Friday, December 11, 2015

Three overdue reviews of historical fiction

I've been a bit swamped with work at Five Rivers Publishing, as well as squeezing in time for my own writing, so am overdue writing reviews of three novels I recently read. Quite different in their subject matter and writing styles, all historical fiction, my reviews follow.

A Morbid Taste for Bones (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael, #1)A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first in a beloved and popular series by Ellis Peters. This is excellent historical fiction, well-written with a wry sense of humour and impeccable period detail seamlessly written into the narrative.

A Morbid Taste for Bones sets the tone for the series, in this case Brother Cadfael's intelligent and deft hand unravelling the deception of a fellow monk, and the obsessive machinations of another, all the while bringing justice to the Welsh village his order have all but invaded.

A great read for any age. Timeless. Memorable.

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The Physician (Cole Family Trilogy, #1)The Physician by Noah Gordon
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It is no secret I adore historical fiction. It is also no secret I become impatient with historical fiction which isn't particularly well-researched and riddled with modern intrusions and perspectives.

Unfortunately, such is the case with Noah Gordon's first book in his Cole Family Trilogy.

The story follows a young man's need to find gainful employment in medieval England, a search which lands him with a charlatan medic who operates an itinerant snake oil show. There is something of the paranormal in Gordon's story, an ability the protagonist develops whereby he is able to feel the health of imminent death of a patient.

When his employer dies, he takes it upon himself to travel to Persia, disguised as a Jew, in order to study with a physician purported to be the best in the world.

While a consumable read, for this reader the story just didn't hang together, primarily because there were so many plausibility questions, outright material culture errors, and stereotyped gender and cultural points.

Altogether disappointing, and not enough interest to want to continue with the series. Your mileage may vary.

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Imperial WomanImperial Woman by Pearl S. Buck
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It isn't often I give up on a novel. Generally it's my policy to finish a book whether I'm enjoying the journey or not, because often I'm surprised in the last moments, finding the author has brought all the elements of the story together in a brilliant finish.

Such is not the case with Imperial Woman, by Pearl S. Buck.

Buck presents what should be a fascinating story about the last, and most famous, empress of China, Tzu Hsi. Instead Buck has taken the easy route and presented what is very nearly a Harlequin romance, instead of a tightly written novel rife with the subtleties and intrigues of the Imperial Court. There were moments I asked myself how many times we were going to be told about the beauty and grace of the Empress.

When Buck does present historical facts, it ends up being a dry, drawn-out narrative heavy on the expository and devoid of deep character point of view or input.

The result is a novel which feels interminable, plodding between longings of the heart and retention of power.

I am sure many readers would take issue with my assessment. That is the joy of debate and variety. But for me, this is a novel which falls into an epic fail category.

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Monday, November 30, 2015

Dreams of the Moon now published in the Deluge anthology

Very pleased to announce my short story, Dreams of the Moon, has been published in a fascinating collection of speculative fiction, Deluge: Stories of Survival and Tragedy in the Great Flood. 

17 authors share their alternative visions of one of history's most popular legends - The Great Flood. These stories re-envision the great flood from a speculative fiction perspective, introducing new characters struggling for survival against the worst natural disaster to ever plague mankind. Not only will you meet introductory characters, but you'll see weird creatures rising up from the deep, challenging these characters in ways that a divine God can't.

My story chronicles the actions of the Angel of Death, Sariel, after the fall of Eden, perhaps a departure from the Great Flood theme, but included by the editor, Allen Taylor, nonetheless.

The collection includes stories from: Alex S. Johnson (Author), AmyBeth Inverness (Author), John Vicary (Author), JD DeHart (Author), Lorina Stephens (Author), E.S. Wynn (Author), Carl Conrad (Author), Anne Carly Abad (Author), Frank Sawielijew (Author), Allen Taylor (Editor)

Deluge releases November 30, 2015 in digital format through Amazon, Smashwords and Kobo. The print edition is forthcoming. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Strangers Among Us anthology

Received notification from the good people at Laksamedia regarding the forthcoming release of the anthology, Strangers Among Us, in which my short story, The Intersection, appears.

