching himself forward or backward in time on a voyage of discovery; he isn’t off on a dinosaur hunt; he isn’t stacking the deck to grow his own personal fortune or create temporal commerce; he’s not even in it to alter the course of history. Rather, it’s a touching story about human connections, about a man who visits some of the greatest authors in the English language on their deathbeds to comfort them by showing them proof that their books continue to be printed and read and loved far into the future, thereby assuring them that their lives and their works have meaning. Admittedly, I may blank on the title of this story from time to time, but this gentle, good story itself is forever locked in my mind.
Arthur C. Clarke is another giant who has a lot of memorable short stories. Two of my favourites are “The Star” and “Superiority”. “The Star” stands out for being not only the story of a man struggling with his faith, but the idea perhaps a god may not be worthy of worship. It also paints a moving picture of a people making a heroic effort to be remembered, even as they face their extinction. When I first watched The Fountain a few years ago (and I was reminded of this when recently reading Pete Tzinski’s review of the movie here on SF Signal), the special effects shots of the nebula as Hugh Jackman’s character flies through it matched the image I had in my mind as I read Clarke’s description of the ship flying towards the star and the time capsule planet. “Superiority”, on the other hand, with its recounting of alien military R&D disasters amidst a war with Earth, is memorable for Clarke’s unexpected and funny finish.
Theodore Sturgeon’s “When You Care, When You Love”, about a young woman who uses her inexhaustible wealth to find any way possible to save her dying husband, is another one that really sticks out. On the surface it’s certainly love story with some charm, and yet I think it’s always stuck with me because there’s something a little unsettling about the idea of rules (in this case, even the rules of life and death) not applying to the ultra-wealthy. Sure, we see a little of this in real life: in communities where you might encounter spoiled rich kids growing up in lives free of consequence, or in the financial sector with corporate raiders and morally bankrupt execs despoiling businesses, annihilating the savings of the little guy, crippling the economy and leaving thousands without jobs, then walking away with fat bonuses and pensions. But science fiction has a way of showing us just how far this mentality could go. Sturgeon’s Sylva Wycke, though loving and benevolent, is none-the-less the literary ancestor of Asimov’s Solarians (in his Elijah Bailey Robot novels) or the Tessier-Ashpools in the Villa Straylight space station in William Gibson’s Neuromancer who are so rich and so far above the rules and challenges of the rest of humanity that they have in effect become alien. I’m no class warrior, but there’s something a little frightening about that, and it’s haunted me since the first time I read WYCWYL.
Speaking of stories that haunt, Philip K. Dick’s The Father Thing isn’t what I would call a favourite, but it’s always stood out for being very creepy. The story is about a boy who has to enlist the help of some other neighbourhood kids when he finds out that his father has been eaten and replaced by an alien android and that there are other dopplegangers being grown in the grove behind the house. In many ways, it’s the ultimate example of Dickian paranoia distilled into just over 10 pages – the question of what’s real, are people actually who they say they are or is it all a sham and are they actually out to get you? Certainly, having been published in 1954, it can be seen metaphorically as a product of its time: a typical Cold War we’re-gonna-be-subverted-and-replaced-by-reds scary tale. Looking at the kids, you can see them as an idealized America in miniature: the white kids (each from different ethnic backgrounds) working with the black kid; one representing emotion while one is brawn and one is the brains – ultimately, a coalition of different individuals contributing their unique talents to take down the enemy. You could also say that it’s a story of growing up; that as a child ages, he changes and his sense of who his parents are changes as well. He has to deal with crises himself, and, in a somewhat Oedipal kind of way (because he has to take out the Father thing, not a Mother thing), he has to overthrow the father figure. But what really works with this story is that it grabs you with the sense of deadliness and betrayal being associated with the most familiar settings and people that are supposed to be safe. The garage is where the killing is done, the stone walkway hides an alien, the grove behind the house (a bamboo grove no less, which one would think is a pretty alien thing in a typical US suburb of the 50’s and in fact harkens back to the battlefields of the Pacific in WWII and of the Korean War) isn’t a place to play because it’s full of garbage and rot and is where the dopplegangers are grown. Even the house itself isn’t safe, as the Father Thing chases the boy up to his room under the guise of going to have “a talk” with him. The fact that the aliens have replaced the father is particularly terrifying, because if you can’t trust your family, who can you trust? This taps into the primal fear all kids have of their parents being taken away from them, and the greater horror that some unfortunate children have of living with abusive parents who, to others, may appear normal on the outside, but within the home are monsters. Because it scares on so many levels, TFT is a story I won’t forget.
Another story that’s deeply unsettling, but for different reasons, is Spider Robinson’s “User Friendly”. The notion that a person can be, without warning, taken control of by alien minds who want to experience life on Earth through human senses but who have no concern at all for the human they’re occupying and no knowledge or care of how a human being can safely experience life on this world is obviously scary. What’s even worse is the thought of having to be a person watching their spouse go through this, being powerless to stop it, and being left in a position of worrying each time whether their loved one will come back alive, and if so how physically and emotionally damaged they will be.
“Outport”, by Garfield Reeves-Stevens, is a story that sticks with me both for the starkness of its landscape (or seascape, as the case may be) and the mindset of the people who are forced to survive in it by any means necessary.
Cory Doctorow’s cynical and funny The Super Man and the Bugout comes to mind anytime I watch a superhero movie or spend any time browsing in a comic book store. It’s portrayal of what a real Superman (or, in this case, Super Man) would have to go through in terms of navigating government bureaucracy and political opportunism, staying relevant if aliens eliminated crime and war, putting up with greedy landlords, and answering to a loving, if pushy old mother, and is in many ways the answer to the simplistic portrayal of costumed vigilante life served up by comics.

