Reading Roundup for 2019 and 2018

I’ve been chronically late posting updates of what I read in the previous year so this post is kind of ironic this year that it’s the earliest I’ve posted a round up for the previous year (2019) and the latest I’ve post a rounded up for an earlier year (2018).

I don’t do these summaries to brag or to be performative. I do them largely for myself as a means of documenting when I read something and to take stock in what types of authors & stories I’ve been reading. I never go into the year with the plan to read more of a certain genre or specific author’s books. I may have a vague idea that I want to check out an author that I haven’t read before, but I certainly don’t have a checklist or score card going into the year.

Having said that I do like to mix it up and read Science Fiction, Fantasy, and non-Fiction in varying amounts. I will read the occasion mainstream literature, but speculative fiction has kind of broken my brain for those type of stories. I have been trying to include more poetry and graphic novels in my reading lists.

So let’s jump in the Wayback machine and go back to 2018 when I pledged to read 36 books on my Goodreads challenge that year, an increase of 6 books over the 2017 goal. I fell short reading 30, which was the same number I read in 2017. Below is a quilt of covers laid out in approximately the order I read them in.

Grid of book covers from 2018
Covers of Books Read in 2018

I “discovered” a lot of new authors in 2018 that I hadn’t read before. 15/30 books were by authors I hadn’t previously read. My reading choices were pretty evenly split between Science Fiction and Fantasy with a couple of non-fiction, poetry, and graphic novels thrown in for good measure. More than half the authors I read were female in 2018. Most of the books I read came out in the last few years or at least post 2011. With 3 being from the 1990s. As in previous years, I won’t get into reviewing the books I read here. 2018 was definitely a good year of reading for me with the majority of the books being memorable reads that I would heartily recommend to friends.

2018 Breakdown of Andy’s Reading List

Moving on to 2019 my pace was a lot slower than I had anticipated. For starters I began ride-sharing with a co-worker which cut into my audio book listening. That compounded by health issues in the second half of 2019 really put a damper on my target of 36 books. In the end I read 13 books.

2019 Reading List in Book Covers

2019’s reading selection tended to skew towards Science Fiction with 8/13 being SF related and only 3 books had Fantasy elements in it. Usually I am split a lot more evenly. More than half the books I read were by female authors. I also read 3 books with Time Travel elements in them this year – The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley, Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen, and Alice Payne Rides by Kate Heartfield. I read 2 non-fiction books both of which were actual physical books as opposed to e-books or audio books.

2019 Breakdown of Andy’s Reading List

So that’s my reading habits in a nutshell. I am aiming for 36 books again in 2020. I’ll see what happens. I’ve already went through my back log of books I bought in the last couple of years and I have over 50 books to choose from and that doesn’t include the audio books and e-books I have on my electronic TBR piles. Plus I know of a few authors with debut novels coming out in 2020 that I hope to add to my reading list. Going to be a busy reading year.

What are you looking forward to reading in 2020?

2019 Roundup

Ringing out on last day of treatment.

People like to complain about how specific years suck. “2019 was the worst year ever and I can’t wait for it to be over” type of sentiment and I never subscribed to that. It’s not the calendar’s fault and personifying the year as something vengeful out to get you never sat well with me. Having said that my 2019 did suck because of health issues.

Long story, but I was feeling unwell since the spring and thought maybe it was heart related. After all, I am a 51 year old, heavier guy, who sits at a desk job most of the time. I saw my doctor and we started to run some tests. Nothing came back indicating anything was wrong with my heart, but I did notice a small pea-sized nodule near my thyroid that we decided to check out.

At first inspection (via ultrasound) it was decided that it was nothing of overt concern and that it wasn’t on my thyroid but in my lymph nodes. They said we’ll re-scan it in 3 months and see if there has been any change. Fast forward to July and the original nodule hadn’t changed much but I noticed a second one coming up in the side of my neck. Both were deemed “reactive” after an ultrasound, as in they weren’t big enough to set off warning bells, but my family doctor decided to send me for a biopsy.

Due to a host of issues the scheduling of the biopsy got dragged out and put off for the whole month of August. Meanwhile the nodules in the side of my neck got decidedly worse. By the time I saw a specialist in September I was beside myself with anxiety and worry what was going on not to mention that my body was out of whack with stress. The ENT doctor took one look at me and my state and said quite scarily “I don’t know what this is, but we’re going to stick a needle in it right now.” One of the delays had been my family doctor wanted to send me for a aspiration biopsy but the ENT wanted a core biopsy and my family doctor couldn’t order one, it had to come from the ENT. In the end it was the simple aspiration biopsy that the ENT performed in his clinic that got me the cancer diagnosis 4 days later. Funnily enough never once did I suspect it might be cancer. Maybe I was just in denial.

So on Sept 20th I got the diagnosis that I had cancer in my lymph nodes and on Sept 24th, I became a cancer patient at the North East Cancer Centre in Sudbury, Ontario. To say the process was overwhelming is an understatement. I was already stressed out long before the diagnosis. That first week of being a cancer patient was information overload. Getting diagnosed – it had spread to my lymph nodes from my tonsil. Being told what the treatment involved – 7 weeks of daily radiation and three rounds of chemo. Being told about the short and long term side effects and all the risks. At this point I hadn’t gotten a CT Scan to determine the extent of the cancer, nor had I had a proper biopsy to confirm whether it was caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). Adding to my stress I was still working full time through this while we waiting for treatment to start.

