Sunday, December 31, 2017

Invaders From Planet 3 - Ep 19 - Spider Robinson

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

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

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

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

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

Find out more about Spider Robinson on his website:

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

Let the invasion begin!

Monday, December 25, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now for the breakdown. Here's the good:

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

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

Among my favourites from the story lineup:

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

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

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

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

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

The down side:

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Invaders From Planet 3 - Ep 18 - John Jantunen

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Invaders From Planet 3 - Ep 17 - Alyx Dellamonica

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

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

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

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

Find out more about Alyx Dellamonica on her website:

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!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Goodbye and Thank You, Kit Reed

Sometimes life pounces on you like an automatic tiger.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, Kit.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Invaders From Planet 3 - Ep 16 - Kelly Robson

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

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

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

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

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

Find out more about Kelly Robson on her website:

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!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Farewell to Brian Aldiss

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Invaders From Planet 3 - Ep 15 - David Nickle

Author and editor David Nickle joins us for this episode. He tells us about works of speculative fiction that influenced him early on, including the TV series Lost in Space (and what it has in common with Larry Niven's Ringworld), Lester del Rey's novel The Runaway Robot, and the stories of Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Shirley Jackson, Harlan Ellison, and Stephen King. On the subject of enjoying King, David talks about how he and his wife, author and editor Madeline Ashby, read a chapter of Salem's Lot out loud every night before bed. But also in our discussion of the giants of the genre, he also explains why Robert A. Heinlein isn't among his favourites.

On the subject of being an author, David recounts the tale of his first stab at writing: dictating Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons fanfic to his mother for transcription when he was four. He talks about how being a journalist has helped his writing. And David shares his thoughts on whether national identity plays a role in writing Canadian sf these days. He also discusses the challenges he and Ashby faced as co-editors wrangling the legal ins-and-outs of the anthology License Expired: The Unauthorized James Bond, which was released only in Canada due to copyright laws.

And David tells us about his new book, VOLK: A Novel of Radiant Abomination.

Our interview took place in December 2016 via a Skype connection between David's home in Toronto and my studio in the Lair of bloginhood, located in a bunker beneath a picnic table at Long Beach near Tofino.

Find out more about David Nickle on his website: (a.k.a The Devil's Exercise Yard)

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!

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Winners of the Dark Tower Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the Dark Tower Giveaway, Geordie Howe and Carol Williams!

Carol and Geordie have each won a copy of Stephen King's The Gunslinger (the first book in his The Dark Tower series), courtesy of Simon & Schuster Canada.


Monday, July 31, 2017

Dark Tower Giveaway

The Dark Tower, starring Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, is set to hit the silver screen in just a few days.

Stephen King fans will no doubt be paying close attention to how well the movie honours the series of books that inspired it.

To celebrate the film's upcoming release, Simon & Schuster Canada is giving away two copies of the first novel in the series, The Gunslinger!

The best part is you don't have to be a gunslinger or set out on a perilous quest to get one — just email me at:

Include "Dark Tower giveaway" in the subject line, and your mailing address in the body of the text.

On Tuesday, August 8, I'll pick two winners from among everyone who's emailed in, and make the announcement here on

Friday, July 14, 2017

Ep 14 - Silvia Moreno-Garcia

In this episode, we're joined by author and editor Silvia Moreno-Garcia. She tells us how HP Lovecraft and Peter S Beagle were among the English language authors who made an early impression on her. Silvia then goes on to discuss what it was like coming back to Lovecraft while doing thesis work, analyzing the attitudes towards race and sex in his stories, and how some of her own works have responded to him. She also shares the importance of Silvina Ocampo, one of the few female authors writing magic realism in Spanish during the 1950s.

We also talk about Silvia's experience with overlapping cultures — growing up in Mexico while also being exposed to American culture, then moving to Canada — and how this has influenced her writing, as demonstrated in her luchador superhero short story "Iron Justice versus the Fiends of Evil" (from the Masked Mosaic anthology). This leads us into a discussion about the phenomenon of Latin American speculative fiction authors getting recognition in their home countries only after moving overseas and writing in English. And she tells us what needs to happen for Latin American countries and Spain need to build their own strong, local speculative fiction communities.

Silvia also teases her upcoming novel, The Beautiful Ones (set for release in October, 2017).

Our interview took place in October 2016 at VCon 41 in Surrey, BC.

Find out more about Silvia Moreno-Garcia on her website:

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!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Stephen Furst Passes Beyond the Rim

Some sad news out of Hollywood this weekend: actor Stephen Furst has died at age 63.