I’ll end on a light note with Dennis L. McKiernan’s “The Halfling House”, about a hobbit hole that travels TARDIS-like between fantasy universes, acting as a getaway resort for halflings, leprechauns, faeries and other wee folk. No deep metaphors or incisive views of humanity here, this story is just memorable for being really funny.

Salvaged from the Signal: My Review of WHERE

As I mentioned in a previous post, with SF Signal deactivating its, well, signal this month, I've decided to bring over a couple of pieces that I've written for them over the years.

The first is my review of Kit Reed's absolutely wonderful recent novel, WHERE. If you haven't read it yet, by all means, get out there and grab a copy as soon as you can. Why? Read on. Or, you know, just turn off your computer and go to your local bookstore or library and find out for yourself. Or download the e-book to your reader thingy. Just read it.

Meanwhile, I'll be re-posting other items over the next couple of days.

[BOOK REVIEW] One Question Gives Rise to a Multitude of Mysteries in Kit Reed’s WHERE
Posted on July 13, 2015 by Robin Shantz in Book Review // 0 Comments

MY RATING: [5 stars]
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: When everyone in Kraventown, South Carolina suddenly disappears in a flash of light, those left behind on the outside try to figure out where their loved ones have gone. Meanwhile, the townspeople who are missing face their own challenge of trying to come to grips with where they are.
The novel is also followed by Reed’s short story, “Military Secrets”, which uses a different perspective to meditate on the theme of how a person’s disappearance affects those left behind.
PROS: A surreal, gipping story with realistic characters, exploring the profound changes in people who have to deal with the mysterious disappearance of loved ones.
CONS: Reed occasionally employs a halting and self-interrupting style of punctuation and grammar for a couple of the characters’ internal monologues, which some readers may find to be jarring. Others who like stories which tie up everything neatly may be dissatisfied with the number of questions left unanswered.

