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Checking out the city’s first major comicon at Fan Expo Vancouver

FanExpoVancouverAs a sci-fi/fantasy geek in Vancouver B.C., I’ve envied the conventions that take place in the rest of North America.

We have some small scale events here, but they’re pretty low-key and mostly entail browsing through the stock of the local comic book stores. I like them, but I’ve also been craving the big con experience, along with the cosplays, chaos, and big media consumerism. I finally had a taste of it at first Fan Expo Vancouver.

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Badass Cosplayer. Photo by Rick Chung. (www.rickchung.com)

It took place this past weekend, April 21-22, at the Vancouver Convention Centre. The line-up outside was insane, eventually spanning several blocks. I purchased my ticket in advance, so I was able to go inside immediately, but even then, it still took 45 minutes of lining up inside. It was that packed.

Damn, there were a lot of geeks, so many that I’m sure that many were from outside of Metro Vancouver. The scifi/fantasy media represented were mostly film, TV shows, video games, and comic books. Guests included the original Batmobile, Adam West & Burt Ward (Batman), Kevin Sorbo (Hercules, Andromeda), Marina Sirtis & Michael Dorn (Star Trek: Next Generation), and Kristin Bauer (True Blood). Canadian author Spider Robinson was pretty much the only one repping SF literature. But where was Vancouver homeboy, William Gibson? Perhaps cons aren’t his thing.

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The original Batmobile. Photo by Rick Chung.

Comic artists/writers included Pia Guerra (Y The Last Man), Greg Rucka (The Punisher), and Whilce Portacio (The Hulk, and he’s Filipino-American). English voice actors represented the anime area (none of which I recognize, not my scene, although Anime Revolution hosted some panels), and several folks behind ReBoot were there.

Just some quick background–ReBoot is a 3d animated series from the 1990s, and a favourite amongst many Canadians of my generation. It was the first of its kind and produced from Vancouver, paving the way for the city’s animation industry. Unfortunately, I’ve never seen a single episode. What the heck was I doing back then? I think I was watching Cybersix and reading Dragonlance. Anybody have episodes to lend? I need to fill the hole in my Vancouver geek cred, quick.

I also had a nice chat with comic artist/writer, Nina Matsumoto, i.e. Space Coyote. She’s most well-known for her comic art for The Simpsons. She also illustrated the comic prequel to the Last Airbender film and is the creator of Yōkaiden, an original English manga published through Del Ray.

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Nina Matsumoto/Space Coyote

I actually haven’t read any of her more recent work, because I knew her from her Saturnalia webcomic, before she became famous with her Simpsons art. She’s busy with the Simpsons series, but she said that if she were to return to Saturnalia, she’d like to work on a prequel. Nina is also a Vancouver-based artist. She went to a high school that I know several people from, and we also went to the same art school, but at different times.

My favourite part of Fan Expo was the Artist Alley, checking out the goods by local comic artists. I read indie SF literature all the time, but what about indie SF comics? It’s a scene I’d like to explore further. I procured some merch to facilitate further research.

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My Canadian comic bounty

My research materials into the Canadian comic scene consists of two fancy comic books, and one badass print of a flapper with a Tommy Gun. Awesome. Oh yes, apologies for the bad photo quality. Despite the fact that I am part Frida Kahlo and part cyborg, I still use a Nikon point and shoot from 2005, and I don’t have Instagram pro skills. Consider these previews of the real thing.

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Flapper with a Tommy Gun by Craig Wilson

My photo doesn’t do this art print justice but I swear, it’s gorgeous. I don’t think this lady is in a comic, but she should be. She’d probably fit into Art-Deco-Noir Strange Aeons webcomic. But yes, this print is made by Craig Wilson, who is a Vancouver comic artist man of mystery, who probably likes snowboarding or storyboarding because his online pseudonym is BoardGuy, but that’s all I could find out about him. Craig, where I can I find the rest of your stuff outside of your blog? Do you have an online shop? When’s your next con appearance? And if you’re reading this, can you please make a 1930s action comic where the ladyfolk are armed to the nines? You can collaborate with Jordan Boos of Strange Aeons, or compete against him, I don’t care! I need to see that flapper in an action sequence set inside the Marine Building, and causing the whole thing to collapse unto itself and burst into flames.

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Like this.

Next up is Lords of Death and Life, a Mesoamerican historical fantasy comic by Jonathon Dalton.

