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”

Review: This is How You Lose the Time War

Signed copy of the novel

I was­n’t going to buy any books on our Ottawa trip. I was­n’t. I have too many books already at home.

Then we were walk­ing back to the hotel from Byward Mar­ket, and we stopped in at Chap­ters, and I found myself in the SF/F sec­tion hold­ing a copy of This is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar (an Ottawa writer) and Max Glad­stone. I opened the book, intend­ing to skim the first chap­ter and then set it back on the shelf, intend­ing to go home and request a copy from my local library.

But I found Amal’s sig­na­ture on the title page, and well, long sto­ry short, I bought the book.

It’s a wild ride, a time-trav­el novel­la about two agents work­ing on oppo­site sides of a time war. Red works for the Agency, a tech-based orga­ni­za­tion, and Blue works for Gar­den, an orga­ni­za­tion that might be an organ­ism. They write each oth­er let­ters across the time­lines, the threads of his­to­ry and future, at first to taunt each oth­er (“Nyah nyah, you’re gonna lose!” “Are not!” “Are too!”) and, lat­er, as they get to know each oth­er, to express their feel­ings for each other.

The epis­to­lary affair spans all of his­to­ry, most­ly in var­i­ous ver­sions of Earth (at one point, one of the char­ac­ters goes to see Romeo and Juli­et, to find out if it’s a tragedy or a com­e­dy in her cur­rent time­line), but some­times on oth­er worlds or even in the vac­u­um of space. Red and Blue’s rela­tion­ship pro­gress­es upthread and down­thread, through past and future, in let­ters writ­ten in some of the weird­est stegano­graph­ic ways I’ve seen: one is writ­ten in a vol­cano, anoth­er in a thorn­bush grown over a year from a seed. Only one, if I recall cor­rect­ly, is writ­ten in ink on paper.

The writ­ing itself—Amal’s and Max’s, I mean, not Red’s and Blue’s—is beau­ti­ful­ly wrought, by turns amus­ing and hor­ri­fy­ing. Moments as calm and sedate as a woman braid­ing her hair or enjoy­ing tea con­trast with the same woman, pages lat­er, wash­ing her hands after slit­ting some­one’s throat.

And the lan­guage! I’m pret­ty proud of my vocab­u­lary, but the authors, in their search for le mot juste, more than once sent me to the dic­tio­nary to make sure I under­stood the pre­cise point or image they were try­ing to convey.

I enjoyed the novel­la, with its twists and turns, its hunter-vs.-hunted sto­ry chas­ing itself down the cor­ri­dors of time. High­ly recommended.

Buy it from McNal­ly-Robin­son or Indiebound.

Another Parallel Prairies review

The cover of Parallel Prairies

Update: I’m feel­ing a lit­tle slow, eh, because I only just now noticed that it’s Amaz­ing Sto­ries that reviewed Par­al­lel Prairies. Amaz­ing Sto­ries just reviewed my writing.

Dar­ren Rid­g­ley, one of the edi­tor of Par­al­lel Prairies, just tweet­ed a link to a new review of the anthol­o­gy. It appears the review­er enjoyed my lit­tle tale of demen­tia and alien visitation:

What makes this sto­ry fun to read is Vincent’s deter­mi­na­tion to pro­tect Char­lie from the agents. […] Amus­ing. With a tinge of sadness.

R. Graeme Cameron

He also liked the anthol­o­gy as a whole:

This anthol­o­gy fea­tures a col­lec­tion of sto­ries rang­ing far wider than I antic­i­pat­ed. There is, per­haps, a Cana­da-wide ten­den­cy to under­es­ti­mate Man­i­to­ba. […] Amaz­ing what sto­ries the con­trib­u­tors wrest­ed from its soil. I con­fess this book exceed­ed my expec­ta­tions. Well worth reading.

R. Graeme Cameron

If you’d like a copy of Par­al­lel Prairies, you can get it from McNal­ly Robin­son.

The Twilight Zone

I real­ly want to like the new The Twi­light Zone. But I think the prob­lem with an anthol­o­gy series is that you’re always start­ing from square one. Every episode requires an all-new round of expo­si­tion, and expo­si­tion is hard to do well.

I real­ly don’t like the “as you know, Sal­ly” style of expos­i­to­ry dia­logue, where char­ac­ters say things to each oth­er that they both already know, for the ben­e­fit of the audi­ence. It sticks out like the cliché sore thumb for me.

And there’s a lot of it in this first sea­son of The Twi­light Zone.

Maybe it’ll get bet­ter, but so far I’m on the sixth episode, and it’s not been liv­ing up to my hopes.

(On the plus side, the act­ing has been top-notch, across all the episodes. Even the child actors have most­ly impressed me.)

Update

Well, episode 6“Six Degrees of Free­dom” — was def­i­nite­ly a brighter spot, at least for me. It had some issues, sure — tech­ni­cal quib­bles on the lev­el of CBC’s SF attempt Ascen­sion, q.v., but at least they tried hard­er. (For instance, they gave a rea­son, how­ev­er ludi­crous, that the Mars ship would have arti­fi­cial grav­i­ty.) The sto­ry, though, man­age to cap­ture me and hold me till its end, even with a bit of clunky “as you know, Kather­ine” bits of infodump.

Seems I can for­give a bit of clunky writ­ing if the over­all sto­ry is good enough.

Review: Son of a Trickster

Son of a Trickster

I read Eden Robin­son’s Son of a Trick­ster this weekend.

It’s the sto­ry of six­teen-year-old Jared, who’s doing his best, try­ing to bal­ance bak­ing weed cook­ies, car­ing for his elder­ly neigh­bours, keep­ing his dad from los­ing his home, keep­ing his aggres­sive mom off his case, and gen­er­al­ly just try­ing to not fail grade ten.

It’s not real help­ful that he’s start­ed hear­ing crows talk­ing to him.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Review: Son of a Trick­ster”

Bad Times at the El Royale

Still from Bad Times at the El Royale

Final­ly, last night, I watched Bad Times at the El Royale. Back when I first saw the trail­er, I thought it was an Evans movie for sure, but it end­ed up play­ing at the mul­ti­plex down the street instead, for all of two weeks. I man­aged to miss it. Now I regret not see­ing it on the big screen.

El Royale takes place at a hotel in Lake Tahoe, on the bor­der between Neva­da and Cal­i­for­nia. The bor­der lit­er­al­ly bisects the hotel. Rooms on the Cal­i­for­nia side are $1 more per night.

The movie opens with a priest, a singer, and a vac­u­um-clean­er sales­man try­ing to check in, one love­ly after­noon in 1969, but the clerk is nowhere to be found. Once they do track him down, a fourth guest appears, and she’s got some bag­gage. Well, they all have bag­gage, but the fourth woman appears to have kid­napped someone.

Of course, this is a noir-ish thriller, and no one—not even the venue—is who they seem to be.

I quite enjoyed El Royale. It felt a lot like a Quentin Taran­ti­no movie, but it was writ­ten and direct­ed by Drew God­dard. God­dard man­aged to take all the good things about a QT movie—colours, music, sud­den vio­lent twists—and dis­card the end­less solil­o­quies. It real­ly makes for a tight, nasty thriller, and it’s just the thing I was look­ing for.

If you like vio­lence, secrets, thun­der­storms, ’60s music, and vio­lence, it might be just what you’re look­ing for too.

Head­er image from The Movie DB.