Very pleased to be sharing the table of contents of this worthy offering of speculative fiction with a remarkable cast of writers, and chuffed to my toes to have my name appear with dear friend and colleague, Robert Runte.

The anthology will be available in print and digital formats as of August 8, 2016, and launches at When Words Collide this August 12-14.

The table of contents:

Foreword:  Lucas K. Law 
Introduction: Julie E. Czerneda 
The Culling: Kelley Armstrong 
Dallas's Booth:  Suzanne Church 
What Harm: Amanda Sun 
How Objects Behave on the Edge of a Black Hole:  A.C. Wise 
Washing Lady's Hair: Ursula Pflug 
The Weeds and The Wildness: Tyler Keevil 
Living in Oz: Bev Geddes 
I Count The Lights: Edward Willett 
The Dog and The Sleepwalker: James Alan Gardner 
Carnivores: Rich Larson 
Tribes: A.M. Dellamonica 
Troubles: Sherry Peters 
Frog Song: Erika Holt 
Wrath of Gaia: Mahtab Narsimhan 
Songbun: Derwin Mak 
What You See (When the Lights Are Out):  Gemma Files 
The Age of Miracles:  Robert Runté 
Marion's War: Hayden Trenholm 
The Intersection: Lorina Stephens 
Afterword:  Susan Forest 
About the Contributors 
About the Editors 
Copyright Acknowledgements 
Appendix: Mental Health Resources

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Occupational Hazards eligible for Prix Aurora

My short story, Occupational Hazards, which was published in Neo-Opsis Magazine, Issue 25, May 2015, is eligible to be nominated for the Prix Aurora Award.

All you have to do is navigate to the Prix Aurora page here:  and navigate to the Short Fiction category, fill in the form and voila you're done.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Review: Truth and Bright Water, by Thomas King

Truth and Bright WaterTruth and Bright Water by Thomas King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thomas King is that rare writer capable of not only telling a compelling, interesting story, but of seamlessly marrying that to literary devices which, like a painter who understands the medium, is capable of allowing the transfer of light off and through opaque and transparent pigments, creating depth where before there was only two dimensions.

Truth and Bright Water is a story of restoration, reparation, relocation of both the body and the spirit. It follows the lives of a two young boys, and an artist who restores paintings. And it is so much more than that.

In weaving together the narratives of these people, King creates a remarkable, sustained metaphor wherein a church is restored by the artist, returning it to the land by painting it to blend into the landscape around it, yet the church's interior, like a Tardis, remains, in this case the habitation and, if you will, the spirit of the artist who has taken an edifice of misery to the First Nations and made it part of his own self. It is a brilliant bit of writing.

Highly recommended.

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Monday, July 20, 2015

Review: The Queen Mother: The Untold Story of Elizabeth Bowes Lyon, Who Became Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, by Lady Colin Campbell

The Queen Mother: The Untold Story of Elizabeth Bowes Lyon, Who Became Queen Elizabeth The Queen MotherThe Queen Mother: The Untold Story of Elizabeth Bowes Lyon, Who Became Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother by Lady Colin Campbell
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Campbell has penned a prurient, verbose, self-aggrandizing pseudo-biography worthy of the British scandal sheets. To call this tittle-tattle a biography is to shame every journalist of integrity, for journalism this is not.

This reader, having been subjected to egregious gossip throughout this interminable book, came away no more enlightened as to any of Elizabeth Bowes Lyon's accomplishments or history. Instead, Campbell has delved into her own personal speculation, snobbery and even racism of the worst sort, putting forth arguments of a medical, political and societal nature on which she is unqualified to write, and plainly is too cavalier to bother to research. Why research when we can have tea with Lady Such-and-So and gossip away the afternoon?

It is ridiculous in the extreme to put forth the argument the Queen Mother was a harridan exceeding her ancestor, Lady Macbeth; that Edward VIII would have single-handedly kept together the British Empire; that Wallis Simpson would have made a far better queen by virtue of her fashion elan.