My first memory of him onscreen was when I was a kid watching rented movies on VHS that I was probably too young to be watching, and Furst, playing Kent "Flounder" Dorfman, came rolling happily down the sidewalk at Faber College in Animal House, looking for a fraternity where he'd be accepted.

When you think of Animal House, mostly it's the larger-than-life characters like Bluto or Boon or Otter who push their way to forefront of your memory, but without Flounder and his buddy, Pinto, the movie doesn't happen. They're our window into the staggeringly drunken world of Delta house, and our avatars within it. And Furst gave a wonderful performance as Flounder. His reaction to the horse's heart attack is priceless. His deliciously innocent "Hello!" when the dean rattles-off his name in preparation for his dressing-down is perhaps the best moment of the scene where the boys are expelled. And while it's not the flashiest character wrap during the riot at the end of the movie (it would be hard to top Bluto's lecherous pirate diving from the rooftops to make off with the sorority girl, or DDay's war cry of "Ramming speed!" as the Deathmobile charges towards the grandstands), his ecstatic, cathartic jump for joy when Niedermeyer is bulldozed off by a runaway float is certainly the most satisfying moment of Animal House, and never fails to bring a smile to my face when I rewatch it.

Around the same time, I also enjoyed him on St Elsewhere, though my memories of the series are pretty fuzzy at this point.

But Stephen Furst's best role — by far — was as diplomatic assistant (later consul, still later conspirator and assassin, even still later ambassador, and much later emperor) Vir Cotto on the television masterpiece Babylon 5.

Amidst all the legendary captains, the ambassadors navigating conspiracies, the tough cops, dedicated doctors, armies of light and soldiers of darkness, Vir was just a normal guy. He was a quiet, likeable, straightforward, intelligent, moral, chubby little guy working hard at an unappreciated (and often undignified) job; a minor member of a minor house on Centauri Prime who just wanted a stable career and (somewhat unusually for his people) a wife who he could love and who might hopefully love him back. While all of the larger characters in the series were well-rounded and believable, it was Vir's ordinariness that made him most identifiable for the audience (at least, as identifiable as an alien character with some truly funky hair can really be).

And Furst played him perfectly. Absolutely, credit is due to Straczynski and the other writers who created him, and to the series directors (and Furst was one of them, from time to time), but Furst was the one who brought Vir to life and made him believable. In so doing, he made Vir stand out as vitally important to the show's overall story.

There are so many Vir moments that are memorable, but in my opinion, these five are the most significant:

"In the Shadow of Z'ha'dum" season 2, episode 16: Naturally we have to mention Vir's famous response to Mr Morden's question "What do you want?" Sure, Sheridan may have blown Morden up (mostly), and Londo had him tortured and beheaded, but Vir — the little guy with no real power — stood his moral ground when confronted with a clearly powerful and dangerous opponent, and with his "... some favours come with too high a price..." response told the Shadow agent that he saw right through his game, he wanted his head on a pike, and showed him exactly how he'd wave at that head when the time came. There are so many ways that scene could have been played wrong, but Furst danced through it perfectly.

"The Long Night" season 4, episode 5: Vir may be remembered in this episode for killing the mad emperor, Cartagia, but Furst's performance really stands out later when the attache/conspirator/assassin, drunk on liquor but in truth hammered by guilt, pours out his emotional agony over the murder to Londo. Sure, Cartagia deserved to die, and it was necessary to save the Centauri people, but it was a killing none-the-less — moreover, Vir's first killing —and Vir would have to live with it. In a series where killing, whether in battle or by murder, is almost a daily occurrence, Furst's believable portrayal of Vir's struggle shows us the truth that there's usually a high emotional price for taking a life.

"Sleeping in Light" season 5, episode 22: In a smaller, quieter moment in this quiet goodnight to the series, Vir tells the story of how he and Londo once heard the Pak'Mara singing. Furst delivers it with just the right amount of wonder and wistfulness that in many ways captures the heart of Babylon 5.

"Comes the Inquisitor" season 2, episode 21: One of the most powerful moments of the entire series: Vir, riding alone in an elevator with G'Kar, attempts to apologize for the wholesale slaughter of Narns during the Centauri bombing of Narn. G'Kar rounds on Vir, slashes his own hand with a knife, and for every drop of blood pronounces "Dead.", then asks the Centauri attache how he can apologize to the dead Narns. When Vir says he can't, G'Kar flatly decrees that he can then never forgive. The blood dripping litany of death stretches uncomfortably long, and part of what makes it uncomfortable is Furst's masterful look of pure shock, horror, and defeat.