Again due to scheduling and waiting for all these diagnostics to line up before a treatment plan could be devised took some time and I started treatment on Oct 21st almost a full month after getting diagnosed. Thus began my 7 weeks of treatment that just recently ended in early December. I could fill several blog posts with all the ups and downs of treatment, but suffice it to say it was an ordeal that I am still recovering from. The only saving grace was the fact I was able to partake in a clinical drug study that was in its final stages for a drug that decreased the effect of oral mucositis, which is the breakdown of tissues in your mouth due to the chemotherapy and radiation. Without the drug I would have had a even harder time eating and swallowing than I did.

So that was my 2019, which felt like it was consumed by this diagnosis and treatment. I am only now beginning to surface for air and feel like I am getting part of my life back. The road to recovery is still long and I won’t have any definitive answer whether they treatment was effective until a few months post treatment. The good news is that the cancer was HPV related which means the prospects of treating it are better than if it was not. Right now its a wait and see game.

I can’t thank everyone enough who has been there through this for me. My family, friends, co-workers, the health care providers. Here’s to hoping 2020 continues the road to recovery.

Return from Ottawa and CanCon SF 2018

Last week (October 12th to 14th, 2018) I attended my second CanCon SF in Ottawa. It was every bit as good (if not better!) than last year’s convention with great programming, wonderful conversations, and BOOKS. Oh, my goodness the books. Despite having a huge TBR (To-Be-Read) Pile lurking at home, I bought no less than 8 books, most of which were all new releases within the last year, some of which having just come out at or around the convention. I wanted to include them here in a post partly because I am excited to share and partly because I want to have somewhere to remind me to read all these wonderful books before next year’s convention.

 

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson

Of the eight books I already owned and read Kelly Robson’s wonderful Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach in e-book format, but had to get a physical copy for Kelly to sign at the convention. I think I managed to scoop the last copy at the Perfect Books table in the dealer’s room. I had a great (but quick) chat with Kelly in the hallways between panels about time travel and environmental issues and she signed the book “Science Fiction Forever”.

Here’s the blurb from the back cover of the book.

Discover a shifting history of adventure as humanity clashes over whether to repair their ruined planet or luxuriate in a less tainted past.

In 2267, Earth has just begun to recover from worldwide ecological disasters. Minh is part of the generation that first moved back up to the surface of the Earth from the underground hells to reclaim humanity’s ancestral habitat. She’s spent her entire life restoring river ecosystems, but lately Minh’s kind of long -term restoration projects have been stalled by the invention of time travel. When she gets the opportunity to take a team to 2024 BCE to survey the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, she jumps a the change to uncover the secrets of the shadowy think tank that controls time travel technology.”

It’s a great story, filled with thought provoking characters and situations, but also a great action and time travel story that adds to the genre. Being a fan of time travel and also working in the environmental field, this book hit a sweet spot for me. I really need to find time to write a proper review of it. I loved discovering it at this point in my life, but wonder what it would have triggered in me had I discovered it 30 years ago as an undergrad in University studying Environmental Science. Hmm, maybe I should send it back in time and see?

Alice Unbound – Beyond Wonderland (Anthology)

At the convention I attended a reading by a group of the authors involved with the Alice Unbound – Beyond Wonderland anthology edited by Colleen Anderson and published by Exile Editions.

This collection of twenty-first century speculative fiction stories is inspired by tthe Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice Through the Looking Glass, The hunting of the Snark, and to some degree, aspects of the life of the author Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) and the real-life Alice(Liddell).

The stories that I was privileged to hear read by the authors covered a wide variety of styles and characters plucked from the stories and I can’t wait to delve into this book further.

 

 

 

Armed in Her Fashion by Kate Heartfield

Kate Heartfield is a journalist and local Ottawa writer who I follow online. While she’s written and sold a couple of novels, Armed in Her Fashion is the first to come out in print and is published by Chizine Publication. In an interview with Peter Robb at Artslife.ca Kate summed up Armed in Her Fashion as “the story of a wet nurse in 14th century Flanders who raids Hell to get money back from her dead deadbeat husband. She’s a very unlikable person and I had a lot of fun writing her.”

Here’s the full blurb from the book cover:

In 1328, Burges is under siege by Chatelaine of Hell and her army of chimeras – humans mixed with animals or armour, forged in the deep fires of the Hellbeast. At night, revenants crawl over the walls and bring plague and grief to this city of widows.

Margriet de Vos learns she’s a widow herself when her good-for-nothing husband comes home dead from the war. He didn’t come back for her. The revenant pulls a secret treasure of coins and weapons from under his floorboards and goes back through the mouth of the beast called Hell.

Margriet killed her first soldier when she was eleven. She’s buried six of her seven children. She’ll do anything for her daughter, Beatrix, even if it means raiding Hell itself to ger her inheritance back.

But Beatrix is haunted by a dead husband of her own, and blessed, or cursed, with an enchanted distaff that allows her to control the revenants and see the future. Together with a transgender man-at-arms who as unfinished business with the Chatelaine, a traumatized widow with a giant waterpowered forgehammer at her disposal, and a wealthy alderman’s wife who escapes Burges with her children, Margriet and Betrix forge a raiding party like Hell has never seen.

What’s not to like in that description! I have never read anything like it based on that blurb and am looking forward to reading it in the near future.

Graveyard Mind by Chadwick Ginther

Still with me? Good. Just a few more books to go! Next up is Chadwick Ginther’s book Graveyard Mind also published by Chizine Publications. I had the opportunity to hear Chadwick read from this book last year at CanCon and was excitedly waiting to pick it up now that it had been released.  The premise of this book and the setting was unique and I am eagerly waiting to read this one. Ugh, so many good books, why can’t I stuff them all in my eye-holes at once and feed my brain.