What is plain is Campbell's obsession with superficial beauty, starvation-mode thinness, the need to associate within accepted, rarefied circles, and a compulsion to the nasty degradation of anyone Campbell feels unacceptable. In short, Campbell has penned a gossip sheet right out of discussions in her own parlour whisperings.

Not once does Campbell make even slight mention of the Queen Mother's extensive charitable work, the extraordinary strides to which she and George V went to bolster British spirit and capability during WWII. Instead we are given to believe the Queen Mother was an old soak who lay abed gorging on chocolates and manipulating every person within her sphere of control, and avoiding any sexual congress whatever with her husband. She even goes so far to assert all of the Queen Mother's children were the result of artificial insemination, so allegedly adverse was the Queen Mother to intercourse.

George V is portrayed as a booby. Edward VIII as the mistreated exiled king. Which does not even touch upon the the fictional creations she has made of Charles, Margaret, Phillip and even Elizabeth Regis.

Truly, if you want to read a decent biography of the Queen Mother, choose some other author, nay any other author than what this ridiculous dabbler has created in this trumped up bit of tripe.

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Review: Moving Pictures, by Terry Pratchett

Moving Pictures (Discworld, #10)Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Classic Terry Pratchett. A fun, witty spoof on Hollywood. What more is there to say?

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Monday, June 15, 2015

Making use of recovery

I'm now into my third week of convalescence. Chaffing a bit. Feeling bored with baby steps and caution and sensibility. Needs must behave, allow myself to heal and fully recovery before leaping off into the great beyond.

So it is I find myself confined to the first and second floors of The Old Stone House, the loft which is my office banned for now. That means the majority of my day to day work routine is verboten, not just because of inability to access the space, but also to pace myself.

I've decided to take advantage of this forced confinement and finish the first draft of The Rose Guardian. Truthfully I'm almost there. All that's required is about another 30,000 words, which is the linking sections to tie together the three narratives of this story. Given I have another three to five weeks in my convalescence, I think it not unreasonable to be able to finish. Then off to Robert for first reading and editing.

We'll see how that plan plays out.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Review: The Pearl that Broke Its Shell, by Nadia Hashimi

The Pearl that Broke Its ShellThe Pearl that Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nadia Hashimi's The Pearl that Broke Its Shell is a devastating lens on the horrors of being a woman in Afghanistan, plain and simple. Not the sort of novel one picks up for a light afternoon read, Hashimi, while retaining literary integrity, reveals the myriad daily, devastating details of the absolute subjugation, ownership and commodification of the female sex within this patriarchal, warlord society which is governed by a bastardization of Islam. The novel is relentless.

Hashimi employs a simple narrative style, without embellishment, allowing actions to carry her message. Her characterization is very strong. Her environmental detail is seamless, weaving into the narrative without arresting pauses.

Altogether a novel you should read if for no other reason than to expand your understanding of a culture alien and frightening to Western thinking.

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Monday, June 8, 2015

Review: The Golem and the Jinni, by Helen Wecker

The Golem and the JinniThe Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Helene Wecker creates a fascinating tale across cultures, mythologies and time in The Golem and the Jinni. The first of these cultural explorations occurs through the introduction of a kabalistic golem, created as a wife for a immigrant to New York. Instructed not to awaken the golem until he arrives in the new world, the husband ignores the rogue rabbi's caveat, and in the moment of his joy he dies, leaving the golem adrift and frightened without a master to serve.

Concurrent with this, a Syrian tinsmith is brought an olive oil decanter for repair, and in his work removes some of the ancient inscriptions for later reintroduction. The result is the appearance of an arrogant, reckless youth who ends up becoming his apprentice and an artisan in his own right, a youth who is, in fact, a jinni.

As is to be expected, the golem meets the jinni. A tenuous friendship blooms. Their lives intertwine, collide, separate and explode, drawing with them the cultural communities with which they have become involved.

The writing is competent, although there are a few moments of point of view shift; the plot albeit somewhat predictable is entertaining.

Not high literature, but certainly an entertaining read. Not your average urban fantasy, and an interesting melange of cultures which have historically been at odds with one another.

