The Land Across

The cover of "The Land Across": a railway through rocky terrain, coloured red

There’s a lot going on. But then there’s always a lot going on in a Gene Wolfe book.

This was my first read of The Land Across, and it’s going to require addi­tion­al read-throughs for me to pick up on some of the puz­zles. But even on a sur­face lev­el, this book is very “all things to all people”.

Grafton, an Amer­i­can trav­el writer[1]Well, that’s what he claims to be, and why would­n’t we believe him?, trav­els to an unnamed coun­try in East­ern Europe, the land across the moun­tains, intend­ing to write the first trav­el book about the nation. Very quick­ly he becomes entan­gled in the local law, Kafkaesque bureau­cra­cy, and a con­spir­a­cy that grows to include a haunt­ed house, at least one love tri­an­gle, a buried trea­sure, and a Satan­ic cult. Strange fig­ures come and go[2]For exam­ple: was that Drac­u­la?, seem­ing­ly at ran­dom. Some of the ghost­ly events turn out to have mun­dane expla­na­tions; oth­ers are in fact ghosts.

To quote one of the police offi­cers in the first chapter:

All maps are wrong. If the [ene­mies] come, they will be lost.”

—Gene Wolfe, The Land Across

I’ve found a cou­ple reviews of this nov­el from 2013, when it was pub­lished: Char­lie Jane Anders wrote about it for io9, and Mordi­cai Knode’s review for sug­gests fur­ther reading—for instance, Flann O’Con­nor’s The Third Police­man.

I’ve also found this guide, full of spoil­ers, which I plan to use when I get to my sec­ond read of the nov­el. (This note is most­ly for me, but if it helps you out too, I’m glad.)


1 Well, that’s what he claims to be, and why would­n’t we believe him?
2 For exam­ple: was that Dracula?

Guitar Lessons

Still from "Guitar Lessons": Leland walks down a railroad track

Leland inher­its a gui­tar from his “uncle[1]More like­ly his dad.”. Ray—once a tour­ing musi­cian, now a suc­cess­ful oil­man[2]He’s the type who would bris­tle at the sug­ges­tion he’s an “oilper­son”.—gets a call from a for­mer band­mate, let­ting him know their deceased friend left his gui­tar to some kid in his area (“and you might want to check in on it before it turns into firewood”).

Kind of like Viking last week, this one’s a Cana­di­an com­e­dy that becomes less fun­ny in the sec­ond half. Where Viking went a lit­tle dark, though, Gui­tar Lessons delves deep into the char­ac­ters’ flaws, and shows us how they try to fix them­selves. There’s a deep lake of dra­ma under the sur­face laughs. This film has things to say about fatherhood—biological and adoptive—addiction, grow­ing up (for both teens and 50-year-olds), priv­i­lege and wealth, rela­tion­ships, and life in oil coun­try. It’s also beau­ti­ful­ly filmed: med­i­ta­tive in its fram­ing. There’s a long sequence of Ray clean­ing, repair­ing, and pol­ish­ing his old friend’s gui­tar, word­less. The shots of the coun­try­side and the towns through­out are love­ly, too.

I quite enjoyed it.


1 More like­ly his dad.
2 He’s the type who would bris­tle at the sug­ges­tion he’s an “oilper­son”.

Viking (review)

Still from the movie Viking: four "astronauts" stand in a desert meant to stand in for Mars

Tonight I showed / watched the movie Viking at the Evans.

Five astro­nauts have been sent to Mars. Mean­while, back on Earth, the Viking Soci­ety gath­ers five oth­er people—their psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­files matched as close­ly as pos­si­ble with the Mar­t­ian astronauts—to try and head off any pos­si­ble prob­lems on the Red Planet.

But they’re only human, so nat­u­ral­ly things go a bit wrong. Some take things a bit too seri­ous­ly; oth­ers, not near­ly seri­ous­ly enough.

