Sunday, October 30, 2005

Turtle Tracking

Technology these days continues to astound me. The latest sign of our modern SFnal age is the tracking of Zapata, a male Northern Pacific Loggerhead sea turtle, who was captured and radio-tagged near the Baja California peninsula. The site hasa map showing Zapata's progress as he makes his way across the Pacific Ocean, presumably towards the beach where he hatched, in Japan.

(Via The Uneasy Chair, who points out where this was done before)

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Poverty and Social Mobility

I'm going to try and pull together a variety of threads here, and hopefully tie them together in a way that makes some sort of sense. As an upfront warning, though, I'll note that in some cases I'm going from memory, as I'm currently unable to find some references. You'll just have to take my word for it, for the moment, although I do have some other materials that relate.

The other day there was a news article on CBC radio news. Because I was driving I was unable to write down the pertinent details, and I can find no direct reference to this story. The gist of it was, Canadians who live in poverty have a better chance than Americans of rising out of their standard of living and joining (at least) the so-called middle class. There are a couple of related sites to read, one on how Canadians stand a better chance of post-secondary education, and this piece from the Economist that challenges the idea of American meritocracy.

This was an eye-opening report. I think just about everyone out there has bought into the line that anyone can make it in the US. Little Billy (although not so much little Janey), no matter his situation in life, has just as good a chance to become President as does little George. But if I remember correctly, something over one-half of Canadians will move up, while in the US it's less than one-third. This is largely attributed to government help. The most important aspect of that government help was aid in carrying on in school, getting a degree or diploma, enabling these people to get a job that isn't dead end, or even to start their own business.

A caveat follows, though; the numbers for this report came from times before government cutbacks. After federal and provincial cuts were made in the Canadian version of the conservative revolution (and yes, even though we have a federal Liberal government, we've seen plenty of our version of this), changes to these statistics are inevitable. How difficult they'll make things for those who live in poverty is unknown, and won't be for some time.

So do we beat our chests and howl at the moon in pride? Is this another reason to prove how much better Canada is than the US?

I have one word in response to that: Kashechewan.

For those who think that racism is not a problem in Canada, who think that what I've noted above is proof that anyone can make it here, especially if they're given that initial hand up, I offer you the deplorable state of the water supply at the Kashechewan Indian reserve in Ontario.

Who designed the water system there? Who built, and who approved said building, the water intake system 135 meters downstream from the waste treatment facility?

Even worse, who the hell was snoozing so long that the community was under a boil water advisory for two years? Two years (with intermittent problems for another three years before that) of the people of Kashechewan having to boil their water in order to be able to drink it, two years of bathing and showering in water that resulted in skin rashes and other difficulties.

Unacceptable at the best of times, this is more astonishing because of the Walkerton tragedy in Ontario, in which 7 people died from drinking contaminated drinking water.

I suspect that a similar study involving Aboriginal Canadians would find that their upward social and economic mobility is far more restricted than that of other Canadians (white or otherwise, to be honest). There are no simple answers, obviously, and the distance to go, no matter what the answers might be, is enormous. The days of treating our native peoples like children were, I had thought, over, but this water situation tells me otherwise. Ignore them even if they squawk, and then pay attention only when another adult (replace that word with "white") points things out. And then, instead of directly addressing the problem with the leadership of the community, fly them out of there and set them up somewhere else where things can fail again.

And they will fail again. The same news report notes that there are 50-odd native communities in Ontario that also have to boil their water, and nation wide the number of communities with water problems is around 400. Do we move them all? Hell, there aren't even standards for water quality on reserves across the land. Without some solid requirements in place, the chances of fixing all of this are pretty much nil. Not that it all made a difference in Walkerton, mind, but at least that disaster had the advantage of focusing our attention on the issue.