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Friday, May 8, 2015

Occupational Hazards appears in Neo-opsis Issue 25

My short story, Occupational Hazards, appears in Issue 25 of Neo-opsis magazine. It's a great little publication, worthy of your time. And you get to read my story to boot!

Neo-opsis Science Fiction Magazine - Issue 25
The twenty-fifth issue of Neo-opsis Science Fiction Magazine is 8” by 5 ½”, 80 pages. Not yet in print (at the printers).
The cover of issue 25 is a collaboration by Karl and Stephanie Johanson, Sun-Dragons.
Karl’s editorial is a brief commentary on the notion that the pen is mightier than the sword.
Letters to the Magazine this issue are from: Al Harlow, Catherine Luttinger, Jennifer Fisher, Alycia Mitchell, Maria Isabel Bances, Eric Seaton, Adrian Peterson, Vaughan Stanger, Guy Immega, and Catherine Girczyc.
Karl Johanson’s A Walk Through the Periodic Chart is about the element Bismuth this issue. There are two brief asides about Sodium and Tritium. Illustration by Stephanie Ann Johanson.
The first story in issue twenty-five is Panda-Mensional by Mary E. Lowd. Mary is a science-fiction and furry writer in the Pacific Northwest. She’s had more than forty short stories published, as well as two novels — Otters In Space and Otters In Space 2: Jupiter, Deadly. Her fiction has been nominated thirteen times for the Ursa Major Awards and won a Cóyotl Award. She’s a member of SFWA, the Furry Writers’ Guild, a judge for the Cat Writers’ Association, and co-chair of the Wordos. She lives with her husband, daughter, son, four cats, and three dogs. For more information, visit
The second story is Space Tagger by Daniel P. SwensonDaniel lives in Chino Hills, California with his wife, two children and two furry aliens with claws and whiskers. He has also been published in Lore. He does most of his writing on the train or in other in-between moments.
The third story is New Kid by Guy L. Pace. Guy is a retired information security professional who is now working on novels for young adults, short stories in science fiction and other projects. Guy’s science fiction projects generally center on a universe concept he calls The Expansion. In this concept, humanity leap-frogs out from the solar system to habitable planets circling nearby stars, then further out.
The fourth story is Landing Day by Holly Schofield. Holly has been published in Tesseracts 17AE: The Canadian Science Fiction ReviewPerihelionThe Future Embodied, and Crossed Genre’s Oomph. She has work forthcoming in several publications, including Lightspeed Magazine. She travels through time at the rate of one second per second, oscillating between the alternate realities of a prairie farmhouse and her writing cabin on the west coast.
The fifth story is License to Live by Nick Aires. Nick is the author of Arrow: Heroes and Villains and the interactive novel app Diabolical. His short stories have appeared in various places, most recently JukePop Serials and Voices of Imagination 2. Nick lives and writes near beautiful Vancouver, BC, and at this moment he is probably thinking about aliens or dragons...or alien dragons flying spaceships through magical portals. Illustration by Stephanie Ann Johanson.
The Sixth story is RestFitTM by Ewan C. Corbes. Ewan lives and writes in Aberdeen, Scotland. His work has previously appeared in Daily Science FictionSand Journal (as Ewan Forbes), and in Digital Science Fiction’s Visions Imprint (as E. C. Forbes).
The Seventh Story is When Every Song Reminds You of a Dead Universe, by Karl Johanson. You’ve seen his non-fiction throughout 25 issues of Neo-opsis, now’s a good chance to check out his fiction. Originally published in Perihelion Science Fiction.
The final story is Occupational Hazards by Lorina StephensLorina has worked as editor, freelance journalist for national and regional print media, is author of seven books both fiction and non-fiction, been a festival organizer, publicist, lectures on many topics from historical textiles and domestic technologies, to publishing and writing, teaches, and continues to work as a writer, artist, and publisher at Five Rivers Publishing. She has had several short fiction pieces published in Canada’s acclaimed On Spec magazine, Postscripts to Darkness, and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s fantasy anthology Sword & Sorceress X.
Reviews this issue are of the book Modern Sci-Fi Films FAQ by Tom Demichael, the movie Interstellar, the computer game GemCraft Labrynth by, the movie Jupiter Ascending by Warner Brothers, and the 1988 movie They Live by Universal Pictures.
Awards news includes listings for the Sunburst Awards, the Hugo Awards, the Nebula Awards and the Aurora Awards. There is a collection of photos from the Aurora Awards ceremony on October 4, in Vancouver BC, as part of CanVention and VCon.
There’s a write up on the 2014 VCon in Vancouver, BC.
Additional news is about science fiction and some recent space discoveries.
The Last Nine Pages is an article about Disturbing Episodes of Star Trek. This includes examples from Classic Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek Deep Space Nine, Star Trek Voyager, Enterprise, as well as from the Rebooted Star Trek movies.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein

The Art of Racing in the RainThe Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It isn't every writer who can take the unlikely elements of an unreliable narrator, a main character who is a dog, race car driving, and brain cancer, and work all that into a highly readable, engaging, moving and memorable story. Garth Stein is one such writer.

Clearly a man comfortable with his craft, dedicated to research and the nuance of language, Stein has created the story of a dog known as Enzo, who believes he will be reincarnated as a human when his time as a dog is done. During Enzo's journey as a dog, he becomes emotionally attached to his master, Denny, who is a rising race car driver. Together Enzo and Denny experience joy in a marriage and birth of a child, the thrill of the race course, and then the devastation of the loss of all they've held precious.

Never maudlin or trite, the emotional impact of Stein's story rings true with a subtlety which is quite astonishing.

Altogether a thoroughly enjoyable and memorable read. Highly recommended.

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Two reviews of novels by Wilbur Smith

River God (Ancient Egypt, #1)River God by Wilbur Smith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An entertaining tale of ancient Egypt, told from the perspective of an arrogant slave. Wilbur Smith creates good environmental detail and demonstrates an intimate knowledge of the subject matter.

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The Seventh Scroll (Ancient Egypt, #2)The Seventh Scroll by Wilbur Smith
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Words fail me! An astonishing work of self-aggrandizement. Badly written, tedious, with cutout characters.

If this novel is supposed to be a sequel to River God it fails in every respect.

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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Two Reviews

Two overdue reviews from my February reading.

Eric (Discworld, #9; Rincewind #4)Eric by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Engaging escapism combined with Pratchett's customary wit and prodigious imagination. In this installment we return to the misadventures of Rincewind who finds himself the captive demon of an angst-filled adolescent on a quest for world-domination and self-gratification.

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23122312 by Kim Stanley Robinson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It is with regret and frustration I found myself at the end of Robinson's much-acclaimed novel 2312. I've spent a great deal of time thinking about why. Perhaps it was the preponderance of scientific terminology this reader found daunting and falling too far into the expository, while for some Robinson's prodigious understanding of science and what might be possible in the far future would be fascinating.

The characterization had moments of brilliance, but overall fell too far into the unidentifiable and understandable. For a brief segment there was an occurrence and journey which very much put me in mind of le Guin's brilliant novel, The Left Hand of Darkness, but alas that sense of epic journey dissipated.

There are sections which are meant to be in the form of found fragments of notes from a journal, very much stream of consciousness. But, again, very often slipped into the extreme end of the scientific so that the average reader, without knowledge of higher sciences, was without frame of reference.

And in the end the entire novel felt like an exercise to demonstrate Robinson's personal knowledge, rather than a novel to challenge and entertain. The plot, if one could call it that, revolved around terrorism and revolutionary planetary colonies, so that once again I felt as though we were dealing with spies in space.

Very, very disappointing, from an author I had long respected.

Your mileage may vary.

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Saturday, March 21, 2015

The heartache of false allegations

I have lived my life privately, never believing in the drama of public declarations of personal details. That sort of behaviour has always smacked of something belonging to pain-mongers like Jerry Springer or Geraldo Rivera, a sort of coliseum mentality. Voyeurism.

During the past year, however, that desire to live a dignified, decent life has eroded under the constant onslaught of false allegations brought on by my daughter, Kelly Stephens, through a blog ironically I encouraged her to create: see none hear none.