"Sic Transit Vir" season 3, episode 12: For all of these moments of drama, we can't forget that Vir was frequently a character of comic relief in the series. And so, because Stephen Furst's family has indicated in their announcement of his passing that the actor would want to be remembered for making people laugh, it's most appropriate to end on a funny note. In this episode, Vir, having just discovered he's engaged to be married, and having no idea what to do with his all-too-eager fiance who's just arrived on the station, goes to Ivanova for advice on how to please a woman in bed. It's the single funniest moment in the entirety of Babylon 5 and its sequels, and one of the funniest moments of any science fiction TV series. I give you "we have six":

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Invaders From Planet 3 - Ep 13 - Matt Ruff

Author Matt Ruff joins us in this episode, where he talks about how books like Bertrand R. Brinley's The Mad Scientists' Club made him fall in love with scientific thinking and science fictional ideas. He also tells us how being given a box of Robert A. Heinlein's adult books at the age of 9 got him thinking critically about stories, and how they could be written better. And he discusses other influences over the years, such as Stephen King, John Crowley's Little, Big, Neal Stephenson, and William Gibson.

Matt shares his thoughts on writing, including how to know when something is written well, crafting stories that are in conversation with the works of other authors, and why he doesn't like to go back over the same ground. We also talk about a trope he frequently explores in his stories: the challenges of dealing with power — getting on in a world where power imbalances exist.

This leads us into a discussion about Matt's latest work: his mosaic novel Lovecraft Country, about an African-American family in the 1950s dealing with the supernatural machinations of a Lovecraftian cult, as well as the day-to-day horrors of racism in the U.S. Matt talks about confronting the racism and sexism in Lovecraft's work. He also shares this thoughts about the importance of doing a good job on the writing, and of finding common ground, as a white author writing about African-Americans. And we talk about last week's announcement that Jordan Peele, Misha Green, and J.J. Abrams will be producing a Lovecraft Country series for HBO, and how he's okay with adaptations and letting TV writers play with his ideas.

Our interview took place in May 2017 at Matt's home in Seattle.

Find out more about Matt Ruff on his website:

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!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Invaders From Planet 3 - Ep 12 - Robert Charles Wilson

In this episode, we're joined by author Robert Charles Wilson, who tells us about how he fell in love with speculative fiction — including stories such as Louis Slobodkin's The Space Ship Under the Apple Tree, the Mushroom Planet books by Eleanor Cameron, and Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time —  as soon as he learned to read. We'll learn how sf's juxtaposition of the ordinary with the extraordinary fascinated him, and how exploring the genre and its ideas was a reaction to growing up in an incurious family.

Bob also talks about how he became a writer, and overcoming his anxiety about his work — an anxiety that gave him nightmares. We'll discuss some of the tropes frequently addressed in his stories, including unfathomable cosmic forces and how humanity deals with them, and how he'll sometimes examine them from different perspectives across several unrelated novels. We'll also talk about the presence of characters in his books who are on the autism spectrum.

And we'll hear about some of the stories he's developing (including his novel Last Year, which was released in December 2016, a couple of months after our interview).

Our interview took place in September 2016 near Bob's home in the Greater Toronto Area.

Find out more about Robert Charles Wilson and his books on his website:

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, April 21, 2017

Invaders From Planet 3 - Ep 11 - Sebastien de Castell

Sebastien de Castell, author of the Greatcoats fantasy series, joins us in this episode. We talk about how his love of fantasy started with CS Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and the importance of the story to him at a time when he was dealing with one of the toughest experiences a child can face. As well, he shares his thoughts about fantasy's role in highlighting the wonder of the real world, rather than just being a means of escape.

Sebastien then discusses how a rainy camping trip with a copy of Keith Taylor's Bard ultimately inspired his career path: music, swordplay, and storytelling. We explore how his writing has been shaped by what he's learned as a musician. As someone who's coordinated sword fighting scenes for stage productions, he also talks about how technique with a blade is often less important to writing a fight scene than the other experiences one has during a duel.

He explains the benefits of having a good working relationship with his editor, and having beta readers who will help him hash-out a story. Sebastien also talks about the challenges of transitioning from writing one book to another, and of shifting gears when he has multiple stories on the go at once (at the time of our conversation, he was working on three books simultaneously: the upcoming Greatcoats instalment Tyrant's Throne, the also soon-to-be-released Spellslinger, and a third book that's in development).

We talk about the problems that arise when people try impose a personal frame on art. This leads to a discussion about the 2016 Hugo Awards controversy.

Our interview took place in June 2016 at Sebastien's home in Vancouver, BC.

