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Trash Crow

So this morning is garbage day on my street, the trash is out at the curb, and an enormous crow (I’m like 80% sure it wasn’t actually a raven but I’m a little hazy on the crow/raven distinction) flapped down out of the sky and perched in a tree. It surveyed the scene, briefly. Fluttered down to the garbage.

First trash crow of the spring. Not exactly as lovely a picture as a robin, but here we are.

This was all happening right as I was pulling all my chaos together to get out the door to go to work, and so I found myself out in the driveway right as Trash Crow was getting to work itself. I put my stuff in the car, and then decided I should get rid of the crow.

It was, I knew, a supremely futile gesture at the best of times – it would likely be back roughly 30 seconds after I left, but there are duties we are taught in life and at some point, younger me was taught that you shoo away the trash crows. On y va.

However, this crow was not to be shooed. I walked right up to the thing. I really think I could have reached down and picked it up. (Yes, it probably would have pecked my eyes out) The Trash Crow just fixed me with its corvid gaze, briefly, and then went back to worrying at the garbage.

I suppose if I was really strong in my purpose I would have done some shouting, some hand-clapping, maybe gone to the hominid playbook and brandished a stick. But I didn’t.

We should not anthropomorphize, I know, yet it was very hard not to read in that look from the Trash Crow a message of – ‘Yeah, what do you want? I’m pecking into this garbage, man. I guess you don’t want me to or something, and deal with that however, but I’m gonna get back to this trash.’ Which it did. Peck peck peck.

I left the Trash Crow to their business.

Sometimes, I think we could all stand to be just a little more like Trash Crow, in fact. Doing the things we need to do, the things that are in our nature, unapologetically. Sometimes they may be things that are not especially fun (do crows enjoy ripping into the garbage, or is it a grim search for scraps of sustenance?), but they’ve gotta be done so just do them. There are things we must do, and the judgment of the Driveway People is irrelevant.

I’m not saying we should be like Trash Crow all the time.

Maybe just some of the time, though.

Bon apetit, Trash Crow.

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I guess it’s 2018

So we’re here at the start of 2018, and I see a lot of people are either doing ‘year in retrospective’ or ‘plans for the year ahead’ blogs. This is not going to be one of those, not really.

I was never big into New Year’s resolutions, and I don’t do them at all, anymore. Lots of people are – we set up lists and make declarations and then sometimes grade ourselves on our performance. I guess I’m not convinced it’s helpful. A lot of times these things just turn into ways for us to persuade ourselves that we’re unworthy, and I think most of use get enough of that.

I think there’s value in planning ahead, of course, but it’s important to recognize that we can’t always control all the things that are going to happen and therefore not necessarily what we’ll be able to get done. Waubgeshig Rice’s New Years’ comment on Twitter was that 2018 will be a grind, just like 2017 was a grind, and he’s absolutely right.

That sounds super negative, but I don’t think it was intended that way. Life always has obstacles for us and demands our best effort at times. It’s not really useful to imagine that it will be any other way – thinking the year ahead is just gonna be smooth sailing is setting up for disappointment. But, it’s also nothing we aren’t used to. Not only nothing we can’t handle, but nothing we aren’t already handling.

There will be challenges, of course. Knowing that doesn’t have to be intimidating. It means we can get ready. We can be strong, we can be prepared to weather everything the year is gonna chuck at us.

What was my 2017 like? I did the best I could with it. I didn’t accomplish all the things I might have liked to, but I handled everything as best I was able, did what was possible within my limits, and in the end I’m all right with that. What kind of year was it? It was the best year I could make.

What do I have planned for 2018? There are things I want to do, sure. But ultimately, I’m gonna do the best I can with it, what I’m capable of, and what I have the strength and energy to do. We’ll see how it ends up. But however that works out, it’ll be the best year I can make.

It’ll be a grind. It always is. That’s ok. We’re strong enough for it.

Go forth and make the year.

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I Got Nothing

Ok, so it finally happened. I have no idea what to write for this week’s blog entry. Nothing particularly struck me in things I read or watched on TV in the past few days, I didn’t see any details of the world that hit a strange chord, and I don’t really have any significant news to report.

I don’t have a running analogy.

Writing hasn’t been going great but I don’t have a special part of the struggle that I want to try and dissect.

There’s no episode from my past that I want to ruminate on.

