Writer, Broadcaster

Category: Books (Page 2 of 19)

A.E. van Vogt (1912-2000)

“…others write about the future…van Vogt writes from the future…”

Unknown, Mid-Twentieth century

 

A. E. van Vogt

Ah, it’s the missed opportunities that bug me most. Here’s another one.

I pitched the following to my friend and colleague Bill Lane, master dramatist, who joined forces with me to pitch it to the radio drama department. In this age of podcasting, I believe it remains a solid, valid pitch:


It’s hard to make a living writing fiction in this country.  It’s even harder to do it writing science fiction. Manitoba native Alfred Etan van Vogt did so and became one of the most respected SF writers of his day, on a par with Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein. His work remains enormously popular in the U.K., France, Brazil and Sweden, and yet few Canadians have ever heard of him.  We are lousy at celebrating our own.

And this is a Canadian whose work should be celebrated.  His work profoundly influenced the entire field of speculative fiction.  He once successfully sued the makers of the movie Alien for $50,000 US for ripping off his work. And without Van Vogt and his tales of the Space Beagle, there would have been no Star Trek. 

With typical Canadian modesty, he once described himself as “a bright but simple fellow from Canada.”  Others hold him in higher esteem.  He possesses, according to Charles Platt: “…a compelling presence, an intensity, a slightly mad gleam in his eye, and when he writes he comes up with eerie powerful journeys into symbolic depths of the psyche. When you open one of his novel you open the subconscious. He writes dreams.”

van Vogt… was not hard and cold and unemotional, in the manner of Clement, Asimov and Heinlein. He could balance his cubic light years and the paraphernalia of super science with moments of tenderness and pure loony joy.

Brian W. Aldiss

…van Vogt had…nothing less than the ability to deliver (a) total alienness within (b) a hugely panoramic background that (c) seemingly lacked reason and yet came together to (d) end by making total if terrifying sense.

Barry N. malzberg

Let’s wield what influence we possess to increase the Canadian public’s awareness of one of our own, a giant in his field, whose work deserves to be celebrated.


Slan

After many years of creating well regarded but relatively unlucrative short fiction, van Vogt turned his attention to the full-length novel.  His first, and by some accounts his most famous, was Slan.  Written while Vogt was living in Ottawa, Slan recounts the maturation of a mutant with telepathic powers and enhanced intelligence in a world hostile to his kind.

(It) was a paralleling of Ernest Thomson Seton‘s The Biography of a Grizzly: the pattern of Grizzly was: his mother is killed at the beginning, and the cub is on his own. He doesn’t find an old lady to help him, but he manages to find a place where he can hide for his first year or so. By then he is the equivalent of Jommy at nine — stronger than all the lesser animals of the forest; but he’d better stay away from full-grown black bears, etc. Finally, he comes to what Seton called in his heading: “The Days of His Strength.” He is a full-grown grizzly bear, king of the forest and mountains. For the most part I didn’t need parallels like that, but that one struck me as being interesting, and I used it automatically.

A.E. Van Vogt on his work Slan

Although a fun story with plenty of action, Slan is permeated with themes of fear, discrimination and alienation.  Eminently suitable for adaptation to radio, the opportunities for creative, exciting sound design abound.   

“Yes, I said ´mob´. That´s all people are these days. A mob, a beast we´ve helped build up with our propaganda. They´re afraid, mortally afraid for their babies, and we haven´t got a scientist who can think objectively on the matter. In fact, we haven´t got a scientist worthy of the name. What incentive is there for a human being to spend a lifetime in research when in his mind is the deadening knowledge that all the discoveries he can hope to make have long since been perfected by the slans? That they´re waiting out there somewhere in secret caves or written out on paper, ready for the day when the slans make their next attempt to take over the world?”

Excerpt from A.E. Van Vogt’s Slan

Anne of Green Gables

One of my daughters was reading Anne of Green Gables and left it sitting around, so I picked it up and read a couple of pages and somewhat to my surprise I was instantly hooked.

Now you have to understand that I grew up in Prince Edward Island and have been surrounded by Lucy Maud Montgomery and Anne of Green Gables pretty much all my life. I’ve seen the stage production at the Charlottetown Festival at least three times. I’ve seen a spoof of the official version a couple of blocks over called “Annekenstein” (it was pretty good). As a media student, I was privileged to sit in on an audio mixing session of the original Kevin Sullivan movie version (spoiler alert: that day they happened to be mixing the scene a certain beloved character died). I’ve seen the Sullivan movie a couple of times, and I recently watched and enjoyed the first season of Anne with an E.

So I thought pretty much knew Anne of Green Gables.

But I didn’t. Not until I read the book, which I finished yesterday. Somehow, even after being exposed to so much of Anne throughout my life, I had not met her face to face. No disrespect to Kevin Sullivan and Anne With an E showrunner Moira Walley-Beckett and all the rest, all of whom I think came as close as they could to authentic takes on Anne of Green Gables, but the fact is, to really get to the heart and soul of the story you have to go directly to the source material.

