Friday, September 01, 2017

Word on the Street (Lethbridge) coming Sept 23

Essential Edits will be engaged at Word on the Street Lethbridge in three ways:

  • We'll have a table in the display area where you'll be able to meet Essential Edits staff (Dr. Runté, Elizabeth McLachlan, and Lesley Little) and view some of the titles they've edited, find out about free online resources for all types of writers, sign up for a free consultation (first come, first served), and ask questions about writing, editing, and publishing.
  • Dr. Runté will be participating on the 12:00–1:00 PM panel, "Writing Nuts and Bolts: Editors and Publishers Talk about Submissions"
  • Dr. Runté will be participating in the Blue Pencil Café (along with authors Barb Greiger and Paul Butler, and poet Richard Stevenson) from 3:00–5:00PM.
There's lots going on, and it's all free.

Monday, August 14, 2017

When Words Collide 2017 Review

In spite of my intent to cut down on programming, this year, I signed up for way too much stuff, 11 events in all. I did two solo presentations, one of which had standing room only, the other less than 20 or so. The second one was scheduled to follow a presentation on the exact same topic by another speaker which was crammed, so either everybody got what they needed from the previous speaker, or I was scheduled against tougher competition. I enjoy presenting and being on panels, but that heavy commitment kept me from taking in other’s presentations. And that’s starting to be a problem because the other presentations are evolving from the standard repertoire to really significant topics.

The Evolution of WWC: Discussion Topics

I have always enjoyed WWC, but after 30 years of going to conventions I have pretty much heard everything everyone has to say about the usual topics. Indeed, I could probably give the spiel from just about any of the regular panels. Those are all good panels, and each new generation of attendees needs to hear that information, but if I can lip sync the talk, probably not necessary for me.

WWC was different initially because it’s multiple genre approach brought in an influx of new topics as speakers from, say mystery or romance or kid lit, who talked about issues and solutions in their genre that were just starting to emerge in ours, and vice versa. One of the best presentations I have ever attended was one by a script writer on blocking out a scene, and it instantly fixed a problem I was having with some of my own writing. But by year 7, I’ve gotten most of the information from those too; or the specific topic doesn’t apply to my writing, e.g., “how to write erotic scenes” not likely to come up in my satiric writing.

But there have been a number of completely new topics the last two years that took the writing conversation to a whole new level. Tim Reynolds, for example, organized one on depression, ostensibly about dealing with manuscript rejection but also dealing with the larger issues of writing with clinical depression. Laksa Media’s book launch last year brought up issues of neurodiversity among writers; this year’s launch addressed issues of writer’s coping with the burden of care for others. I believe Tim also organized the panel on mental illness. And I organized one on writing with dyslexia, dysgraphia or other learning disabilities. And all those conversations flowed out into the hallways, so that I found myself spending the weekend talking to writers about how they write with depression, autoimmune diseases, chronic pain, mobility issues, a wide variety of learning disabilities, OCD (well, those were all editors), and anxiety disorders. As the circle of people in the conversation widened, it seemed like every writer had some issue that others had said would mean they couldn’t write. [Coincidentally, the Kickstarter campaign for “Disabled People Destroy SF” has been sending out essays by disabled writers every couple of days for the last month, and it is mind-blowing what handicaps these successful writers have had to overcome…] I had known some of these writers for over 30 years and had had no clue that they were dealing with any of these issues, a sign that such personal “weaknesses” were always seen as borderline shameful. I am so grateful the conversation has now brought these things into the foreground. The exchange of ideas and information on how to cope with various conditions was surprisingly useful, even for people who had already researched the heck out of the topic that effected them. Because writers are ingenious, and had each come up with some pretty nifty workarounds or strategies that others hadn’t thought of yet. I’d never heard of weighted blankets, for example, but six people in the group testified to how that one little trick had changed how they slept. Okay, now I’m recommending that to relevant relatives.

Maybe all that was just a coincidence, the topics just floating to the surface this month as part of the Zeitgeist, and I cannot really credit WWC with “planning” those hallway conversations. But I think it is fair to say that WWC provides a safe place for writers to talk openly about anything; at least a dozen out-of-towners remarked to me how friendly and open WWC is, how easy it was to meet people, how approachable the guests, and so on. Not saying another convention could have talked openly about disabilities, but, well…don’t recall any of this coming up in previous 30 years of con going.

