Kickstarter News

I have recently dabbled in the realms of Kickstarter, and so far have yet to be disappointed. One of the things I’m currently backing, and really excited about, is the Into the Ninth World by Monte Cook Games. I’m backing at the Lover of All Books level, which means that I’m getting the following for my pledge:


I’m not imagining things, right? That’s a lot. If you’re a fan of Numenera, you should jump on-board this train before it leaves the station. If you’ve thought about checking the game out, there are a number of add-ons (like the Numenera sourcebook) to make this a logical jumping-on point.

Me? I’m going to wait for the Kickstarter to end and see how long “giddy with anticipation” will carry me.

Great News and Graphic Content

We’ll get to an upcoming nerd event in a second, but first I wanted to share something.  I posted a little while back about Spider Robinson’s daughter Terri Luanna and her fight against cancer.  Last week Spider took the time to drop by the site and pass on some great news:

Since you were kind enough to mention my daughter Terri da Silva’s breast cancer here, I wanted you to be among the first to hear the good news we got today. After her first round of chemo, her oncologist reports that all the metastases, the tumours in her lymph nodes and leg bones, ARE GONE, and that the original tumours in her breast have all shrunk by at least 50%, and the largest one shrank by more than 75%. She is still, and will always be, a Stage 4 cancer patient…but for the moment, she has kicked cancer’s ass. She will not, after all, need mastectomy or radiation, just a lifetime of very careful chemo. She and her husband attribute all this change (which stunned her doctors) to her positive attitude and lifestyle: to saying “Yes” rather than “No” as you say above. See her splendid blog for details. Thank you very much for helping to bring attention to Terri and her blog: I’m quite sure it helped. And thanks to all who took a moment to throw Terri a prayer or a few bucks for her huge medical bills.
Shared pain is lessened; shared joy is increased. Please share my joy!

I am truly happy to share this joy!  I’ll add my meagre thanks to anyone reading this blog that took the time to donate or send good wishes.  You guys and dolls are the best!

*     *     *

On that happy note, let’s look at the one and only nerd event on my radar.  Despite the weather’s attempt to force snow on us, it is way too beautiful out there to miss out on this….

Graphic Content: Ghost World

 The latest and greatest in the Graphic Content series at The Metro!  Starring Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson, Ghost World is one of the most highly regarded comic book movies ever made.  Screening is this Tuesday, April 17th at 9pm.  Looking at the Metro site this looks to be the last film in the current series, so I’ll be keen to see what the next series holds for us.  Update: There is a Graphic Content for both May and June, and then they take a break, starting the second series in September.  In the meantime, come check out a great movie with great people!

…and that’s it for now.  If there is a nerdy event happening that you aren’t telling me about, shame on you!  Let me know so I can let other folks know.  In general, if you are a comic book nerd you should keep your eyes open for Free Comic Book Day, coming up on May 5 (yes, the day after The Avengers opens).  I know for sure that Wizard’s Comics & Collectibles and Happy Harbor have events planned for FCBD, and I suspect other comic shops might as well.  So nose around…

That’s it for now.  Join me tomorrow for a bit of geek fitness wisdom.  Because spring is a good time to work on that “Dorito spread”…

Spider Robinson Needs Our Help

While many writers have given me ideas and inspiration, there are only a few authors that have shaped the way I think to any significant degree.  Spider Robinson is one of those authors.  Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon had the effect of jump-starting my emotional intelligence, and starting me to think about compassion in its many forms.  That development continued through the rest of the Callahan series, and as I branched out into his other non-Callahan works, like The Free Lunch, the Lifehouse Trilogy and the Stardance Trilogy (co-written with his wife Jeanne, now sadly gone from us).

I don’t think I’m wrong in saying that at their heart every Spider Robinson book is about compassion.  Often between and for specific characters, but just as often for the whole damn smelly, noisy human race.  They carry in them the idea that it is possible to nurture and also be strong, that there is no weakness in caring; indeed, there is a profound fortitude to be found in loving.

As flawed as I am I would not be even half that man without the Spider Robinson’s words.  His work has reached me and helped me at some of the darkest points in my life, and I don’t have the words to describe what that means to me.  There are simply some debts that can never be repayed in full.  But it doesn’t stop me from trying.

Simply put, Spider Robinson needs our help.  As I mentioned earlier, Spider’s wife Jeanne passed away in 2010, after fighting cancer to a draw.  Now, their only daughter Terri Luanna, has also been diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic breast cancer.  She is undergoing treatment and the odds, while not the desirable 100%, are good.  But she and her family could still use help, because of the myriad costs associated with the treatment and just…life.