*spoilers ahead*
For such a short word with a simple meaning, “where” can carry a surprising amount of freight. Sometimes, one can answer the question by simply pointing to a location. But often, answering “Where?” requires a lot of backstory. It gives rise to other questions, like “Who?” and “Why?”, that also have to be answered in order to give it proper context and meaning. Sometimes, as we’ve seen through history with stories about ghost ships like the Marie Celeste, the Roanoke colony, and, more recently, the Malaysian Airlines flight that went missing over the Indian Ocean, this simple question can be surprisingly difficult to answer. In her new novel, WHERE, Kit Reed does a brilliant job of exploring the effect that a mysterious disappearance of a person or people has on those left behind – as well as those who have seemingly vanished.
The story opens with architect Davy Ribault in a foul mood. A mysterious stranger, Rawson Steele, has come to Davy’s island community of Kraventown, South Carolina and has begun trying to insinuate himself into the neighbourhood, paying particular attention to Davy’s girlfriend, Merrill Poulnot. Jealous, Davy’s had an argument with Merrill, and leaves the house one morning on a bad note. Strangely, Davy allows himself to be drawn out of town by Steele on the pretext of an important meeting; Steele doesn’t show, and in the distance there’s a flash of light. When Davy tries to return home, he finds the police and National Guard have cordoned-off Kraven Island and won’t allow anyone onto it. It appears all of the townsfolk have vanished without a trace. Now Davy has to try to get onto the island without getting caught, to try to figure out what’s happened to Merrill and the others.
Meanwhile, Merrill and the others wake up to find themselves in a whitewashed replica of their town (in a scene that feels vaguely like a nod to both The Prisoner and 2001), apparently situated in some kind of desert. The unseen forces behind the community’s kidnapping only communicate by supplying news coverage of the disappearance on a giant screen in the town’s square, providing food and clothing by hidden mechanisms, or issuing orders through a sound system. As Merrill tries to figure out where they are and what’s going on, her abusive father, a former judge, begins to take steps to reclaim his control of the community. Rawson Steele also shows up again, seemingly able to come and go as he pleases, unwilling to provide any meaningful answers, and with a renewed interest in Merrill.
As we get into WHERE, it quickly becomes apparent that the story grapples with two of Reed’s favourite tropes:
The first is the notion of a familiar, banal location made surreal. We see this both in the Kraventown of the known world, and its pale replica. The quiet, unremarkable Southern bedroom community that has been Davy’s home for a few years is now walled-off from the rest of the world behind a blockade of police, Coast Guard, part-time soldiers, media, and bystanders. When he manages to sneak onto the island, Davy finds the town completely silent, with everything left exactly as it was when everyone disappeared one morning without warning in the middle of whatever they’d been doing. Where once there were many friends and acquaintances, Davy now only finds a dog; a frightened, mentally-challenged man who’s unable to provide any answers; and potentially trigger-happy police and National Guard patrols.
For Merrill, the replica might look like an all-white version of the town where she’s lived all her life, filled with the people she knows, but it’s in no way the same. Beyond the lack of colour and the uncomfortable weather, the behaviour of the townsfolk is different. With the hidden machines seeing to their basic needs, there’s nothing for them to do. With the oppressive weather, and, more importantly, the fear of the unseen forces that have kidnapped them weighing on their shoulders, they stay in their duplicate homes. On the few occasions when everyone comes out and gathers together, people who were formerly friends and neighbours quickly become irrational and violent.
The second theme common in many of Reed’s stories is the idea that it’s dangerous for an individual to be separated from family. Whether it’s a person’s biological family, a collection of friends, or an ad-hoc group that comes together during the crisis, in Where and Reed’s other tales, if a character isn’t part of a group, they’re emotionally and physically vulnerable. Having lost Merrill and his community, Davy feels guilty, frightened, and isolated. His need to find them puts him in danger when he tries to sneak back onto Kraven Island — from painful jellyfish stings, to the likelihood of being shot in his own community by the authorities. Turning his back on his friend Earl’s offer of shelter — a chance to become part of another family — costs Davy a friend and the emotional support that entails, and the opportunity to put the disappearance behind him and begin healing by starting a new life. In fact, by leaving Earl and his family, Davy himself symbolically vanishes. Ultimately, being cut-off from his friends and family for so long puts Davy at risk of being permanently separated from them, even if he finds them.
We see this with Merrill as well: she loses Davy even before the disappearance due to an argument, which precludes him from being there for her when the townsfolk are taken. She also leaves her brother behind (twice), inadvertently isolating herself. And her only dependable ally in the community is eventually lost. All of these incidents leave her isolated as Rawson Steele relentlessly pursues her.