The Evolution of WWC: Writing Advice

Another way WWC has evolved is that all those workshops and panels seem to be having an impact. The Live Action Slush panels have always been popular--so popular that they have proliferated into a network of genre-specific sessions, each drawing large audience. What is striking to those of us who have been doing these since the start is how much improved submitted manuscripts are. We almost never get any of the “common mistakes” that turned up the first two or three years. The problems we are seeing now are subtler, more specific to that manuscript, and just rarer. A significantly higher percentage of manuscripts submitted are succeeding to earn a “pass”, and even those that get “gonged” do so later in the reading and with much more muted criticism. There is no question that quality has improved.

Similarly, I can’t speak to others’ experience, but the manuscripts that came to me in the Blue Pencil Café were better than those in earlier years. One was borderline brilliant—were Five Rivers not currently closed to submissions (while we clear out the backlog) I would have bought it on the spot. Another was interesting because I didn’t care for it at first, but then I couldn’t find a single thing to fix. I realized I had been prejudiced against it by an opening that made me think of bad fantasy novels, but once I got past that negative stereotype and read what was actually there, it totally grew on me. With the write backcover blurb and cover (to avoid my wrong-headed reaction) the novel might do very well. Two others were suffering from a single flaw each, both easily fixed. (Well, conceptually easy—tough revision slogs for those authors, I would think.) Nobody likes to hear ‘back to the drawing board’, but the fact is a manuscript with a single flaw and much else good in it is infinitely better than the sort of multitude of beginner errors we used to see.

It’s tempting to suggest that the weaker authors have just been scared off from submitting their work to the panelists/workshop’s tender mercies, but I don’t think that’s it given that the proliferation of Live Action Slush panels and bluepencil cafés. Indeed, one of the bluepencil participants explicitly told me her’s was a manuscript I had thumbs-downed at a Live Action Slush the previous year, and what I was looking at was the manuscript revised on that basis. Well, okay then…this year’s version was a thumbs up! I suspect there is a lot of that going on.

In any event, WWC continues to be the best writers’ convention ever. Instead of repeating itself endlessly, the conversation goes deeper each year. There is still plenty of information for new writers (some of it from me), but much of the material is getting more and more sophisticated as befits the growing sophistication of its audience.

Robert Runté, Barb Galler-Smith, Robert Sawyer, and Constantine K, and a piece of Brian Hades, at the Edge table at When Words Collide, 2017.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

I finally finished my major project for the last six months: writing and revising my 32 page guide on writing strategies for theses and dissertations, and have posted it to the Essential Edits site.

I argue that one has to unlearn undergraduate writing skills to learn a completely new skill set to survive.

Research suggests attrition rates of between 50% to 65% for PhD candidates and thesis-route master's programs. Interestingly enough, most drop out of the program after completing all the course work and all the data collection and analysis for thesis/dissertation, which suggests that the problem is in the writing stage—though this is seldom recognized in the literature, and often not even by the students themselves! Reorienting graduate students to the different nature of sustained writing projects could assist many more students in completing their graduate degrees.

The guide is available free from EssentialEdits.ca/ThesisStrategies.pdf.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

2017 Aurora Voter Package Available Until September

The Prix Aurora Award 2017 voter package (e-copies of most of the nominated novels, short stories, etc) is now available at http://www.prixaurorawards.ca/auror…/voter-package-download/. The package is free to members of the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association so they can read nominated work before voting.(Seems like a pretty sensible idea to me!)

Membership in CSFFA is $10/yr and open to any Canadian, and includes the right to nominate and vote for the Auroras.

My short story, "Age of Miracles", was nominated for a 2017 Aurora in the short story category, so is included in this year's voters' package. I'm really pleased because that means more people will likely have the opportunity to read the story, though the anthology it's from, Strangers Among Us is a good one (six aurora nominations in all!) and well worth buying.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

My schedule at When Words Collide 2017

I will be making a number of presentations at the When Words Collide festival at the Calgary Delta South August 11-13, 2017. At 750 attendees, WWC is already sold out for this year. It's always a great writers' convention, so I recommend it to anyone for next year.