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Lords of Death and Life by Jonathon Dalton

Jonathon lives in Abbortsford (a city just outside of Metro Vancouver) and he has some ongoing free webcomics on his website. I browsed through them and he seems into historical fantasy set outside of the usual European/Western tradition, and I completely approve.

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Inside

This was the first time I’ve seen his work, but the premise and the beautiful artwork drew me in.

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Lords of Death and Life Back Cover

You can’t really read it, but this is what it says:

Imagine a world with powerful empires, huge cities built on trade, and three thousand years of recorded history, but one in which even the wheel doesn’t exist. It is a world where heroes step in and out of legend and magicians transform themselves at will.

Mol Kupul lives in this world. When he travels to the city of Xicalango in search of someone to interpret his strange dreams, he instead finds trouble brewing between the city’s Mayan and Aztec populations, and supernatural forces at work beyond his worst nightmare.

And with some commentary from Scott McCloud:

Jonathon Dalton’s Lords of Death and Life is an intoxicating fusion of ancient design and modern imagination. A fresh and enjoyable read.

Between those is a scene of a lone person wandering though the underworld, and beyond him is a skeleton with a spear to the skull–sold. I can’t wait to read it. If you can’t wait either, you can purchase the paper book from one of the listed retailers on Jonathon’s website, or as an ebook on The Illustrated Section and Graphicly.

Last but not least is Exploded View, a sci-fi comic anthology from the Vancouver-based Cloudscape Comics.

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Exploded View from Cloudscape Comics

I’ve never read a comic anthology before, but it has stories from 25 different creators, so that should be interesting.

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Inside

Dialogue from Aquanaut Zero by John Christmas:

“Government issued sake sucks. It’s the first thing you learn in Aquanaut training. This still hasn’t stopped Takashi from complaining about it. We’re explorers on imperial science vessel 00119 on a mission to the heart of the ocean.”

And Takashi behind him shouts, “My dog drinks better sake!”

You can buy the ebook and paper copy at the Cloudscape Comics store.

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If you Vancouver folk want more comiccon action, there’s the Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo next weekend from April 27 to 29 (only a 13 hour roadtrip!) and the Vancouver Comic Arts Festival (VanCAF) from May 26 to 27 (a Skytrain ride away). The latter takes place at the Yaletown Roundhouse and it’s free to attend. I’m totally going to VanCAF. By then I’ll be caught up with my ebooks and comics, and ready to take on more.

I found out all about this awesomeness through Fan Expo Vancouver. So let’s do it all again next year! What say you?

Interview with Speculative Fiction Author Jeff Pearce

Bianca: The Silver Age is sexy superhero/urban fantasy set in the future, and it’s one of the most unique books I’ve encountered recently. I love the world-setting (futuristic urban fantasy with alchemy!) and how it fearlessly tackles themes that other superhero fiction would shy away from. I’m pleased to be  joined here by the author, Jeff Pearce, as he talks about superhero fiction, being a Canadian spec-fic author, and e-publishing.

***

Frida: What was the inspiration for Bianca: The Silver Age?

Bianca: The Silver Age by Jeff PearceJeff: I have to back up, way back, to answer your question.  I grew up reading superhero comics—Batman, Superman, all the DC greats, and I still adore them.  But it’s extremely hard for a writer to break into mainstream comics.  The way to do that is usually to hit the conventions and show your work, but I’ve never had the bucks or days off to do that, and the big companies don’t take unsolicited scripts.  So what do you do when you want to write about superheroes but you can’t write about their superheroes?  Invent your own!

A few years ago, I was writing erotic thriller novels under pseudonyms, and fans responded to my character, Teresa Knight, who’s a sexy sleuth, a gal who’s smart and can handle herself.  One reviewer called her a “feminist icon,” which put me over the moon.  The books are still around through Random House reprints, but my character was “orphaned” because my original publisher went under.   I’ve always wanted to take the best of what worked with Teresa—her brains, her feistiness—but jettison the more gratuitous sex elements I was under pressure from certain editors to add.  I suppose that statement’s kind of ironic in that Bianca is a succubus, but she’s very much the descendant of my original heroine.

