My daughter Erin (the Master) greatly improves upon my work:
My daughter Erin (the Master) greatly improves upon my work:
Welcome to the fourth stop on the Great Bookshelf Tour of 2020, which I hope you find a bit of a distraction during these unusual times.
First up on today’s tour we have the books of illustrious Prince Edward Island based author Susan Rodgers. Susan Rodgers, you should know, is my sister, younger than me by one year, one month, and three days. I call her Sam because her initials are Susan Ann Mahoney, or at least they were before she married that Rodgers guy.
I could write an entire book about her, and our fabulous childhood together, including that incident where she heroically defended me from a pack of bullies who had stolen my mittens, and the time we got trapped on a cliff-face together (she made it off first), and so on, but that’s not what this tour is about. This tour is about books, and if you want books, Susan has written something like eighteen of them. I’ve lost count. My wife and I once marched into a bookstore and bought all of them, back when there were only nine. There, we’re done, we’ve supported her, we thought. Then she promptly wrote nine more. We’ve yet to pick those up. But we will. Maybe. Someday. Anyway, if you like angsty books about love and relationships and music and Prince Edward Island, you will LOVE Susan’s Drifters series (and related books).
Sitting in front of Susan’s books is one of my favourite books, Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace, by Gordon MacKenzie. A few things about this book. It was a thoughtful gift from a friend, which makes it special. I love everything about the design of this book, the illustrations in particular. If you look inside you will see that it is positively littered with the craziest drawings and sketches, all speaking to the nature of the content. I’ve long wanted to produce a book myself in this style. The book is about creativity and leadership, and it has many sage notions about all of that. There isn’t a much in the way of information online about MacKenzie himself. He’s a bit of an enigmatic figure, but video of him does exist. The books is based on a talk he used to give, which you can see online (and when you do, you’ll see just how much of the book is based on the talk). Curiously, despite the cult status of this book, hardly anybody has viewed MacKenzie’s online talk (145 views as of today). Something else I love about the book: it was originally self-published before Viking (Penguin) picked it up.
Next up, Robert J. Sawyer‘s Rollback. Rob has written even more books than my sister, and has known great success. I’ve known Rob since before he published his first novel, Golden Fleece (which I understand wasn’t actually the first one he wrote). I met Rob working on an episode of Ideas for CBC Radio. He was a guest contributor and I was the tech. He told me about his upcoming publication and that he wanted to be a professional science fiction writer. Little did he know that it was actually ME who was going to be the professional science fiction writer! Unfortunately, I turned out to be a lazy slug of mediocre ability, whereas he is a juggernaut with a big brain and actual talent. Which explains why he’s written so many successful books and I’ve written two, one of which COULD be considered successful if you fudge the criteria for success a bit.
Fast forward a few years (ahem; that would be a Sawyer pun there, if you know the man’s oeuvre). I decided to make a radio show featuring science fiction called Faster Than Light. I asked Rob if he would host it, and he agreed to. The pilot was wildly successful, but the network didn’t pick it up as a series, the Director of Programming at the time telling the Acting Head of Radio Drama that “if we put a show like that on the air, we’ll never get it off.” Oh well.
Fast forward a few more years. Rob writes Rollback. Some of the novel involves the CBC. Rob asked me to read the third draft of the novel to fact check the CBC bits. I did, and was surprised to discover that not only was the main character based on my profession at the time (a CBC Recording Engineer), but I was actually a character in the novel! So you can see that this is kind of a special book for me, beyond being an excellent story, well told, of a man restored to youth, and the impact on those around him.
And sitting beside Rollback up there is another Sawyer novel, Hominids, the first in his well-regarded Neanderthal Parallax series. I’ve actually read many of Rob’s excellent books, though not all of them are on this bookshelf (I do have other bookshelves in the house, and at the office), and I heartily recommend them all.
One day when I was about twelve I had just finished reading a good book and was looking for another of comparable quality, so I asked my father if he could recommend one. He led me downstairs to one of his bookshelves and picked out Cappy Ricks or the Subjugation of Matt Peasley by Peter B. Kyne, published in way back in 1916. What a yarn! I loved this tale of a crusty yet loveable shipping/lumber magnate and the feisty young sailor Matt Peasley he puts to work and torments on one of his boats. I’ve read it many times since. Kyne, incidentally, also wrote The Valley of the Giants (upon which the movie is based), among many other books.