Here’s the blurb for Graveyard Mind.

In Winnipeg’s underworld, every mortician is on the take and every revenant of myth waits to claw their way out of their tombs. The dead stay in the ground because of Winter Murray, a necromancer of the Compact. A victim of abduction and a criminal herself, Winter stalks Winnipeg’s Graveside, preventing larger, more heinous crimes from spilling over into the lives of the Sunsiders, no matter what laws of gods and men she must break to do so. Winter is a chimera, sharing the genetic material of her own never-born fraternal twin sister. Her dead twin’s essence provides her a link to the Kingdom—the land of the dead—and a tie to a past she’s run from for thirteen years. Winter struggles to find a redemption she doesn’t believe she deserves. The temptation of dirty deeds is everywhere: An animated skeleton with a penchant for wearing dead men’s clothes wants her on his payroll. Her deceased, but not gone mentor, still pushes her to take the easy way by being hard. A composite man assembled from soldiers who still puts boot to ass when Winter demands. A vampire that wants just a taste. Each pulls at Winter ensuring a normal life remains eternally out of reach, and the easy way is anything but.”

I mean, zombies, vampires, and skeletons and necromancers set in Winnipeg. What’s not to love?

Moonshot – Volume 1 – Graphic Novel

Okay next up are two graphic novels that caught my eye at the Myth Hawker’s Travelling Bookstore in the dealer’s room. The graphic novels are both from AH Comics a small independent publisher based out of Toronto. The first is Moonshot – The Indigenous Comics Collection – Volume 1 which was released in 2015 and contains 14 indigenous stories written by indigenous artists and illustrated by a number indigenous and non-native artists in the comics industry.

The artwork and production values in this collection are amazing and there’s even a Volume 2 out already and while it sorely tempted me in the dealer’s room, I resisted (for now!) until I have had a chance to read this one. Plus I wanted to throw some cash at this next  graphic novel.

 

Mark Twain’s Niagara – Graphic Novel

Mark Twain’s Niagara – The Graphic Novel

“…is an adventurous graphic novel based on the short story “Niagara”, written by Mark Twain in the 1860’s, published in 1875. This graphic novel adaptation follows a young Twain as he travels by steam train to the Niagara region for the first time, in his lifetime. There, he embarks on an incredible journey through legend and history, encountering familiar figures – some living, some long since passed.”

Each of the stories is done in a different style and really brings history of the Niagara region to life. I love local history and Mark Twain as storyteller so this seems right up my alley. The website for AH Comics note that this launched this past year at the Niagara Falls Comic-Con in June and that there is a Book 2 planned. I am sure I will be buying that next year along with Moonshot 2.

 

 

A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne

The Guest of Honor (GoH) at this year’s CanCon SF was author Kevin Hearne who’s probably best known for his urban fantasy series Iron Druid Chronicles which spans an 9 books. I had followed Kevin on Twitter for a number of years, but hadn’t actually read any of his fiction (There’s never enough time!). This year I remedied that buy downloading Audible versions of both the first Iron Druid Chronicle – Hounded and his co-authored book Kill the Farm Boy which is a send up of D&D parties and Fantasy Tropes with Deliah S Dawson. By the end of both books, I was kicking myself for not having read/listened to his work before now. At the Convention I sat in on a couple of Kevin’s panels and met with him during his Kaffeklatch round table on the final day of the convention. He’s a geuninely nice guy and writer and I couldn’t have been more pleased having met him. I got him to sign a hardcover copy of Kill the Farm Boy  for a friend as a present, and for myself I picked up a copy of his epic fantasy novel – A Plague of Giants in paperback. It’s the first book in a new series and I am looking forward to reading it. Its been a while since I read any epic fantasy and I can’t wait.

The Quantum Magician by Derek Kunsken

Okay and my final CanCon SF book purchase this year was not in the dealer’s room, but at a book launch. CanCon co-chair Derek Kunsken was launching his first novel – The Quantum Magician published by Solaris at the con. Derek reads from the book and described it as epic heist novel in space. Here’s the blurb for it from the publisher.

“Belisarius is a Homo quantus, engineered with impossible insight. But his gift is also a curse—an uncontrollable, even suicidal drive to know, to understand. Genetically flawed, he leaves his people to find a different life, and ends up becoming the galaxy’s greatest con man and thief.

But the jobs are getting too easy and his extraordinary brain is chafing at the neglect. When a client offers him untold wealth to move a squadron of secret warships across an enemy wormhole, Belisarius jumps at it. Now he must embrace his true nature to pull off the job, alongside a crew of extraordinary men and women.

If he succeeds, he could trigger an interstellar war… or the next step in human evolution.”

So it looks like I have my reading cut out for me between now and next year’s CanCon. Oh, and I might have forgot to mention that I WON a basket of books from ECW Press as part of a door prize, but that’s for a different post.

It’s Not the End – by Matt Moore

Actually I bought one more book that was featured at the convention, but technically I bought it after I got home on ebook and that was Matt Moore’s short story collection – It’s Not the End.

“Only able to recall the memories of others, a ghost must solve the mystery of his own death. The zombie apocalypse is the gateway to a higher human consciousness. An amusement park of the future might turn you into the attraction. An engineer-turned-mercenary races to kill the saviour of mankind. After the sky falls, can anyone still hope?