Scheduled talks:

Friday 1 PM: Live Action Slush - Early Bird Edition (Panel) in Fireside room

Friday 4 PM: Common Manuscript Problems (Panel) in 1-Parkland

Friday 6 PM: Writers’ + Editors’ Speed Mingle (Interactive) in A-Waterton

Saturday 10 AM: Pantsers vs Plotters (panel) in 2-Bonavista

Saturday 11 AM: Managing Sustained Writing Projects (Presentation) in 9-Rundle

Saturday 1 PM:Dyslexia, Dysgraphia and the Experience of Writing (Panel) in B-Canmore

Saturday 2 PM: Five Rivers Publishing Presents (Book Launch/Social) in Fireside room

Sunday 10 AM: Live Action Slush – YA Edition (Panel)3-Willow Park

Sunday 11 AM: The Publishers Panel: Novels (Panel) in 2-Bonavista

Sunday 2 PM:Working with an Editor (Presentation) in Rundle

Sunday 3 PM: Blue Pencil (Workshop) Café 6-Heritage

If you have a membership and are coming, let me know and maybe we can get together in the evenings or between panels (when I have more than a five minute break).

Monday, July 03, 2017

9 Tales of Raffalon by Matthew Hughes

This is my favourite collection of Hughes short stories so far—which is saying something, because his collections have all been quite wonderful. Seven of these stories originally appeared in Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine (a significant guarantor of quality), one in a Gardner Dozios anthology (likewise, a good sign), and one is original to this volume—and frankly, a new Raffalon story is itself worth the price of admission.

The tales of Raffalon the Thief are not so much about thievery as they are about Raffalon extricating himself from one impossible predicament after another, often revolving around his involuntary involvement with various wizards. The stories in this volume fit together almost seamlessly, the characters or situations carrying over from one to the next, as we follow Raffalon's escapades to a surprisingly satisfying ending in "The Inn of the Seven Blessings". The individual stories are engaging mysteries, heists, or escapes set against Hughes' ongoing universe/magical system, and the characterization of Raffalon is delightfully twisted. Raffalon's ethical deficiencies seem entirely reasonable given the even worse characters against which he is pitted, and an age in which crime has been amusingly bureaucratized through the Guild of Purloiners and Purveyors.

It is, however, the dialog—and more especially, Raffalon's interior reflections—that sets Hughes apart from all others. "Droll" doesn't begin to cover it, because it is not merely witty, but reflects a worldview just completely off kilter. It all makes complete sense in the eccentric universe of Hughes' distant future, but one is left wishing both that people actually talked like that, and profoundly thankful that no one actually thinks that way.

Hughes' brand of dark humour is completely unique. A comparison with Jack Vance is often evoked to describe Hughes' work, but entirely misses that Hughes is often, as here, wincingly funny. I cannot recommend 9 Tales of Raffalon highly enough, to both long time fans and those not yet familiar with this grand master of the genre.

Runté reviews of some other Mathew Hughes books:

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Aurora Award Nomination


Dr. Runté poses with cover of Strangers Among Us anthology which garnered six Aurora Award nominations on the 2017 ballot.

The Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association has released the Aurora Award Ballot for 2017, and I am honoured to be included on the shortlist for one of my short stories, "The Age of Miracles".

"Age of Miracles" was published in the anthology Strangers Among Us: Tales of the Underdogs and Outcasts, edited by Susan Forest and Lucas Law. The anthology's theme was speculative fiction addressed to issues of mental health, and my story looked at how someone with schizophrenia might navigate the world of the near future. (It plays on the idea that if we see someone on a corner talking when there is nobody else there, how do we know whether they are crazy or just talking on their cell phones?)

I'm pretty pumped that my story made the ballot, because humour is often a hard sell, especially when up against excellent serious stories, and the Strangers Among Us anthology alone had a number of outstanding stories, let alone the rest of the field this year.

The CSFFA makes available a voter package with the nominated stories/books/comics/artwork (or as many of those that publishers permit) for all CSFFA members, so voters can base their decisions on actually having read/seen the nominated works. Membership in CSFFA is only $10 a year, so the voter package is a great opportunity to see the best of Canadian SF&F, as nominated by CSFFA members. Additionally, again this year Kobo Canada has donated a Kobo for a prize draw for one lucky randomly chosen voter to encourage voter turnout. So $10 buys you the right to vote, the right to read some great Canadian SF, and a chance at a free ebook reader. Join here.

