Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Best Books of 2019

In the final hours of the decade, it's dawned on me that I haven't posted any book reviews in a while. I make no apologies for this. Between, travel (Worldcon!), going back to school (like that great sage of yore, Rodney Dangerfield), grief (the unexpected death of my four-year-old cat, Ripley, while in the vet's recovery room after a routine teeth-cleaning procedure) and other happenings in life, I just haven't had the time. But, with a few moments before I head out to celebrate the New Year, I thought I'd highlight my favourite science fiction and fantasy reads of the past year (though, admittedly, not all of them were published in 2019). There were other sf books I enjoyed, but these are the ones that stand out in memory, and they're the ones I'm consistently recommending to others. They are:

They Promised Me the Gun Wasn't Loaded by James Alan Gardner
A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay
Blackfish City by Sam Miller
America City by Chris Beckett

Warning: Spoilers Ahead (though, let's face it, if you're reading this anytime in the next day or so, you're probably on the bring of being sloshed while yowling Auld Lang Syne, or it's the morning after and you're completely hung over, so chances are, you won't remember the spoilers anyway).


They Promised Me the Gun Wasn't Loaded by James Alan Gardner

In James Alan Gardner's first book of his Dark vs Spark series, All Those Explosions Were Someone Else's Fault, we were introduced to a world where vampires, werewolves, demons and other supernatural forces of evil were in control of the world's governmental, financial and cultural elite with their promise of power and eternal life, while superheroes (and occasionally mad geniuses) had risen to fight them. A group of four University of Waterloo roommates (including the story's focal point protagonist, Kim, a gender-fluid student who gains the power of near-indestructibility and the ability to shrink) is thrust into this conflict when they stumble across a scientific experiment gone awry, which gives them superpowers. Mayhem ensues. Good triumphs. Sort of.

Now, in book two, They Told Me the Gun Wasn't Loaded, the struggle continues, with the focus changing to another of the friends, Jools, a jock with what's possibly early-stage alcoholism who becomes peak human. Essentially, she's the best at everything a normal human could do. Instant Captain America-level mastery of every physical ability in any situation that arises, along with genius-level intellect and complete knowledge of every subject. Like the others, Jools is still coming to grips with her new abilities and their effects on her life when fighting and intrigue involving the forces of darkness leads her to the appropriately-named Transylvania Club (an actual venue in Waterloo) where she's kidnapped by a band of Robin Hood-themed superheroes gone rogue. While fending-off the sexual harassment of the team's leader, Jools has to not only figure out how to escape, but also come to grips with her identity and her right to choose who she is and what she'll become.

TTMTGWL is a worthy follow-up to ATEWSEF, and one hell of a read. Gardner knows how to put together a big, loud, fun mashup adventure while writing three-dimensional, believable characters and stakes that matter personally as well as holding the fate of the world in the balance. It's also a fast read, and one that burns brightly enough that it sticks out in my memory months later. I can't wait to read the next instalment in the series.


A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay

A Brightness Long Ago is another moment in time from Guy Gavriel Kay's fantasy world inspired by real history. It's a world with two moons, a little, fading magic, the occasional ghost or other supernatural creature, but otherwise a close resemblance to our own Medieval and Renaissance past. Here, we have the reminiscence of a nobleman from an analogue of Venice, who recounts his rise from being a nobody of common birth who lucked into a good education, and who, by happenstance, repeatedly finds himself caught up in the struggles between his world's version of the jostling Italian city states and their merchant and mercenary princes. One night, he finds himself in proximity to an assassination, and by helping the killer escape, he meets the love of his life: a noblewoman who he can never openly romance. The story takes us to palaces and taverns, staging grounds for sieges, and pivots around a high-stakes (and potentially lethal) horse race. In the end, our protagonist, now one of the movers-and-shakers of his world, reflects on what matters the most.

Kay is a brilliant writer and ABLO is an exquisitely-crafted story. It didn't make me cry like his previous novel, Children of Earth and Sky, did, but I came pretty close. Just go out and experience this book as soon as you can.


Blackfish City by Sam J Miller

Imagine if William Gibson and Cory Doctorow decided to get together and write a post-climate-disaster ecopunk story, with some ad-hoc family suggestions from Kit Reed, and a dash of Rob Grant & Doug Naylor humour. You'd have something approaching Sam J Miller's Blackfish City, a yarn about a biohacked woman who's psychically linked to an orca who comes to a floating Arctic city with a polar bear in tow, looking to find what's left of her family and exact revenge upon the corporate types who destroyed her people. Throw in a gutter punk courier, a rich kid coming down with what appears to be a collective unconscious-channelling cognitive disease, a washed-up fighter, a city bureaucrat who's trying to hold things together and help her sick mother, warring gangsters and rich guys, and a mysterious, illegal story about the city that its residents can't get enough of, and you're ready to go wading into Miller's future. Just make sure you get yourself a bowl of steaming noodles while you're there.

Miller's absorbing, thoughtful and entertaining story paints a future where humanity is barely treading water in a sea of its own mistakes in painfully real detail. But for all that, humanity is still treading water, and there is hope and meaning to be found, both for society and, most importantly, for the protagonists individually and as a thrown-together family. Definitely worth the read.