This vulnerability is also profoundly illustrated in Merrill’s brother, Ned. At the beginning of the story, he’s already been abandoned by Merrill, who’s fled their abusive father. Consequently, as a means of effecting his own emotional escape, Ned has immersed himself in online martial arts fantasy gaming – turning to relationships with insubstantial, virtual friends who are inadequate as a family substitute because they are not, and cannot, be there for him when he’s engulfed in the real crisis of the Kraventown disappearance. Ned is therefor left feeling deeply alone and unsure of himself and the world when his online connection is cut as he and the rest of the town are taken. When Merrill abandons him again to go off with Rawson Steele – leaving Ned behind out of a legitimate concern for his safety – the effect is that he’s left alone, at the mercy of their father, and is literally swept along with the old judge’s madness.
So important in this book is the notion of being part of a group, that at every turn we see people trying to join or create families or tribes: Rawson is constantly attempting to attach himself to Merrill; Ned, in search of some sort of adult guidance, wants to tag along with Steele; the judge, feeling purposeless and depressed when alone at home, desperately and repeatedly tries to reassert his dominance in the community; and Davy briefly bonds with a dog that was left behind, as he wanders the deserted streets of Kraventown.
But, even more importantly, at the heart of this story is the notion that disappearances happen all the time. That, big or small, they change the people involved – both those who go missing, and those left behind – forever. Davy and Merrill argue and Davy walks out (a disappearance of stability and trust from their relationship), and they have to deal with the emotional consequences – and possibly the vanishing of the relationship itself. Earl’s mother has dementia, and so is lost to her son in a very real way, even though she’s still living in his house. Merrill leaves her family home for her own safety and emotional well-being, but is left with the guilt of leaving Ned behind – a disappearance that leaves Ned without a stable, caring adult influence. Likewise, Boogie, a friend of Davy’s who suffered brain damage in an accident years before, and who is the only human to have been left behind in the Kraventown disappearance, has lost the person who he used to be before the injury, along with his future, and his ability to cope with crisis. Merrill’s father, the judge, has lost his wife, his daughter, his job, and his standing in the community (and one could argue his sanity as well), and is left emotionally adrift and at the mercy of his own mad, desperate impulses to get it all back. All of these disappearances have profoundly altered these characters, even before the unknown powers descend on the town and spirit everyone away. The story also tells us that even if these missing people do come back, they are changed. This is Reed pointing out that any disappearance has consequences; that, at some point, everyone around us affected in very deep and meaningful – if quiet and unseen – ways. Where reminds us that people lose a part of themselves through these everyday disappearances, as much as they do in the big mysteries that dominate the rumour mill, media headlines, and history books.
Hand in hand with this is the theme that when people are missing, they’re still with those who’ve been left behind in a very real way. For family and friends who have lost someone suddenly and in an unexplained way, there’s the constant emotional shadow of grief and guilt to deal with, and the burden of thoughts that obsessively keep turning to the mystery of where their loved one has gone, what’s happened to them, and if things could have been changed if only someone had known something or done something differently. We see this in Davy’s frequent replaying of his last argument with Merrill before he stormed out and the town disappeared. We see him coming back again and again to his encounters with Rawson Steele. And we see him obsessing over the question of how nearly every resident in the town could just vanish. Merrill, Steele, and the others are always with him. So much so, that Davy’s incapable of accepting Earl’s offer of a new home – their emotional presence pulls him back, ultimately making him incapable of moving on.
We see this as well in Reed’s short story “Military Secrets,” which is included in the book after the conclusion of WHERE. The story is about a schoolgirl trying to come to grips with the loss of her father, a military serviceman, who’s listed as Missing In Action. To the girl, her father is in a strange in-between place, where her feelings for him, and his effect on her life are still very real, and the lack of a dead body creates the possibility that he might still be out there somehow. It’s a feeling and experience that puts a distance between the girl and her classmates and teachers, one that’s made into a physical separation when she’s taken out of school and put on a bus. And yet, it’s an experience that connects her to a different group, one who’s members are other children who share the same sense of loss-and-yet-not-loss – orphans from across time who also have fathers who have gone missing in war. This shared experience makes them more real, more immediate, and more identifiable to her than the uncomprehending and unsympathetic – and therefore somewhat alien – schoolmates and teachers she has left behind.
While Kit Reed’s WHERE may deliberately refrain from answering all of the plot-related questions it poses, it does answer its main thematic question: where do we go when someone close to us is lost, has disappeared? To a purgatory of the self where we are never the same. And as for the question of “Where are the people we have lost?”, Reed’s answer is “Right here.”

