Lest We Forget

Last week my students did an excellent series of tableaux to the tune of A Pittance of Time by Canadian singer Terry Kelly. It’s a touching video based on a true story which you can easily find on YouTube. Here’s a link: A Pittance of Time.

I continue to be impressed by the maturity and creativity of my grade 8 class this year. I really am very lucky and know I will miss them when they graduate.

Now Listening — The Secrets Podcast

Yesterday I got through 60 pages of editing. This includes some new writing and lots of rewriting so I am very pleased with myself. I’m just sorry so many shortbread cookies had to sacrifice themselves in support of my work…

Currently I am reading Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell. It’s another of those slightly cheesy but also very useful writing books from Writers’ Digest. If there is something I need help with it’s structuring the plot of my novel.

I am also compulsively listening to The Secrets Podcast, done by Michael A. Stackpole. Stackpole is a genre writer, possibly most famous for his Star Wars novels. I haven’t read a thing by him so far but his advice on structuring novels and weaving subplots is specific and useful. If this sounds like your thing, check him out at TheSecrets@Stormwolf.com.

New Features

I have added a new feature to this blog called “This Day in History.” I have also moved the “Match Up” game onto the sidebar. I can’t help playing every time I log on. Now I can do so without scrolling to the bottom, and so can you.

Happy reading.

Orca Soundings – Exposure

I recently read Exposure by Patricia Murdoch. Orca Soundings is a high-interest teen fiction series. Exposure is a novel with a reading level of 2.8+. I am always interested in Canadian publishers of young adult fiction so when I saw it on the teen shelf in the library, how could I resist?

The story suits its purpose well. The plot is tight and believable. Julie, the victim of a female bully, has an ideal opportunity for revenge. Themes of friendship, moral choices and loyalty are important. I enjoyed this very fast read. The soap opera action will appeal to readers who dislike complicated plots, difficult language and long descriptive passages. Is the author writing down to the girls? No. By writing the novel in the first person, Murdoch keeps the language simple but authentic.

I probably won’t read a lot of novels of this type. I’m more interested in SF than in teen relationships. What I would do is recommend it to high school teachers who are trying to reach potential readers in their basic or general-level classes. This is a book many girls could read for pleasure because the heroine, Julie, has a clear voice which is easy to relate to.

In other news of interest to creative writers, Robin Maharaj is teaching a fall course in creative writing at the University of Toronto, Ontario. For more information, look here for registration information.

Dystopians need challenges too

Meandering about the blogosphere, I found the Dystopian Challenge. Lisa at Books.Lists.Life even supplies a handy link to Wikipedia definitions and a Dystopian Reading List.

Many of my favorite high school reads are listed: A Clockwork Orange, Handmaid’s Tale, 1984, Brave_New_World, Fahrenheit_451, Animal_Farm, plus William Gibson’s cyberpunk novels like Neuromancer, Idoru and Mona Lisa Overdrive.

In university I read Sir Thomas Moore’s Utopia, and Plato’s Republic, Voltaire’s Candide and Francois_RabelaisPantagruel, Gargantua and Le Tiers Livre. For ‘fun’ I read Naked Lunch and then watched the film which made me squirm.

More recently I have read The Giver, Oryx and Crake, Snow crash and the teen dystopia Feed, which I reviewed here

I read more than I view but I love dystopian films, especially:

Johnny_Mnemonic (Ice-T good, Keneau Reeves, okay)
A Clockwork Orange
Minority Report
Blade Runner (one of the few films I’ve watched more than once)

The Dystopia Challenge seems made for me. By November, I have to read 5 books in one of my favorite forms. Here’s my list so far:

Never Let Me Go
Welcome to the Monkey House (I need to reread this one)

I’m looking for brand new Dystopias or novels aimed at teens to fill out the rest of my list. Any suggestions?

Happy (unhappy) reading.

Breakfast with the Ones You Love

Eliot Fintushel is known for his short stories in magazines such as Asimov’s, Analog, Strange Horizons and Amazing Stories. Fintushel has been nominated for the Nebula and Theodore Sturgeon Awards.

I enjoyed Fintushel’s teen novel, Breakfast with the Ones You Love. It features many of my favorite story elements: a charismatic heroine hiding behind a tough image, a realistic world which coincides with the fantastical, a (to me) exotic culture to explore — in this case Judaism. It’s the kind of imaginative page-turner I would have devoured in high school.

Note, this is a teen novel, inappropriate for younger readers. The heroine is romantically attracted to Jack Konar, an older teen who deals drugs. In one scene they use hashish. Fintushel deliberately has Lea use the racist term “Yid” to refer to Konar, until they are better acquainted. This bothered me and didn’t seem realistic, at least I hope it wasn’t.

The writing is technically accomplished. Lea Tillim narrates her story in a compelling, unique voice. I admire Fintushel’s ability to write dialogue in distinctive voices. His tale opposes wildly differing characters: Lea, a runaway who can kill with her mind, teams up with a spiritually-obsessed drug dealer and a minyan (prayer group) composed of the middle-aged, the devout, the young, the hen-pecked, the drunk… versus the Devil, his daughters, mobsters and shape-shifting agents of the Evil One.

The results are more suspenseful than funny, perhaps because of the gritty atmosphere. Talking cats and Devil-worshipping grannies are natural hazards in Lea Tillim’s world.

Does it hang together? For me it did but don’t expect Hemingway. I like this book because it isn’t realistic. Fintushel compresses fantasy, humour and suspense into one corner of everyday life. We can choose not to believe, Lea says, but then we’d never know how everything has changed.


M.T. Anderson‘s Feed is a young adult (14+) dystopia. In it, three quarters of humanity, those with money to spend, have a ‘feed’ interface in their brains. Implanted when they are very young, the feed supplied through this wetware allows them to look up facts, chat each other without typing on a computer and receive messages. Most of these messages are ads.

Given the advantages of instant, encyclopedic knowledge, young people use “the Feed” to get ahead at School (TM). That’s right, in this satire of consumerism run amok, the term school has been trademarked and is owned by a big corporation. Much of what they learn is how to be compliant and even compulsive consumers. The shallowest of all is a clone of Abraham Lincoln. Ouch!

As an adult, I appreciate the world-building and snarkiness of Anderson’s imagination. These teenagers will strike real teen readers as very dumb, because they are. Stultified by dependence on the feed to supply thoughts and vocabulary, they have become ultimate consumers. They shop compulsively and change their hair and dermal “lesions” in accordance to fashion and political pressure. Many fritter their funds on high tech Disneylands like the Moon or on-line drug experiences that ‘crash’ their brains.

It’s as if mall rats have overrun the world, caught up in the mazes of major corporations. Their only legacy: pollution and waste.

The almost love story between the protagonist, a son of privilege, and the object of his fascination (a home-schooled girl from a family made poor by refusing the feed) is challenging and sure to frustrate readers. Teen aged boys and girls will ask: What’s wrong with this guy? Doesn’t he have a heart? A focused thought? Can anyone be that shallow? At the same time they will know the answer: it’s the feed. He is the victim of mental interference and can’t help being a stunned bunny.

This is the kind of book I would have lapped up at that age. Speculative, idea-oriented and, despite the love interest, not at all romantic. I give it two hairy opposable thumbs up.