If you have ever read and enjoyed a Spider Robinson novel, please donate what you can to help Terri Luanna.  If his work has in any way touched your life the way it has mine, please help.  Even if you’ve never read his work (and you should), trust me when I say that he is one of the most decent men among us and deserves our help and support.  Give what you can, because even the small amounts add up over time.  And even if you are totally skint and can’t donate take a moment to hit “Like” on her Facebook page and help get the word out on Facebook and Twitter.

And I highly recommend taking the time to read Terri Luanna’s blog, Graceful Woman Warrior.  It is funny and well-written and touching by turns, and well worth the time spent.

Thanks in advance for all your help.

Update:  Jan Schroeder has begun the Graceful Woman Warrior auction on eBay in support of this cause.  There are some wonderful items up for auction so please take a moment to check them out and spread the word.

Top Three Fictional Worlds I’d Live In

Today is a bad brain day, courtesy of my old friend Seasonally Activated Depression. It would be easy to give in to it, and who knows? The day is young and I might yet. But for now I’m going to push back the SAD with a bit of silly speculation.

When I read fantasy and sci-fi literature as a boy I would often get drawn into the worlds of the stories. I spent many an hour daydreaming of a life in those worlds. I have fished in the Shire, attended concerts at the Harper Hall and drank the night away with my fellow cut-throats at The Vulgar Unicorn (granted, I only had a vague idea of what alcohol tasted like at the time. I assumed wine tasted something like Tahiti Treat. Talk about disappointment.)

I’ve never really stopped thinking about these sorts of things, of course. I’ve always had the “what if” program running quietly in the back of my mind, checking in every once in a while to see how it was running. So when a recent conversation with a pal on Twitter got me thinking about fantasy worlds I have known and loved, it seemed the perfect time to look at the front-runners for my fantasy home. I present to you my top three fantasy worlds I would live in if the TARDIS* ever offered me a lift:

#3 – Thieves’ World:  If you are familiar with the shared world of Sanctuary, created by Lynn Abbey et al in 1978, this may seem an odd choice of locales for setting up a fantasy home (if you aren’t familiar, follow the link).  But Thieves’ World makes the list in large part because of the people.  Don’t get me wrong, I would be excited to live in the city of Sanctuary at the arse-end of the Rankan Empire.  The setting has a gritty, down-trodden feel which, to me, signals the opportunity for success.  After all, if everyone is at rock bottom, there is no where to go but up, right?  And that’s what makes me love the characters.  Jubal of the Hawkmasks, Hanse “Shadowspawn”, Cappen Verra the minstrel, Tempus, Prince-Governor Kadikithis, Hakiem…oh, Hakiem!  I would spend days plying the irascible old story-teller with wine and listening to his tales!  But Sanctuary is filled with so many interesting characters, I honestly don’t see how I would ever be bored.  Given the cut-throat and criminal nature of many of them, my life might not be terribly long.  But boring?  Not possible.

#2 – PernMy love of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern is not a secret. So is it any surprise that Pern makes my top three fantasy homes? The harder choice is when would I want to live on Pern? Do I want to arrive with the original colonists, live sometime during the “interregnum”, or live in a Hold or Weyr during the Pernian “renaissance”? Yeah, trick question. I want to ride a dragon! As a kid it never occurred to me that I would not be a dragonrider. With the wisdom of age I have softened from that stance, I would also happily settle for bonding with a fire lizard or three (I’m not greedy). But beyond considerations of dragons, there is something very appealing about the society of late-period Pern. It has a simple, pastoral quality in which I could immerse myself. Would I like to work out of a weyr or Harper Hall? Sure. But anywhere in Pern would be an adventure I’d be happy to live. And imagine if I was the one to bring TTRPGs to Pern? I could start up a whole new crafting guild! Trading d20 marks for bubbly pies and mead…retirement never looked so good.