Moving on we have another ancient tome called Lud-in-the-Mist, by Hope Mirrlees, first published in 1926. It was recommended by fellow writer Dale Sproule (former editor of the magazine TransVersions, with Sally McBride) and I’m so glad he brought it to my attention. It’s an adult fantasy about fairies that as many observers have pointed out pre-dates Lord of the Rings by many years, and quite possibly influenced such magnificent works as John Crowley’s Little, Big and Susanna Clarke‘s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, both of which I also loved.
Hmm. Lots to write about on this shelf! Next up we have another book by a friend, this time Thrice Burned, the second novel in Angela Misri‘s excellent Portia Adams mystery series, which I reviewed on this very blog, favourably, I might add. And beyond her a medical thriller by yet another friend, Stockholm Syndrome, by Melissa Yuan-Innes, writing as Melissa Yi. This is one of Melissa’s Dr. Hope Sze‘s books, selected as one of the best crime books of the year by CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter‘s Mystery panel.
And finally, kinda hard to make out there at the far right, we have The Lost Millennium, by Floren Diacu. This is a fascinating book, exploring the premise that history might be off by oh, say, one thousand years. That what we think of as the dark ages might be dark because they actually never happened! Whether this is true (spoiler alert: it’s probably not) this terrific little book provides great insight into how history is actually recorded and conveyed to the rest of us. It’s nowhere near as straightforward as you might think.
Author Robert Charles Wilson recently started a virtual tour of his bookshelves. I thought this was a good idea, a bit of a distraction from everything going on, and thought I’d join in. The contents may be somewhat embarrassing (among other things… I mean really, who cares about my bookshelf? forgive me; I’m suffering from cabin fever and slowly going mad) but I’m just going to let it all hang out. So without further ado, we’ll begin with the top left hand corner of my primary bookshelf, along with a few words of explanation.
I live in a bungalow, and I don’t live there alone, so the books I hang onto are routinely and ruthlessly pruned. Every book and object I retain is there for a damned good reason. Many books date back to my childhood, so they’re either really, really good, or there for powerful sentimental reasons. (I will note at this point that the decorations adorning my bookshelf are courtesy of a certain Loved One with whom I do not argue, and I appreciate the beautification.)
On the far left are magazines and anthologies that have featured my short stories over the years. Past that, Alfred Bester, The Demolished Man. Really have to re-read that one again soon. Then James Gleick… love this guys work every since reading his biography on Richard Feynman. And I love time travel.
Which brings us to my James Blish Star Trek Collection. Started gathering these when I was eleven. Took another three of four years to get them all. I’m probably one of the few people who read most Star Trek episodes before ever seeing them. And I’ve loved James Blish ever since. (Surface Tension, anyone?) Note the original Trek novel Blish penned at the end there, Spock Must Die, the first adult Trek novel ever written (clocking in at 118 pages) until 1976. To me, Blish was canon. Somewhere in his Star Trek writing, possibly Spock Must Die (though I can’t find it just now) I distinctly remember Blish giving Kirk the middle name “Thaius” instead of “Tiberius.” Nobody had bothered to tell him what the “T” stood for so he just made something up. So to me that’s Kirk’s real middle name.
Next up we come to one of my favourite books of all time, The Postman, by David Brin. It’s one of only three books I’ve read in a single sitting in my entire life (the others are Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card and Replay by Ken Grimwood). I was so excited to see the movie version of The Postman that I drove from Summerside PEI to Charlottetown during a terrible snowstorm to see it, dragging my father and sister Susan Rodgers long as well. And then sank lower and lower in my seat as I realized what a botch they’d made of it. I had the opportunity to talk to David Brin about it a few years later. He told me that filmmakers got one thing right about the book: they captured the heart. Everything else they got wrong.
