WorldCon 2009 Review

I had a blast at Anticipation in Montreal.

I picked up a number of books in the dealers room.

  • Tesseracts Thirteen edited by Nancy Kilpatrick and David Morrell
  • What is it we do when we read science fiction by Paul Kincaid
  • Rhetorics of Fantasy by Farah Mendlesohn
  • Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse edited by John Joseph Adams
  • Steel Whispers by Hayden Trenholm
  • Fast Ships, Black Sails edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer
  • Birthstones by Phyllis Gotlieb
  • Rewired: the Post-Cyberpunk Anthology edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel

The Hugo awards ceremony was entertaining. The highlight for me was the win for Weird Tales for Best Semiprozine. Ann VanderMeer was quite obviously shocked by the win. After all the photos up on stage, Ann was gracious enough to let some of the fans hold onto it. The Hugo base this year is fantastic, and heavy.

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Anticipation 2009 Worldcon Schedule

My 2009 World Science Fiction Convention schedule.

I’ll be attending the 2009 WorldCon later this week in Montreal. My scheduled events are as follows:

2-047 Fri/Ven 10:00 1hr
P-523B Academic
Nostalgia and the SF Impulse
Jason Bourget, Nick Matthews, Jordan Jackson
Tempering Realism and Nostalgia: Retro-futurism and Hope in Fallout 3 Jordan Jackson University of Saskatchewan
Modernizing the Difference Engine Nick Matthews University of Waterloo

2-337 Fri/Ven 20:00 1hr 30min
P-511D Science and Space/Science et espace
A Trojan Ate My Brain
Michael Citrome, Nick Matthews, Skott Klebe, Thomas Womack
What is the future of malware and computer viruses? Do we really want Windows
running on our brain implants? Will there ever be an end to spam? We discuss the
darker, less convenient side of the computer revolution and what its future might be.

2-384 Fri/Ven 22:00 1hr
P-516E Teen Programming/Programmation pour ados
SteamPunk!
Ann VanderMeer, Christopher J. Garcia, Kristin Norwood, Nick Matthews
What is SteamPunk, and why is it the latest craze? Is it just Victorian clothing with
goggles, or is it something more?

3-049 Sat/Sam 10:00 1hr
P-523B Academic
Robot Dreamings
Nick Matthews, Thomas A. Easton,
Christine Cornell
Trojan Robots: The Ancients Meet the Moderns in Capek’s R.U.R. Christine
Cornell St. Thomas University
Anticipating Robot Fabbers Thomas A. Easton Thomas College

4-203 Sun/Dim 14:30 1hr 30min
P-510B Kids Programming/Programmation pour enfants
Maple Syrup Production
Nick Matthews
Learn about where nature’s only tree-based sweetener comes from; what the various
grades mean (with tastings!); and enjoy maple syrup on shaved ice–a little taste of
February in August.

4-313 Sun/Dim 19:00 1hr
P-511D Science and Space/Science et espace
Techno-Nostalgia
Martin Hoare, Nick Matthews, Paul Chafe
Some people dream of the Commodore 64 and the ZX Spectrum and there is a roaring
trade in ‘retro games’ and ‘retro computing’ in general. Why is this?

Defining Diana

While attending Ad Astra in Toronto this year, I had the fortune of attending a number of panel sessions moderated by Hayden Trenholm. He was well-spoken, organized and kept the conversations interesting.

His novel, Defining Diana has been nominated for the Prix Aurora Awards for the Best work of SF or Fantasy in a novel or fiction collection by an English Canadian writer, published in 2008. Defining Diana is published by Bundoran Press, based in British Columbia. Strangely, when searching for Defining Diana by the ISBN number (978-0-9782052-0-1), another book by Bundoran Press is returned, The Best of Neo-opsis Science Fiction Magazine. I’m not sure where this problem originated from, however I would have expected a small press to be more aware of small errors such as this. Defining Diana essentially doesn’t exist on Amazon, which considering that the book has been nominated for an award, seems to be rather strange.

Defining Diana has a distinctive style, that of the detective noir pulps of the past. The main characters are deeply flawed, to the point where they first appear as caricatures. As the story progresses, the characters are fleshed out. Hayden also plays with character point of view in his novel. While most of the story is narrated in third person, the main chracter of Frank Steele is narrated in first person. This was an interesting choice to make. This deepened my sense of the whole detective noir feel, with the lone detective talking to his bottle of Jack Daniels. In conjuction with the noir style, the switch in POV was quite distracting early on.  The first part of the novel was an introduction to the characters, and while I could appreciate some of the stylistic elements, they weren’t familiar ones to me.

Once I overcame my problems with the style, and the main plot had developed more, the story did indeed become gripping. I found Hayden’s vision of a future Calgary fascinating. The merging of the noir theme with cyberpunk and posthumanist motifs was quite interesting.