Seven days have gone by since I last threw up a post on here, and a new idea has failed to come chundering out from the Mind-Gears.

But you know, that’s ok. I think a lot of the time I feel a lot of pressure to always be doing certain things. Gotta write X amount. Gotta make a schedule. Need to be in certain places by certain times, certain numbers of times a week. Clocks to punch, boxes to tick, quotas to hit. Got to Get It Done.

And look, all of those things are probably good and useful. I really do think that I do better with most things in my life when I make habits out of them and follow routines. (Thus, doing this blog even when I don’t have an actual topic: because I post something every week and experience tells me breaking routines can be risky) However, as much as it’s useful and important to impose structure on life a lot of the time, to set goals and deadlines and things for ourselves, it’s also ok to just not do it some of the time.

I’m not saying to never do these things. I’m not even saying to usually not do these things. I do think, having kind of kicked myself over not measuring up to various standards from time to time, that it is ok do give myself a pass once in a while. Sometimes, things just Happen or Do Not Happen and what we meant to do or planned to do or thought on some level we should do just doesn’t come together. You can scream about failure not being an option but sometimes, man, that’s just not the case. Sometimes the things we can’t control and the things we can control just don’t shimmy together in that way that allows us to Do A Thing.

I mean, I don’t really know why I don’t have a solid topic for this week. I have long wondered at how my brain works, and why it spits out the ideas it does, when it does, and I guess this is another data point to chart about Not Having A Blog Idea for the longest time yet. I’m not aware that I did anything differently than most other weeks. Maybe whatever obscure formula of thought and experience that usually fires out Ideas has been slightly off lately. Maybe I’ll figure that out, although I doubt it. But it’s ok. For whatever this blog is worth, most weeks I come up with something to write about and I get it out there. This one time it didn’t happen, and it’s ok, and life goes on. It’s genuinely good to have expectations of ourselves, and good for other people to have expectations of us, and good to meet those expectations. It’s also fine, and maybe good some of the time, to not meet those expectations and realize that that’s just being a person.

Cliche as it is to say, no-one is perfect. If we recognize and accept that in ourselves maybe it becomes a little easier to accept it in other people on those days when they just can’t quite Get It Done.

So that’s what I’ve got this week. Thanks for reading. I trust next week, I may even have a topic for you.

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Magnificent Seven

It snowed today so I think (outdoor) running season is probably over and so this seems as good a time as any to call a halt to one of my thought exercises while running and (because I can?) share the results. My mind goes all over the place during a two or three hour run, and this summer (among other things) I thought about putting together a crew of fictional characters that could handle any situation. This is what I came up with, and it’s my blog entry for today.

I went with seven spots because of course ‘Magnificent Seven’ and also Seven Against Thebes and because why not. I didn’t pick any superheroes because once you start doing that you pretty much go all superhero. I didn’t pick anyone who can do actual magic because that tends to invalidate every other skill pretty quickly. The picks are also not necessarily about the strength of these character’s story arcs or the depth of their writing (although I do think they are all, in their way, well-written), they were primarily about how useful they would be in my notional super-elite team.

There is no need to point out that this was an immensely dorky thing to do. I’m aware. On with the picks.

These are in no particular order.

1) Kara Thrace (Battlestar Galactica)

We might need someone who can fly … something … and we’re not going to get anyone better at it than this. Also she’s great at shooting Cylons and mutineers if it comes to that. Basically, anyone who’s motto is “Fight ’em till we can’t”, I want on my team.

2) Walter Bishop (Fringe)

We’re gonna need to do some science at some point. Walter can do interdimensional portals and telepathy and whatever the heck else we need. If we need to analyze some hideous creature or obscure technology, Walter’s got us covered. If we need LSD, Walter can do that too. Also, yes he made some bad mistakes but he was willing to cut out parts of his brain to make up for them. I’ll take that on my team all day as well.

3) Imperator Furiosa (Fury Road)

We need a driver, because you always do. She drives modified death rigs across a post-apocalyptic desert. Check. Also, another tremendous no-quit badass. Got your artificial arm ripped off? Beat ’em with the stump. Strap that thing back on. Keep fighting until the arm gets torn off *again*. Even then, don’t take a break until blood loss makes you. Yeah. All day.

