Waste Tide, by Chen Qiufan

Waste Tide cover detail

This was one of those instances where it was ultimately the cover that brought me to the book. Quite often with science fiction and fantasy I’m reading a book despite its cover, rather than because of it. With a few exceptions—what Gollancz did for Simon Ings, Infinite Detail, some Samuel R. Delany re-issues, and a few editions of some of William Gibson’s books—I find the cover art chosen for science fiction and fantasy titles to be grossly lacking any kind of mature design sensibility. Very often we find ourselves not far off from Boris Vallejo wannabes airbrushed onto the side of a Ford Econoline. The original English-language cover for Waste Tide featured a competent painting of two people examining an abandoned mech with a flashlight. It’s a reasonably accurate depiction of a significant plot point, but tonally inappropriate and ultimately disappears on the shelf next to dozens of similar painted… Continue Reading

Anthropocene Rag, by Alex Irvine

Detail from the cover Anthropocene Rag

It’s not often that I turn to Tor for challenging books. While their backlist includes truly amazing works like Maureen F. McHugh’s China Mountain Zhang, much of what they have on offer more recently, while entertaining and often progressive(ish), has made such a virtue of open, accessible writing that when I pick up one of their books I do so knowing that it will do less to challenge me structurally or linguistically than books I was reading as a teenager. Meatier than YA, but nothing that would alienate a reader who’d never yet gone beyond YA. Not bad books, by any stretch—I’m very rarely disappointed by a Tor title—but I know where to set my expectations. Tor’s editorial team does not appear to agree with Harold Blooms’ assertion that reading is the search for a difficult pleasure. Suffice it to say I was quite pleasantly surprised when Alex Irvine’s Anthropocene… Continue Reading

Weekly Churn 017: Maschine

Ahoy! This is the Weekly Churn, where every Sunday I post about what I’ve been reading, watching, and thinking about over the previous week. Apparently in addition to skipping another week, I’ve also been forgetting my little intro thing the last few weeks. Anyway, it’s been a time, and updates will be brief for a while. We were in Owen Sound last weekend, and it was mostly good, but emotional stuff related to my mother came up and I don’t even know what’s going on with that anymore. Work has gotten very stressful and a lot of the other stuff has just kind of been shunted to the side while I deal with being deeply in the shit with regard to deadlines. I haven’t even been able to read Sidewalk Labs’ MIDP, which would have been top on my list of priorities a month or two ago. I used to… Continue Reading

Weekly Churn 016: The Music That We Make

I haven’t had a chance to do much reading in the last week. I’m still on Sarah Tolmie’s excellent new novel, The Little Animals. Part of me thinks that I’m procrastinating, trying to make it last. Her books are satisfying in a way that’s difficult to articulate. I’d compare her work to Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn, because I think it offers the same kind of satisfaction, but her work doesn’t actually have much in common with his beyond that satisfaction, so I worry such a comparison could be misleading. As I’ve said on Twitter, The Little Animals, like both Two Travelers and The Stone Boatmen, is a kind, gentle, and generous book. But there is no naïveté here, no empty fan service, no carelessness. Tolmie’s books always unfold with the sense of inevitability that accompanies superior craft; her books are as they are because that is the best… Continue Reading

Weekly Churn 015: Natch

After more than two weeks, I’ve finally finished digitizing my music collection. All my CDs are sorted into boxes to donate to charity, with one box set aside for me to keep. My In Praise of Borders set lists have all been rebuilt, to the extent that they could be given the holes in my records. There wound up being 29 volumes; 26 original set lists and three discs worth of material that I know for sure I played but aren’t featured on any of the surviving lists. The final song of the final volume is “Natch,” by Cornershop and featuring Bubbley Kaur. The opening bars of “Natch” were part of my favourite station ID spot when I was a DJ at CKLU. It was put together by Natalie B., everyone’s favourite host, and I played it every show, if I could. There are two “next steps” for my music:… Continue Reading

Weekly Churn 014: In Praise of Borders

Ahoy! This is the Weekly Churn, where every Sunday I post about what I’ve been reading, watching, and thinking about over the previous week. The organizing of my music collection continues. I’ve got everything sorted between keep and donate, and everything I want to donate has been digitized to the extent that I am able (some CDs just don’t want to cooperate, and I have yet to find digital copies of those albums available for purchase, or indeed physical ones), and now I’ve moved on to the playlists from my radio station days. For those of you know don’t know, I had a radio show called In Praise of Borders on CKLU 96.7 FM in Sudbury from summer 2004 until spring 2005. The title was stolen from an essay by Stephen Henighan, whose work I generally don’t much care for but who is good at titles. The idea behind the… Continue Reading

Weekly Churn 013: Moving Forward While Looking Back

Ahoy! This is the Weekly Churn, where every Sunday I post about what I’ve been reading, watching, and thinking about over the previous week. This post is a week late, for a variety of reasons. I’d say it won’t happen again, but I’d likely be lying. Mark Doten’s work was recommended to me by Canadian author Andrew Sullivan. He’d actually recommended The Infernal, but I couldn’t find any copies of that. Trump Sky Alpha had just come out, so I decided to start there instead. Holy shit, what a ride. In brief: the world has ended, more or less, in the fire of nuclear war at the hands of Donald Trump and God only knows who else. A year after the event, with the world in ruins and the survivors picking up the pieces, Rachel, a former journalist who now spends her days matching faces of bodies to photographs of… Continue Reading

Weekly Churn 012: Forged in Fire

Ahoy! This is the Weekly Churn, where every Sunday I post about what I’ve been reading, watching, and thinking about over the previous week. I spent a lot of nights watching television when my mom died. I didn’t have the headspace to read, and while getting shitfaced was helpful a couple of times, I didn’t want it to become a habit. When I was in my early 20s I had what used to be called a “nervous breakdown” and was depressed and more or less non-functional for the better part of a summer. During that period I found that the only thing I could really handle was gentle, optimistic movies and television. I watched a lot of Disney, much to the irritation of my girlfriend. I won’t credit that kind of thing with bringing me out of my depression, but it did prevent me from sinking any lower. Last September… Continue Reading

Weekly Churn 011: Fuck Utopia

Ahoy! This is the Weekly Churn, where every Sunday I post about what I’ve been reading, watching, and thinking about over the previous week. This week got away from me, so it’s being posted on the Monday instead. Sandra Newman recently wrote in The Guardian about how the literary genre of the utopia has been largely abandoned in favour of its shadow genre, the dystopia. For some reason she believes this shift to be in part the result of the Soviet Union under Stalin being the only real-world utopian project people have had to examine, and in part the result of cynicism and nihilism run amok, a surrendering to conservative criticisms of liberal and left-wing idealism. She also believes that this shift causes such a surrender, enacting a vicious cycle in which we come to believe that any hope for a better world is lost, or that change for the… Continue Reading

Weekly Churn 010: The Devil You Know

Ahoy! This is the Weekly Churn, where every Sunday I post about what I’ve been reading, watching, and thinking about over the previous week. My friend Adam Greenfield was recently interviewed for the Danish magazine Politiken Byrum and has posted the interview on his website. Adam’s work has heavily shaped my thinking on urbanism generally and “smart cities” specifically. Since I’ve been learning about the Quayside project I’ve been trying, and mostly failing, to put my thoughts on the subject into words, even going so far as to have a whole library of books piled near my desk trying to put something together. The closest I’ve come so far is this earlier post about how the language of the business world can have a negative impact on how we think about governance. Thankfully, Adam’s recent interview is pretty direct, and aligns with my own views very closely. Here in Toronto… Continue Reading