I admit fear at one point, where something similar to the phrase “he had suffered for his research, and now so would I” was written, but thankfully that was once again a conscious decision by Hayden where he then painted  a vague outline of the necessary science, rather than forcing an infodump on the reader.

Instead of focusing on the technobabble, Trenholm digs down to some more interesting philosophical questions regarding bio engineering, and the definition of what it means to be human.

Despite the slow hook, Defining Diana finished quite strongly, leaving several interesting possibilities for the planned sequel, Steel Whispers.  I wish Hayden Trenholm well in the Aurora Awards this year (attending members of Anticipation 2009 can vote here) and look forward to reading Steel Whispers.

Books Received

In the wee hours of the morning on Thursday, I placed an order with amazon.ca. A day later, my books arrived. The Pocket Essential Philip K Dick by Andrew M. Butler, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, by Philip K. Dick, and A Companion to Science Fiction, edited by David Seed

I really didn’t know much about Butler’s book before ordering it, but it does look interesting. Butler covers each of Dick’s novels in chronological order. Although listed by their published names, Butler includes any working titles, the dates associated with the writing and editing of the works, and where it was originally published. In covering the stories he provides a brief synopsis, what other Dickian works it draws upon, any Dickian archetypal characters it uses, a list of recurring ideas in the work, as well as a brief note on subtextual items. Each entry is then finished with a rating out of five. A few of Dick’s more well known short stories are also reviewed. It looks to be a useful book for cross-referencing themes between Dick’s novels. The Pocket Essential Philip K. Dick isn’t exactly what I was expecting, but looks to be worthwhile. 

I’ll review Seed’s companion at a later time, once I’ve had a chance to review it in detail.

Science Fiction at Waterloo

The University of Waterloo is sadly lacking in science fiction literature courses. The only course offered is English 208B, which does provide a good introduction to the field of science fiction in literature. Sadly, it is just an introductory course. It has a very high enrollment, from multiple disciplines. There may have been more engineering and physics students in the course than English majors.

Since there are no further courses offered by the English Department at Waterloo, I’m preparing a “Selected Reading” course. This is an independent study course, supervised by a member of the faculty.  I’ve been working with Assistant Professor Aimée Morrison on the content of a course studying the work of Philip K Dick. The primary texts I will be studying will be

  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
  • The Man in the High Castle
  • A Scanner Darkly
  • Ubik
  • The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
  • Flow my Tears, the Policeman Said
  • VALIS

As well as some short stories

  • “Minority Report”
  • “Imposter”
  • “We Can Remember it for you Wholesale”
  • “The Electric Ant”
  • “I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon”

This isn’t just a “reading” course. There is a significant literary theory component to this course. I’ve selected a number of articles and book chapters regarding PKD’s work. Some of the more notable texts I will be using include The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction, edited by Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn, A Companion to Science Fiction edited by David Seed, and the Pocket Essentials guide to Philip K Dick, written by Andrew M Butler.

I’ll be meeting with Professor Morrison tomorrow to work out the syllabus for the course.

I’m really looking forward to this course, and it will wrap up just before my trip to the 2009 World Science Fiction Convention in Montreal.

Words

Words flutter around my head, droning like tiny insects. Lazily, I watch them. Careening through the air, they cast shadows on the page below, like those from clouds on a farmers field. Finally, I act. Slowly, I reach out with my pen. Carefully, I select a target. Swiftly, I strike out. Spearing my target, I drag it to the pristine page. Screeching, it spills out ink on the page. The process now started, I select another target quickly. Again and again I lash out, laying the corpses of these words down in a row on the page. I harness the words together, forming thoughts, bending them to my will. Evidence of these words now litters the page. The words pile up on the page. I pause and reflect the carnage. What did I accomplish? Did the words accomplish my goal? In committing the words to the page, did I succeed in expressing my thoughts?

A short writing exercise I used in order to jump start my creativity.

Ad Astra 2009

Ad Astra 2009 was held this past weekend in Toronto. I attended a number of very interesting panels, with a large focus on the process of writing and publishing.

I photographed a number of the panelists, which can be seen on my flickr page, as well as some below the break.

People photographed include Michael Green, David G. Hartwell, Karl Schroeder, Hayden Trenholm, Tony Pi, David Drake, Violette Malan, Fiona Patton, Rob St. Martin, Eve Silver, Karina Sumner-Smith, Jana Paniccia, Marcel Gagne, Suzanne Church, Michelle Rowen,Derek Künsken, Rick Wilber, Matt Moore, Erik Buchanan, Gabrielle Harbowy, Stephanie Bedwell-Grime, Sèphira Girón, Michael R. Colangelo, Phyllis Gotlieb, Alison Baird, Nigel Bennett, Kent Burles, Joanne Ellen Hansen, Ruth Stuart, and Robert J. Sawyer.

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