Twenty-one horror and science fiction tales of the bizarre, the terrifying, the all-too-near future.”

So what looks good to you out of that pile? Where should I start?

 

2017 Reading List Roundup

Well if you thought I was fashionably late with my 2016 Reading List Roundup last year (posted in August 2017) then you’ll be shocked that I am posting a round up of my 2017 reading list in October 2018.

This is my second year of trying to compile a snapshot of the books I read in the past year complete with some info graphics and stats. As stated last year this analysis is more for my own benefit than some public declaration of “Look how much/little I have read in the past year!”

The other thing I would like to state up front is that I tend to listen to more books than I actually read, but I use the word read to mean “consumed” these books whether they entered my brain through my eye-holes or my ear-holes. Actually, one of the stats I look at is how many of these were audiobooks versus print or e-books.In 2016 I finished 24 books, so for 2017 I raised my goal to 30 books. Below is a collage of the covers of the 30 books I read in the order I read them.

 

30 Books from my 2017 Book Challenge

As with my 2016 Challenge I tried to compile some stats just to see what they said about my reading habits and came up with some interesting things.

For starters more than half (53%) of the authors I read in 2017 were new to me. I like to think that’s a good thing that I am not sticking with just tried and true authors and branching out an discovering new voices. Of those 30 authors, I read 15 books were by male authors, 14 from female authors, and one from a non-binary author.

As for genre breakdown, 13 were Fantasy related, 13 were Science Fiction related, and the remaining 4 were non-fiction reads. Of the 4 non-fiction reads 2 were primarily biographies (Trevor Noah & Thomas Dolby), 1 was about the Cold War (Dead Man’s Hand), and 1 was about Parallel Worlds and astrophysics.

The majority of books were written in the past 2 decades while only one was written before I was born.

During 2017 I revisited a few old (book) friends. 5 out of 30 were books that I had read previously in one form or another. Namely, the Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker series, Good Omens (Pratchett and Gaiman), and LeGuin’s Left Hand of Darkness. Several of the re-reads were for the purpose of introducing my kids to the stories.

16 of the 30 books were part of a series which is about the same ratio of books I read in 2016 that belonged to a series.

I won’t attempt to review all 30 of the books here. If you’re curious you can check out my Good Reads account to see how I rated the books or ask me for recommendations. I have already started working on my 2018 list so it will be ready to go EARLIER in 2019. My only issue with my current reading challenge for 2018 is that I upped my goal from 30 to 36 books and I have about 13 weeks remaining and about the same number of titles to get through. I am not a fast reader/listener and its going to be a challenge to make that target.

What have you been reading?

Indigenous Culture and Post-Apocalyptic Fiction

I attended my first CanCon (The Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature) in Ottawa last month (Oct 13 – 15, 2017)  and was very much impressed by the level of programming offered. It went beyond a lot of the rehashed 101 SF & writing topics I have seen at some other conventions. One of the panels that I wanted to talk about in particular was “The End is the Beginning: First Nations Post-Apocalyptic Fiction” .

The panel description reads:

Join author and journalist Waubgeshig Rice and writer, artist, and television producer Jay Odjick as they discuss how to end the world – only in writing, we swear!  – and the intersection between First Nations issues and post-apocalyptic fiction.

I wanted to try to recap / review the panel and share it with a larger audience. During the panel I had tweeted one particular insight by Jay Odjick that garnered some attention and had people asking if there was any recording / transcript of the session. Having said that, I caution that this is my imperfect recollection of the panel and I don’t try to claim its completeness or verbatim retelling.

Brandon Crilly, an organizer and programmer for the con, was the third person on the panel. Technically, the moderator, Brandon did a terrific job of playing host and giving the floor to the two guests. The panel started with Brandon having to stick his head into the hall to locate Jay Odjick who had been waylaid talking to other con goers as happens at these gatherings. Jay entered apologizing for being late and announcing in a booming jovial voice “Welcome to Big Fucking Indians with Tattoos” as he took his seat at the table, cracking up the audience and making a grand entrance.

Introduction were made. As an illustrator / writer Jay developed the graphic novel  Kagagi: The Raven which was later adapted for television on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) as an animated series with Jay producing and writing. Jay also recently illustrated a children’s book by Robert Munsch called Blackflies. Jay has also illustrated and written The Outsider which he described as a post-apocalyptic meets grind-house type of comic with lots of cussing and gore. The introductory issue is available for free download through his site.

Waubgeshig Rice is a journalist working for the CBC (Canadian Broadcast Corporation) formerly out of Ottawa, but recently relocated to Sudbury, Ontario. He’s also a writer with several books to his name – Midnight Sweatlodge and Legacy. His yet to be released (2018) book from ECW Press called –  Moon on Crusted Snow – deals with a post-apocalyptic world from an indigenous character’s POV.

(What follows is my recollections and paraphrasing of what was discussed. It may be far from chronological in what was discussed when during the 50 minutes of the panel discussion).

Jay talked about how in end of the world movies like Independence Day it’s always the  Americans swooping into save the day. Everyone in the movie is standing around saying “About time the American’s showed up”. How that these stories always American-centric and that no one else can survive without their intervention.

Jay also talked about how America is already filled with post-apocalyptic like landscapes stemming from economic collapse and that you only need to look at towns such like Rochester, New York (where he was born) where the main industrial employer Kodak has been obliterated from the landscape leaving economic devastation in its wake.

