Sober-dialing Elvis

My participating in this sci-fi love-fest kicked off by Alyx Dellamonica is utterly laughable. First of all, because I’m an asshole. But secondly because I barely inhabit the sci-fi community. I visit it now and then but, as usually happens when I visit gated communities, they call the cops on me. Still, I attend its outskirts. Live in the pumphouse. Mow the lawns. Remember Bill Murray’s character from Caddyshack, the slightly deranged maintenance man who became obsessed with killing the gopher? Well, that’s how I see myself.

You heard me. I’m the Carl Spackler of science fiction.


But fuck it, even Spackler got a chance to pipe up every now and then. So in that spirit, I wish to recognize …

NICK MAMATAS for the way he hides his passionate insistence upon literary quality and basic human decency inside a cynical, dismissive shell. You got us all fooled, pal.

MARGUERITE REED for her passion, her righteous anger, her warrior spirit, her gifts and above all, ARCHANGEL. You have bigger balls than my dad.

DAVID T. WILBANKS for welcoming me into the haunted house, where we both came for the dark, and stayed for the metal. METAL4LIFE.  \m/

AEION SOLAR for relentlessly supporting, cheerleading and encouraging our work as a patron, reader and fan extraordinaire. Sir, you are a great gift to the science fiction community!

CAITLIN REBEKAH KIERNAN for being, quite simply, the first and best among us.

ERIC DEL CARLO for staying hungry.

SEAN SMITH for reasons too numerous to mention, and to whom I owe about a thousand drinks. Meet you in the heart of these Badlands.

WILLIAM VITKA for his never-ending guerilla war against sanity and common sense. SEE YOU ON THE FRONT LINES, COMRADE!

SILVIA MORENO-GARCIA for guarding the well, and giving water to others. (“Look for me Maria, and I’ll show you what I’ve made / It’s a picture for Our Lady of the Well …”)

TEIGHLOR DARR for being the best kept secret in Western literature.

JENN BRISSETT for ELYSIUM. And that damn elk.

JEREMIAH ISRAEL for a thousand glorious acts of intellectual vandalism.

GRAEME DUNLOP for always demanding our best, then helping our work glow in the hard night of cyberspace.

JACK SKILLINGSTEAD for always writing the truth. Beautifully.

CARRIE VAUGHAN for making the NEW YORK TIMES best-seller’s list while remaining steadfastly human, accessible and charming. You are both an inspiration and an encouragement.

CAT RAMBO for sharing bylines, generally being a pal and enduring bullshit above and beyond the call …

GREGORY NORRIS for writing at a white hot heat. (Once this man is done with his career, I swear you’ll be able to build a frigging city out of all the books he’s published …)

PETER WATTS for his unique ability to stay classy whilst confrontational.


SAMUEL R. DELANY for that unforgettable night in Bellona ….

Awright! Enough nicey-nice. Back to work, you lot!


Just received rejection notices on two pieces of short fiction. While I’m pleased with both stories, I realize the markets were not a fit and so I’m setting the manuscripts aside for later consideration. I have been asked why I continue writing and submitting short stories when I have a multi-book contract with a publisher. Well, one thing I like about writing is how every author, no matter how famous, undergoes some variation of the submission cycle and copes with periodic rejection. It keeps us all humble and serves as a reminder to me of the importance of continuing to develop my craft. Periodicals and publishers may come and go, but the writer remains. It’s up to each one of us to maintain a certain level of relevance and visibility.

I often find writers blogging or Facebooking about current events, inserting their bon mot. This is well and good, and probably a smart move as regards maintaining career visibility and remaining relevant, but I’m not built that way. I should probably blog more, but I’m reluctant to post unless I have something substantive to say. I tend to admire writers like Salinger and Trevanian, recluses who spoke to the public only through their work. Both operated in the typewriter age – one to which I would gladly return. The pace of correspondence on social media can be exhausting, and drains time and energy from a writer. This is something for which I am developing adaptive strategies.