I thought the movie was pret­ty good. It was quite fun­ny until sud­den­ly it was­n’t fun­ny at all any­more. I was amused at the acronym for the ana­log NASA (ASEA, the Amer­i­can Space Explo­ration Agency; peo­ple in the movie def­i­nite­ly were asea). I think the fact that most of the music remind­ed me of the sound­track to the short film “They’re Made Out Of Meat” added to my amusement.

Once the turn from com­e­dy to tragedy[1]Maybe “tragedy” is too strong a word; dra­ma? hap­pened, I was still locked in to the sto­ry. The scene near the end in the phone booth felt pret­ty raw to me.

Smile and say “astro­naut”.


1 Maybe “tragedy” is too strong a word; drama?

Michelle Yeoh Double Feature

Stills from Everything Everywhere All At Once and Minions: The Rise of Gru

Last night we checked out the movie every­one’s been rav­ing about: Every­thing Every­where All At Once. It was a great film, hilar­i­ous and heart-rend­ing, touch­ing on com­pli­cat­ed themes[1]I kept think­ing about some of Borges’s “games with infin­i­ty” sto­ries, espe­cial­ly when Joy was talk­ing about her expe­ri­ences with the mul­ti­verse.. I nev­er thought I’d feel emo­tion­al watch­ing a stone with goo­gly eyes roll off a cliff, but here we are. If you’re look­ing for a film filled with love, despair, tax prob­lems, kung fu, mul­ti­verse-hop­ping, and wild cos­tum­ing, this is the one for you.

Then, stand­ing in the lob­by after the show, we decid­ed to also watch Min­ions: The Rise of Gru. This was a much less com­plex film, but fun in its own way. I thought it might be a “How Gru Met His Min­ions” ori­gin sto­ry, but they were already togeth­er at the begin­ning; it’s more of a “Gru’s First Crime” tale instead. If you want a sil­ly caper filled with yel­low non­sense-spout­ing blobs in den­im over­alls, this is the one for you. (I appre­ci­at­ed some of the sight gags: in one scene, three Min­ions con­struct elab­o­rate disguise—including one paint­ing itself like a brick wall—to infil­trate a vil­lain’s lair, even though there’s a stack of blue-and-yel­low bags of fer­til­iz­er lying on the lawn; in the end cred­its, there’s a draw­ing of the Min­ions’ Hal­loween costumes—Oompa Loompas.)

The con­nect­ing thread: Michelle Yeoh, who played Eve­lyn Wang (the main char­ac­ter) in Every­thing Every­where All At Once and voiced Mas­ter Chow (who taught the Min­ions kung fu) in Min­ions: The Rise of Gru.

I enjoyed both movies for vast­ly dif­fer­ent rea­sons. Good times.


1 I kept think­ing about some of Borges’s “games with infin­i­ty” sto­ries, espe­cial­ly when Joy was talk­ing about her expe­ri­ences with the multiverse.

Top Gun redux

F-18 fighter jet in a steep climb. Photo by Darren Nunis.

I watched Top Gun: Toppest Gun[1]OK, fine, Top Gun: Mav­er­ick. last night. The movie, once it got going[2]It was 25 min­utes late start­ing; at least three dif­fer­ent peo­ple, myself includ­ed, went to ask when they planned to start the movie., was—

Well, it was a Top Gun movie, that’s for sure.

(For con­text, I was in Air Cadets as a youth in the 1980s, and so I was legal­ly oblig­at­ed to see Top Gun approx­i­mate­ly 6.02×10²³ times.)

There was Tom Cruise fly­ing planes worth qua­jil­lions of dol­lars. There was Tom Cruise charm­ing a lady. There was Tom Cruise rid­ing a motor­bike with no hel­met because that’s what heroes do. There was Tom Cruise, being brash and break­ing all the rules. There was Tom Cruise grin­ning boy­ish­ly, end­less­ly. (“This is my only look,” indeed.)