Find out more about Sebastien de Castell and his works at:

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!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Podcast Playlist - What I'm Listening to

Season 2 of the Invaders From Planet 3 podcast has just launched! Keep your eyes — and ears — on over the next couple of weeks for a new group of interviews with authors and editors from every corner of speculative fiction. There's also a "Voice of the Fans" episode.

Since podcasts are top-of-mind for me right now, I thought I'd share a list of the shows I enjoy. I've grouped them into five broad categories: Speculative Fiction, History, Science, Comedy, and The Dearly Departed (for shows which have wrapped up, but which are certainly worth listening to if you can still find them).

They vary in length. Some are host-only, while others are interviews or panel discussions. And, as a warning for those with sensitive ears or kids in the room, some contain explicit language or disturbing material.

Each has its own strength or set of strengths: most of the hosts are pretty engaging; some hosts have a solid, professional sound; some shows have fascinating guests, and some of the hosts are good interviewers; some 'casts are really well researched; some have great production.

By the same token, none of them is perfect (but who is?). I won't get into my critiques of each show because everyone's tastes are different, and what sticks out to one listener may not be an issue for another. Decide for yourself what you like.

Whether you need something to listen to on your daily commute, or while you're reorganizing your bookshelf, making supper, cleaning the garage, or working out (well, you might need something to listen to while working out, but, as somebody who legendarily avoids the gym at all costs, and has been known to taunt people with ice cream bars while they work out, I won't be needing any audio for exercise purposes), each of these podcasts is worth downloading. I get them off of iTunes myself, but some have their own websites, and you may be able to find them on other podcasting platforms. I've linked their titles to their websites where possible, and their iTunes pages otherwise. If you like them as much as I do, be sure to rate and review them on iTunes or whatever site is applicable. Enjoy!

Speculative Fiction

Three Hoarsemen
Once upon a time, there were three members of the SF Signal Irregulars who started a podcast. Their knowledge of speculative fiction was vast and deep. They were like the Great Old Ones of fandom, except, rather than being a menace to the universe, they were only a threat to the bookshelves of other fans when they expounded upon the thousands of books and comics both new and old that you should be reading. For a while, Jeff Patterson, John H. Stevens and Fred Kiesche were content to write reviews and comments for the late, lamented SF Signal site, and later appeared as occasional panelists on the similarly late, lamented SF Signal Podcast. Frequently crotchety, always insightful and entertaining, they were, singly or together, many times the highlight of the show. And then they launched their own monthly podcast. In each episode, the Three Hoarsemen (sometimes accompanied by guests) discuss a particular book, the works of individual authors, issues in the genre, or other topics, and then opine about the novels, short stories, comics, movies, TV shows, and other culture they've consumed since their last show. Rarely is there an episode where I don't finish without adding a book or three to my to-buy list. But they've also been a good early warning system that's kept me  away from stuff that maybe wasn't worth while. Episodes are usually in the ballpark of an hour, but can vary.

The Coode Street Podcast
Long-running and lively, the weekly Coode Street Podcast features critic Gary Wolfe and anthologist/editor Jonathan Strahan hurtling between discussions and debates about books and short stories, authors, awards, trends in writing, and issues facing the field of science fiction and fantasy and its fandom as a whole. The show frequently features guests, some of whom are authors interviewed about their own work, others there to discuss awards or issues the genre community is wrestling with. Episodes are generally longer than an hour, but with the brisk pace set by the hosts (even during prolonged and intense discussions about a particular topic) it certainly doesn't feel like it.

MF Galaxy
This show is about more than just speculative fiction — it's a catchall of interviews with writers and others about writing, pop culture, politics, history, and Afrocentric issues. But, because my main area of interest in the show is the interviews with sf authors and discussions about books, movies, comics and TV (although I do listen to the other episodes), I'm including it in the speculative fiction category of podcasts. It's hosted by author Minister Faust (whose books I've enjoyed for years, and who was a guest on my own show last season), who is insightful, funny, passionate about his subject matter, and has a good, professional on-air delivery. The podcast features new interviews, as well as archival material gathered over the years. It also has a nice, well-produced sound. Episodes generally run about a half-hour, though longer versions are available for show supporters.

The Black Tapes
A radioplay about a young journalist who, in the course of profiling a crotchety paranormal investigator, uncovers a cult's attempts to bring demons into the world, The Black Tapes podcast feels like the lovechild of The Paper and Poltergeist, midwifed by The X-Files. I first heard about the show when it was mentioned by a guest on The Nerdist podcast, not too long after the first few episodes of BT were posted online. It only took one episode to get me hooked, and pretty soon I'd made my wife into a fan. The show has a wonderfully creepy, claustrophobic, something's-standing-over-your-bed-leaning-right-into-your-face-while-you-sleep feel to it, good character development, and a nice, tight plot. While I might occasionally quibble about the ethics or likelihood of the protagonist's journalistic practices (yes, I know I said at the outset that I wasn't going to detail the weaknesses of each show, and yeah, I may have hung up my Electro-Voice 635 mic a few years ago, but I can never entirely stop thinking like a reporter), overall it's a good tale about how one story can lead to another, and how sometimes a story can threaten to consume the investigator. Definitely one of those shows that will have you eagerly waiting for each new season. Episodes are usually in the range of half-an-hour.