As long as the problem takes place where people have money, that is.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Quarter Century

Back from a weekend in Jasper (there for Jo's brother's wedding) to news that I have sold my 25th short story. This one is called "Over the Darkened Landscape" and will be in Julie Czerneda's Mythspring, coming in 2006 from Fitzhenry & Whiteside. I'm pleased for a couple of reasons beyond the obvious with this one: it's my second sale in a row to Julie for her YA books; it's written under my name instead of as Matt Walker (not that I don't like Matt or anything, but it's nice to mix it up); it's the first of what I hope will be a small series of stories about Mackenzie King, Psychic Detective.

I did a count today, the first time in awhile I'd bothered with such minutiae, and discovered that this sale puts me over 130,000 words of original fiction sold. I find that funny, having had such a hard time finishing the novel, a novel that when the edits are done will clock in at only a tad more than half of that total length. Perhaps there's a lesson to be learned from this.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

First Photos Up

Well, I promised I wouldn't be doing little tiny posts with only a pointer, but I will take this moment to announce that my first batch of photos are now up on Flickr. At the moment I've only uploaded my B&W pics from the Holga, but more will follow. Three were ported over, the rest are new.

The Holga, for those who didn't read my explanation at the old digs, is a cheap ($22US) camera that uses 120 medium format film. The lens is plastic, it only exposes for direct or indirect sun, and only focuses at four different points (about which there is some guesswork). Best of all, I have to tape it up to keep down the worst of the light leaks, and I have to assume that there will be light falloff in the corners. In other words, this is the complete antithesis of digital.

The B&W I've been shooting is XP2, which is developed in colour process. Someday I'll have a darkroom again, but that day won't be soon.

Update: A better link, and a whole swack of photos added.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Atlanta Nights in One Tidy Package (or, Hey! This Post Has a Title!)

(I'd forgotten that Blogger doesn't have a title feature, unlike Typepad. This post is a gallery of everything I had posted about the Atlanta Nights frenzy, including the indispensible guide to the list of authors)


About a year ago SF writer Jim Macdonald asked a bunch of authors to contribute chapters to a really really really bad novel which he would then try to sell to (wait for it) PublishAmerica. I was lucky enough to be able to contribute chapter 30, and I'm sure that soon you'll be able to head over to find out which chapter Jena wrote.

Anyhow, PA bit and the book has sold. If you have an FTP program, you can go find the manuscript here, and the contract here. Obviously the book will not go any further than this, at least with PA, but there is talk about printing off a few copies of the ms and having the authors sign their chapters so that it can be auctioned off for the SFWA Emergency Medical Fund.

Jim mentions that the characters in the book are named the following: Penelope Urbain; Bruce Lucent; Isaac Stevens; Henry Archer; Margaret Eastman; Richard Isaacs; Callie Archer; Irene Stevens; Andrew Venic; Arthur Nance; Isadore Trent; Yvonne Perrin; Rory Edward; Steven Suffern. The first and last initials of those characters spell out PUBLISHAMERICA IS A VANITY PRESS.

I've written about the flakes at PA before (search through my "Publishing" categories if you wish to see them all), and so I'm obviously very pleased that this has happened. It amazes me just how difficult it is for many PA authors to see just how lousy their situation is, and so this is a nice shot across the bow. Not that it will convince anyone who chooses to not be convinced.


A few hours after news of the sting broke, PA mysteriously withdrew their offer, cleverly stating:

Dear Mr. XXXX,

We must withdraw our offer to publish Atlanta Nights. Upon further review it appears that your work is not ready to be published. There are portions of nonsensical text in the manuscript that were caught by our editing staff as they previewed the text for editing time assessment pending your acceptance of our offer.

On the positive side, maybe you want to consider contracting the book with a vanity publisher such as iUniverse or Author House. They will certainly publish your book for a fee.

Interesting that they specifically mention two vanity presses in the second paragraph. Almost as if they wish to distance themselves from such a place, hmm? I'm also intrigued to see that they don't actually have anyone editorial look at the book until after they've sent the author the contract. Quite the business process, that.