4) Sherlock Holmes (Conan Doyle version)

Probably gonna need to solve some puzzles or figure out what some clues mean at some point. Holmes is still the king. Give him a speck of cigarette ash and a toe clipping and he’ll identify the culprit, the culprit’s accomplices, and the culprit’s mother. Also, great at disguises, boxing, fighting with whatever a single stick is, and pistol-shooting. May need to keep him from spending too much time with Walter, though.

5)Leela of the Sevateem (Doctor Who): My all-time favorite Doctor Who setup is still Tom Baker’s Doctor and Leela. I loved her character from the first adventure I saw her in (not her first appearance but w/e) when she threatened to cut the heart out of someone who wouldn’t listen to the Doctor. It was a great contrast from previous companions who had mostly been there to scream and need rescuing. I love that Leela f’n decided she was travelling with the Doctor and jumped in the TARDIS even after he said ‘maybe not’. She copes with threats way out of her comfort zone and experience with nothing but a knife (but it’s a good knife!). Her assumption about how her relationship with the Doctor will work is that she will protect him. Book it. Walter is going to have a blast with her.

6) Henry Dorsett Case (Neuromancer)

Perhaps a bit of a nostalgia pick, given my absolute love for the novel, but come on, at some point someone is going to have to Do Computers and although Case might not want to do it, he’ll be awfully good at it. Adapts with a uniquely charming resignation to whatever weird situation gets dropped on him, which is going to be good for this. Also if he really needs drugs, again, we’ve got Walter!

7) Sir Gareth, the Knight of Many Colours

Might need a sword-fighting, lance-tilting specialist as well, and Gareth is pretty good at that. But the real reason he is here is that Gareth was the glue that kept Camelot together; Lancelot loves him like a brother, which keeps Gawain (his actual brother) from denouncing Lancelot and Gawain keeping their other jealous jerk brothers in check. When Gareth dies, it’s all downhill from there. Sir Gareth will keep this whole team together. Always assuming he knows what to make of Leela.

Didn’t make the cut:

Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer version): a specialist gunfighter seems like a good idea, and I like the idea of having a guy on the team who will go on a vendetta ride through the wilderness while dying of tuberculosis and the only reason he has or needs is ‘Wyatt Earp is my friend’. However, honestly with Kara, Furiosa and Holmes we’re pretty set for shootists.

Molly Millions (Neuromancer): Another tremendous badass, whether in close combat or with a gun, but we’ve got got lots of shooters again, Leela can cut the heart out of things, and things might get awkward with Case on the team.

Indiana Jones: I love all three (emphasis there) movies, and this was close because you never know when you’ll have to deal with some long lost temple or arcane relic. On the other hand, if we need obscure knowledge Holmes probably has it covered, and if we need to throw down we’ve got Furiosa, Kara and Leela. And Gareth. And kind of Holmes. Plus there’s that whole theory where Indy doesn’t actually affect the events of Lost Ark at all. Sorry, Dr. Jones.

Leda clone Helena (Orphan Black): Sometimes you just need crazy on your side. Plus, if she gets taken prisoner (and someone always gets taken prisoner) she’ll end up killing everyone there and burning the place down. Kind of a risky pick due to being really unstable, but her being on the other side is a pretty big risk too. Might be able to cheat and get favours from the other Leda clones with her on the team. It basically came down to her or Leela and in writing my ‘missed the cut’ entry for Leela I talked myself into making the swap. Now I gotta hope Helena doesn’t come after me with the business end of a paper slicer.

Robert Hawkins (Jericho): Season One Jericho was a fantastic treasure of a show and Hawkins was one of my favorite parts of it. Reluctant CIA agent Hawkins can be relied on to have a U-Stor-It full of weapons nearby, a zillion fake identities prepared, and knows six ways to kill you with whatever objects you’ve got in your pockets. While he can get satellite reconnaissance data in the post-apocalypse, he does smile like he’s out of practice at it. However, a lot of the crew is plenty dangerous already, and between Case and Walter I figure we have gizmos and information covered. It’s ok though because Hawkins really just wants to be left alone anyway.

So those are my picks, established over a summer’s worth of running, so of course they are clearly Correct. On the other hand if you want to point out my obvious unforgivable omissions or argue about my choices, have at it in the comments.


