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 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 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 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 009: Catching Up

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. On a personal note, my father is doing better. He had his surgery, and while the outcome is not entirely what we’d hoped, he’s doing better and should have improved quality of life in the long run. It was a stressful time, and I’m glad I was able to be there for him. A few years ago I would not have been able to, and given how stressed I still am five days after getting home, I can only imagine how difficult that would have been. I’ve gotten back to reading. I’m just shy of 200 pages into The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, by Shoshana Zuboff. It’s a fantastic book, although I’m not sure… Continue Reading

Weekly Churn 006: Blank Pages

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’ve spent a lot of time staring at blank pages this week. Or not blank so much as unyielding. For a while now, and by “a while” I mean a few years, I’ve been working on a story called “A Fire in the Snow,” or maybe just “Fire in the Snow.” It’s the first project I’ve worked on that integrates some of the experiences I had working in northern Saskatchewan. At it’s core it’s just a scary-monster-in-the-woods story with Lovecraftian overtones, but it’s also about how men bond at work when that work is dangerous and isolated, and in a very small way it touches on the damage that settlers have done to First Nations communities—something that I think is important to address in stories about… Continue Reading

Weekly Churn 005: Public Policy and Innovation

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. If you follow me on social media you might have heard some of this before. There’s this company called “Alphabet” that Google created, a kind of umbrella corporation to house all of its different experiments and subsidiaries without overtly drawing a line between those entities and Google’s worsening international reputation. Or at least I think that’s what it’s for; maybe it’s a tax thing, I don’t know. Anyway, one of those Google sister companies is called Sidewalk Labs. They are in the smart city business, and are looking to develop “Quayside,” which is part of Toronto’s eastern waterfront. There are a lot of problems with Sidewalk coming to town; some are related to consultation and democratic practice, some are related to trust and reputation issues. There… Continue Reading

Weekly Churn 004: The Worst Is Yet to Come

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. Today is my mother’s birthday; she would have been sixty four this year. Computers are dumb, no matter how much we like to pretend otherwise, and some of the conveniences that programmers and device manufacturers have added to them have unintended consequences when we are faced with what is both catastrophic and inevitable. At fifteen minutes after midnight my iPhone suggested that I call my mother and wish her a happy birthday. The computer doesn’t know she’s dead, but the people who made it somehow didn’t anticipate this very human development, nor, apparently, that I’d be unwilling to remove her entry from my address book, or at least unwilling to do so after only six months. The relentless stupidity of technologists in the face of how… Continue Reading