Sunday, August 23, 2009
One of the reasons I was happy to move to Calgary (aside from landing an awesome postdoc position) was the constant activity in the writers' community, especially for SF & F. Calgary is home to IFWA (the Imaginitive Fiction Writers' Association), EDGE Science Fiction & Fantasy, and for a time my own publisher, Dragon Moon Press (a partner of EDGE). Each August, the Calgary Science Fiction and Fantasy Society hosts Con-Version, which as you may have surmised from the title of this posting, is now in it's 25th year.
This year, the theme of the convention was SteamPunk, which as you can imagine, brought out some very intricate costumes, and was also heavily geared towards the craft of writing. The guests of honour included Tanya Huff (Blood Books), Terry Brooks (Sword of Shannara), and Robert J. Sawyer (Neanderthal Parallax).
I'm not familiar with Tanya Huff's work, but was encouraged to see that a writer as prolific as she is has a book out from EDGE, which will also be releasing one by Dave Duncan (The Alchemist's Code). One can't help but be encouraged by seeing one's own publisher going up in the ranks!
Robert J. Sawyer has always been a prolific speaker and teacher, and this year he really impressed me with what I consider to be as great a contribution to Canadian speculative writing as his own works: the way he encourages and nurtures others. In one of his Saturday morning panels, he bolstered the confidence of many budding authors by pointing out in the audience all the new/undiscovered talents sitting there; he knew them all by name and could easily recite their successes from memory. The message was that all of us could make it happen.
He also confirmed something I've been futilely insisting on for years. According to him, too much detail can detract from a story. In his words, the more you over-direct, the less interactive the reading experience is. For example, if a woman is described as beautiful, the reader will fill in his own image of that beauty. If the author gets carried away with the detail, the reader may not find those details in line with his or her own ideals and the impression is ruined. (Thank you!!!)
It was also quite the thrill to actually see Terry Brooks in person - how many of us went nuts over the Shannara series in junior high?
As for us little people, I was very happy to read for the first time in public, an excerpt from my upcoming novel (from Dragon Moon Press), Wicked Initiations. I had a small audience, but considering I'm relatively unknown, it was very encouraging that some complete strangers showed up. When I was done, I received the best compliment I've ever gotten in my life, when Barb Galler-Smith (Druids) said to me, "Jen, you are one sick puppy!" (That was exactly the reaction I was going for!)
My friend Tim Reynolds (Stand Up and Succeed) started off Sunday morning with "Your Con-Version wake-up with Bongo Boy Tim Reynolds: Performance Reading and Live Recording of The Cynglish Beat". Immediately after that, we sat on a panel with childrens' author Simon Rose (The Heretic's Tomb), where we discussed "Promoting your work in the 21st century".
I was also pleased to see several Canuck writers, including Nathalie Mallet (The King's Daughters), Hayden Trenholm (Steel Whispers), Lynda Williams (Okal Rel Universe) and up-and-coming novelist and podcaster Michell Plested.
If all goes well, next year should be even more interesting. I'm hoping to have 4 or 5 things out to promote, so keep your fingers and toes crossed for me!
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
(Simon Rose is a children's author who lives in Calgary, AB,
I came into the lab early one morning, hoping to get a few experiments started before lunch, which can be a challenge on the best of days as things don't always turn out the way I hope they will and science can be an unpredictable thing. As I donned my lab coat and got things started up, I recorded what I was doing in my notebook so that I could look it over later and hopefully interpret my results in some meaningful way. Halfway through the morning, I looked back through my notes and noticed what I had written didn't make sense.
"Hmm. Perhaps I should have had more coffee this morning," I mused, trying to correct the last page. When I flipped a few more pages back, I realised the problem was much more serious. Half a page of my notebook was completely blank, and as I watched, another word just vanished, making a little pop and spewing a small cloud of ink into the air.
"This can't be!" I exclaimed, and wrote a few more words on the newly blank page. They promptly disintegrated, this time a little bit faster. When I rewrote the words a third time, they were cast from the page almost angrily.
I knew I needed expert advice. I couldn't continue to do experiments without recording the results, as that would be a complete waste of time. I needed someone who knew the English language better than anyone else, and that would be someone from
According to his schedule, Simon was to read one of his books in the children's section of the Crowfoot Library that afternoon. Knowing how careful Simon is about his work, I was fairly certain he would be there early to set up and make sure everything was perfect before the reading would start. As I drove there from the lab, I saw something rather strange developing in the sky over the library. At first I thought it was a trick of the light, but then, reasoning that it was much to early for the sky to be changing colours thought that something even more serious must be going on, because even though the weather in Calgary can be unpredictable, rarely does one see a large, purple vortex churning up the sky!
I pulled into the parking lot and raced to the library entrance, wanting to warn the people inside, but when I pushed through the glass doors – I found the library eerily empty. Where was everyone? Had they disappeared like the words on my page? Where was Simon?
I made my way to the children's section and saw that an armchair had been set next to a table, on which Simon's books had been displayed, as well as a sign that read, "Author reading today! Meet Simon Rose!" Next to the table were Simon's briefcase and his left shoe. So he had been here! But where was he now?