In the beginning, Bianca and her whole Paladin world were supposed to go into a graphic novel, but that fell through.  I still wanted to develop the concepts, so my natural instinct was to novelize them.  Now putting heroes in panels is one thing, but a novel doesn’t have that visual shorthand that comic book readers accept.  “Oh, the guy flies,” or “Okay, he shoots his gadget gun.”  In a novel, your suspension of disbelief insists on more.  I wondered how I could get this stuff to make sense, because to me, you need more going on.  It just falls apart if you say: The world is realistic like our own, but you’ve got heroes with it.  Uh-uh.  Bzzzz, wrong.  The world itself has to enable this, and that got me thinking how the urban fantasy genre is perfect for bending the rules of physics and chemistry…

I have to laugh at myself for being such an arrogant idiot in trying to invent a whole new superhero universe as the backdrop to her story and any sequels.  I mean after all, both DC and Marvel developed with multiple contributors over more than half a century.  What the hell was I thinking? The good thing is that with all their creations out there, it forces you to come up with something original or at least a new take on an old theme.  But I’m sure readers can recognize certain archetypes.  Clerfayt’s a detective avenger, and he’s rich.  I know, I know, who does that sound like?  But then you find out how he gets his wealth, and it’s unusual—and it works in urban fantasy.

Frida: I haven’t been exposed to much superhero fiction outside of mainstream comic books (DC, Marvel) and old pulp masked heroes (e.g. Zorro, The Shadow). What struck me about the Paladins, the superheroes in this world, is that their actions have consequences on world politics. It’s not to the same extent as say, the alternate history in The Watchmen (with superheroes getting involved in Vietnam), but it still runs counter to the way mainstream superheroes treat superhero activity as a non-political and non-historical thing.

I especially liked how the superhero/vigilante in Sudan (the Bandit Queen/Makeda) and the rest of the Paladins actively negotiate their working relationship, because intervention is never a simple non-political thing without ethical dilemmas. As Bianca reflected in a scene, “It bothered her that Makeda Falosade had made them all feel like intruders, not saviors. Maybe they were intruders.”

Did you intentionally set out to explore certain themes in superhero fiction, or did they just develop naturally as you wrote the story?

Jeff: Oh, the intention was always there.  To be honest, I’m not crazy about other attempts at superheroes in novels—they’ve really disappointed me.  Marvel and DC both put out paperback novels that read like shallow film novelizations even when they’re original stories, and that’s ironic, because the actual comics can have real depth.  The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller explores themes that make it literature.  When Marvel did its whole “superhero registration act” storyline, it was a mess, but it aspired to greatness.  But in novels, some writers still treat heroes like Freudian head-cases, or their novels get kitschy and self-referential.  For them, it’s a literary stunt.

I wanted to get back to the tone of superheroes as larger-than-life figures and play it straight, instead of winking at the reader.  If you’re a fan of the Justice League cartoon series, you know that one season had this fantastic story arc about how the U.S. government and ordinary people start to get scared over heroes having all this power with a satellite base in the sky…  Adult themes and issues.  That’s the feel I’m going for.

I see my Paladin world as perfect territory to ask some hard questions.  There are still so many ideas that can be explored in novels, while up to now the comics have been doing the heavy lifting.  The movies only flirt with these issues.  For instance, remember Superman Returns?  I always thought they wimped out on that.  What they should have done is not dance and hint around the issue, but have Superman flat-out in context of 9/11.  Bring it right out in the open, and have him fly over the rubble of Ground Zero.  Have people ask: “Why didn’t you stop this?  Why don’t you go get this guy?”  Of course, he can’t, we know he can’t, and it would be preposterous if you even tried to suggest he’d do it as the end credits roll—and yet he’s Superman, he could and maybe he should.  Or shouldn’t.  Either way, you then have a real story, because you have stakes that really matter.

So the international issues the Paladins struggle with are ones many of us in the real world feel are overwhelming.  You mentioned intervention in Africa, and that’s one. In Bianca’s second book, Mask of Anarchy, which I hope to bring out in the summer or early fall, she’s forced into a no-win situation where she can’t just go in and kick ass.  The country this time is a quasi-Vietnam-Cambodia-Burma nation where the people believe in non-violence.  Okay, what do you do if you’re a superhero?  The strategy of non-violence works on shame.  But the brutal regimes of Syria, of Iran, of Burma today don’t feel shame.  They don’t give a shit.  You have all these powers but if you use them arbitrarily like a god, you’ll undermine the self-determination of the very people you’re supposed to be “saving.”  What do you do?