The book itself is now for sale here, and I suggest that if you don't recognize the name of the author at first, speak his name out loud, maybe slur the first and last name together. Profits from the first 32 copies of the book sold will go to pay for an ISBN (they have to buy them in the US), and after that royalties will go to SFWA's Emergency Medical Fund, a worthwhile charity.

Finally, if you would like to read some of the book but couldn't FTP if from my previous post, and don't wish to drop $11.94US on it (although I have to say, that's a bargain for such a bad book), then try this site here, where there's a PDF version.

We're collecting blurbs for the book, mostly from the co-conspirators. When they're placed in a public forum of some sort I will be sure to point you all to them. In the meantime, Adam-Troy Castro says:

Maybe once in a lifetime, there comes a book with such extraordinary characters, thrilling plot twists, and uncanny insight, that it comes to embody its time. Atlanta Nights is a book.

And my own blurb is:

... this... book... makes... for... wondrous... reading...

Update: I neglected to link to Jim Macdonald's own site, so I'm fixing that now.


I have yet to see anything from PA authors on the sting (they're all very nicely cocooned), but here is a nice series of posts on the recent spate of news articles. I've been thinking about this for awhile, and believe that I will for the first time in a long time link to PA's front page to see if anyone agrees with me: these guys are like a cult, like Scientologists or J-dubs or something even more lacking in self-awareness.

Metafilter has picked up the story, and an official press release will be out tomorrow. has mentioned Atlanta Nights in their monthly newsletter as a "Notable New Release," which I think says more about the interest being generated than in the quality of the writing. But that's just me.

I hope to soon receive permission to blog all of the authors' names here, so check back in a day or so.


Chapter 1. Sherwood Smith
2. James D. Macdonald
3. Sheila Finch
4. Charles Coleman Finlay
5. Julia West
6. Brook West
7. Adam-Troy Castro
8. Allen Steele
10. Mary Catelli
11. Andrew Burt
12a. Victoria Strauss
12b. Shira Daemon
13. Vera Nazarian
14. Sean P. Fodera
15. Teresa Nielsen Hayden
16. Ken Houghton
17. Charles Coleman Finlay
18. M. Turville Heitz
19. Kevin O'Donnell, Jr
20. Chuck Rothman
21. N/A
22. Laura J. Underwood
23. Jena Snyder
24. Paul Melko
25. Tina Kuzminski
26. Ted Kuzminski
27. Megan Lindholm and Robin Hobb
28. Danica and Brook West
29. Rowan and Julia West
30. Derryl Murphy
31. Michael Armstrong
32. Pierce Askegren
33. Deanna Hoak
34. Computer generated
35. Catherine Mintz
36. Peter Heck
37. M. Turville Heitz
39. Brenda Clough
40. Judi B. Castro
41. Terry McGarry

I know that Teresa Nielsen Hayden wrote a chapter, but she won't own up to which one it is. (Update: that obviously changed. I brought in what I knew from the comments and elsewhere. Still incomplete, so I'll poke around and find the answers, I hope.) Some of these people are spouses, some are children, and Robin Hobb and Megan Lindholm are the same person. Obviously, I couldn't find a site for every writer listed, which is too bad.

Here's the press release. The book now has a series of blurbs on the back cover, which can be viewed better here, since you can magnify it.


Unless some PA author's head pops off, there will likely be no more posts on the matter after this. The book is now available in a free e-version for your e-books over at Embiid, complete with a lovely new cover. I don't know if the spelling is intentional or if it's a tragic irony, but see if you can spot the error here.

(Another import from Cold Ground)

Jon Christensen has very graciously taken time out from his book-writing time to blog a short review of Wasps at the Speed of Sound, here.

And Quill & Quire has a review of Fantastic Companions, which of course includes a story by my alter ego, Matt Walker. Here's an excerpt:

The use of animal companions in fantasy writing is a difficult balancing act; walking the line between coy anthropomorphism (with its risk of sentimentality) and sage-like omnipotence is a feat for even the most seasoned writer. Thus Fantastic Companions, a new collection of contemporary fantasy writing dedicated to beastly sidekicks, comes as a most pleasant surprise.