Aside from Tom Cruise, there were oth­er items in this movie. There was Val Kilmer in the Admi­ral­ty now. There was a shirt­less game with balls (more oval this time). There was a smirk­ing jerk pilot and an elite fight­er pilot who need­ed glass­es (wait what)[3]If they explained why his call­sign was “Bob”, I missed it.. There was a very very tight time­line that they still inter­rupt­ed for an impor­tant funer­al. There was dog­fight train­ing and a bar­room sin­ga­long and some very very hand­waved geopol­i­tics. There was a trench run with a tar­get not much larg­er than a womp rat[4]Wait, that might be a dif­fer­ent fran­chise with a sequel 30+ years in the mak­ing.. There was dogfighting—good thing they trained for it.

There were jet planes. Oh my word, there were jet planes. Some of them were fifth-gen­er­a­tion, what­ev­er that means; bet­ter than F‑18s in every way, appar­ent­ly, though (spoil­er alert) it sure did­n’t end up seem­ing like it. There was a sin­gle, incred­i­bly con­ve­nient F‑14.

There were tail­hooks and cat­a­pults and mis­siles and chaff and “out of mis­siles, switch­ing to guns”. There was a yel­low-tinged mon­tage of fight­er jets depart­ing a car­ri­er to the dul­cet tones of Ken­ny Log­gins’ “Dan­ger Zone”.

I went into this movie with a bad atti­tude, I’ll admit it. Most of the mol of times I watched the first movie weren’t my choice; at Cadet camp, the first per­son to get to the staff lounge got to pick the movie for the night, and most every­one else want­ed to watch Top Gun again[5]And again and again and again..

The movie deliv­ered in a lot of ways. I can see where peo­ple and crit­ics like it. The actors are all very very good, the bit of nec­es­sary expo­si­tion when we’re intro­duced to The New Crop of Top Guns is han­dled about as well as it could be[6]Expo­si­tion is always a tightrope between eye-rolling “as you know, Bob” dia­logue vs. the audi­ence lat­er say­ing “OK, now who’s this per­son?”, and the stunts are breath­tak­ing. I admit I laughed a few times (the “What were you think­ing?” “You told me not to think!” “…Touché.” exchange was well-played, I thought).

I got what I expect­ed. I got a Top Gun movie. I still don’t know if that’s what I wanted.

Cov­er pho­to by Dar­ren Nunis on Unsplash. This is not one of the F‑18s in Top Gun.


1 OK, fine, Top Gun: Mav­er­ick.
2 It was 25 min­utes late start­ing; at least three dif­fer­ent peo­ple, myself includ­ed, went to ask when they planned to start the movie.
3 If they explained why his call­sign was “Bob”, I missed it.
4 Wait, that might be a dif­fer­ent fran­chise with a sequel 30+ years in the making.
5 And again and again and again.
6 Expo­si­tion is always a tightrope between eye-rolling “as you know, Bob” dia­logue vs. the audi­ence lat­er say­ing “OK, now who’s this person?”

Alternate Plains reviewed

Cover of Alternate Plains

Alter­nate Plains has been reviewed by Joanne Kel­ly in the Win­nipeg Free Press. She gave the anthol­o­gy a thumbs-up:

The 12 sto­ries will give you, in most cas­es, the creeps and a few good jump frights, while also offer­ing some chal­leng­ing and thought-pro­vok­ing visions of life on the Prairies — now and in the future.

My sto­ry, “Sum­mer­time in the Void”, got a spe­cif­ic men­tion, which makes me happy.

Sto­ries such as Sum­mer­time in the Void are great book-club fodder¹.

In it, Patrick Johan­neson cre­ates a post-apoc­a­lyp­tic vision where almost all of human­i­ty tran­scends to the after­life, but God has left a few peo­ple behind: 4,229,000 peo­ple, to be exact. When the main char­ac­ter demands to know why, God tells him: “Your mind, John. It’s mis­shapen. Its scent is wrong. It’s coloured out­side the lines… your thoughts, your emo­tions, are too far diver­gent from the rest of the peo­ple. You live too far out­side the norm.”

You can get Alter­nate Plains at fin­er book­stores every­where, includ­ing McNal­ly Robin­son, and appar­ent­ly there’s a copy in Coles in the Bran­don Shop­per’s Mall (at least there was last time I checked online).

