The Themis Files review

Only Human image (from thethemisfiles.com)

Thanks to my local library, I read Syl­vain Neu­v­el’s The Themis Files tril­o­gy:

  • Sleep­ing Giants
  • Wak­ing Gods
  • Only Human

As a young girl, Rose Franklin falls into a hole and dis­cov­ers a giant mechan­i­cal hand. As an adult, she goes to work on what has now been named Themis: a giant robot of alien ori­gin, which, for unknown rea­sons, trav­eled to Earth some­time in the dis­tant past, only to be dis­as­sem­bled and scat­tered around the globe.

Along the way she teams up with a cou­ple of mil­i­tary pilots, a man who claims he’s descend­ed more or less direct­ly from aliens, a rogue geneti­cist, and a mys­te­ri­ous stranger who wields more pow­er than lit­er­al­ly any­one else on Earth.

But no one’s ready for what hap­pens when the robot builders show up. Or what hap­pens when a hand­ful of peo­ple are trans­port­ed to the builders’ home­world.

Turns out an invul­ner­a­ble giant robot can have a pro­found effect on the geopo­lit­i­cal land­scape.


The nov­els are epis­to­lary, told in the form of tran­script­ed inter­views, news broad­casts, per­son­al jour­nals, let­ters, and the like. Syl­vain Neu­v­el is a mas­ter of propul­sive storytelling—I read books 2 and 3 in a cou­ple of days apiece (nor­mal­ly it takes me between a week and a month to read a book), and the sto­ry itself had me laugh­ing more than once. I espe­cial­ly enjoyed the tone of the Mys­te­ri­ous Stranger’s dia­logue, even though he was some­times not a very nice per­son. (There are no short­age of not very nice peo­ple here, and everyone’s flawed, just like the real world.)

The sto­ry exam­ines the con­se­quences of dis­cov­er­ing that, not only are we not alone in the uni­verse, but there exist aliens quite capa­ble of wip­ing out the entire human race with­out break­ing a sweat. How do you fight against a threat like that? And what hap­pens when flawed human beings get access to that tech­nol­o­gy?

Well, you’ll have to read the tril­o­gy to find out. Trust me, it’s worth it.

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed, espe­cial­ly if you’re into first-con­tact yarns, sar­don­ic humour, giant robots, or geopol­i­tics. Oh, and lin­guis­tics.

Parallel Prairies

Parallel Prairies cover

Update: The Bran­don launch of Par­al­lel Prairies will hap­pen dur­ing Bran­don University’s Home­com­ing cel­e­bra­tion.

Update: The book now appears on the publisher’s site.

Some­time this fall, my short sto­ry “Vin­cent and Char­lie” will appear in Great Plains Pub­li­ca­tions’ new anthol­o­gy Par­al­lel Prairies edit­ed by Dar­ren Ridge­ly and Adam Petrash.

My story’s ele­va­tor pitch is “ET, with a retired farmer with demen­tia in the role of Elliott”.

Pre-order from: McNal­ly Robin­son | Amazon.ca

Once I have more details about how & where to order, launch­es, etc, I’ll be sure to post them.

My head’s swimming now

I recent­ly fin­ished my re-read of Gene Wolfe’s Fifth Head of Cer­berus. Feel­ing pret­ty smug, think­ing I’d caught a lot more than I’d picked up on first read­ing it, I Googled fifth head of cerberus analysis, which led me to a pas­sel of arti­cles on Ultan’s Library, includ­ing Prov­ing Veil’s Hypoth­e­sis [warn­ing: many, many spoil­ers] . And… wow.

I had no idea.

I still have no idea.

But I’m glad there’s at least one writer out there as sub­tle, as sneaky, as sly, as Gene Wolfe.

Series: Gene Wolfe

The entire series: The Gold­en Sen­tence; A les­son in a line; Inde­scrib­able; My head’s swim­ming now; The Island of Dr. Death.

Prairie​ Comics Festival

I went today to the Prairie Comics Fes­ti­val. Recon­nect­ed with some writer friends (Chad­wick, Sam, and Jamie), made some new con­nec­tions (hi, Donovan​), and regret­ted not bring­ing along my busi­ness cards (at least three peo­ple asked about Word­Press stuff).

But I picked up a bunch of local art, so at least there’s that.

  • Mini Book of Mon­ster Girls by Autumn Cross­man
  • Eggman Colour­ing Book #1 by Gabrielle Ng
  • How to be Human by Kath­leen Bergen
  • Street Style  Samu­rai by Jamie Isfeld
  • Those Who Make Us with short sto­ries by Chad­wick Ginther and Corey Redekop, among oth­ers
  • Win­ter­peg by Matthew Dyck
  • Spacepig Hamadeus by Dono­van Yaciuk
  • The Rangeroads  by Court­ney Loberg

I look for­ward to a lot of read­ing. 

Review: The Collapsing Empire

Cover Art

Cross-post­ed on Goodreads, sans foot­notes.

Every time I read a John Scalzi nov­el, I’m remind­ed what a good writer he is.* This one’s no excep­tion. He han­dles the big pic­ture and the small, per­son­al details with equal deft­ness.

After I fin­ished the epi­logue, I jumped back to the pro­logue. With the knowl­edge of every­thing else that hap­pens in the book, it was fun to see how this lit­tle piece of the sto­ry — large­ly uncon­nect­ed to the events in the remain­der of the nov­el, fea­tur­ing char­ac­ters we wouldn’t see again — still added to the whole.**

When I start­ed read­ing the book, I wasn’t sure if it was a stand-alone nov­el or the launch of a new series. When I got to the end, it was pret­ty plain­ly the open­ing vol­ume in a mul­ti-vol­ume set. (Don’t get me wrong — the nov­el is com­plete in itself, but the end­ing indi­cates there’s more to come.) Under nor­mal cir­cum­stances, I’d have felt a twinge of irri­ta­tion at this, but in this case I was relieved. I want more time with these char­ac­ters, and I want to know just how they’re going to deal with an empire in col­lapse.

The Col­laps­ing Empire, by John Scalzi

One final note: Peer review is impor­tant. Read the nov­el and you’ll see what I mean.


* In a lot of ways, John Scalzi’s writ­ing reminds me of Joe Halde­man, who is one of my favourite writ­ers.

** A note on pro­logues: Elmore Leonard famous­ly want­ed writ­ers to avoid them, and gen­er­al­ly speak­ing he’s right (IMHO). But any list of “rules” of writ­ing are real­ly guide­lines, and usu­al­ly reflect what works best for the author writ­ing the list of rules. I’ve read a lot of Elmore Leonard’s detec­tive nov­els, and I can’t recall ever run­ning into a pro­logue there.

I don’t skip pro­logues when I read, but I do notice when they real­ly don’t con­nect at all to the sto­ry. When that hap­pens, I agree, it would have been bet­ter to excise the pro­logue entire­ly.

The Col­laps­ing Empire’s pro­logue was fun enough — and con­nect­ed enough to the over­all sto­ry — that I read it twice.