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Invaders From Planet 3 - episode 9 - Minister Faust

In this episode, we're joined by author, podcaster, and video game dialogue & plot writer Minister Faust. Minister tells us how his love of speculative fiction started with the original Star Trek series and Robert A. Heinlein's Red Planet. We also talk about Frank Herbert's Dune as one of his early influences, along with the merits and faults of the various incarnations of Dune over the years.
Also of particular interest are Minister's reflections on the significant role his mother played in his early development as a reader and a writer. How she introduced him to science fiction — and literature in general — and allowed him to read anything in the house. How she gave him a sense of the importance of having someone to talk about stories with. And how she fostered his enthusiasm for the wonder of the universe.

We'll talk about his books and how they struggle with the question of redemption and the humanity of both heroes and villains. On the subject of heroes, we'll discuss superheroes and comics, and how his novel Shrinking the Heroes (formerly known as From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain) uses the tropes of this sub-genre to grapple with the dangers of both poorly practiced psychology and the US government under the George W. Bush administration.

As we talk about superhero movies like Mystery Men and TV shows like Breaking Bad (which he contends is actually science fiction), Minister will share his thoughts on what he wants out of novels, comics, and other forms of entertainment. Our conversation will branch out into an exploration of the nature of communication and perception. And we circle back to the topic of heroes with a discussion on Canada's difficulty with heroes and mythology, nationalism versus regionalism, and the effects of our history.

Our interview took place in October 2015 via a Skype connection between Minister's headquarters at the Grand Lodge of Imhotep in Edmonton, and my location in the lair of bloginhood, located aboard a refurbished airship moored to the peak of Mt. Garibaldi.

Find out more about Minister Faust and his works at:
Be sure to listen to his podcast, MF GALAXY, on iTunes!

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

Let the invasion begin!

Friday, May 06, 2016

The End of an Era: Farewell to SF Signal

Some sad news this week: one of the brightest stars in the nerdy universe, SF Signal, is saying goodbye.

In a note posted yesterday, the site's Bagel Overlord, John DeNardo, and his partner-in-crime, JP Frantz, announced that, as of today, the 'Signal would come to an end. Maintaining the site in all its size and complexity is taking too much time — time that should be spent with their families. No-one can fault them for this decision. This can't have been an easy choice after investing more than 12 years in this grand project, but John and JP have their priorities straight and I applaud them for making their decision and for bowing-out with dignity and grace while the site is doing well. Leave on a high note and leave 'em wanting more, as they say in show business.

Apparently, the plan is to keep SF Signal online until the first week of June. That said, they're also looking into hosting options which would allow the site to remain online as an archive, which would be great, given that it's a treasure-trove of interviews, reviews, and commentary.

But in any case, the party's over, and I'm gonna miss it.

SF Signal has been important to me in a lot of ways.

Ever since the site launched, it's been a primary source of information for me for what's going on in the world of speculative fiction. My day hasn't been complete without at least a glance at the 'Signal to check out the Tidbits of news aggregated from around the geekiverse, or read a review (and consequently have my book purchases and the to-be-read pile on my shelf grow faster than it probably should), or check out a Mind Meld to see what professionals and other fans had to say about a particular genre-related subject.

And in providing all of this, John and JP have built a community. A place populated and visited by lots of really cool, interesting, intelligent, funny, and caring people from around the world and all walks of life. This is important in a way that can't be stressed enough. We're living at a time where a lot of people don't know their neighbours anymore. Where people read a lot of posts and opinions online, but don't really take the time to talk with one-another. Where it's far too easy for individuals to become isolated. And yet, SF Signal was a place where, no matter what your particular niche interest in the genre was, you could come and hang out and share your opinions with others and have discussions and be treated with respect. We nerds like to say that we've won the pop culture war, but it's still far to common for people in the mainstream culture to look down on or laugh at speculative fiction and the people who love it, and it's important for places like SF Signal to exist where nerds can come and feel comfortable talking about what we enjoy. That's not to say that things were always perfect. No community is. Sometimes there were annoyances or arguments or flat-out trolling in comment threads, but that was the exception rather than the rule. For the most part, people were reasonable and got along with one-another — some even made new friends through the site — and through it all, John and JP ran things with tact, fairness, patience, and a sense of humour. We, as members of the SF Signal community, could not have asked for better founders and leaders of this community.