At one point Jay posed the question: “Are we talking about the world as a whole ending or YOUR world ending? Because I know of some people are already living in a post-apocalyptic world”

Personally, I felt the statement threw into focus the topic in a way that many of us white privileged people sitting in the audience hadn’t considered fully. Sure we’ve seen the news reports detailing life on Canada’s reserves and the inadequacies that First Nations people are forced to live with daily, but I think few have first hand knowledge or realize what lead directly to these conditions.

At one point Waub elaborated by discussing the history of the Wasauksing First Nation people. Traditionally they migrated up and down the eastern shores of Lake Huron hunting and trading. With the signing of the Robinson Huron Treaty in 1850 between the First Nations chiefs and the Crown, they quickly found their movement greatly restricted and they were moved off the best land. Economic interests in logging and prime forests kept them contained in places like Parry Island near Parry Sound Ontario.

Both men also gave the audience (some of whom weren’t Canadian) a bit of background in other issues affecting First Nations people in Canada such as Residential School System and what’s been in the news lately of the “The Sixties Scoop”. Jay mentioned that his family was unaffected directly by the abuses of the Residential School System, but went on to tell a harrowing tale about how his father (as a young child) and his father’s siblings narrowly avoided being taken from their parents by Jay’s grandfather standing his ground with a rifle. (I could recount more of the details of the tale, but I think they’re Jay’s to tell not mine.)

Both Jay and Waub talked about how they always thought in the case of an apocalyptic world ending event that they would both retreat to the familiarity/safety of the reserve despite both being self described urban Indians. Both men joked about becoming “soft” living in the city and that their fishing and hunting skills were not up to par. Jay recounted how his brother was a regular Native Indiana Jones type that put him to shame. Jay said the best plan in case of an apocalypse was to stick close to his brother. Waub said that he knows of several First Nation communities that have disaster plans in place with assigned roles and caches of supplies.

Waub talked about living on the reserve as a kid during the wide-spread power outage in 2003 and how not knowing what was going on at first was pretty scary. It got him to thinking about survival skills and world ending events.

Both men were asked how they thought the world might end. Jay was convinced it would be something “unsexy” like a economic collapse. Jay said that few people realize how close we came to having a societal collapse during the economic crisis of 2008 all because of a bunch of bankers. Waub said that he felt the apocalypse might be brought on by failing infrastructure.

When asked if they were optimistic or pessimistic about civilization’s chance for survival in the event of an apocalypse (I think) both said they were relatively optimistic that we could survive if we pulled together. Jay recommended people watch the TV show Jericho to see what he thought one version of a post-apocalyptic society could look like. Jay said he thought society in general could learn a lot if they just looked at the history of First Nations people and how their civilization was destroyed by colonists and settlers.

When discussing his forth-coming book Moon on Crusted Snow, Waub said that every time the power would flicker or go out while he was working on the final draft he would nearly shit himself thinking the end was here. He had immersed himself that much in the possibility of a post-apocalyptic world.

There was probably more discussed, but those are the highlights as I recall them. It was the panel where I took the least amount of notes this weekend, just because I was engrossed that deeply in the conversation.

These are Not the Heroes You’re Looking For

You know that feeling when you’ve been putting something off for a long time, partly because you don’t want to deal with it and partly because you don’t know how to deal with it?

Insert heavy sigh here.

I read today the blog post from Joss Whedon’s ex-wife Kai Cole here – Joss Whedon Is a ‘Hypocrite Preaching Feminist Ideals,’ Ex-Wife Kai Cole Says where she explains how the Joss Whedon so many have worshipped and idolized as being a feminist is anything but. She’s confirmed for many what a lot of people have suspected for a while now, mainly that the person that fans have idolized and held up as some paragon of virtue and the person he is in his day to day life don’t add up.

It’s never easy as a fan to have to reconcile this. I don’t need to explain this to anyone who’s watched and enjoyed Firefly, Buffy, Angel, or any of the Avengers that Whedon has been central in bringing to life. Speaking for myself, its painful having enjoyed those shows & movies and having myself held up Whedon as that rare male writer of “strong female characters” to have to square these new facts about him.

It overshadows the work, taints it. Poisons it. Forces people to view it through a news lens, which can be a good thing. However, this brings me to the real reason I sat down to write this post. It’s not just Joss Whedon and his creations, that I am having a hard time reconciling my feelings about. There’s another pop culture figure that I have been guilty of fawning over in the past – namely Johnny Depp.

You can read my unabashed love letter to the actor  from January 2013 here – Welcome to a Year of Living Depp-erously where I laid out my ambitious plan to commemorate his 50th birthday and 30th year of acting in film by reviewing all of his movies. It sounded like a fun idea at the time. I managed to review only about 26 of his films (over a 3 year period) before I lost steam, distracted by life and my own creative pursuits.

I kept meaning to go back to it. To start it up again. To build this tribute to the actor I admired, but along the way something happened. Johnny Depp stopped being a fantastic chameleon of an actor that I admired and became a real person with some serious issues. Accusations of violence and domestic abuse related to him and his relationship with Amber Heard were all over the press as their relationship ended in divorce.

Part of me wanted to pull the plug on my tribute. Wipe the entries from the web. Distance myself from this version of a person I couldn’t reconcile with the person I was raving about on the screen. But as I said about Joss Whedon and his creations, there suddenly becomes something else about them know that you have this knowledge of the person and what they believe in. How they treat other people. You can’t disassociate that knowledge from their work. I can’t. I am sure some people can and do. It’s probably the only reason people like Depp and Woody Allen have careers still.