Here's the 2017 ballot:

The 2017 Aurora Award Ballot

This ballot is for works done in 2016 by Canadians. The Aurora Awards are nominated by members of the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association. The top five nominated works were selected. Additional works were included where there was a tie for fifth place.

Best Novel
Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay, Viking Canada
Company Town by Madeline Ashby, Tor Books
The Courier by Gerald Brandt, DAW Books
The Nature of a Pirate by A.M. Dellamonica, Tor Books
Quantum Night by Robert J. Sawyer, Penguin Canada
Stars like Cold Fire by Brent Nichols, Bundoran Press

Best Young Adult Novel
Day of the Demon by Randy McCharles, CreateSpace
Door into Faerie by Edward Willett, Coteau Books
Heir to the Sky by Amanda Sun, Harlequin Teen
Icarus Down by James Bow, Scholastic Canada
Mik Murdoch: Crisis of Conscience by Michell Plested, Evil Alter Ego Press
The Wizard Killer - Season One by Adam Dreece, ADZO Publishing

Best Short Fiction
"Age of Miracles" by Robert Runté, Strangers Among Us: Tales of the Underdogs and Outcasts, Laksa Media
"Frog Song" by Erika Holt, Strangers Among Us: Tales of the Underdogs and Outcasts, Laksa Media
"Living in Oz" by Bev Geddes, Strangers Among Us: Tales of the Underdogs and Outcasts, Laksa Media
"Marion's War" by Hayden Trenholm, Strangers Among Us: Tales of the Underdogs and Outcasts, Laksa Media
"Seasons of Glass and Iron" by Amal el-Mohtar, The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales, Saga Press
"When Phakack Came to Steal Papa’s Bones, A Ti-Jean Story" by Ace Jordyn, On Spec Magazine

Best Poem/Song
No award will be given out in this category in 2017 due to insufficient eligible nominees

Best Graphic Novel
Angel Catbird, Volume One by Margaret Atwood, Johnnie Christmas and Tamra Bonvillian, Dark Horse Books
Crash and Burn by Kate Larking and Finn Lucullan, Astres Press
Earthsong by Crystal Yates, Webcomic
It Never Rains by Kari Maaren, Webcomic
Weregeek by Alina Pete, Webcomic

Best Related Work
Clockwork Canada: Steampunk Fiction edited by Dominik Parisien, Exile Editions
Enigma Front: Burnt, managing editor Celeste A. Peters, Analemma Books
Lazarus Risen edited by Hayden Trenholm and Mike Rimar, Bundoran Press
Strangers Among Us: Tales of the Underdogs and Outcasts, edited by Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law, Laksa Media
Superhero Universe (Tesseracts Nineteen) edited by Claude Lalumière and Mark Shainblum, EDGE

Best Visual Presentation
Arrival, director, Denis Villeneuve, Paramount Pictures
Orphan Black, Season 4, John Fawcett and Graeme Manson, Temple Street Productions
Killjoys, Season 2, Michelle Lovretta, Temple Street Productions
Dark Matter, Season 2, Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie, Prodigy Pictures
Murdoch Mysteries, Season 9, Peter Mitchell, Shaftesbury Films

Best Artist
Samantha M. Beiko, cover to Strangers Among Us anthology
James Beveridge, covers and poster art
Melissa Mary Duncan, body of work
Erik Mohr, covers for ChiZine Publications and Company Town for Tor Books
Dan O'Driscoll, covers for Bundoran Press

Best Fan Writing and Publications
Amazing Stories Magazine, weekly column, Steve Fahnestalk
BCSFAzine #512 to #519, edited by Felicity Walker
The Nerd is the Word, articles by Dylan McEvoy
OBIR Magazine #4, edited by R. Graeme Cameron
Silver Stag Entertainment, edited by S.M. Carrière
Speculating Canada edited by Derek Newman-Stille