This past week her cries of abuse have reached a shrill and very public crescendo, albeit presented with seeming grace, bravery and eloquence.

And so, the damning evidence:

I present this here in the interest of full disclosure.

The complete transcript of the speech Kelly delivered to the Mississauga Celebrating Womanhood gala on March 14, can be found here.

There are times when a state of grace can only be maintained through silence and acceptance. There are also times when it is necessary to address injustice and present a more balanced picture. Had my daughter's accusations remained part of a personal blog which may, or may not, contribute to her coping with bipolar and borderline personality disorder, I might have been of a mind to remain silent, to allow her to go through the process, find balance.

Her assertions, however, have now become very public. And I, my husband, and my son now stand accused, tried and convicted in a public forum in which we have no recourse to defense or justice.

I could enumerate all the accusations with assertions which clearly contradict the alleged veracity of her statements. I could open the entire very personal, very private history of our family for the entire world to read.

But I will not answer an injustice with an injustice. I will refrain from allowing this tragedy to travel too far into voyeurism.

It is tragic in the extreme that both my daughter and I believe in empowering women, giving voice to victims, championing the helpless. It is also ironic in the extreme that I, my husband and my son find ourselves standing as the accused and condemned, we who have embraced the concept of a better, kinder society.

How are we, as a society, ever to evolve toward a paradigm of transparency, honesty, and peace if at our very foundation we also allow accusations and condemnation to occur without giving due process and recourse to the accused? I, my husband and my son are now guilty by virtue of public opinion. Certainly it would seem Kelly's psychiatrist has allowed our guilt to enter the realm of reality. And it would seem the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board have also accepted our guilt without proof. It doesn't matter what we do now, how loudly we proclaim our innocence, or how hard we attempt to live a life of decency and trust. The allegation is out there. And thus suspicion grows.

It is a Salem witch trial in 2015.

And we are not alone. Just do an internet search for false allegations of abuse and you will find cases all over the world of people staggering under the weight of this sort of behaviour.

In our quest to empower victims, let us not forget to also empower truth. Let us not forget about due process. Let us not forget the accused also have a voice, and sometimes that voice is one of innocence.

Kelly, my dearest daughter, if you read this, remember that you have been loved, cherished, supported and championed by us all your life. Remember all those conversations in the wee hours, the rescues both physical, emotional and financial. The shelter both physical and spiritual we opened to you without question. Remember these things.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A sale to Neo-Opsis!

So far I'm batting 100% for 2015 it would seem. I'm sure this isn't going to last for long (oh, optimistic one). Still and all, I've sold my humorous short story, Occupational Hazards, to Neo-Opsis magazine, my first sale to the periodical.

Karl Johanson, editor of Neo-Opsis, tells me Occupational Hazards will be coming out in the next issue.

Of course that means all of you are going to have to rush right out and acquire your own print or digital copy. That's right.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Review: All the Broken Things, by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer

All the Broken ThingsAll the Broken Things by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was very much minded of Rohinton Mistry's novels when reading Kuitenbrower's All the Broken Things, albeit we've changed from writing about the tragedies of India's people to the tragedy of Canada's.

In this case Kuitenbrower tells a deftly-crafted tale of a Vietnamese mother, son and daughter who are refugees just after the infamous civil war that ravaged their country. Not only are they victims of the war, but of that deadly and devastating chemical known as Agent Orange, large quantities of which were produced in Grimsby, Ontario, by Uniroyal.

The story centres around the boy, Bo, who attempts to find the strength and compassion to not only deal with his mother who is rapidly sinking into depression, extreme poverty and the effects of Agent Orange, but his sister who was born grotesquely deformed because of the chemical.

It is also a story about freaks and misfits who find a home in the carnivals and sideshows that toured southern Ontario, and were featured at the Canadian National Exhibition.

So it is a story about broken people, broken in body and spirit. It is a story about broken morality. Broken promises. Broken trust.

And it is utterly, completely mesmerizing in the simplicity and beauty of Kuitenbrower's phrasing and story-telling ability.