¹ In that vein, for any­one who’s already read the sto­ry, I have a cou­ple book-club ques­tions to ponder:

  1. Is “Saul” spelled cor­rect­ly? Why or why not?
  2. How long does the action in the sto­ry actu­al­ly last?

Review: Velvet Was the Night

Cover: Velvet Was the Night

A young woman has van­ished. Her neigh­bour Maite is look­ing for her because she’s not will­ing to feed her cat for­ev­er. A pos­si­bly CIA-fund­ed gang­ster, El Elvis, is look­ing for her too, for some­what dark­er reasons.

Vel­vet Was the Night by Sil­via Moreno-Gar­cia is a mys­tery nov­el, a slow-burn noir set in Mex­i­co City in the 1970s. It’s fun­ny, trag­ic, star­tling, and vio­lent. It’s full of comics and Elvis and unrest. It’s ter­ri­fy­ing at times, sad at oth­er times, and full of char­ac­ters you root for and against, even if you’re not real­ly sure you’d want to meet them.

I thought it was great, and I’m look­ing for­ward to read­ing more from this author.

Buy a copy: McNal­ly-Robin­son | Book­shop | Ama­zon, if you must

Slaughterhouse-Five: the graphic novel

As beau­ti­ful, haunt­ing, fun­ny, and bru­tal as the orig­i­nal nov­el. The art is amaz­ing, and com­ple­ments the sto­ry perfectly.

My review on Goodreads

I first encoun­tered Kurt Von­negut, Jr., when my room­mate in first-year uni­ver­si­ty was read­ing Galá­pa­gos in an Eng­lish course. I read the nov­el and decid­ed it was garbage¹. It just kind of… end­ed. I did­n’t see the point. Von­negut, I decid­ed, was overrated.

Years lat­er, I decid­ed to give Von­negut anoth­er try, and I read what is, in my mind, his most famous nov­el: Slaugh­ter­house-Five. Maybe it’s because I was old­er, maybe it’s because it was a straight-up anti­war SF nov­el, maybe it was because I knew bet­ter what to expect, but I loved it. I went on to read sev­er­al oth­er Von­negut nov­els (Cat’s Cra­dle, Break­fast of Cham­pi­ons, Time­quake), and I’ve loved each one. Von­negut’s nov­els are dif­fer­ent, I think, because they don’t gen­er­al­ly have a vil­lain. They’re just… the way things are.

So it goes.

And then I heard that Ryan North, of Dinosaur Comics, was involved in a graph­ic nov­el retelling of Slaugh­ter­house-Five, and I knew I had to have it. So I pre-ordered it from McNal­ly Robin­son, and it arrived last week.

It’s great. The two-page spreads of Dres­den are, respec­tive­ly, beau­ti­ful and hor­ri­fy­ing. The sto­ry flows like a Von­negut nov­el, and the art com­ple­ments the sto­ry so, so well.

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed for fans of Von­negut’s nov­els, graph­ic nov­els, or anti-war stories.

¹ When Kurt died and went to Heav­en², I re-read Galá­pa­gos, and this time I thought it was great.

² At a memo­r­i­al ser­vice for Isaac Asi­mov, an athe­ist, Vonnegut—also an atheist—said, “Isaac’s up in Heav­en now,” because it was the fun­ni­est thing he could think of to say. So it goes. So it goes.

Steven Page in Concert

[photo of the concert ticket]

A cou­ple nights ago we went to see Steven Page in con­cert at the West­man Cen­ten­ni­al Audi­to­ri­um. It’s been a while; he has­n’t been to Bran­don in twen­ty-five years. He was on tour with Craig Northey of The Odds and Kevin Fox, a cellist.

The show was amaz­ing. I con­fess, I did­n’t know much of Page’s new­er stuff, but what I heard I liked. We end­ed up buy­ing a cou­ple CDs dur­ing the inter­mis­sion, so I look for­ward to hear­ing more of his recent work.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Steven Page in Con­cert”