SF Signal has also served as an inspiration for me. A little over 10 years ago, when I was looking for something to do, this site was one of the influences that gave me the idea to start a blog of my own. Not to do the same thing as SF Signal — that wouldn't have been right, it wouldn't have been cool, and it wouldn't have been possible — rather, to put something out there in my own voice about what I love about speculative fiction, and try to connect with other folks. In doing so, over the years I connected to SF Signal a couple of times. By setting the example of what fans can do to share their passion, these guys helped open the door to blogging, which I've found immensely entertaining and fulfilling — a door which has led to other possibilities, like podcasting, which has let me tap into my broadcasting roots, a pursuit I hadn't thought I'd be involved with again when I left it behind years ago. And so I'm grateful to the 'Signal.

I'm also grateful for the opportunity to have contributed to SF Signal occasionally over the years. Initially there were comments in discussion threads that followed articles, but then I was invited to participate in the occasional Mind Meld, and a little while ago I was invited to become one of the SF Signal Irregulars. While I confess that my posts as an Irregular were, unfortunately, irregular, I did submit a couple of book reviews, and I really appreciate being a small part of the SF Signal team.

The only thing I can fault SF Signal for is DeNardo's all-consuming and public love of bagels. Bagels, John? Really? We all know that donuts are the superior circular food. SF Signal may be coming to an end, but this is a dispute that will endure for ages. To quote Melville: " the last I grapple with thee..."

In the next little while I'll be going through the 'Signal to try to find some of my old posts there to repost on this site. I don't think there will be very many that are worth while (there never are when it comes to my blathering), but there are at least two book reviews that I can think of.

Meantime, I encourage everyone to go over to SF Signal while it's still online, and be sure to leave a note in their comments section for John and JP telling them what a great job they've done over the years.

So. The end. Everybody pictures it in a different way, and over the past day or so I've seen a few people online make allusions to different movies or pieces of music or other pop culture. For me, when I first saw the news, I kind of pictured it like the end of "Sleeping in Light," the finale of Babylon 5, with all of the Irregulars giving a sigh and crowding into the elevator for the last shuttle out; John, doing a version of Garibaldi's snatching of the shot glass, grabs a stale, half-eaten bagel from a nearby countertop and surreptitiously wolfs it down and crumples the wrapper — all sandpapery with old poppy seeds — into his pocket; JP, Straczynski-like, takes a last look around and throws the switch to shut the place down; and all of the fans watch like the crews of the Alliance ships as the old girl goes dark and a chapter of nerd life comes to a sudden close. Without the fusion reactor explosion, of course. You can't have everything.

Thank you for all of your hard work, dedication, and humour over the years, gentleman. You've made the speculative fiction community a better place, and SF Signal will be missed.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

An Upcoming Event

Some cool news to share: I've been asked to interview author Guy Gavriel Kay later this month at the Vancouver launch of his new book Children of Earth and Sky.

This is a real treat, as I'm a fan of Kay's work (and his occasional musings about Scotch on Twitter). The publisher was kind enough to send a copy of 'Children for me to read ahead of time (via White Dwarf Books, the local co-host of the event), and I've wasted no time diving into it. Two hundred sixteen pages in so far and it's superb. I'm already starting to mull over questions for the interview.

If you're on BC's Lower Mainland and you're a fan of Kay's work — or just a fan of great stories in general — be sure to come to the launch! In addition to our interview, Guy will be reading an excerpt from the novel, he'll take some questions from the audience, and he'll be signing books. If you need to add a few more of his works to your collection, White Dwarf will have a table where you'll be able to buy Kay's books.

Here are the details:

When:     Thursday, May 19 at 7:30pm
Where:    St. James Hall
                 3214 West 10th Ave, Vancouver

For more information, contact White Dwarf Books:

Not in Metro Vancouver? Here's a link to Guy's schedule of some of his upcoming launch events for Children of Earth and Sky (I'm a huge fan of the McNally Robinson store in Winnipeg's Grant Park, and I believe he's also doing a reading at Munro's Books in Victoria on the 18th — a store which I always visit when I'm on the south end of Vancouver Island.)