Myths and Legends
As the name implies, this show is devoted to retelling old (and sometimes not so old) myths and legends from around the world. That said, the host, Jason, makes a bit of a change and retells them in a modern style — which is the right choice, to my mind, in that it creates a consistent sound and feel from story to story, as well as a rhythm that lends itself well to the occasional editorial interruption. Rather than break the flow of the story, these comments serve to engage modern audiences and let us know that we're all interpreting the story the same way. If the host didn't interrupt the story from time to time to call characters — or the narrative itself — out for things that we of the 21st Century would deem odd or inappropriate, then the risk would be that the modern audience might become alienated by outdated values or ways of looking at the world. Something I also appreciate is that the host makes a point of noting when there are multiple versions of a story (or of a particular plot point within a story), and then explains his rationale for choosing one over the other, or for taking bits from several to synthesize a compromise version that sounds good and is consistent with the rest of the story. It's also interesting to hear about the origins of legends and fairy tales, especially when it's revealed that some come from different place than you'd expect. Each episode also ends with the "creature of the week", a short segment (unrelated to the main myth or legend) profiling critters from folklore from around the world. Overall, the show is well-written and produced, and the host has a good read and seems like a nice guy. Episodes usually run half-an-hour to 45 minutes.

Welcome to Night Vale
Imagine listening to a local radio news broadcast in a community in the US where pretty much everything from every episode of The Twilight Zone and all of the horrific supernatural strangeness from the depths of Lovecraft's mind happens all the time. In fact, weird things like the Sheriff's Secret Police, or the Dog Park with its menacing figures that no-one is allowed to talk about, hostile subterranean cities beneath the bowling alley, or faceless old women living in everyone's homes are so commonplace that the inhabitants take them for granted — or, in some cases, fervently embrace them because this is the only life they've ever known. That's the fictional town of Night Vale, and listeners become a part of it every time they tune in to anchorman Cecil's rundown of local news, sports, weather (which isn't a weather forecast, rather it's a slot where the show cuts to a song from a different musician each episode), gossip, community calendar listings — and sometimes events from his personal life. The podcast is brilliant for being so wildly imaginative, and for its total commitment to the world it has built, where Cecil delivers descriptions of all manner of unsettling creepiness in such a matter-of-fact — and sometimes giddy — way. Even the life-lessons that are occasionally given out (either in the podcast or on its Twitter feed) are framed in a way that's only appropriate for life in Night Vale ("Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but at other times it's a venomous snake painted as a cigar in an attempt to assassinate you."). Part of the genius of the show is the way in which the horror of Night Vale's world is completely undercut by the cheesiness of Cecil's earnest delivery of his newscast. It's also fun listening for old cliches from our world given a completely different, and frequently icky, twist for the show. The other thing I enjoy is how much (paranormal facts of life aside) Cecil's broadcast sounds like newscasts or DJ breaks at some small town radio stations I've known over the years. The ones where the community world-view is very insular, the station's focus is narrow, and the on-air talent is more eager than talented. I listen to Cecil and his forced, overblown delivery, or his gushing about his personal life, and I think "I knew guys like this when I worked in radio!" — broadcasters who weren't the best newspeople or jocks (broadcaster slang for DJs, not sports guys) in the business (some probably shouldn't have been on-air at all), but who were so committed, so gung-ho, and who loved their stations and their towns so much that they'd become fixtures in the community, and everyone in town loved them right back. Not much room left for personalities like that in these days of media contraction. Episodes are just shy of half-an-hour, and the producers take the show on the road around the world every now and again.

This weekly audio magazine has been around for years, and has built a solid reputation in the sf community. The podcast features narrators reading the short stories of various authors (usually one story per show), as well as other tidbits from the sf community, including occasional interviews. The host, Tony C Smith, is enormously and genuinely enthusiastic about whatever topic is at hand, and seems like someone you'd like to hang out with. The narrators do a solid job reading the short stories. Episodes can range anywhere from half-an-hour to upwards of two hours, though most are in the neighbourhood of one hour.