Highly recommended.

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Saturday, February 7, 2015

Review: The Eye of the Dragon, by Joel Champetier

The Dragon's EyeThe Dragon's Eye by Joël Champetier
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It is with novels like The Dragon's Eye my antipathy toward hard SF becomes evident. Or does it? Certainly authors like Kim Stanley Robinson are capable of writing hard SF, introducing fascinating concepts and situations which are completely and utterly foreign to present-world understanding. Robinson unhinges the reader with the brilliance of his vision.

Perhaps it is there the difference between Champetier's novel, translated by Trudel, and Robinson's work becomes most evident: vision.

Champetier creates a science premise which in itself is fascinating: a binary system in which Earth colonists from China attempt to create a purist vision of their homeland and culture. However, instead of focusing on the challenges of living in an environment made hostile by a star pumping out deadly levels of radiation, Champetier instead creates what essentially boils down to Bond in Space, replete with lady-killer protagonist, helpless female waif, and Mandarin-style espionage and subterfuge. Truly the entire plot ended up so sadly predictable.

And I did so want to like this novel. It came highly recommended by a colleague whose tastes I trust. Champetier himself is not unknown to me in the circles in which I orbit. Yet hard as I tried I could find little in the plot to snare my attention and fill me with a sense of wonder.

Which, in the end, is what good SF should engender: wonder, whether that wonder is horrific or beatific doesn't matter. That sense of Wow needs to be there.

So, with apologies to Champetier, and my trusted colleague, I will simply have to put this negative review down to differing tastes and expectations.

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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Two film reviews: Lucy and Fury

Recently watched two much-hyped films. I always go into a hyped film with a healthy dose of skepticism developed from long experience of disappointment with the ardour of the general public. It could be argued this skepticism is the fatal prescription for enjoyment of any film much-hyped. It could be argued a fatal hubris on my part. In all fairness, I do, however, attempt to lay that bias aside and evaluate a film, just as I evaluate any book or novel, upon the craftsmanship of the art form.

It is to be remembered beauty is in the eye of the beholder, for good or ill.

Having dispensed with that preamble, I will attempt to illustrate why both Lucy and Fury fell so far short of their magnificent potential and became, at least for this viewer, nothing more than shallow vehicles for the money-making machine of the film industry.

2 of 5 stars
Lucy, starring Scarlet Johansson, is a science fiction thriller revolving around a young woman who unwittingly finds herself a mule for an Asian drug cartel which has developed a powerful nootropic drug. The drug, known as CPH4, has been surgically implanted in Lucy's abdomen. The bag breaks enroute to her destination, and the drug spills into her system, transforming her from a normal human using 10% of her brain, to eventually a superhuman functioning on 100% brain use.

A fascinating, if perhaps stretched and predictable scientific plot, the film focuses more upon the nasty underbelly of the drug cartel, the blood, guts, firepower and mayhem spilling off them in a tsunami of gratuitous and unjustified violence.

By the time we reach the Armageddon denouement, there are bodies heaped like refuse, buildings and art destroyed beyond repair, at the nexus Lucy who is transforming into a biological computer resembling creeping, black roots, and the arch villain, Mr. Jang, mired in blood, guts and raging hatred.

The whole thing played out like a first-person shooter game, devoid of intellect, suspense, nuance. We knew exactly what was going to happen: everyone dies, lots of shock and awesome firepower, lots of CGI.

The screenplay was so completely devoid of originality I am surprised the likes of Johansson and Freeman signed to appear in such a piece of obvious drek.

Yawn. Stretch. My attention lagged and I wondered if I might not have found a better way to have spent the past 89 minutes.

I would rate Lucy 2 out of 5 stars.

2 of 5 stars
Which brings me to Fury.

By way of background, I think it fair to say Gary and I are somewhat conversant in the history of tanks in WWII, Gary's father having been both a tank driver and part of the tank recovery unit in the British army during WWII, and then later in Burma and during the historic events in Hong Kong when the Red Army was closing in.