Best Fan Organizational
Samantha Beiko and Chadwick Ginther, co-chairs, Chiaroscuro Reading Series: Winnipeg
R. Graeme Cameron, chair, VCON 41, Surrey, BC
Sandra Kasturi and Angela Keeley, co-chairs, 2016 Toronto SpecFic Colloquium
Derek Künsken and Marie Bilodeau, executive, Can*Con 2016, Ottawa
Randy McCharles, chair, When Words Collide, Calgary
Matt Moore, Marie Bilodeau, and Nicole Lavigne, co-chairs, Chiaroscuro Reading Series: Ottawa
Sandra Wickham, chair, Creative Ink Festival, Burnaby, BC

Best Fan Related Work
Ron S. Friedman, Villains and Conflicts presentation, When Words Collide, Calgary Comic Expo, and File 770
Kari Maaren, Concert, SFContario
Derek Newman-Stille, Speculating Canada on Trent Radio 92.7 FM

Best of the Decade
This is a special category for this year’s awards for works published between January 2001 and December 2010. Note: Items in italics are for multi-volume works. Multi-volume stories were considered if they began prior to 2001 but ended before or close to 2011. We defined a multi-volume story as one with a continuous narrative. Finalists were chosen by an eight-person jury from across Canada. The winner will be chosen by our membership’s votes.

Blind Lake by Robert Charles Wilson, Tor Books
The Blue Ant Trilogy by William Gibson, Berkley
Malazan Book of the Fallen, Steven Erikson, Tor Books
The Neanderthal Parallax, Robert J. Sawyer, Tor Books
The Onion Girl, Charles de Lint, Tor Books
Under Heaven, Guy Gavriel Kay, Viking Canada


The Aurora Awards Administrator, Clifford Samuels, shows off the new design adpoted in 2016 for the Aurora Trophy.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Leacock Medal

The longlist for the 2017 Leacock Medal (in alphabetical order by author surname) is:
  • John Armstrong for A Series of Dogs, New Star Books.
  • Mona Awad for 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, Penguin Canada.
  • Gary Barwin for Yiddish for Pirates, Random House Canada.
  • Judy Batalion for White Walls, New American Library/Random House Canada.
  • Lesley Crewe for Mary, Mary, Nimbus Publishing.
  • C. P. Hoff for A Town Called Forget, Five Rivers Publishing.
  • Marni Jackson for Don’t I Know You, Flatiron Books.
  • Amy Jones for We’re All in This Together, McClelland & Stewart.
  • Jack Knox for Hard Knox: Musings from the Edge of Canada, Heritage House Publishing.
  • Noah Richler for The Candidate: Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, Doubleday Canada.
  • Drew Hayden Taylor for Take Us to Your Chief And Other Stories, Douglas & McIntyre.

From the Stephen Leacock Associates Press Release:

This year’s longlist will be narrowed down to three Leacock Medal finalists, who will be announced in Orillia on Wednesday, May 3, 2017.

The final winner, who also receives a $15,000 prize supported by TD Bank Financial Group, is to be announced on Saturday, June 10, 2017, at a gala award dinner at Geneva Park Conference Centre, just outside Orillia, Ontario. The gala dinner is open to the public, and limited tickets are on sale exclusively through the Stephen Leacock Museum in Orillia.

In announcing the list, Taylor described the submissions this year as of exceptionally high quality. The judges and readers recommend all the longlisted books as entertaining Canadian works, worthy of consideration for this prestigious and unique literary humour award in Canada’s sesquicentennial year.

I'm thrilled to see C. P. Hoff's A Town Called Forget on the longlist.

The novel follows the adventures of a young girl, sent without explanation to live with the eccentric aunt she didn't even know she had. As she tries to solve the mystery of her banishment, she slowly comes to terms with her aunt's skewed view of the world, and the exceedingly odd townsfolk of Forget.

From the moment I saw the manuscript, I knew this novel was something special. I acquired the book for Five Rivers, Lorina did the substantive editing, and I followed up with a line/edit (and then there was a copy edit after).

This makes four books that have been shortlisted for national awards from Five Rivers Publishing. Fingers crossed for the win!