#1 – The Shire:  This should come as a surprise to absolutely no one who knows me. While I find the stories rife with problems, the setting of Middle Earth has always appealed to me.  Now that the Ring has been dealt with and things have settled down, The Shire would make a fine forever home. I’d get myself a nice little hobbit-hole on the border near Bree and spend time in The Prancing Pony (are you sensing a drinking theme?). When I needed a bit of adventure I’d go camping on Weathertop or journey to The Last Homely House (yes, I know the elves would be gone, but it would still be a wonderful place to visit). For a change of pace I’d visit Gondor and poke around on the other side of the river, maybe go spider hunting with friends. And similar to Pern, introducing TTRPGs to The Shire would set me up for life. All the hobbits who crave a bit of adventure, but aren’t ready to explore the big, bad world, would eat up something like Tunnels & Trolls. But even better? Board Games. Hobbits would take to board games like a third breakfast. Yes, retiring to The Shire and becoming the weird, old board game maker at the edge of town is my number one fantasy retirement plan.

Sometime down the line I’ll post the top three RPG settings in which I’d like to live.  Bonus points if you can guess which ones they are ahead of time.

So what are your top fantasy worlds?  Drop me a line in the comments…

*One could argue that if I had access to a TARDIS, any of my three choices would just be settling. It could also be argued that Pern shouldn’t be on a list of fantasy worlds. I say, if you’re that keen to argue go hit up 8chan, we’re just having a bit of fun here.

On Dragonwing

If you follow the SF world at all, you know author Anne McCaffrey passed away yesterday at the age of 85.  And the world has a little less wonder in it for her passing.

Like most, my introduction to her work was through the Pern novels.  I discovered The White Dragon while perusing the shelves at my school’s library.  Having just moved to a new city, and feeling a bit strange in my new school I felt a connection with the characters of Ruth and Jaxom as they tried to find a place for themselves.  Once I finished I quickly checked to see if she had written anything else, and behold!  There were five other books already set in this new world of Pern.

Thus began my love affair with telepathic dragons, brave dragonriders and talented harpers.  For years I eagerly devoured every new Pern book that came out.  Eventually this led me into Anne McCaffrey’s other worlds; The Ship Who Sang, Acorna, the Catteni Sequence, The Crystal Universe.  But through it all I always came back to Pern, with its soaring dragons flaming thread from the sky.

Pern and Anne McCaffrey were the first to introduce me to the idea of expressing my fandom, with a book entitled A Dragonlover’s Guide to Pern.  Up to that point I was content to read SF, and that was about it.  But Dragonlover’s, a sort of atlas/encyclopedia of Pern, included things like recipes for dishes from Pern.  I could actually make bubbly pies and drink klah!  It seems a small thing now, what with all the interactive content, geeky t-shirts, fan videos and so on that can be found related to every SF subject imaginable.  But back then it blew my mind; I could actually bring some of what I loved from these books into my own life and share them with other Pern fans.  If I had to trace it back, that point was where I made the switch from someone who enjoyed SF, to an SF fanboy.

Her work also broadened my interpretations of what is sci-fi and what is fantasy.  Naturally, at the time I started reading The White Dragon and Dragonriders, I thought of them as fantasy.  After all, there were dragons, right?  And any D&D player worth his salt will tell you that dragons=fantasy.  But as I read more and varied works, every time I revisited Pern I had to let that narrow interpretation go a bit more.  With ever-changing eyes I started to see the science that was always there, obscured by my youthful ignorance.  It is certainly possible I would have come to these broader ideas on my own at some point, but Anne McCaffrey was responsible for the relative ease with which the ideas came.

I could delve into all the little nuances of how her work affected me or helped me.  But at the end of the day all that matters is this:  Anne McCaffrey told great stories.  They were stories of love and honour, stories of bravery and strength.  They were and still are just the stories we need to remind us of those qualities inside ourselves.  That she has written so many that I can return to gives me hope; that she will write no more saddens me beyond reckoning.

I’ll leave you with this, Song for Petiron, from one of my favourite Pern books, Dragonsinger:

The tears I feel today
I’ll wait to shed tomorrow.
Though I’ll not sleep this night
Nor find surcease from sorrow.
My eyes must keep their sight;
I dare not be tear-blinded.
I must be free to talk
Not choked with grief, clear-minded.
My mouth cannot betray
The anguish that I know.
Yes, I’ll keep my tears till later:
But my grief will never go.

Random Acts of Publicity: On Spec Magazine

Although this is the 3rd Annual Random Acts of Publicity, this is my first time taking part in any way.  The yearly event was started as a way to make promoting a friend’s book (or just your favourite book) fun and interesting.  And I sort of dig (yes, I said “dig”; don’t harsh my mellow, man) personal forms of marketing like this.  Quick show of hands: how many of you have read a book strictly because of an ad for that book? And how many of you have read a book on a friend’s recommendation? Exactly.  So I couldn’t pass up a chance to take part in something like this; I love books, I have friends, and I even have friends who write books (which I love).