Frida: I’m really impressed by the world-building in Bianca. I love how the setting is a mash-up between near-future sci-fi and early 20th century-inspired urban fantasy, and some flourishes of Victorian England and earlier with the use of alchemy and such. Could you elaborate more on this? I’m intrigued how the fragmented nation-states came to be, and why everyone is so stylishly dressed.

Jeff: Hmmm… That’s a very difficult question for me because I don’t want to give away a lot.  You’re right in that it’s very much a “ten minutes into the future” mash-up world where you’ve got Maglev float-bikes but also alchemy, which of course is proto-chemistry that goes back to Newton and Paracelsus.  I had to build things that way because the Paladins themselves are a mash-up team, just as superhero teams always are with DC and Marvel.  Here you’ve got Thelonius Minh, a master of combat yoga who has a unique origin, working with Makeda Falosade, who’s brilliant at physics and engineering but who also knows African magic.  And they’ve got to work with Plague Man, a completely bat-shit unstable entity who’s so full of human rage and grief, but who can become a cloud of mustard gas or make himself into a neurotoxin in seconds.  They have to live in a very interesting world.

As for the nation-states… I’ve deliberately kept the political back story a submerged iceberg, at least for now, because this is the one thing to me that readers will go along with in a novel, in terms of suspension of disbelief, in the same way gadgets and powers are often accepted without question for superheroes in film.  If Bianca were a movie, I think we’d have the reverse challenge.  She’d be stronger than most regular humans, and Clerfayt would simply arrive wrapped in mist.  If you wondered how he makes his gadgets, you answer that in a 10-second montage.  But in a 300-plus page novel, you have to go into the actual details.  In a film, we wouldn’t sweat the mechanics—instead, we’d very much care how our guys got into their situation.  It’s why you always get those white-on-black expository intros in SF movies or somber narrations.

Bianca: The Silver Age was always intended to be ambitious, to kick off a multi-strand series of novels, each book featuring one or two individual Paladins, such as say Clerfayt with Hawkwood showing up, or Makeda Falosade on a solo adventure.  I wanted to create a world in which other writers can hopefully contribute when Gallivant Books is in a stronger position to commission talented authors.  So I haven’t locked in too many fine details of how the world got into its mess, and that’s so others can play in my sandbox.  Here’s hoping they will.

As for their outfits…  It’s nice you call them stylish!  I was actually trying to come up with alternatives to the old cape and tights clichés.  I’ve always dreamed (sometimes in a ruthlessly commercial sense) of the franchise possibilities of the Paladins, and if they’re to work some day in comics or by some miracle, wind up in a movie, they need to be distinctive but not ludicrous.  A hot chick in a bolero jacket and a hakama kicking your ass has to be taken seriously.  A guy in a fisherman’s cap and a dark coat in the shadows can still look menacing.  A guy in vagabond rags who suddenly turns into a cloud of disease is fucking scary.

Frida: As a genre writer based in Canada, what are your thoughts on the publishing landscape for genre fiction and for Canadian literature? What do you think of the concept of the Sci-fi Ghetto? I just wanted to bring that up because out of all the Canadian speculative fiction authors I’m aware of, the only one that gets attention from national media is the one that claims that her works aren’t sci-fi (ahem, Margaret Atwood).

Jeff: Yeah, I’m disgusted by the fact that when the BBC asked Atwood about science fiction, she took offense and called it “talking squids in outer space.”  Her comment really captures the snobbery here regarding literature.  The contempt is quite baffling and downright silly—I mean you have Robert J. Sawyer who’s won virtually every SF award you can think of, you have Guy Gavriel Kay, Tanya Huff, so many others.

The truth is that Canada’s literary stars make their living off books sold overseas.  They’d starve if they had to depend on home sales.  The whole publishing industry here is heavily subsidized by the government, and so much of it never has to prove itself commercially.  The really sad thing is that we don’t have a viable SF imprint or mystery imprint that can make a big splash nationally and internationally.  We don’t have a Tor or a Baen Books of our own, which is part of why I started Gallivant Books, though if GB survives and thrives, it’ll be years before it reaches that scale, if ever.

That leads into the issue of the Sci-Fi Ghetto.  For us in Canada, the ghetto is all too real, but in the U.S., I wonder if the ghetto really matters or exists anymore.  One of my heroes, Harlan Ellison, has a gem ranked in The Best American Short Stories for 1993.  How many Philip K. Dick movies are there?  I’ll take their ghetto any day!