So, given the praise abounding from tank aficionados, the starring role cast to Brad Pitt, and the comparison of Fury to Saving Private Ryan, we were hopeful this would be an accurate portrayal of WWII tank warfare with a good storyline.

Epic fail.

Right from the outset it was clear this film was going to have little do with a faithful recreation of the culture, paradigms and strategies of the era. We are introduced to a tank platoon so insubordinate as to be foreign to the culture of the time. We are given to understand tank commanders rode about like shooting-gallery ducks sticking out of turrets. And we are, in the denouement, given to understand a tank commander, devoid of any support for his lone tank, would continue to charge on to a designated point and attempt to hold it, against overwhelming odds, instead of returning to command centre for reinforcements.

And what a denouement. Why, oh why, must it always be directors and screenwriters insist upon falling back to the first person shooter game of mayhem and awesome firepower? That last scene is utterly ridiculous. The German commander, instead of deploying his Panzerfausts in a ring around this forlorn-hope Sherman tank, and quickly and efficiently, without loss of troops or ammunition, annihilating his enemy, chooses to expend his troops and other ammunition plainly for the purpose of gratifying the director's misinformed and misguided sense of excellent historical film creation.

Then there's the screenplay itself. There isn't one. There is no story. There is no character development. There were so many missed opportunities, Why was the tank named Fury? There's a story there. What was Sargeant Don Collier's background prior to WWII. Was he a career soldier? Was he, like Captain John Miller in Saving Private Ryan, a man of some other disparate career back home? Was he married, single, gay like Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited? We have absolutely no idea at all who the man of Don Collier is beyond the fact he's the commander of this tank crew, and in his own negligent way cares about them.

And what of the remainder of the crew? We know nothing at all about them. They become nothing more than cardboard characters the director moves about this board of misguided mayhem.

To compare Fury to Saving Private Ryan is an egregious error and insult. There is no comparison. The former is an adolescent shock and awe film. The latter is a creation of art which will be remembered, like Lawrence of Arabia or Bridehead Revisited long after the hype from Fury has subsided.

There's another 139 minutes I'll never get back.

2 of 5 stars.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Review: Green Grass, Running Water, by Thomas King

Green Grass, Running WaterGreen Grass, Running Water by Thomas King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Without doubt Thomas King is the secret and wickedly clever twin of Salman Rushdie. Green Grass, Running Water is my introduction to this master of magic realism, and what an introduction it has been.

In the first third of the novel I realized bedtime reading this novel should not be (echoes of Yoda there), because the narrative, weighted heavily toward sharp, incisive dialogue, required a reader fully awake, engaged and firing on all cylinders. (Warp 9, Number One!)

By the second third I realized I needed to rein in the rapid-fire narrative and set about reading as though I were a beginner, pausing on each word, each phrase, because without that sort of careful consideration I would be sure to lose the avalanche of nuance Thomas King wields with careless, effortless abandon.

Dear god I wish I could write like that!

The novel abounds with metaphor, both subtle and sledge-hammer: the four elders who are escapees from a home for the mentally challenged, who assume the identities of Ishmael, Robinson Crusoe, The Lone Ranger and Hawkeye. There are the derelict cars Nissan and Pinto, one red, one blue; the puddle become lake that follows both vehicles; the lone cabin at the bottom of a dam which is known to be flawed and has yet to work; a woman seeking motherhood but not a husband; an appliance salesman seeking freedom; Coyote and Old Coyote attempting to narrate the genesis story.... I could go on. But the mind stutters and pauses and seeks breath. And even with all these seemingly disparate stories, King weaves the threads together into a lustrous cloth.

This is a rich, lavish, humorous and irreverent novel that will change the way you think about story-telling and the world in general.

Highly recommended. But read when you're completely awake!

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Friday, January 2, 2015

First sale for 2015

Received notification yesterday I've sold my short story, Dreams of the Moon, to Garden Gnome Publications' Garden of Eden anthology. How cool is that?

This is another small triumph for me, given I don't have an abundance of time to devote to my own writing now I've donned the publisher's hat. And this story in particular I'm very pleased to have sold, because it certainly isn't mainstream nor commercial. In fact it's a purely speculative piece.