Hidden behind the figurine of the girl is The Radio Planet by Ralph Milne Farley, originally published as a serial in Argosy All-Story Weekly in 1926. It’s a sentimental fave. I haven’t re-read it in a few decades, but I remember loving it as a kid. Below is a picture of the cover.
Beside that is Starrigger, by John DeChancie. I found it in a used bookstore in Whitby one day and enjoyed it. I think it’s a series, and this one isn’t even the first one. Always figured I’d find and read another in the series someday, but never have.
Finally we have All the Bells on Earth by James P. Blaylock, friend of one of my favourite authors, Tim Powers, the two of them mentored by and friends with Philip K. Dick. I enjoyed this book and hang onto it intending to re-read it someday. And I really need to read more Blaylock.
And thus we come to the end of this, the first portion of the Great Facebook Bookshelf Tour.
What’s on yours, and why?
1. What makes this year unforgettable?
Definitely a trip to the United Kingdom with my family (England and Scotland). I saw Stonehenge during that trip, which I never thought I would ever see, and yeah I know it’s a bunch of rocks, but rocks don’t get much cooler than Stonehenge. The history! And did you know they have graffiti on them? Roman graffiti! We also spent a lot of time in London, the Isle of Skye, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Great family trip.
2. What did you enjoy doing this year?
Wait, didn’t we just cover this in question number one? I should probably learn to read ahead. Okay, aside from a trip to the UK, I enjoyed working on a couple of special projects. One is novel number two (working title Captain’s Away) and the other is a secret project I’m helping a friend with. It’s really cool, and I’m honoured to be helping him with it.
3. What/who is the one thing/person you’re grateful for?
My wife Lynda. Kind of a miracle that not only did she show up in my life but that she chose to stay there. If we expand the list to include three people, which I insist that we do, it would include my daughters Erin and Keira too. I must have paid extra in the Before Life for the Super Special Family Package, and I’m sure glad I did. Worth every cent.
4. What are your biggest wins this year?
Pleased to have successfully put together a little short story collection, which I’m calling Other Times and Places. There were a few wins in my day job, too, just a few projects that came together nicely. But the biggest win is probably the trip to the UK.
5. What did you read/watch/listen to that made the most impact this year?
There’s one movie I saw that I keep thinking about. It’s called The Life and Times of Colonel Blimp, a British film that came out in the early forties. I discovered it when Jim Donahue @otherjimdonahue mentioned it on his twitter feed. I knew Jim had interesting, eclectic taste, so I went looking for it. It did not disappoint. It’s about the lifetime of a soldier who’s lived through the Boer War as well as the First and Second World Wars. It’s really about growing older. You see an old person, you’re just looking at the tip of the iceberg. Behind what you see is an entire lifetime of experiences, not immediately visible. How did they become who they are? What did they go through to get there? That’s a part of what The Life and Times of Colonel Blimp is about. But it’s also about changing times. How what might have worked for you in, say, the Boer war might not necessarily serve you well in the Second World War, against the evil of the Nazis. Fascinating movie, and one of Martin Scorcese’s favourites, that directly influenced how he made Raging Bull.
6. What did you worry about most and how did it turn out?
I worried about a book fair some friends and I put on in May. Concerned it might turn out to be a complete disaster. There were disastrous elements, but we survived. We didn’t go broke, some people sold a few books, and we got some great interviews out of it. .
7. What was your biggest regret and why?
Long ago I vowed to live my life without regrets. With that mindset I make the best possible choices I can. In retrospect, they may not be the right choices, but looking back I know that they were the best possible choices I could have made with the information I had at available at the time.
8. What’s one thing that changed about yourself?
I care even less whether anyone likes me. Or so I tell myself.
9. What surprised you the most this year?
I discovered that I can’t do word problems involving math under severe time constraints surrounded by Vice Presidents, engineers, surgeons, and nuclear physicists working (more successfully) on the same problems. I really shouldn’t have been surprised by that, but I was. This happened at a course I took at Queen’s University Smith School of Business. A man’s got to know his limitations. I guess that’s one of mine.
10. If you could go back to last January 1, what suggestions would you give your past self?
Write more, better, faster. Completely useless advice, but it’s what I’d tell myself.