Emperors of Rome
The premise of this podcast is, as the title implies, fairly straightforward: each episode profiles a different Roman emperor in chronological order. The lineup is frequently interspersed with episodes about other luminaries of the ancient world, such as pre-Imperial rulers, generals, poets, senators, the wives and consorts of the emperors, and others. The format is a conversation-style interview between host Matt Smith (no, no the 11th Doctor) and a professional historian, which, for most episodes to date, has been Dr. Rhiannon Evans. Smith and Evans both sound personable, and they have a good on-air dynamic with each other which makes the show easy to listen to, while being very informative. The biographies in each of the biweekly episodes are well researched, and the hosts are good about naming the sources for various claims about the personalities or deeds of whichever historical figure is being covered. Production on the show is also good. If you found yourself missing The History of Rome podcast, then Emperors of Rome is for you. Episodes are usually in the range of half-an-hour long.

The Irish History Podcast
Covering different events and figures throughout Irish history, this podcast is broken up into several miniseries, each of which goes in-depth over multiple episodes to explore every facet of its topic. Because of the miniseries format, the show jumps around in time: from the medieval Norman invasion, to the rise of the labour movement in the 19th and 20th Centuries, to the Black Death, to the Troubles, and more. And yet, despite going forwards and backwards through history, the show maintains a consistent feel and a comfortable rhythm. Rather than being locked into a chronology, it's like browsing through the shelves of a library and stopping here and there to pick topics of interest. Host Fin Dwyer, an archaeologist by trade, does an excellent job of researching his topics, and has a solid, friendly delivery. The show runs weekly and episodes are normally in the rang of half-an-hour.

The British History Podcast
Starting in prehistoric times and moving forward chronologically, this series profiles the major events and people in British history. Host Jamie Jeffers and his producer, Dr. Zee, do a great job of researching topics and historical figures for the show, and occasionally include interviews with experts on British history and archaeology. They also do a good job of identifying grey areas where different sources have different things to say about an event or a person — or when sources have nothing to say about something important that happened — and Jamie explains his rationale for going with one account over another. Jamie has a good delivery, and his personality comes through in his writing. One thing to keep in mind: if you're looking for a complete overview of what's happening across all of Britain in a given year, decade, or era, the focus of the show narrows considerably by the Medieval period — it's only a podcast about all of Britain until the Jutes, Angles, and Saxons arrive; after that it becomes almost exclusively about England. I gather from passing references that there's members-only content that pertains to Scotland and Wales, but you won't hear about those countries much on the main, free podcast. At least not at the point where the show is as I write this blurb, which is the time of Alfred the Great — though, as I write this, the most recent episodes have taken a detour into Wales by way of introducing us to the Welsh priest and scholar Asser, who was coveted by Alfred, and some of the fighting involving the Sons of Rhodri, which seems to have had some entanglement with English politics as well. Perhaps Scotland and Wales will be brought back into the show on a more regular basis at a later date. I certainly hope so. That said, it's a good podcast, and I certainly encourage anyone with an interest in English or British history to give it a listen. Episodes air weekly and run about half-an-hour.

History of Germany Podcast
Available for listening in both English and German, the History of Germany Podcast outlines the history of the region influenced by German language and culture chronologically (mostly) from ancient times to the present. The show occasionally makes detours when guests are brought in (usually as part of a crossover involving different podcasts) to talk about other subjects related to events in the main timeline (like a recent episode about power struggles between Holy Roman emperors and the papacy). Host Travis Dow does a good job of researching his topics, and you can tell he's hugely enthusiastic about his subject matter. The show is also well produced. Episodes are usually biweekly to monthly, and generally half-an-hour to an hour in length.

The History of the Crusades
Ah, the Middle Ages: knights in shining armour; high-stakes backroom politics pitting kings, nobles religious leaders, and peasants each other; land grabs spanning countries, regions, and even continents; and the wholesale, stomach-turning butchery of human lives and wanton destruction of property (committed by all sides) that was the Crusades. I started listening to Sharyn Eastaugh's podcast a couple of years ago when she was doing her first series on the various Crusades in the Middle East, and was thoroughly impressed by the amount of detail she put into researching the blow-by-blow events for every show, especially her use (and citing) of multiple sources from different perspectives. I thought the podcast had wrapped up when that series ended, but I've recently come back to it and discovered that during the intervening time, she's done another series on the Crusade against the Cathars, and is now in the middle of a new series on the Baltic Crusades. Needless to say, I'm currently binge-listening my way through the Cathar instalment to try to get caught up. You might want to give it a listen too.