A strange, intermittent hissing sound started up behind me. Ominous, electronic, it sounded at the same time as a flickering light that cast weak shadows over the table and armchair. I slowly turned to find myself staring at one of the library catalogue terminals that appeared to be trying to turn itself on. Then, the screen came to life, but it didn't invite me to search for books. It showed me the image of an old man's face, flickered to the outside of a castle, then the entire screen turned into another vortex, which sucked me in.
"Help!" I shouted, trying to grab onto something so that I wouldn't become lost in the swirling mists within the computer screen, but it was too late. I was tumbling helplessly through the dark winds until I felt someone grab my hand and pull me out. I found myself sitting on a cold concrete floor with my left shoe missing.
"I hate it when that happens," said Simon, casting an annoyed look at my left sock. "Must be a problem with the dimensional transfer relays."
"The dimen-hawa-what?" I inquired.
"Dimensional transfer relays. I use them all the time to research my books. They allow me to travel through time and space so that I can observe events first hand and make sure I get things right. Here, let me help you up."
Simon helped me to my feet, then went to over to some video screens which seemed to be hooked up to several security cameras. He had quite the lair, complete with holes in the ceiling for fireman poles, complex computer equipment, a Nintendo Wii, a wine cellar, and the slickest, dark blue PT Cruiser I had ever seen. It was so blue it was difficult to see, and it had wings on the sides with jet packs and torpedo launchers.
"What is this place, Simon?" I asked.
"It's my transdimensional junctional nexus node. I know that term sounds redundant, but when you consider the overlapping of the multiple universes that's required for it to work, and the 14-D model used to describe it, it becomes obvious that that's the best way to describe it."
"O . . . K." I had dropped calculus after first year undergrad, having been unable to follow it. Thus, I had no idea what Simon was talking about now.
"Simon," I began, "several words have gone missing from my notebook, and then I saw this great, big purple vortex over the library, and everyone inside was gone. Do you know what's happening?"
"Yes, it's the work of my arch nemesis, the nefarious Dr. Samuel Johnson."
"The man who wrote the dictionary?"
"The very same. We became literary rivals during one of my research trips through time, when I went to research the year 1756. I should have known back then, that he had written the Dictionary of the English Language to commandeer English as we know it today. I couldn't foresee that it would lead to him having control over every word in existence." Simon pressed a button at the bottom of one of the screens, and the face of the old man I had seen on the library catalogue computer appeared. "There he is," said Simon, "and this is his castle." He pressed a second button, and the creepy looking castle I had seen before also appeared.
"But what about the purple vortex? And all the people in the library?"
"Oh, not to worry. I've transported all the people to safety, and the vortex is mine. That's how I travel between dimensions. What we really need to be concerned about is what Dr. Johnson is doing to our words! His first attempts to mess things up was by convincing Americans that it would be a good idea to stop doubling consonants before adding suffixes in some words, but not all. 'Signalling' is now 'signaling', same as 'traveled', but 'stopped' still has two 'p's, and the 'u' has been taken out of almost all the '-our' words except for 'glamour'. It's how he seeks to confuse us. But it didn't work. Both the Americans and the British are completely secure in their spelling, and only the Canadians are confused, which hasn't done much to affect the world economy. He's taken it further now, determined to mess us all about, and has gone into actually making the words disappear!"
"You can do that by writing a dictionary?"
"If you also have a transdimensional junctional lexiconal nodal derectifier, you most certainly can."
"Well, we've got no choice. We'll have to storm his castle!"
A demonic green hand arose from the pages of the book and gave a salute.
"You too, Isabella and Luke!" Simon tapped on the covers of The Heretic's Tomb and The Clone Conspiracy. "Isabella, bring the resurrection amulet, and Luke, we might need some clones!"
"Well we've got the stuff," said Simon. "May as well bring it along. Might come in handy."
"I usually ride shotgun," said a gruff voice through the open passenger window. I looked over to see a dog talking to me.
"Not this time, Maggie," said Simon. "I need you to hold down the fort."
"Hrm, ruff," said the dog, before slouching off to play with the Nintendo.
Simon revved up the engine, fired up the rocket jets and punched a few buttons on the dash. The front end of the car tilted upward as a large door slowly opened in the ceiling. Simon put on a pair of sunglasses with all sorts of blinking lights and electrodes on them, pulled on a pair of black leather gloves with even more electronics and wires snaking out of them, and flipped up the collar of his black leather jacket, which had what looked like circuit boards imprinted on the underside.
"Does flipping up your collar give you access to those electronics?" I asked him, "Or does it protect you from evil signals being sent into your brain?"
"No," said Simon, "but it does make me look extremely cool."
The car rumbled up the launch ramp, then rapidly picked up speed until we shot out of the launch bay and into the sky. The rocket jets shot long bursts of fire, propelling us forwards, but not up.
"This thing doesn't actually fly," said Simon, "so we're actually just jumping over to the castle."
"How nice to know," I said weakly, wondering when the airbag on the passenger side had last been inspected.