It occurs to me that we live in an age of manufactured culture, of celebrity for its own sake. There is something very hollow about an artistic environment in which someone can become famous by association, wherein big film studios prefer funding high-concept remakes of known quantities and where “hit” albums are manufactured by committee. I’m often hard-pressed to find substance among this glut of American Idol music releases, big-budget superhero movies and eye-catching paperbacks churned out as part of the wholesale entertainment machine. Yes, fame and success are wonderful things, but art that achieves resonance from being rooted in personal experience is far preferable to me than something dredged from the mass media slush. So while I wish the Chef Ramseys and Justin Trudeaus and Ronda Rouseys of the world luck with their latest ghost-written tomes, I’ll happily file away my rejection e-mails and get back to work trying to write something that will hit people where they live. Because that’s my job. Not being famous.


Gavin’s War

GAVIN’S WAR has been green-lighted to become part of Steve Konkoly’s Perseid Collapse Kindleworlds universe. I am very excited to join Steve, Bobby Akart, Sean T. Smith and the other writers who have contributed to Steve’s ambitious, collaborative multi-volume post-apocalyptic project. I look forward to sharing my work with new readers and introducing some of mine to Steve’s world. Look for a release some time this autumn.


He was an old man who lived by himself on an island in the channel, working as a game-keeper. After the Event, when the Foundation – along with everything else – was destroyed, he just stayed on, his life more or less unchanged. Lu and Steve, a refugee couple expecting their first child, have learned that a Chinese naval force is prowling the strait, preparing to invade. Gavin knows an armada’s passage will jeopardize the ecosystem and leave his beloved wild creatures vulnerable. Reluctantly, he must set aside his hermit’s ways and join Steve and Lu on their journey from island to island to spread the news and convince the paranoid, fractious communities of Canadian survivalists to unite and make a stand.

15 & 51

I’ve been thinking a lot about the numbers 15 and 51 lately. They’re important numbers in Canada these days. 15 is the number of dollars per hour the NDP proposes as the national minimum wage – about $30,000 per year – a no frills income, but certainly a livable one. 51 is the number of the bill the Parliament just approved (with the vote of Liberal leader Justin Trudeau), pitched to us as a national security initiative but which, in practice, is providing a legal framework for criminalizing dissent against the Keystone-XL/Enbridge pipeline complex, a legitimate exercise of our Charter rights of free speech and assembly dismissed as the “anti-petroleum movement” in this internal RCMP memo.


I was very upset to recently overhear a friend telling someone else why raising the minimum wage to $15 wasn’t a good idea. I don’t normally eavesdrop but as I sat there in my booth in the restaurant, I couldn’t help but overhear him go on about tax rates, about possible consequences to non-minimum wage earners. He didn’t know I was there. I wanted to tell him that $15 an hour wasn’t about abstractions like interest rates or actuarial tables but about poor people buying groceries for their families. It wasn’t an argument that would make sense to him, however. Because he exists in a world with enough money for it to be something of an abstraction for him. Money is only truly real to those who have too little of it.

Money can purchase freedom, for example by allowing people to afford the best justice money can buy. The coincidence of a widened scope of domestic surveillance with opposition to a livable minimum wage is not random. These increased incursions into our civil rights serve to enforce a social order wherein political power of the wealthy exists at the expense of the middle and working classes. C-51 comes at a time when the pipeline initiatives face growing civil opposition. And so the Conservative government has deployed the apparatus of State to criminalize dissent, and in so doing enforced a Politics of the Rich. Those who protest the pipeline once C-51 is in place will become, de facto, terrorists. And who earning less than $15 an hour can afford a lawyer?

The RCMP and the government of Canada have decided that exercising our Charter rights is not good for us because we might use them to promote an anti-petroleum ideology (whatever the fuck that is). They probably didn’t ever think any of us would get to read that memo when they wrote it, but we did. I want to tell the guys who wrote it that this isn’t about national security or pushing a revolutionary ideology. It’s about people demanding to have a say in what happens in the country where they live. But this isn’t an argument that would make sense to them. They exist in a world with so much power that it’s something of an abstraction for them. Freedom only really matters to those who have too little of it.


One thing that becomes really clear when you start a vacation is how too much exposure to a rigid schedule affects the way you conceptualize your own leisure time. ‘Unwinding’ is such an appropriate term for what happens whenever I stop looking at the clock and start living.

We were never meant to be slaves to a schedule. It’s antithetical to the organic currents of existence.