Here it’s awful, but I’ve realized lately that my defensiveness makes me sound bitter.  Many of us sound like we have a chip on our shoulder.  And we do.  I’m trying to adopt a new attitude this year, because in the end, science fiction and fantasy are called a genre, they’re a “category,” not simply because of their subject matter, but because we have discerning readers.  We may never get massive fan bases, and that’s okay, too.  If we do it right, the work lasts.  When I checked out your link on the “ghetto,” it mentions the old saw about how so much SF is “poorly written rubbish,” and to that, I say, remember Sturgeon’s law.

Read Somerset Maugham.  Stylistically, his stuff can be terrible, full of clichés and sloppy phasing, which is why they won’t put him in literature, only fiction.  I love so much of his work.  His narratives grab you, and they’re still adapting his books for films.

Think of all the literary crap that is so crushingly dull and forgettable—I was forced to read Malamud’s short stories in college.  They’re root canal to me.  Does anyone really believe Updike’s stuff will last?  Ten minutes into the future, we’ll still have Maupassant’s Bel-Ami and Gore Vidal’s Lincoln.  But we’ll also have Shogun and Tigana and The Demolished Man, which is one of the most overlooked fantastic novels ever, and Stranger in a Strange Land.  I have no clue whatsoever if people will be reading Reich TV or The Karma Booth.  I can only hope so.

Frida: What are your experiences with independent e-publishing so far? Are you planning to publish other books through a traditional publisher, or do you plan to go with independent e-publishing all the way? What will the world of publishing look like in future?

Jeff: It’s been a hell of a ride.  I’ve been a magazine editor and a freelance book editor, so I had some experience to help guide me.  Many folks don’t realize e-publishing still involves all the grunt work of regular publishing.  Getting ISBNs, meeting deadlines… I’ve had to commission cover art before, check galleys, etc.  I’ve been lucky enough to have sold novels to a start-up British imprint, but have also had those books sold to a major publishing house for reprints, and I’ve also had success in regular non-fiction.  So I arguably knew more than others going in, but still nothing really prepares you for the slog you’ll take upon yourself with starting your own imprint.  Gallivant was never intended to be just “Jeff’s Novels”—I wanted and still want to make it into an SF, fantasy and thriller version of Ellora’s Cave or Dreamspinner, which are ebook imprints with multiple authors, a whole list of them.

But I’m behind schedule on that.  The print books look quite professional and we’re getting into great online distribution channels, but there’s so much content out there that marketing is the biggest challenge.  I have a cool marketing strategy I want to execute, but we’ve had some setbacks.  My cover artist is taking time off for family this year, which she’s certainly earned, and I love her stuff so much, it’ll be hard to replace her.  And of course, there’s still that snobbery over e-publishing, there’s snobbery if you dare use Lightning Source, which is stupid because they do great work, or you run into attitudes if you dare publish your own work.  Never mind the fact that Kipling did it and Orwell nearly published Animal Farm himself because he got rejected so many times.

It’s funny.  When I did erotica, I’m sure what really drove sales was the word of mouth in reviews, and Random House quoted Coffee Time Romance and one or two others right on the front page and the covers.   There’s only been one review ever of the Teresa Knight novels in a mainstream venue, Publisher’s Weekly; the rest were all online forums.  Well, I’m still doing the same thing, I’m still writing genre novels.  But in e-publishing, you get that whiff of “you’re not real” from some people who don’t bother to read the blurbs, or check out the professional production work or the fact that we’re in Kobo, Kindle, Waterstones, practically everywhere.  The Karma Booth got a critic’s praise in Australia.  So are novels from Gallivant Books “real?” I think they are.

But I’ll always be more of a writer than a business person.  I’m still flogging certain books at traditional publishers.  I even want to get over my bitterness at the Canadian literary scene, so this year I’m trying a new strategy of “If you can’t beat ‘em, infiltrate ‘em.”  I’ve actually applied for a couple of Writer in Residence gigs, which I never thought I’d do because I’ve always associated them with the whole grant dodge.  But Vancouver was smart enough to have Spider Robinson as a Writer in Residence.  That would be good company to be in.

As for publishing in the future: we’ll always have books.  Think of those great Dorling Kindersley volumes on everything from science to gardening.  People will still want those.  They’ll still want beautiful thick tomes with uneven cut cream-cloth pages.  But in the future, maybe we’ll have new technology that can give us the feel of texture while also being multimedia.  Wouldn’t that be cool?  (And oh, yes, I’ve put that into the Paladins’ universe and a couple of other spots).