So in the case of my online tribute, I ignored it. It seemed simpler to wait and decide what to do with it. I was sure I was done reviewing any more of his films and blogging about it. But do I tear down the posts I have made? Try to erase it? It’s not as if I was trying to pretend they didn’t exist. I am sure anyone in this day and age that knows their way around Google and TheWayBackMachine could scrape up copies of them without any effort. I simply avoided doing anything about to avoid having to make up my mind about how I felt about Johnny Depp as a person.

Kai Cole’s post today about her relationship with Joss Whedon was the tipping point for me. I realized that I had been avoiding reconciling my previous worship of Depp as an actor ever since the news of his violence and abuse surfaced.

For the time being I am choosing to leave my earlier reviews of Depp’s movies up. I won’t be reviewing any more of his films in the context of this Tribute. I can’t fault myself for enjoying his work when I was oblivious to who he is as a person. Now that I’ve seen who he is and how he treats people, I can’t continue to blindly laud him.

I am certain that my opinion on this matters little to either Joss Whedon or Johnny Depp’s bottom line or whether or not they can sleep at night, but that’s not the point. The point is that we, the public need to stop elevating celebrities to such heights and realize that they are human. We also need to believe victims of abuse and violence when they tell us what is going on. We need to stop defending these people just because we don’t want to reconcile our love of their work, with the flawed and messed up people they may be in real life.

Thanks for listening to that rant. I return you to your previously scheduled ramblings from this website.

 

2016 Reading List Roundup

Traditionally, most people write up their year end reading summaries at – well – year end. That would be the logical time to do them, if you were motivated and say – organized. Both things I sometimes struggle with when it comes to writing for my website.

I do have a decent record of what books I read last year thanks to Goodreads Annual Reading Challenge. What I wanted to do this year as part of my review was compile a bit of a scorecard/snapshot of my reading habits, more for my own sake than any sort of public deceleration of “Oooh look at my reading list!” But since this is where I keep my personal record of these things, I am going to make it public.

Here’s a collage of the 24 book covers that I read, pretty much in order that I read them.

When I say read, I often mean listened to on audiobook. Since 2015 I have been listening to audiobooks on my daily commute which amounts to about 45-60 minutes a day. If a book is really good, I will listen to it around the house as well when doing chores or walking the dog, but I usually reserve that time for catching up on podcasts.

So I took a look at the 24 books above and started to compile some numbers around them and was a bit surprised by what I found versus what I thought the numbers would say.

Obviously the numbers that didn’t surprise me were the total number of books I read or that the majority were audiobooks.

I was a bit surprised by the 54% of the authors being female. I did make a conscious decision to try to include more women authors in my reading this year, but wasn’t keeping track as I did it. I wasn’t sure if I was going to hit a 50/50 split, but was pleasantly surprised when the numbers showed up just over half were women authors.

Again although I didn’t set out to read new authors exclusively, I did challenge myself to try new authors instead of reaching for the comfort of familiar voices. There is so much new books being published it wasn’t hard to find titles that I wanted to check out by authors that were new to me. I thought maybe I would achieve 50-60% new authors, but when I looked at the end, it was nearly 80% new authors. Only, Kurt Vonnegut, Philip K. Dick, Margaret Atwood, Chuck Wendig, and Terry Pratchett were authors I had read before. All the rest were first time authors for me. Granted, many of the authors I read I was aware of for a while, but had just not gotten around to reading anything by them – Neal Stephenson and Kameron Hurley for example.

Genre breakdown is a bit subjective since a lot of things straddle the line between Science Fiction and Fantasy, but I went based on both my gut feel for the book as well as when in doubt I looked up to see how the majority of people on Goodreads had shelved a book. In broad terms I read almost half (11 books) in Science Fiction, 8 books or 33% in Fantasy, and the remaining 5 were non-fiction. In the non-fiction side of things 2 of the 5 titles were books about writing (Take Off Your Pants, and Rock Your Plot), 1 was a biography (Elon Musk), and 2 were essay/critical non-fiction (Geek Feminist Revolution, and Time Travel: A History). Not a bad spread.

There’s an ongoing criticism that literature in general is biased toward DWG (Dead White Guys) usually European males and I thought I would take a look at my own reading in SF&F. As it turns out 1/6th of my reading, Pratchett, Dick, Vonnegut, and Pohl, all fell into the category of DWG.

One number that I was a bit surprised about was the number of books I read this year that were somehow part of a series.More than half of the books (13 out of 24) were connected to a series. I didn’t tend to think I read a lot of series, but this year seemed to prove me wrong.

Also surprising to me was that more than 60% of the books I read/listened to this year were published in the last 2 years (2015-2016) and 79% were published since 2012. Only 5 were from pre-2000 and then they were spread out from 1969 through to 1993.

I also started introducing my kids to some of the audio books I was listening to. It started innocently enough when my son and I started listening to Frederik Pohl’s Gateway on our way to his practices. After that I decided to introduce both my son and daughter to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series via Mort. In 2016 it was only 2 books that I shared with them on audio, but I suspect that number to more than double for 2017.

Finally I took a look at the number of author’s that were POC. Again, I didn’t go out of my way to pick a novel based on this, but I was trying to read stories with different perspectives, so I hoped my year end totals would reflect this. For 2016 only 1/8th of the books I read were by people of colour.

So all in all I think it was very successful year for me on the reading front. This didn’t include the comics I read through out the year. I generally only count them if they are part of a graphic novel (Angel Catbird by Atwood for example) and not single issues.