We hit the road with a fairly rough bump, but otherwise remained intact without setting off the airbags. Simon hit the gas and we sped towards the castle at alarming speed.
"Um. Simon. There's a wall in front of us," I said. "A really solid looking one."
"Yeah," said Simon, grinning. "I've been wanting to try this for a long time. I don't get to drive like this in
He flipped open a cover on the stick shift and pressed a red button that was underneath. A volley of eight rockets shot out from under the car wings and blasted a gigantic hole in the wall. We sped through the dust, not waiting for it to clear so that we could see where we were going and crashed into a wall of books. Simon floored the gas pedal, reversed and spun the car around so that we were hurtling down a brick-lined corridor before the books fell on us. At the end of the corridor was a large, steel door that looked reinforced with other bands and bolts of metal, with the words "Secret Laboratory of Dr. Samuel Johnson. Do not enter!" stencilled on it in red paint.
"Are we going to shoot through that too?" I asked, wondering if Simon would let me fire the missiles.
"Nope. Out of explosives."
We skidded to a stop outside of the door and got out of the car, me with one shoe still missing. Simon, I noticed, had on a very nice pair of black leather boots with large buckles up the side of the legs. He pressed a series of buttons on the side of one of his gloves and waited patiently while it made several beeps and chirps.
"I'm just letting my gloves hack the door," he explained.
"Simon! Come in, Simon!" came a tinny-sounding voice from somewhere. Simon pressed his fingers to one ear.
"I read you, Isabella. What's your status?"
"You killed Karakor with that explosion!"
"Well, use the amulet to resurrect him! Then tell him to draw in a door for us with the emerald pen so that we can get in. I don't think my hacker codes are working."
"Right, Boss!" came a gravely voice. Karakor must have already been restored.
A wooden door magically appeared at the bottom of the steel door and we opened it and ran through. I nearly screamed in fright as I saw that Dr. Johnson had transformed his body into that of a sixty foot tall scorpion, his eight legs tapping restlessly as he scurried in front of us, and ten little boys were trapped in his two front claws. Several books lay open on the floor.
"Rose," he sneered. "Did you think that you were the only one who had control of an emerald pen? As you can see, I've drawn myself a new body. One far more powerful that you with all your pathetic little gadgets. And as for all of your little clone boys, they are useless. Useless! Mwah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! You can't stop me. I shall continue to destroy words!"
As I watched, Johnson's scorpion tail came down on a book page and destroyed another word. In all the books around his feet, several puffs of dust came up from the pages as the same word was destroyed on every page it had appeared.
"Wow," said Simon. "You're even more annoying than I remembered. Jen, pass me that football."
"Which one?" I asked, looking around. Simon sighed in exasperation.
"The soccer ball," he said, pointing at it.
"Oh, right." I handed it to him, and Simon elegantly booted it right into Johnson's face, better than David Beckham could have done. Johnson screamed in rage and dropped the clone boys, who immediately went into ninja mode and began duct taping rockets to the scorpion's legs.
"I thought you were out of rockets," I commented.
"I am. Those are Johnson's."
Simon punched more buttons on his gloves and set off the rockets, which shot Johnson right through the castle roof. Then, again pressing fingers to his ear he said, "Zortan, do you copy?" An unintelligible string of syllables came out of the earpiece. "Right," said Simon. "You've got incoming. Make sure it never lands. Thanks, Zortan. Next time, dinner's on me."
Simon turned to me and gestured that we should go over to one of the video screens. He tapped in a few commands and outer space appeared, but the planets seemed to be out of order.
"That looks different," I said. "Are the planets arranged differently because we've gone through your transdimensional whatsit?"
"Hmm. Partly," said Simon. "In this version of reality, Zortan and his fellow Martians decided putting the planets in alphabetical order would make it all easier to remember. Also, after they'd done it, they found that winter on Mars was a lot more pleasant. Not as toasty."
I thought about that for a moment. "That must mean Earth is really close to the sun," I said.
"Yes. No one really lives there anymore. Global warming, you know."
"I see. So there are Martians in this alternate universe?"
"Oh yes. There are Martians in all dimensions, they're just rather shy, so we don't normally see them in our reality. Look, there he goes."
I turned to the screen and saw a tiny flash of light on the Martian surface. A small white dot flying through space eventually connected with the struggling scorpion. After a few seconds the screen flared blinding white as Johnson was destroyed.
"Will my lab book be restored now?" I asked.
"I'm afraid not," said Simon. "Look, the words are still missing in these books."
"I can fix that!"
Karakor arose like mist from the ground, clutching an emerald pen in one hand. "I will rewrite the words in the master copy of Johnson's dictionary, and then, all will be restored."
"Thanks, Karakor," said Simon. "You're doing a fantastic job."
"I always do," replied the demon.
"Well, Jen," said Simon, turning to me. "Let's get you back to the lab, shall we?"
"Sure. But you've missed your appearance at the library."
"No I haven't. I'll just make sure I teleport the people and myself back into the library at the correct point in the space-time continuum, and all will be as it was before."
"You're awesome, Simon."
He just grinned.