So all week I am going to post some thoughts on the work of my friends, ranging from novels to RPG books to periodicals.  As a matter of fact, I’m going to start with that last one.  Settle back while I tell you a story about a little periodical called On Spec

When I moved to Edmonton, lo those many moons ago, I took refuge in and got drunk on the many book stores available.  Growing up in Fort McMurray I had one book store, Coles Books, and they had an anemic selection of sci-fi and fantasy at the best of times.  Comparatively the booksellers of Edmonton were a treasure-house of the stories and tales I craved.  Why, the second-hand seller alone kept me…but I digress.

I first came across On Spec in the Smith Books in Southgate Mall.  Of course I had read Asimov’s and other Sf periodicals before.  But it had never occurred to me there might be a Canadian one available.  And not only Canadian, but produced right here in Edmonton, by something called the Copper Pig Writer’s Society (why Copper Pig?  It’s a secret known only to a few…).  Intrigued, I pulled a copy from the shelf, which happened to be the Fall 1994 issue.  It had a snappy little picture of a young boy in a cowboy hat riding a dinosaur (by Tim Hammell), and featured stories by, among others, Spider Robinson (No Renewal) and Charles de Lint (A Tattoo on Her Heart). Given that these were (and still are) two of my favourite Canadian authors, I really had no choice but to pick it up.  And I grabbed a few other quarterly issues just for good measure.

Now, I’d like to say that this led me to faithfully picking up a copy every quarter from then until now.  And I’d like to say that, because it would mean I’d have those issues to re-read.  Alas, it was not to be.  Don’t get me wrong; I loved what I read.  On Spec featured thought-provoking and entertaining short SF fiction, as well as great artwork and interesting non-fiction articles.  Robert Sawyer’s articles on how to write SF fiction are probably some of the best ones out there, for instance, and you could only find them in On Spec.  But life, she is fickle, and truth be told I didn’t have the wherewithal to subscribe like I wanted, and couldn’t always track down a copy around town. (Which still puzzles me to this day. Hey, bookstores and magazine shops: this is a unique Edmonton publication, sort of a no-brainer to carry it, don’t you think?  Support local literary work and all that?)

But I read On Spec every chance I got, and I have never regretted it.  Not only did I get exposed to a plethora of writing talent I might otherwise have missed, but in truth On Spec inspired me.  Seeing that much Canadian talent in one place every issue gave me permission to consider that I too could write something.  And though I have yet to make a foray into fiction writing, On Spec is at least partially responsible for my love of writing non-fiction, like this blog you are reading now.  I can’t honestly be sure I’d be blogging, or working at RPG writing, if it wasn’t for the unintentional nudge that On Spec gave me.

In more recent times, I was lucky enough to meet and become friends with Diane L. Walton, Barb Galler-Smith and others whose names I had only encountered in the pages of On Spec.  Given my love of SF it is quite possible I’d have met these people anyway, but it is unlikely I would have had the same feeling of familiarity upon doing so, had I not first read On Spec for a number of years.  Turns out they are every bit as amazing in person as I thought they would be.  Nice how that works out sometimes, isn’t it?

Even more recently, I’ve become a volunteer editor with the publication, as well as their Twitter gatekeeper (you can and should follow them @OnSpecMagazine, by the way).  And I have to admit, I’m more than a bit honoured to help even a little with a publication I have come to love as a reader.

So if you are looking for a good dose of short SF, On Spec is the publication for you.  That it is a Canadian publication is just icing on an already delicious cake.

What are your thoughts on On Spec?  Comments await you below…

Aurora Awards Update

Those of you that have hung around my blog long enough may remember that I was nominated for an Aurora Award.  For those what missed that, I posted about it back in May.

I bring it up again because voting is now open.  I would encourage you to register, vote and show your support for Canadian SF.  The Aurora Awards is our chance to honour the best our country has in sci-fi/fantasy literature, art and fandom.  It deserves a moment of your time.

A few things about voting: if you aren’t already you will need to become an Aurora member, which is free.  Just fill in the form and you’ll have your membership number straight away, which allows you to vote (It also allows you to nominate people for the 2012 awards, so keep your eye open for that).  Voting can be done online or by mail-in ballot, and the deadline is October 15, 2011.  There is a small fee to cover administration costs ($5.50 if you vote online, $5 if you mail-in), which is a pretty small price to pay in support of Canadian SF.