America City by Chris Beckett

In America City, Chris Beckett presents an all-too-believable future where, due to climate change and higher sea levels, the US Eastern Seaboard is evermore frequently knocked flat by super hurricanes, the Southwest has become a virtually uninhabitable desert, and Americans are starting to turn on each other. Amidst all of this, a liberally-inclined (at least, initially), British-born communications professional, Holly, is recruited by Senator Slaymaker, a straight-shooting, down-home, right-wing entrepreneur with a military past to help his bid for the US presidency. To set their candidate apart from the rest of the pack, Holly and the rest of Slaymaker's team manufacture from scratch a crisis with Canada. A crisis that develops into a land-grab in Canada's Iqaluit, Northwest, and Yukon territories, eventually the military conquest of most of the great white north. As Slaymaker's fortunes rise and the Old West-style invasion of Canada accelerates, Holly finds herself becoming the type of person she would never have imagined being, and losing more than just her old identity.

As always, Beckett does a masterful job of creating believable characters and situations, set in intricately-detailed worlds. For many readers around the world, America City will be a novel about faustian bargains individuals can make in pursuit of professional success and new challenges, about how people change over time, and about the consequences of environmental collapse. To Canadians like me, this novel reads like a horror story, outlining the all-too-plausible invasion of our country by the US, a nation that already tried — and failed — to do this in 1812, which has had its eyes on our oil, water and other resources for years, and which has its notion of manifest destiny (read continental domination) written into its constitution. As a former communications professional, I read this with an eye to Holly's ability to use storytelling and messaging to manufacture and manage a crisis, and found it entirely believable. Really, the novel itself could be used as a manual to create the pretext for an American invasion. And when seemingly rational Americans like Bill Nye start to casually talk about annexing parts of Canada, this story seems less like science fiction and more like a bleak prophecy.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Ep 34 - Dublin Worldcon Voice of the Fans 2

The Invasion takes us back to Dublin for the second Voice of the Fans episode recorded at the 2019 World Science Fiction Convention!

Joining us to share their stories about their first loves in sf are:

Performer and artist Galina Rin of Death Ingloria

Author D. A. Lascelles

Author Kim ten Tusscher

Author J. Sharpe


Author and narrator R. B. Watkinson

Stay tuned for more regular-length interviews and Voice of the Fans episodes in the weeks ahead.

To listen to Invaders From Planet 3, or to subscribe, visit Libsyn, iTunes, or your other favourite podcatching service. Be sure to rate and review us while you're there!

Let the Invasion begin!

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Invaders From Planet 3 - Ep 33 - Cory Doctorow

Author, editor, blogger and activist Cory Doctor joins us for this episode. Cory shares his thoughts on speculative fiction that made an impression on him at an early age, including Doctor Who — and specifically, TV Ontario's presentation of Doctor Who episodes along with introductions by sf legend Judith Merril (who, along with Tanya Huff, would later become one of Cory's mentors) — and Star Wars. He also discusses his ongoing love of the works of Stephen Brust.

We also talk politics, from current affairs in Ontario, to his father's repurposing of Conan stories into "sword and socialism" tales for Cory's daughter. Cory also tells us about how his politics and activism inform his writing. From there, we get into a discussion about his writing process, including his current effort to enhance his ability to revise his work. And we talk about his professional balancing act and how he allocates time to writing, activism, journalism, and other endeavours.

And Cory gives us a look at some of his upcoming stories, including a new Little Brother novel, and a children's picture book called Poesy the Monster Slayer.

Our conversation took place in July, 2019 via a Skype call between Cory's home, and my studio in the Lair of bloginhood, currently located in an abandoned Ewok treetops play set that's missing one of its rope bridges, on the Island of Misfit Toys.

You can read Cory's editorials and find out about his stories and other work on his websites:




To listen to Invaders From Planet 3, or to subscribe, visit Libsyn, iTunes, or your other favourite podcatching service. Be sure to rate and review us while you're there!

Let the Invasion begin!

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Invaders From Planet 3 - Ep 32 - War of the Worlds - Reports from the Frontlines

I'm doing something a bit different in this episode: instead of the usual interviews with authors, editors, performers, artists, fans and others, I'm posting a short radio play I've put together with some friends.


As some of you know, I'm currently taking a Bachelor of Education degree, and one of my course assignments is to write something and publish it. Last summer, a friend and I were kicking around the possibility of doing a radio play. We talked about doing a take on HG Wells' The War of the Worlds, except from the Martian perspective. And, since we're both former newspeople, we talked about presenting it as a nightly newscast on Mars, updating its citizens on the progress of the invasion. When I had to start thinking about the assignment for my course, I decided to see what I could do with the radio play idea, and since I've got this podcast channel already, I have a place to post it.

Admittedly, I was a little pressed for time in putting the radio play together, so the editing isn't quite as tight as I'd like it in places, and a couple of the music beds could use some fading here and there, and a little more production for theatre of the mind effect would help. But, all things considered, I think it's a reasonably good production.

If you enjoy the show, be sure to leave a comment below this post, send an email, or get in touch via social media and let me know. Maybe I'll look into producing a full series from start to finish if enough people are interested.

Finally, a huge thank-you to my friends who helped with the voice acting:

Mark Karjaluoto as Kram the reporter.

Maya Gal as Political Pundit #1.

Chris Shunamon as Political Pundit #2.

Kienan Burrage as Political Pundit #3.

To listen to Invaders From Planet 3, or to subscribe, visit Libsyn, iTunes, or your other favourite podcatching service. Be sure to rate and review us while you're there!

Let the Invasion begin!