I had a blast at Ottawa Pop Expo last weekend; there were amazing costumes and meeting everyone who came by the Renaissance Press booth was a lot of fun. The energy at conventions is something I’m still getting used to and I’m already looking forward to the next one!

Work on The King in Darkness sequel continues – the first super-rough draft is very nearly done. There’s a special, cool kind of feeling when you know a story is nearly finished and I can feel it coming on. I’m pretty excited and I can’t wait to share this one with you as well. Of course, if you haven’t read King in Darkness you should probably do that first.

I’m just saying.

Thanks for reading. I’ll try to do better the next time.

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Running Poem #2

I’m very sorry.


The dreaming tree is dying

Leaves shrivelled brown

before spring unfurled them

Skeletal, dessicated

in summer’s lascivious swell

Does it starve from a lack of believing?



That other guy’s

Did the world kill it

or did we

I move past

Hoping I can still achieve

what I want

I need

I imagine

but the dreaming tree

is dying

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Tom Swift and the Obsolete Future

In a much earlier entry I think I mentioned the Tom Swift series of adventure novels, which I discovered in a box under the stairs. They had belonged to my dad when he was a kid and although he didn’t have the complete series, he had a lot of them. Well, I’ll read anything that isn’t actually on fire and these were even science fiction, so I read the crap out of them.

They provided a good amount of entertainment for 9-or-10-year-old me, which was good, but I also (I guess obviously) continue to think about them from time to time. If you’re not familiar with the series (which isn’t unlikely; I think the books are out of print and at least one attempt at a reboot/revival did not seem to succeed) they are about a young genius American (this is important) inventor named Tom Swift, his friend Bud, and various other people who hang around his dad’s (of course fabulously wealthy/successful) corporation of Swift Enterprises. Tom creates all kinds of amazing technology that never fails to lead to exciting adventures.

He builds space ships and submarines and huge aircraft and levitating roadways and, well, anything you might expect to see in circa-1950s science fiction. It is a vision of the future where scientific discovery is good for its own sake (as I recall them, Tom builds a lot of this stuff kind of just because) and ultimately always leads to good results. Tom’s technologies usually end up promising some kind of fantastic reward that will be free of negative consequences, which is a particularly optimistic progress narrative that I imagine would sit a bit uneasily for contemporary audiences.

If I remember it right, when Tom builds his Atomic Earth Blaster (because, again, why not) the thing can burrow down through the Earth’s crust and the idea is to siphon off incredible mineral wealth from the mantle, for example. Now, perhaps a geologist would tell me that, were such a thing possible, it would actually be fine to do, but I do remember thinking at the time that basically sticking a straw into the planet and sucking out the gooey centre was a sort of alarming idea. No-one in the books ever thinks about these kind of issues. Most of the inventions are atomic. This is always fantastic.

Of course you can’t have a story without conflict of some sort and the books don’t just present Tom with technological or scientific challenges. (In fact, most of his ideas work pretty flawlessly – when not sabotaged, see below – and the science is sufficiently lunatic that trying to apply real physics/chemistry/whatever problems to them would probably not work) The writers (the series had a few) instead give Tom human rivals, who are usually thinly-disguised Soviets. They’re never described as actually being from the USSR (and I’m not sure why not, to be honest) but they are from pretend Eastern-European-y nations with names like ‘Brungaria’. They are usually attempting to steal some Swift technology, or outdo Tom in the race for some Science Achievement. Their technology is always either inferior to the American model, dangerous, or both. They are of course dastardly villains who resort to all sorts of underhanded tactics that usually includes messing with Tom’s invention somehow. Perhaps needless to say they also always lose and end up needing to be rescued by the good-hearted American crew.

Again, very 1950s. This is the Cold War and maybe especially the Space Race acted out over and over, along with installing some ideas about what the other side is/was like in the reader. It’s interesting that they don’t (I think) ever actually mention Communism. It is a very binary view of things; the Brungarians are never given any sort of justification for their actions – they’re just rotten people – and I don’t recall the books ever giving us an Opposition character who was even slightly sympathetic or in any way praiseworthy. They are all fools, thieves and cowards; again a portrayal that perhaps wouldn’t please many modern readers, and also perhaps a slightly alarming world view to be presented in books intended for adolescent readers.