I hope you will take the time to vote.  The Aurora Awards are an important part of the SF landscape here in Canada, delivering much-deserved recognition to our community.  There are a lot of people on the ballot this year that deserve that recognition.  Plus me. \end self-depreciating humour\

On a personal note, I was chuffed to just get on the ballot for this year.  To have the work that the Festival Committee and I did for Pure Spec recognized like that is an amazing honour.  Winning the Fan Organizational award is not even something I’m contemplating at this point, up against such heavy-weights as Liana K. at FutureCon and Alex von Thorn at SFContario, never mind the Constellation Awards!  Anything is possible, of course, and we could get a whole flock of supporters coming out of the woodwork.

And I will admit, it sure would be sweet to see my name on an Aurora Award.

So tell me what you think.  Aurora Awards, like/dislike?  What do you think about awards in general, or any of the things I’ve talked about?  I’m interested in your comments…

Master of Devils: Spoiler-free Review

In the interest of full disclosure, let me start with two facts: Dave Gross is a pal of mine, and he gave me a copy of Master of Devils (first copy in Canada!) for my birthday.  If you know me you can decide whether that would colour my review; if you don’t know me you’ll just have to accept my word that it wouldn’t.  I can be a bastard that way.

Since reading the serial fiction that Dave included with the Council of Thieves Adventure Path for the Pathfinder RPG, I was a huge fan of Radovan & Jeggare.  Dave’s first novel featuring the intrepid pair, Prince of Wolves, cemented that for me.  So I was excited to hear so soon after it came out that Dave was confirmed to write another “R&J” novel.  When I learned that it was to be set in Tian Xia, Golarion’s analogue for the Orient, I was practically giddy.  Many movie nights in Dave’s basement have demonstrated the depth of his knowledge and love of martial arts films.  If anyone was going to make the Tian Xia setting come alive, it was him.

In other words I had very high expectations going into Master of Devils; even a friendly relationship with Dave was not going to protect him if he didn’t deliver.

You (and Dave especially, I’m sure) will be happy to know our burgeoning friendship is perfectly safe.  With Master of Devils Dave has proven himself First Brother (yeah, you’ll have to read it to get the reference).

As I sit here prepping the spoiler-free version, I know I’m going to write a more in-depth, spoiler-ridden look at the novel.  I’ll have to, there is so much more I want to say.  But spoiler-free first, as promised.

So, first impressions.  I have long been a fan of Hong Kong cinema and wu xia films, and while I don’t consider myself any kind of expert I would have to say that Dave’s Tian Xia captured that feel for me perfectly.  Many familiar tropes and themes are present: martial arts masters (of course), justice and righteousness, beautiful maidens, magic and spirits (kami).  Even The Faithful Servant, a character present in many wuxia tales, was present; the chapters from that character’s point of view were some of the most delightful and funny in the book.

And at no point did the setting overshadow the story or our “heroes”, which can be a danger when dealing with such a strong, definite setting.  While Tian Xia was always there it was never the focus.  That focus was always firmly on the story and the characters, with Tian Xia as a vibrant backdrop.

I mentioned points of view earlier.  In a style familiar to readers of Prince of Wolves, each chapter in the book is told from the POV of Radovan or Jeggare (or a third character that I won’t ruin for you).  I really enjoy this technique, because in any given chapter I know something that character doesn’t, and it builds tension for me as they make decisions they might not have made if they knew what I know.  Dave is one of the best writers I know at this technique, and he uses it to great effect.

In tone, while the novel does have some light moments it is overall much darker than previous “R&J” offerings.  The stakes for our heroes, personal and otherwise, are so much higher in Master of Devils, and they go to some very dark places in trying to win those stakes.  Suffice to say, if you thought you knew Radovan and Jeggare before this novel, you might want to prepare yourself for how wrong you were.

Okay, before the urge to just spout spoilers like a fountain gets too much I’ll put a cap on this by saying: buy this book.  If you love a really good story, buy this book.  If you love wu xia and Hong Kong cinema, buy this book.  If you are a Pathfinder player/GM and you plan to run or play in Tian Xia, buy this book.  Heck, I’m going to go out and buy this book, and I got a copy for my birthday!

Some days it is good to be a geek.  The day I read this, that was a great day.

Master of Devils, everyone.  You’ll thank me.  But thank Dave Gross first.