[Now, hoping Den Valdron's The Mermaid Tale gets shortlisted for the World Fantasy or Bram Stoker Awards]

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Longevity

Updating my CV with a couple of new papers, happened to notice date on my first-ever published academic paper was July, 1976...so I've been doing this now for over 40 years. I currently have a paper (with Mary Runté) accepted and scheduled to appear July 2017, so even if I'm hit by a bus this week, my academic career will have spanned at least 41 years. Hopefully, there won't be a bus, as I am aiming for 50 year career....

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Stuart McLean Memorial — by Robert Dawson

photo credit:CBC    

Dave turned off the television.

He thought for a long time.

"What do we do now, Morley?" he asked.

For once, Morley was at a loss for words.

 

 

Monday, February 13, 2017

When Words Collide 2016 GoH Speech


Dr. Robert Runté speaking at When Words Collide. [Photo:

The When Words Collide writers' conference (held each August in Calgary) has a podcast page on which they release Guest of Honour speeches, panel discussions, and interviews. These are generally well worth a listen.

My Guest of Honour speech August 2016 was just released: "WWC 2016 GOH speech finds the curmudgeonly, retired professor Robert Runté questioning English teachers and praising fan fiction."

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Karl Schroeder's Lockstep

I don't review as much SF as I used to because editing keeps me too busy reading manuscripts to be able to find time to read much else. But I had occasion to drive across Canada this week, and my wife suggested that I play some audio books in the car to keep focused, and to make the drive a little more enjoyable.

[I have also enjoyed the scenery. The Canadian Shield is pretty awesome this time of year: frozen waterfalls along every cliff face, the evergreens frosted in snow, a deer on the road, and I think I spotted a Bobcat at one point. True, everything along the TransCanada around Lake Superior is closed for the season and boarded up, and there were like four other cars on the highway the whole 1,000k, so had the seasonal blizzards I had been warned against actually materialized, I would have been a dead man, not having winter tires, but made it through okay.]

My first choice was Raising Steam the one Discworld novel I hadn't had a chance to read yet, though it has been sitting on my shelf for a couple of years already. You don't need me to review it: it's a Discworld novel, so you already know all you need to know about it.

The second was Lockstep, the one Karl Schroeder novel I hadn't gotten around to yet because it is marketed as YA.

Not that I have anything against good YA, but one can only take so many dystopian novels where the young hero(ine) overthrows the corrupt establishment. They are all pretty much the same book/series, lately, followed by the same movie(s).

But this is Karl Schroeder and he has never disappointed me before, so I went for it. And I have to say, Lockstep turned out to be absolutely brilliant.

First, the setting is utterly unique. A completely original idea in a field where really new ideas have become depressingly rare. Schroeder, professional futurist that he is, refuses to write SF that violates the laws of physics (no warp drives!) so he has instead come up with the very first completely logical, probably doable, interstellar civilization without faster-than-light drive. That alone qualifies the novel as "absolutely brilliant". This is the equivalent of when Arthur C. Clarke invented geostationary satellites before there were satellites. Someday, some historian will write a thesis on how Schroeder predicted/invented the lockstep system x number of decades before it came to pass.

But this is Schroeder we're talking about here, so he doesn't stop with just coming up with a fundamentally new concept; he works through all the implications of his invention: all the functions and dysfunctions and unintentional side effects that logically follow from the lockstep system. And a completely credible history of how the system might have evolved organically from humble, essentially accidental beginnings. One of the things that has always attracted me to Schroeder's SF is that the economics of his worlds are always thoroughly worked out, along with the social relations that would invariably follow from his newly invented means of production. (In contrast to most American mass market SF where authors see nothing wrong with, say, having an aristocracy running a post-industrial society. Head::Desk.)He also throws in a couple of completely original, yet oddly credible, new forms of representative government for good measure. His world is so completely realized, that I find myself thinking of a dozen stories I'd like to set in that universe....that, or write a couple of economics papers. And most amazing of all, he manages to accomplish all this without lumps of exposition getting in the way of the story. Instead, he establishes a narrative structure in which it is perfectly reasonable for our protagonist not to know, and to have to figure out, how everything works.

And as is the case with all of Schroeder's novels, underneath the SF is a social critique of our own society and foibles, but so subtly woven into the background that it's never intrusive. His novel, Permenence, for example, is a nice little space adventure; only I haven't ever been able to use an ATM machine since without thinking of that novel and getting really, really mad at the banks' manipulation of microfinances. In Lockstep he provides an insightful critique of multiplayer video games without ever saying a word against them...