The latest volume in Realms of Wonder (an ongoing series of fantasy collections intended for both the trade and educational YA markets), skillfully edited by Toronto writer Julie E. Czerneda, collects 19 thematically linked stories. Although many of the writers are new or little-known (Janny Wurts probably has the highest profile), there's not a single dud in the collection. In fact, it's among the strongest anthologies of fantasy fiction in recent memory.

Although intended for young adult readers, the stories don't feel constrained by that target audience (there is no sex, but there is some violence here and there), and the collection will appeal to adult readers. It serves as an effective sampler of contemporary fantasy, with stories ranging from traditional high fantasy to gritty urban fantasy, from the folk-tale inspired ot the scientifically informed.

Among the highlights are: Matt Walker's "The Day Michael Visited Happy Lake," a delightful fantasy in which the animal characters in a child's books come to life and lead him on a quest; Vancouver astronomer Daniel Archambault's "A Sirius Situation," an amusing romp that begins when Ursa Minor and Canis Major chase each other out of the sky and into a suburban backyard; and Connecticut writer Fran LaPlaca's first published fiction, "Wings to Fly," which maintains a folk-tale tone in its chronicling of a young woman coming of age guided by a crow.

Truth be told, however, they're all highlights - none of these stories is anything less than solid, and most of them soar. Highly recommended for any reader.

Nice to be singled out, but it's also nice to see the whole book be praised.

(Note: Another import from Cold Ground)

This past Sunday, while I was in Seattle for NASFiC, Douglas Barbour of the Edmonton Journal reviewed Wasps at the Speed of Sound. Apparently he liked it:

"These stories reflect the dark
expectations of a writer all too aware of an ecological devastation
that may already be too far gone, and their visionary
extrapolations are harsh, but beautifully rendered."

"Many feel satiric, while others are more
purely elegiac, quiet memorials for a world now lost. All are
solidly crafted, full of sharp observations, interesting
characters, and wholly believable ecological speculations
(believable as fiction, not necessarily as science: take the speedy
armoured wasps of the title story breaking through windows and
walls, easily killing people just by hitting them)."

"If all this
sounds a bit too pessimistic, it misses the fact that these tales
are savagely witty, as well as often compassionate and quirkily

"Actually, there's not a dud in this collection, although some
stories clearly stand out above the others. For anyone interested
in fine contemporary SF, or in the well-crafted short story, Wasps
at the Speed of Sound
will fill the bill."

There's more, of course, but there's also an explicit embargo on posting the entire thing. The even better news is, I know for sure of one sale that has come out of this review.

(Note: This is the first post I'm porting over from Cold Ground. Many will be less chest thumping than this, but I did want to bring over the notes about my book. Feel free to ignore it)

Donna McMahon has reviewed Wasps at the Speed of Sound for both On Spec's review page and for SF Site, and has quite nicely given me a heads up. It isn't posted yet, but will be soon. In the meantime, here are a few key quotes:

...Murphy uses polished, economical prose to create intelligent stories
that feel very real. He is very much a 'hard' SF writer in the sense
that he writes "idea" stories, and he has done his research, resulting
in occasional dialogue lectures, which are nonetheless smoothly

...What raises all these stories above average for SF, is that Murphy
visibly and tangibly cares. He isn't afraid of
emotions and he wants to explore the tangle of relationships and
motivations that drive human beings. He also cares deeply about the
environment, so that his landscapes are far more than just backgrounds
for action--they are essential. Murphy is intense. He doesn't just
want to get in your head, he wants to get in your heart and in your

...The effect of such savagely pessimistic stories in one concentrated
dose is depressing as all hell, and by half way through a reader might
be excused for wondering: if that's Murphy's view of the future, why
does he have kids? Why isn't he hanging from a rafter some place?