Interpretations of radical Muslim terror attacks tend to fall into two camps. One is dismissive of the deeper political resonance of such events, tending to frame them as “lone gunman”-style incidents while the other camp holds a very rigid (and, one could say, un-nuanced) understanding of the international dimensions of Islamic extremism. As happens when views about important subjects polarize, each side becomes identified with a particular political discourse.

The blood is barely dry on the pavement of Garland and already a social media war has erupted over interpretation of the incident. When New York Times foreign correspondent Mukrini Callimachi tweeted a characterization of the shooting in Garland as an attack on an anti-Muslim event, right-wing novelist Brad Thor fired back in a predictably acrimonious fashion and a flame war ensued wherein we saw two sides writ large: one attacking the other for offering what amounts to an apologia for abridging free speech.

“Free speech” is now used as a pejorative term by some on the left who conflate supporting this ideal with intolerant attitudes toward Muslims. The recent PEN dust-up wherein six writers declined the role of table hosts for the forthcoming PEN gala honoring Charlie Hebdo is one example. The writers withdrew, claiming an anti-Muslim bias on the part of CH. In fact, the honor had less to do with the magazine’s politics (which, believe me, are more akin to Alfred E. Newman than David Duke) and more to do with celebrating its perseverance in the face of terror. Yet these writers emphasized a PC interpretation of the proposed award (i.e., “how Muslims might see it”). It was a political gesture, intended to highlight the divide separating these two contrasting takes on the present cultural tension between freedom of speech and radical Islam.

Not only contrasting, but also irreconcilable. We either have free speech in our culture, or we do not. We cannot abridge or water-down or temper a political principle. We can temper our behavior, our own reaction to things that offend us. But when we water down a political principle, we deprive the individual exercise of his own rights – and of his own right to judge.

Put another way – you have the personal choice whether or not to offend Muslims by drawing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, but you do not have the right to make that choice for me or anyone else. That, in a nutshell, is the essence of free expression.

There is an emerging sense in our culture that if we just refrained from expressing certain ideas, drawing certain cartoons, saying certain things, then perhaps we wouldn’t have to cope with lethal terror attacks. It amounts to a softening of the line on free expression, a courting of censorship, a willingness to deal away portions of that freedom in exchange for a kind of fuzzy détente (“we don’t draw cartoons of Mohammed and you won’t try and kill us, ‘kay?”). This sounds reasonable to some on the Left. It also sounds good to British jihadi apologist Anjem Choudary.

Choudary tweet

It’s comforting to know that Choudary’s Sixth Century world-view does not preclude his using Twitter, where all of us (including, presumably, members of Special Branch) can keep an eye on him. A quick glance at his Tweets gives you the totality of the man’s views, and they are as tedious as they are clear. Choudary stands ready, hand extended, to seal the deal. Do what he wants – temper your political principles and artistic culture to suit his beliefs – and you can take the jihadi-approved first steps toward peace with the disciples of his god.

It’s your move.

Regarding the Queen

Visitors to my home are often surprised to see a portrait of the Queen and Prince Phillip prominently displayed. I grew up with grandparents and older relatives who observed the tradition of keeping the Queen’s picture in the house and I suppose it rubbed off on me. Given my politics and social values, people are puzzled by my attachment to the Royals. It’s worth explaining.

In elementary school, we began each day singing “God Save the Queen”. I was taught to stand and come to attention whenever that anthem plays (I still do), and the excitement I feel seeing the Queen on television is probably an outgrowth of that. Conditioned as a young person to respect Her Majesty, I feel a certain comfort just knowing she is there, maintaining the institution of the monarchy and, with it, many of the pillars of British culture. We live in a time when it is not fashionable to revere tradition – I get that. But for those of us who see its value, the Queen is its symbol, embodied – stubborn and unyielding, persevering despite changes in culture, standing for a set of values that transcend Self. The Queen, herself a servant of tradition, for me is a reminder of the importance of service and self-sacrifice. And for that example, I thank her.

Every monarch’s reign eventually ends. And on that day, the heir is summoned to the to the bedside, receives the royal ring and, with the first whispered “your majesty”, assumes all the burden of history and tradition. There is something very hopeful in that, and very human. It means that somebody is willing to devote their life to maintaining that connection to the past. It’s a good thing. It’s my culture and I’m proud to be a part of it.