I already set my goal for 2017 higher at 30 books up 6 from 2016’s 24 and as of this month, I am well on my way to meeting that target. It’ll be interesting to see if there are any trends from year to year for me.

PlaySmelter 2017 and Entertain Me

This past week Pat the Dog Theatre Production staged its 5th Annual Play Smelter festival which features new and developing work by local and regional playwrights. In previous years, the festival have featured staged readings, and workshops, as well as guest lectures from established playwrights such as Colleen Murphy. This year in addition to several staged readings of work in development they also produced two full plays on several nights.

Matthew Heiti’s Receiver of Wreck, which had its World debut this past February in Guelph, was staged the for the first time locally.  As well Lara Bradley’s historical based Blind Nickel Pig received an ambitious launch. Both plays were staged on several nights giving local audiences ample opportunity to participate in the marvel of live theatre.

Which brings me to the other part of this post. Part of my enjoyment from this past weeks plays and staged readings went beyond the content, beyond the playwright’s voice being brought to life, beyond the actors performances on the stages, beyond the set designers and sound artists skillful illusions. I smiled on more than one occasion during the festival and thought to myself, I love that as human beings we want to entertain each other and be entertained. That the writers and playwrights pour countless hours into crafting their stories, breathing life into them, then turn them over to producers and actors, and set designers, to further add flesh to those bones. Finally in an act of divine creation, the audience witnesses the story brought to life and you have magic.

In the day and age of YouTube where you can find long lost memories from childhood TV shows that you once thought you imagined, there’s something to be said about the ephemeral nature of live theatre. Especially small productions such as these. I was privileged to be among the few dozen each night during the Festival’s run to witness the performances I did. To see that exact combination of actors on stage in those venues, with the people that sat in the audience with me. It was truly magical moment.

I’m looking forward to next year’s Play Smelter and I hope that Lisa O’Connell, Artistic Director, and her hard working band of producers and stagehands continue to surprise audiences with such wonderful talent.

There’s so much more I could say about the individual plays and staged readings, and maybe I will post more in the coming days, but for now I just want to say thanks to everyone who gave me these wonderful memories. I know as a writer myself, you can never fully quantify the amount of work that goes into producing the final product. That the number of hands that help along the way in bringing the piece to fruition make it impossible to put a true value on the cost of the labour to produce the end result, but in the end you hope it connects with an audience.

You’ve definitely connected with me and I appreciate the effort that it took to get to this stage. Congrats!

Sudbury Ink – A Sudbury Writers’ Guild Anthology

Cover of the Sudbury Ink anthology by the Sudbury Writers' Guild

Cover of the Sudbury Ink anthology by the Sudbury Writers’ Guild

I am proud to be included in this anthology – Sudbury Ink –  published by the Sudbury Writers’ Guild. The organisation has a long history of bringing together writers in the community in order to support each other, they’ve been around since 1992.

I’ve had the honour of being the co-chair of the group for the past two years along with my fellow writer Mat Del Papa. While I can’t claim the anthology was my brain-child, I can take some responsibility for helping usher it into print. After a long journey its been fantastic to unpack the books, hand them out to the authors who contributed to them, and also to get them into the hands of eager readers.

This past weekend I gifted a copy to my best friend from high school’s mother who was celebrating her 80th birthday. To see her eyes light up when I told her I had two stories in the anthology and that I had signed the book for her, was a nice reminder of why I ultimately do this. I want to connect with people. To share my stories. To see them off into the world, and to hopefully lodge into people’s brains (in a good way – not in a parasitic ear worm kind of way – KHAN!)

While the book has been available for about a week now, we still have a long way to go in promoting it. Locally you can find it in a couple of the books stores (Coles in the New Sudbury Mall and Bay Used Books on Elm). As well we are hosting our official launch this coming weekend Nov 12 at the Main Branch of the Sudbury Public Library on McKenzie Street. Facebook Event here – https://www.facebook.com/events/528043247395580/

Individual members are also selling copies, if you know any. (Hint – me!) Although my own stash is dwindling fast. An ebook version is in the works and should be available before Christmas – just in time for gift giving electronically!

I have two pieces in this anthology:

Frozen – , a flash fiction piece which originally came to me one cold winter evening while shovelling my driveway and remembering the many times I spent ice fishing in my youth. Ice fishing is not incidentally fishing for ice, but actually drilling a hole in the ice suspended above a frozen lake and jigging for fish in the cold waters below.

Mother’s Day is a longer piece that contains more traditional science fiction elements to it, but remains firmly rooted in family relationships and memories. Mother’s Day explores the question of what is the value of a memory and how clearly would you like to interact with those memories?

I’m looking forward to reading from them this coming weekend. This has been a great experience and with everyone’s support hopefully there will be a volume 2 that will feature more talented writers from Sudbury.

Con Report: Ad Astra 2016 – Part I

The annual Ad Astra convention in Toronto* is one of those local SF&F conventions that I have been attending off and on since early 2000s. After I moved North ten years ago, its gotten a lot more challenging to attend, logistically, financially, and  requires a time commitment from both my work and family for me to attend. I was undecided about attending this year’s convention (Apr 29 – May 1st, 2016) for a while due to all those factors, but in the end decided I had to go.

There’s something to be said for devoting a weekend to talking about the craft of writing and geeking out over books, authors, and all stuff science fiction and fantasy related with old friends and people you just met.  I find it reinvigorating and gets me excited all over again about writing. Especially my own writing.