The lockstep concept would be enough to make this a must read SF novel, the first really new idea in the genre in a long time, but this is a multilayered novel, and the book really isn't about Lockstep. That's just the setting. The real point of the novel is the conflict between tradition and progress, between a destiny that pushes one from behind, and the hope that pulls one into the future. Well, Schroeder explains it a lot better than that, but this is the sort of philosophical debate that I want my daughters to be reading and wrestling with. What makes this great YA is not that the protagonist is a teen, but that it presents the reader with the really big ideas about life and choice and meaning. And he does it all with a beautifully simple image which is as easy to understand as it is memorable.

And then there is the plot. I was enjoying the usual protagonist-trying-to-figure-out-what-is-going-on mystery one often gets in the better sort of YA, but then Schroeder throws in a twist that I did not see coming at all. I thought I was reading a sociological mystery, but it suddenly turned into a psychological mystery. As with the movie, Sixth Sense, I was so thoroughly surprised, I thought at first he must have cheated; but no, going back over the book, everything was laid out for the reader, if the reader was only sharp enough to catch the clues. I wasn't. And believe me, that doesn't happen very often.

And the romance, of course. But it wasn't even the tiniest bit annoying! It was...life affirming. Yeah, I know! But what can I say? It felt authentic, and I really enjoyed it!

And did I mention the cute space cats? Well, okay, not actually cats, but you get the idea. The book has everything.

And yes, if you really insist, Lockstep is indeed novel about a rebellious teen recognizing the corruption of the current social structures and tearing them down. But this time it's different because its, you know, really good! And because instead of just overthrowing the corrupt status quo, our hero actually comes up with solutions, takes responsibility for making things better.

In a word, Lockstep is: flawless.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

The True Story of Hamlet and the Danes

Saw Benedict Cumberbatch version of Hamlet yesterday. It was breath-taking. Cumberbatch's portrayal is the best Hamlet I have ever seen, and the rest of the cast/production up to that same outstanding standard. Very, very impressed.

However.

I could not help but notice that the only one who survives to tell the tale is Horatio, so we really only have HIS version of what happened. Which is ludicrous in the extreme. So here is what I think went down:

Fortinbras wants to invade Denmark to recapture the lands lost by his father. He gathers an army and is ready to march when the King of Norway stops him, at Denmark’s request. So Fortinbras makes up the ridiculous excuse that he just wants to march through Denmark enroute to Poland, though it is obvious to everyone that the targeted Polish territory is worthless--so clearly just an excuse to enter Denmark with his 20,000 troops. Then Fortinbras sends his agent Horatio to Denmark where Horatio murders the entire royal family and the chief minister and his daughter and son (the only witnesses) and invents this completely ridiculous story of how he--Horatio, friend to Hamlet--helped uncover the murder of Hamlet’s father by Hamlet’s uncle and the uncle’s marriage to the queen (Horatio thus undermining the legitimacy of the then current rulers) and how the current king’s attempt to murder Hamlet led to the deaths of the rest of the royal family and advisors. Thus, when Fortinbras arrives (conveniently timed to the exact moment to find the entire royal family dead of poison, the chief minister stabbed, and his daughter drowned) Fortinbras is well positioned to take over Denmark. With all the legitimate claimants to the throne dead simultaneously, and backed by a mobilized army of 20,000 already in place in Denmark with the Danes disorganized, rulerless, and the royal line discredited, Fortinbras is the only winner in this scenario…

What other possible explanation for events is there? Because clearly, Horatio’s versions of the events is so over-complicated as to be completely unbelievable.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Matthew Hughes A Wizard's Henchman

I have more than once called Matthew Hughes a national treasure, and regular Hughes fans won’t need me to urge them to pick up the latest collection set in the Archonate/Spray universe. Hughes is the Canadian/21st century Jack Vance, the oddly optimistic cynic, the seriously funny creator of a brilliantly original universe. This is the latest in the series which posits that the universe periodically swings between the fundamental principles of cause & effect and sympathetic association (magic). The book’s protagonist is Erm Kaslo, a top level confidential agent who suddenly finds that none of his skills are relevant when cause and effect no longer apply. As technology fails, civilization crashes, and powerful thaumaturges rise from the ashes, Kaslo falls in with one particular wizard as his henchman. If you are a fan of the Archonate or the adventures of Henghis Hapthorn, the collection of Erm Kaslo will be right up your alley.