The Scottish History Podcast
This show examines various events, figures, groups and other points of interest from Scotland's history. Rather than being bound to a timeline, episodes jump back and forth across Scottish history to cover everything from the Battle of Culloden, to Scotland's role in the African slave trade, to what Vikings ate. The topics are well-researched, and the hosts are enthusiastic and keep up a good banter. Episodes are usually around half-an-hour long, and air infrequently.

History of Pirates Podcast
Who doesn't love pirates? Or, at least our modern romantic notion of pirates as lively adventurers on the high seas, rather than the real thieves, slavers, and killers of yore. But as fun as our 20th and 21st Century swashbucklers like Captain Jack Sparrow, Han Solo, Malcolm Reynolds, and Captain Chunk may be, what's more fun is to learn about the fascinating scofflaws like Drake, Teach, Kidd, and Zheng Shi who preyed on ships and coastal settlements centuries ago. The History of Pirates podcast is well researched and host "Captain" Craig Buddy is clearly highly enthusiastic about his subject matter. The show is chronological (sort of), starting by exploring the seafaring nations of the Bronze Age that made piracy a part of their foreign policy, and moving forward towards the golden age of piracy. Occasional detours are made to talk about other issues, or to profile pirates of note from other periods. Episodes are infrequent and can run anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour.



Quirks and Quarks
For 40 years, CBC's Quirks and Quarks has been the gold standard for science reporting in broadcast,  and it's great to be able to download the show (or individual segments from episodes) in podcast form. Host Bob Macdonald and his producers interview researchers about breaking news from around the world in the fields of science (all branches — from astronomy to oceanography, chemistry, palaeontology, and everything in between) and technology, as well as ongoing issues (like global warming), and the effect of government policy on science and the planet. Macdonald has a friendly, solid delivery, and knows his stuff. The show is very well researched and guests (both those responsible for new scientific discoveries or developments, and those invited to comment about breaking news and issues) include leading international scientists. The show runs weekly, but takes a break for a couple of months during the summer. Episodes run 54 minutes, though segment lengths vary.

StarTalk Radio
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and a rotating crew of comedian sidekicks and scientific experts discuss all things science-related in this weekly show. Episodes vary from one-on-one interviews (accompanied outside the interview by commentary from Neil and his co-hosts) with special guests such as scientists and celebrities, to panel discussions about recent scientific discoveries or ongoing issues. Occasionally other scientists from the roster of regulars will take over hosting duties for special episodes. And there's usually a segment at the end of each episode where Neil and his guests will answer questions sent in by listeners. A separate closing segment features and editorial from Bill Nye the Science Guy. Episodes run about an hour.



The Bugle
This weekly dose of political and social satire is a necessity for maintaining sanity in a world that, with every update of daily news, seems to be sinking further into insanity. Host Andy Zaltzman and his gaggle of guest co-hosts are pretty much guaranteed to have me laughing within minutes of the opening fanfare. The show is so good that Zaltzman & co. can even make sports (or, occasionally their bizarre, alternate universe mockery of sports) entertaining.

Allegedly broadcasting from a pod floating high above... somewhere (though usually in a Toronto comedy bar, or sometimes from the host's kitchen, or an apartment on the road), The Seanpod is whatever comedian Sean Cullen feels like serving up. Sometimes it's the improvisational madness of his on-stage performances, other times, Cullen may just muse about new music he's getting into. During the episodes taped at his stand-up gigs, listeners are treated to everything from off-the-cuff songs, to new instalments of his "awkward family conversations" skit, to occasional "scenes beside the scenes" sketches (where we find out what background characters are discussing during famous cinematic moments), to interactions with the audience, to bits with other comedians and actors who join the show as guests. Cullen is apparently a science fiction fan, and, while the genre doesn't creep into every show, he does reference it from time to time. One of the funniest instalments featuring sf was episode 15 a couple of years ago, when Kids in the Hall star Scott Thompson joined Cullen onstage and they did a prolonged skit savaging John Norman's Gor series. At the time, I was listening to it on headphones as I walked home from work, and several people gave me odd looks as I cackled away helplessly. Episodes are infrequent, but it's worth subscribing for those times when The Seanpod does land on your playlist with something new.

The Nerdist Podcast
Comedian Chris Hardwick hosts this weekly show where he (sometimes accompanied by sidekicks) chats with other comics and various Hollywood types. His interview style is very informal — there's no official "welcome to the show" during the interview proper; Hardwick's producer just starts rolling when the guests arrive, and they start talking. Sometimes guests are taken a little by surprise when they find out the interview is already under way. Most of the episodes are reasonably funny, and sometimes you get to learn a lot about who the guests really are. The show runs weekly and episodes are usually about an hour.