This year I didn’t go so much for the Guest of Honours as I did the panels. That’s not a slight on any of the guests, they had fabulous GOHs in Tom Doherty of Tor (Publishing), Jack Whyte (Author), Sandra Kasturi and Brett Savoy of ChiZine Publications (Editors/Publishers), and Catherine Asaro (Author / Musician).

Despite the schedule not being released until the week before the con, the panel descriptions were available a month or more ahead of the convention and helped solidify my decision to go. When the schedule was finally released I had a number of conflicting decsions to make and one of the panels near and dear to my heart was being held from 2-3 pm on the final day of the con when I had planned to travel home.

Below is a run down on my weekend and a brief glimpse at the panels and what I thought I got out of them.

Friday – April 29th, 2016

I arrived at the hotel around supper time, checked in and dealt with a few irregularities with my room (AC was not working) and ran to meet fellow writers from Sudbury for dinner in the hotel bar. We compared notes on our 1st and 2nd picks for the weekend and tried to figure of which ones we had in common. After supper it was off to our first panels of the weekend.

7 pm – Gateways to Science Fiction and Fantasy

What draws writers, and readers, to science fiction and fantasy in the first place? For some it’s their childhood reading tastes; for others, it might be RPGs, a movie, a tv show, or a specific book or author encountered as a teen or adult. Does how you came to the genre affect what you expect of it?


Panelists:
JD Deluzio, Robert Boyczuk, Stephanie Bedwell-Grime, Simon McNeil

I was curious about this panel for a couple of reasons. Firstly, one of the writing associations I am involved in locally is a mix of writers from all genres and only a handful of us are SF&F writers. We’re having a discussion in May on what got us into the genre and I thought this panel might help spark some ideas to discuss and recommendations to make to the non-genre readers in the group.

The evidence of the greying of fandom was evident in the audience for this panel with most of us in attendance being north of 40 and probably the majority was closer to 60 if I had to guess based on the comments. One of the moderators was born in late 1970s which made him probably the youngest of the bunch.

Interestingly enough the panellists and audience members fell into one of three camps, although there were some overlap in how they came to SF & F., Either their parents were fully supportive and they read to them from classics like Tolkien  or their parents were indifferent/hostile toward genre and frivolous things like reading comics/watching tv which encourage them to seek it out more. Other people were drawn to it either through a love of space exploration of the 1950s through 1970s and its representation in pop culture of the time. Several panellists and audience members, myself included mentioned getting hooked on Lost in Space and Twilight Zone.

When the conversation turned to getting other people involved in SF&F the suggestion was don’t try to immediately introduce them to the “classics”. Chose something contemporary. One suggestion was Robert Charles Wilson. Another was Robert Sawyer. Both Canadians of course.

There was some discussion about people already reading SF&F and not even realizing it – i.e. Hunger Games. There was also discussion about mainstream culture erasing labels of genres. The conversation also drifted to introducing our own kids into the genre and where to begin. It gave me pause to think about the direct and indirect influences I expose my kids to and that I have opportunity to make a more conscientious effort in that area.

8 pm – The Medium is the Message – Plays, Screenplays, Novels and Other Media

As a writer, you may have considered writing that novel. But what about that screenplay? That play? That board game? That web series? How can you make a living as a writer or create that great work of art while thinking outside the box of simply words on a page? This panel is about transitioning between various mediums to create the universe that lives in your mind, some of which you maybe never even considered, and how to approach each one differently.

Panelists:

Jen Frankel, Leah Bobet

I was interested in this panel for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that I took part in a playwright workshop a few years back and was curious to see other people’s experiences in applying their love of SF&F to other media.

Both Jenn Frankel and Leah Bobet were knowledgable and entertaining speakers with a variety of experience in other mediums. Leah has experience in video games, comics, and art installations in addition to her novels. Jenn has experience in theatre and TV production.

It was interesting to hear their experiences, but I found I was looking for more pointers on how to develop your work in other mediums. I asked them about developing works for other mediums and how does one break into that medium. My point being that its hard enough to get traditionally published, so for a writer to invest time and energy into developing say a play or screenplay without knowing the business side of the industry seems like a very big gamble. The response I got was a combination of  its who you know and that it all depends on who you came up with in the writing world. Encouraging and discouraging at the same time.

One audience member with some theatre background was more helpful in the practical pointers and gave me some suggestions after the panel for which I was thankful. Sorry I never got his name. Good panel over all and don’t regret sitting in on it for a minute.

9 pm – Clockwork Canada: Steampunk Fiction Launch Party

9 pm –  Robert J. Sawyer Birthday Party

These were two separate events that I wanted to pop into that started at the same time. I showed up to wish Rob Sawyer a Happy Birthday and to snag a piece of very delicious cake. Was that maple flavoured icing?  I managed to miss the signing of Happy Birthday (I assume everyone sang?) As you would expect Rob Sawyer has a sizable number of friends and fans so the room was quite busy so I didn’t stay as long as I might have.

I made my way down the hall to the Clockwork Canada launch party where I was just in time for the readings to begin. Editor Dominik Parisien was talking about the anthology and his vision for it before introducing the 4 authors he had on hand to read from it.
Charlotte Ashley,  Kate Heartfield, Kate Story, and Claire Humphrey each read a portion of their stories and I was hooked by each of them. The collection is a blend of steampunk/alternate history in a Canadian setting. Of course I bought a copy and had the authors sign their stories. I look forward to reading the collection. IF you are curious about it Tor.com had a favourable review of it the week before it was launched here – http://www.tor.com/2016/04/29/book-reviews-anthology-clockwork-canada/

Up next Day 2 – Saturday at Ad Astra