Frida: What can readers expect in the sequel to Bianca: The Silver Age? Are there upcoming sequels for your other books?

Oh, Mask of Anarchy has a lot going on!  I’ve already mentioned the theme of non-violence, but other ethical issues are explored, too.  And new Paladins are introduced.  The ones in Silver Age—Plague Man, Orson Hawkwood, Clerfayt, Thelonius Minh, the Bandit Queen, Bianca—are the “top guns.”  But now the landscape opens up a little, and you meet other Vigil-ebrities and get a sense of the pecking order of the heroes.  Bianca’s now far more confident in her abilities and much more a leader.  In fact, how she handles leadership is a major through-line of the book.

Initially, I intended to write novels for the other characters after Bianca had three of her own, but I’m anxious to get cracking on a book for Clerfayt, which has the working title, Clerfayt: Arch of Terror.  Each novel in the Paladin series, assuming things go well, won’t be a cookie-cutter pattern.  By that I mean Clerfayt’s novel won’t be a “team” book like Bianca’s—his story is very much a noir-ish detective story where you learn more about the Allied Zones of Paris.  But there will be a team-up, and readers get to discover more about his working collaboration with Orson Hawkwood.

I’ve got a third novel plotted and waiting to be done that focuses on Plague Man, which surprises me because… Well, from how Plague Man is in Silver Age, I wasn’t sure for a while if he should get a book of his own.  Dig into the mystery too much, and you destroy what makes the character interesting.  But I think I’ve figured out how it should work.  In Plague Man: Time Itself Will Burn, Volker Sharf has to really come to terms with his rage and impetuousness because everyone else is counting on him.  That’s a novel where readers will get really juicy back story details on certain Paladins.

Reich TV by Jeff PearceThat should be plenty enough to keep me busy, but I’ve been working as well on a sequel to Reich TV, a book I never thought at first should have one.  For your readers who don’t know it, Reich TV explored how television could have changed the course of Nazi Germany.  When Steve Jobs died, I started to roll around in my head certain themes about early computer tech the same way that early television haunted me, so now anyone who liked the first book has a big hint about the sequel, which has the working title, Nixon’s Web.  George Orwell is back, but this time he’s in America.  And he has a rather interesting supportive cast like last time.

And if that’s not enough to keep me busy, I’m hoping Gallivant will be able to bring out a hard SF novel, plus a couple of thrillers, plus a young adult fantasy novel in the near future.  Right now they’re each in different editorial stages, and I think I’m going to be busy.  I just hope people like the books.

***

Man, all those sequels look juicy. And I’m really looking forward to Nixon’s Web; I gave Reich TV 5-stars after all. Alternate history George Orwell + political conspiracies + technology on stereoids? Yes please!

Thanks to Jeff for the interview! You can follow Jeff Pearce on Facebook and Goodreads.

Steampunk Adventure in the Yukon: Flash Gold by Lindsay Buroker (2011)

Flash Gold by Lindsay BurokerSmashwords / Amazon / Author’s Site

4/5 stars

Description:
Eighteen-year-old Kali McAlister wants to leave Moose Hollow forever. She enters a 3-day dog sled race to win the grand prize of a thousand dollars with her steam-powered “dogless” contraption.

While that’s already a lot of pressure–bandits, treasure seekers, and airship pirates are out to sabotage her race as they want to steal her father’s alchemical secret–the flash gold.

Review:
This is an enjoyable adventure novella. The steampunk creations fit well with the Yukon gold rush setting and adds a rich flavour to a fast-paced race and chase plot.

Kali is a fun heroine–she’s got moxie and a host of creative bombs and modified weapons. Her gadgeteer genius skills would make Tony Stark jealous. Most of her interaction with others take the form of banter and gunfire, which makes her my kind of lady.

She’s accompanied by Cedar, a mysterious sword-slinging bodyguard, and the dynamic between the two characters is brilliant. They don’t know what to make of each other, but they still manage to fight off bandits and saboteurs while dodging airborne harpoon attacks.

My only complaint is that it just feels like the beginning of an even bigger adventure, as some of the details are more like hints that teases the reader. The world of steampunk Yukon with Kali and Cedar is rich and promising–calling for a full-length novel. I suppose that’s more praise than complaint, because I’d be the first in line to read any sequels that Buroker releases next.