Then you get into the portrayal of race. There are a few (very few) occasions when Tom, his white family, and his white friends, encounter some non-white people. There is no way to describe these as anything other than breathtakingly racist. In the book with the levitating roadway, Tom’s plan is to build the thing across a vaguely-defined African jungle because it will be so much easier than building a regular road. (Science!) This leads to encounters with Africans who refer to anything vaguely technological as ‘juju’ and at one point are terrified into submission by Tom playing some recorded music. Even 9-or-10-year-old me kind of winced at that one. I don’t know what to say about the politics of these portrayals beyond the obvious white man vs. savage imagery that seems more suited for the 1800s than the mid 20th century. Africa itself is described as being sort of uniformly covered with jungle and populated by people just waiting for Americans to show up and solve their problems. Heck, it’s not even clear whether the Africans want the bloody levitating roadway – Tom’s just decided it’s a fantastic idea.

Again, this is a vision of the future that I don’t imagine a contemporary audience would feel very comfortable with, or at least I hope not. You’ll notice I haven’t really mentioned women yet, which is because they’re hardly in the books. Tom has a mother (of course) who is a sort of standard 1950s mom, a girlfriend who primarily functions as someone needing to be rescued, and a little sister who of course idolizes her brother and is not as good at science. A little surprisingly (maybe) she is a good pilot, which mostly makes her a plot device for when someone needs to fly one of Tom’s inventions but he also needs to be doing Another Thing. She’s constantly described as ‘pert’, and I don’t think I knew what that meant.

The books were, I guess obviously, intended for (white American) boys and so perhaps this is no great surprise, although even the idea of ‘books for boys’ and ‘books for girls’ seems to be an idea that we are (fortunately) moving away from. Certainly, the portrayal of women and their role in Tom’s world would be yet another thing unlikely to satisfy a modern reader.

This is turning into a bit of a long entry, but the point is that the Tom Swift books are, theoretically, presenting a vision of the future, but it isn’t a future that has much resonance for readers today or, I guess, that we would think is very likely. I doubt anyone is out there working on an Atomic Earth Blaster, although if you are I kind of want to know. Along with having ditched (largely) the Cold War mentality and the colonialism and the sexism, I don’t think we have the same optimism about science and technological progress that previous generations did. We don’t expect that all our problems are just a magic invention away from being solved. Very often now, technology is the problem.

So the future presented in Tom Swift is, in a way, obsolete. I think there are lots of SF books out there that present these obsolete futures, which are left as fascinating cultural or social artifacts of the imaginations of the past. I heard William Gibson talk about his writing last year and he mentioned that Neuromancer is not really about the future at all, it was a book about the 1980s. I still feel that Neuromancer has aged reasonably well, and I’m not sure I would call its future ‘obsolete’. Yet. Maybe. Anyway I’m biased, I love that book.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this beyond finding these discarded or invalidated futures to be a striking legacy of years of speculative fiction writing. In recent entries I wrote about how some of the strengths of speculative fiction is that it gives us the ability to imagine how things will work out and find answers to our questions; I find it intriguing that we have this fossil record of previous sets of answers and questions there to examine and enjoy (because even obsolete futures can still be fun to explore, although maybe not Tom Swift) and to see how we once thought things might end up, or should end up. Maybe they’re more like paths we never went down (and, perhaps, never could have gone down) rather than fossils.

Anyway, that turned into a longer one than I anticipated. Thanks for hanging in through it all.

*** – from doing a pathetic amount of research for this entry, I discovered that the Tom Swift books I read were themselves a revival of an earlier series set in the 1910s. Thus the character I read being Tom Swift, Jr. Apparently there have also been two revival series. I think I need to try to read the 1910s ones, some day.


It is Canada Day tomorrow. Canada is an interesting place because I think most Canadians would agree that there are significant problems with our country and the society we have built, but then likely disagree over what those problems are, or what the solutions should be. Thus does the endless political wrangle churn relentlessly onwards.

I think, though, that most Canadians would also agree that, by and large, we live in a wonderful country whose heart is usually in the right place and that we are very fortunate to do so. As a writer and a scholar I know I am afforded freedoms I would not get elsewhere. Plus, it’s really quite beautiful here.

All of which to say that even though our nation has problems before it – reaching some kind of just and fair relationship with First Nations people seems prominent among these – I genuinely enjoy and celebrate on Canada Day. We do all right. We live in a good place.

Happy Canada Day.

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