My Dad Wrote a Porno
The name pretty much says it all for this one: a couple of years ago, a guy in the UK made the uncomfortable discovery that his retired father had started writing and self-publishing porn. Really, really bad porn. "Bad" as in catastrophically poorly-written (with a truly stunning lack of knowledge about the female anatomy). The son — Jamie Morton — decided the only way to cope with it was to share it with a couple of friends — and the world. Each week, Morton and his sidekicks, James Cooper and Alice Levine, sit down around the kitchen table and record an episode of the podcast where they read a chapter aloud and savagely mock it, pretty much on a sentence-by-sentence basis. The results are hilarious, though you'll never be able to look at a pomegranate the same way again. After two seasons, the show has amassed quite the following (including celebs Elijah Wood and Daisy Ridley, who've been guests on the 'cast), and they've taken it on the road for live performances... of the reading/heckling that is, not the porn. Episodes run weekly for as long as it takes to get through one of the books, and usually last for anywhere between 20 minutes and an hour.

Part of writer-director Kevin Smith's film and social media empire, this podcast pairs Smith up with his long-time collaborator, producer Scott Mosier, in a show where they talk about... whatever. Sometimes they discuss projects they're working on, sometimes they'll talk about people they know (such as episodes marking the passing of Carrie Fisher and Alan Rickman that were really quite touching), or stuff in general that's caught their eyes (like this past winter's news story about the guy in Alberta who beat up a cougar that was attacking his dog in a Tim Horton's parking lot). I'm not a regular listener, but the episodes I've downloaded have been funny enough to make it worth while checking out the occasional instalment from time to time.


The Dearly Departed
(Podcasts that have reached the end of their run, but are worth tracking down)

The History of Rome
Chronicling the history of Rome from its origins in legend to the crumbling of the Western Roman Empire, Mike Duncan's show set the standard for history podcasts. Well-researched from different sources, the show takes listeners step by step through one of the greatest civilizations of antiquity, profiling its leading citizens, covering its conflicts, and doing a good job of talking about life in general and how the empire was run. While the show has wrapped up, its episodes have been archived so you can still listen. Episodes run from about 10 to 30 minutes.

The SF Signal Podcast
Not so long ago, there was a marvellous online hub of all things speculative fiction called SF Signal. Over its span of many years, it spawned a group of podcasts, one of which was called The SF Signal Podcast. During its run, the show won a Hugo Award for Best Fancast, and for good reason: it featured a lot of interviews with interesting guests (writers, editors, critics, and others), hosted many rousing panel discussions, and pretty much everyone on it seemed to be having a great time — as did listeners. Episodes vary in length, and the show is still archived online.

Caustic Soda
A podcast devoted to examinations of all things weird, uncomfortable, dangerous, upsetting, lethal, or just plane gross. Like a sort of Three Stooges of the disturbing, hosts Joe Fulgham, Toren Atkinson and Kevin Leeson would irreverently explore the science, history and pop culture behind everything from shark attacks to fire, vampires, acid, elephants, explosives, and history's worst killers. The trio was frequently joined by expert guests to talk about some subject matter (including doctors for shows related to medical issues, scientists from various disciplines for relevant episodes, and others). The 'cast would also sometimes feature a musical interlude. If you're squeamish, have triggers, or don't appreciate deliberately tasteless humour, this show isn't for you. If you're curious about the bizarre and icky, and you don't mind jokes that tackle these issues head-on in an effort to take the edge off, Caustic Soda is definitely worth checking out. Episodes averaged between an hour and an hour-and-a-half.

Spider on the Web
A few years ago, author Spider Robinson launched a podcast where he shared his opinions on, well, everything; read excerpts from his stories and newspaper columns; and played and talked about music. Spider's a cool guy with a great voice, and if you like his stuff, it's worth while to dig up this show. Episodes run anywhere from a couple of minutes to two hours.


So what podcasts do you listen to? What should I be adding to my playlist?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Invaders From Planet 3 - Ep 10 - Voice of the Fans

The invasion resumes!

In this episode, bridging season 1 and 2, we hear from a group of fans about their first loves in science fiction and fantasy. Our guests include the owners of Vancouver's White Dwarf science fiction bookstore, Jill Sanagan and Walter Sinclair; Vancouver film critic Thor Diakow; and fans-about-town Geordie Howe and Brandon Wong.

Some of the interviews were conducted around Greater Vancouver (accounting for the non-stop construction noise in the background), while others were held in the lair of bloginhood, located in an abandoned coal mine deep beneath the Cumberland village centre park on Vancouver Island.

Be sure to tune in over the coming weeks for more episodes from our new season of Invaders From Planet 3!

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!