Review blogs such as the Fantasy Book Critic and SFBook Reviews have recently covered Buroker’s other work, Encrypted, and gave it very positive reviews. The Scattering will also be reviewing Encrypted in August. There’s a reason why her books are making waves in the blogosphere–she writes great SF and is definitely a new author to watch.

Other reviews of Flash Gold: Mythik Imagination, Reading the Paranormal.

You might like this if you like…
Steampunk, Jack London, YA with no vampires or paranormals, a good old 3-day sled race with an army of thugs ready to harpoon you

P.S. Lindsay Buroker over at her E-book Endeavors blog has some great posts about e-publishing and marketing. It’s a great site for anyone who’s interested in seeing how authors are doing it right in the new publishing age.

Tales of the Red Panda: The Crime Cabal by Gregg Taylor (2009)

Tales of the Red Panda: The Crime Cabal by Gregg TaylorCreateSpace / Smashwords / Author’s Site

4/5 stars

Description:
Life during the Depression ain’t easy, but the last toughs of Toronto’s criminal underground find themselves cornered when the boss got busted by those damn masked heroes. The terrific twosome of Toronto, the Red Panda and the Flying Squirrel, have been picking off the gangs one by one, and their survivors had enough.

“The Red Panda’s days are numbered!”

The remaining mobsters ally with supervillains and plan the greatest caper to defeat the Red Panda. While our courageous masked heroes have the powers of hypnotism, gliding membranes, and a dozen martial arts on their side–can they defend Toronto against the combined forces of the criminal underground, Kid Chaos’ explosives, and the Professor’s army of zombies? Can our heroes match the strength of… The Crime Cabal?

Review:
The Crime Cabal is a joy to read, and it reverberates with the energy of the Red Panda Adventures podcast series. The Squirrel is sassy and charming as ever, supporting characters such as Constable Parker are fleshed out, and snapshots into the lives of Toronto’s denizens provide colour to a thrilling old-school pulp adventure. The work especially shines in the fight scenes, which are fluid, fun, and fantastic–in all senses of the word.

Taylor has been writing scripts for Red Panda Adventures podcasts since 2005 in the style of 1930s and 1940s radio programs like The Shadow. The Crime Cabal is the first volume of three in the Tales of the Red Panda series. This book is well written, but Taylor’s heavy experience in writing scripts relative to writing prose shows in a few of the scenes. Some of the dialogue doesn’t quite capture that snappy, bantering rhythm that the characters should be having, and some of the emotions don’t carry through. The narration switches between points of view in the same scene, which is handled smoothly particularly with the villains, but is a distraction in others–especially in interactions between the two protagonists. I would prefer some scenes changed to third-person limited.

Considering that the Red Panda Adventures’ native medium is the radio show podcast, I recommend listening to a few episodes of the podcast first (they’re free) to get acquainted with the characters and the universe. If you find yourself listening to three, four, and more episodes… then the next step is to read this book and get deeper into the Pandaverse.

Overall, The Crime Cabal is great. It captures an effortless wit and playfulness in the spirit of Edgar Rice Burroughs. It’s not only a homage, but a realization of the pulp tradition–weaving together a fantastic universe of masked heroes that modern readers can immerse themselves in, both young and old alike. To my knowledge, the Red Panda series is the best in new pulp, and is at the forefront of pulp renewal. I’ll be reading the rest of the series and hope that Taylor continues to be a prolific prose writer, scriptwriter, actor, director, podcaster, et al. in the years to come… because I’ll be needin’ my Panda fix.

You might like this if you like…
The Shadow, masked heroes before the angst, old time radio, squeaky clean protagonists, Batman if he was human, old school adventure pulp

P.S. If you want to try out the Red Panda podcasts, you can subscribe to it for free on iTunes. The Devil’s Due, The Deadliest Game, and Brimstone Alley are some of the earlier episodes I’m fond of. Enjoy!

Now I need to read some Maxwell Grant.

It’s 1939 and it’s the end of the world: Strange Aeons by J. R. Boos

Since this website is currently lacking in speculative fiction content, I’ll spam my friend’s webcomic, Strange Aeons.

It’s an awesome comic with a very pulpy film noir setting. It’s got Nazis, a private investigator named Jack Chow, all sorts of dames, and beautiful architecture. The only thing I don’t like about it is how he hasn’t updated in a while or doesn’t have a regular update schedule, but I’ll keep on clicking that link every one in a while, just like a laboratory rat waiting for the goodies to come.

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