I offer, however, two mild cautions: First. readers unfamiliar with the Archonate should start with another in the series, as the Kaslo stories are really the ultimate climax to everything else that has happened so far; better not to know how things end until you’ve read how they begin. But by all means, go find Fools Errant and enter the marvelous universe of the Acrhonate.

Regular Hughes fans may find that—as a collection of shorts/serialized novel (in Lightspeed magazine)—there is a certain amount of repetition as ‘chapters’ recap events in earlier ‘chapters’ because these were originally published separately. The repetition is only mildly distracting, however, and should not significantly detract from readers’ enjoyment.

Any time Hughes puts pen to paper is a reason to celebrate, and the Adventures of Erm Kaslo do not disappoint.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Robot Surgery

I can't say I was particularly pumped when doctor told me I needed major surgery—until he said, "Oh, and the surgery will be done by robot..."

"Wow! That's great! Woohoo!" I exclaimed. Because as a science fiction editor/writer/fan, I've waited my whole life to be operated on by robots, you know? Because I didn't get the flying cars and I didn't get weather control, so the least I feel I'm owed is a bit of Beverly-Crusher-level medical care.

The doctor was clearly taken aback. "Usually I have to reassure people when I mention about the robot."

When I explained to him—and subsequently, the actual surgeon and his team—about my SF background, they are amused and relieved because, really, that is one hell of a scary-looking robot.

The above photo doesn't really do it justice: I looked around online but couldn't seem to find a good photo of what I actually saw in the operating room, though I have to concede that the thing might have loomed somewhat larger seen from the perspective of lying underneath it on a gurney. From my perspective the thing appeared to be a giant spider-shaped dome with eight legs ending in Edward Scissor hands that took up half the operating theatre. Viewing images later on-line, I am forced to the conclusion that I was interpreting two separate pieces as one--the tentacled-robot pictured above, and the remote control dome. So maybe not quite as intimidating/impressive as my initial impression...but still!

the DeVinci Robot...when I first saw it, the front of the dome (far right, facing the wall) was pushed up in front of the arms (on the left) to give the impression of a single wickedly intimidating robot invader from very bad scifi movie ever...

Having actually had the surgery, I have to attest that I was stunned how little pain I was in. The surgery was 7:30AM to 11:00AM on a Monday, I was up in my hospital room by about 4PM and out the door Tuesday at 4:00 PM. I had proper pain meds in the hospital, and a prescription against need for the next few days, but I was down to Tylenol and Advil within a day or three, which given I had seven new holes in me, a couple of which were several inches long, and was now missing a major chunk of my insides, is pretty astounding. I had anticipated being in severe pain for weeks, but as long as I am reasonably cautious about following the guidelines given on not picking anything up or moving stupidly, I'm just 'sore'. I contrast this to my previous medical procedure, about which my then surgeon had predicted that I 'may experience some mild discomfort', which had left me weeping and wailing in bed for weeks. My family frequently refers to that period to contrast with my wife's, shall we say, more stoic acceptance of pain, so I had always assumed my pain tolerance lower than most. So it was with considerable relief that the pain remained (knock on wood, and with the possible exception of coughing) entirely manageable.

Which is not to say I am recovered. I am still tremendously weak, tire immediately, and sleep most of the day. Walking downstairs to the kitchen remains a significant expedition, and this Facebook post looks to be the major accomplishment of the day, so I believe it when they say I won't be back at work for another five weeks. I am also dreading the follow-up appointment to extract the various tubes still sticking out of me which I am told 'may involve some mild discomfort'. But I've got to say, compared to regular surgery, the robot stuff is to be highly recommended.

And, yes, for the record I know that having a talented surgeon and team of doctors is the key here, and that the actual phrase is 'robot-assisted surgery'. The doctor who referred me to the surgeon and his team said he was the best in the country, and various nurses I met along the way confirmed I was lucky to get him, so credit where credit is due. But given the option, I highly recommend the minimally invasive robot version of the surgery.