It is a positive review, and I take her critical statements in good humour (and there are several critical statements). As opposed to some past reviews of individual short stories, where the reviewer really couldn't back up why they were being negative about something, Donna makes solid points. But they're a caveat for the reader only if said reader wants to read something perpetually happy, and such a warning makes sense to me. Sometimes.

(Update: The review is now up at the On Spec page)

Sunday, October 16, 2005

For those of you coming over from my previous digs, welcome. Expect a rather different take on things here; I doubt I'll post short little links to things quite as often, but rather will embark on slightly longer takes. Which means that you probably don't need to check in here every day, if you know what I mean. Unlike some other writers and editors who blog, I apparently don't multitask as well, and between the writing, the job, the kids, the sports, and being sick (did I mention that this morning I was in ER being diagnosed with walking pneumonia? No boogie woogie blues, though).

I'm going to import some of my more important stuff over from Cold Ground over the next couple of weeks, so that may be the bulk of what shows up here for the first little while. Everything on PublishAmerica, especially on the Atlanta Nights sting (and I'll get Wikipedia updated when that comes over), everything else on scams and on the business of writing that I may have scribbled.

In the meantime, have a look at this glorious site called Best publishing options: Unbiased, Consumer Information. And when I say glorious, I of course mean pretty damn ugly.

First of all, I sit stunned that I managed to read through the entire thing without severe eyestrain. Who The Hell Writes Every Sentence Where They Capitalize Every Single Frickin' Word? Every sentence on every page.

There is a disclaimer on the site noting that they don't get paid to advertise their "Editors' Picks Recommended Companies For Publishing." No, I imagine not, but I think click throughs on the ads feed them revenue, and I see no ads for what they interestingly call a 'Publisher.' And no, I don't know why they do that.

Anyhow, onward. Here’s a great line: "Get An Excellent Attorney And Congratulations If A Traditional Publishing House Picks You Up!"

This is an almost passive aggressive approach to the whole thing, wouldn't you say? Previous paragraphs talk about the pros of getting a contract, but by gum, make damn sure you get an attorney! Ordinary attorneys won't do, incidentally. Because the secret code is that Traditional 'Publishers' are out to get you.

Cherry picking a few more items, jumping down the page you suddenly come to a lengthy list of Cons involved with traditional publishing. Life is too short to pick at everything, but it sure comes as a shock to hear that it’s a negative that the publisher wants to maximize the commercial impact of your work. I suppose (no, actually, I know, sadly) that there are writers who don’t care about sales, who insist it is only about the art or the craft and they would never bring themselves to prostituting themselves or their words. Is it because these are the people who write works nobody wants to read, or are they actually the Johns of the biz, buying services from those back alley-strolling vanity presses who feed on the unsuspecting customers, sticking tongue in ear and stroking a hopeful erection while digging for the wallet with the other hand?

There seems to be some concern about owning your own ISBN, too. Apparently, if you don’t own your own and you wish to be published by someone else, this could be a Bad Thing. Never mind that most people I know don’t Google the bloody ISBN, they Google the title. Hell, even bookstores these days usually go with the title. ISBNs are for catalogues from established publishing houses.

Talking about marketing, the site even suggests that lightening (sic) can sometimes strike, and maybe YOU! Will be lucky enough to be picked up by Oprah’s Book Club. Yeah, they temper that idea with a short notice that it isn’t bloody likely, but encouraging impossible dreams has long been the ideal of the vanity and self publishing, so what’s an obnoxious billionaire talk show huckster between friends?

On the plus side, there seems to be some good advice scattered throughout, things that make perfect sense to what one would hope would be everyone, but somehow even slip through the minds of new (and sometimes even established) pros. Like, say, examine your contract.

There’s a boatload of sites like this kicking around the web, many far more dangerous than this. Hell, this place is rather innocuous, and since it’s so badly written it can’t be all that dangerous, can it? Understand, though, that bad writing is like flypaper to some folks, and as long that bad writing tells them what they want to hear (well, read), they’re all over it.

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