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?

 

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.

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