The actual book was a revelation. The writing is sublime on so many levels: vocabulary, dialogue, story structure. It’s so funny… despite knowing what was coming, I still laughed aloud at the pickles Anne got herself in. And the character of Anne herself: she just pops off the page, living and breathing as authentically as any of our favourite literary characters. As do Matthew and Marilla. Especially Marilla, my favourite character, through whom (more than any other character, I think) we come to love Anne.

If there is one tiny flaw, it’s a flaw in Anne herself, acknowledged frequently by Marilla (and, consequently, Montgomery). Anne does go on. But that may just be a question of personal preference, a feature, not a bug, for true fans of Anne.

I was rather astonished to learn that Anne of Green Gables was Montgomery’s first published novel. I’d always imagined it was, say, her twelfth novel, the work of a mature, accomplished professional who’d learned a trick or two over the years. Nope. It’s the work of someone with story and character in her blood, with a natural flair for humour, and a deep understanding of human nature.

I do think I’ll be reading more of Montgomery’s work. About time.

Portrait of Amy Beth McNulty as Anne With an E
by Erin M.

Wildebear and the Necronian

Jacques the Necronian

Writers just love it when fans of their work create works of art based on that work. I’m no exception. One of my fans created clay versions of two of my main characters in A Time and a Place. To the left there you’ll see a good likeness of Jacques the Necronian.

And below, yes, there he is, the one and only Barnabus Jehosophys Wildebear! (As an aside, I’ll mention I didn’t choose the name Jehosophys randomly… it has to do with the whole Akasha subplot. I like little bits that resonate.) Not sure what happened to Wildebear’s left eyebrow… must have fallen off. That sort of thing will happen when you’re gallivanting around the universe. And I do believe that is Sebastian on his left wrist.

Now, I should point out that the “fan” in question here is actually my daughter Keira. And the truth is I’m MUCH more a fan of hers (and her sister Erin, who also creates much fine art) than the other way around.

As it should be.

Barnabus Jehosophys Wildebear

Sign up for Writing News! Or Not…

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

Update: Turns out the Newsletter sign up form was glitchy. But it should work now! If you tried signing up any time before Monday April 6th I’m afraid you’ll have to sign up again. Sorry for the trouble!

Off to the right there on this very blog you’ll see a place where you can sign up for writing news about Yours Truly should you be so inclined. What writing news, you ask? How many words I’ve written each day? How many I haven’t? Which words I wrote? Which words I deleted, or rewrote, or spelled wrong?

Nah, nothing like that. Just news about new books I have out, or appearances at various book fairs, along with anything else I think you might be interested in.

As with all such newsletters, you need to expressly opt-in to be included, to ensure that nefarious characters like me don’t spam you. And you can opt out at any time by simply clicking “unsubscribe” at the bottom of the newsletter, or by dropping me a line and saying, “Will you please take me off this newsletter, please, I thought you were Joe Mahoney the baseball player, not some lame writer guy,” or the like.

I’m only asking for three pieces of information about you. Email, for obvious reasons, name, for relatively obvious reasons, and country, just cuz that would be interesting to know. You don’t even have to tell me the truth. You can just make a country up, if you like. That might be even more interesting.

A note for those who might have signed up before: I’m afraid you’ll have to sign up again. I was using a different service before, which hasn’t worked out. So starting fresh with Mailerlite, which I’m optimistic will work much better.

Anyway, here’s hoping you sign up. If enough people do, expect to start seeing some newsletters. Not too many though… don’t want to inundate anyone. But I should be able to manage at least one or two over the next ten or twelve years…

The Great Bookshelf Tour: Fifth Stop

Stop Five on the Great Bookshelf Tour: Third Shelf from the top, left hand side

Today’s tour starts with Robert J. Sawyer‘s Red Planet Blues. What a terrific title. To paraphrase the great Orson Welles,* with a title that good, forget the book, just release the title! Fortunately for us, Sawyer released both.

Sawyer no doubt requires no introduction to readers of this blog. Carol Birch, on the other hand , probably does. An English writer of (at last count) 12 books, she’s the author of the next novel on this section of the shelf, Jamrach’s Menagerie. What a tale this is, with plot elements lifted from the real life story of the whaling ship Essex. If you don’t know anything about what happened to the Essex, great! Don’t go looking. I’m not even going to link to it. Read Jamrach’s Menagerie first, and only then look up the true story. A haunting, unforgettable, riveting tale that will stick with you, and probably dissuade you forever from a career in whaling.

Almost hidden behind that cute little bear up there is The Moon Panther by local Whitby author Jason Shannon, a book I have not read yet. Since writing my own books, I have attended a number of book fairs, and met a lot of other indie authors like me, and if I like them, I generally purchase at least one of their books. This has resulted in a lot of books to read! And I feel tremendously guilty not having read them all yet. This is why, whenever anyone purchases one of my books, I always give them at least ten years to read it, and I’m very good about extensions. But I do very much like to support local indie authors, and I would encourage you all to do the same.

Alongside Jason’s book is Rudyard Kipling’s Tales of Horror & Fantasy, with an introduction by Neil Gaimon, as though Rudyard Kipling requires an introduction. This book was given to me by my youngest sister and her husband back when I broke my ankle to give me something to do, as I guess they figured I’d have a lot of time on my hands. As luck would have it, thanks to technology and the nature of my job, I just wound up working from home, so I didn’t have as much time on my hands as expected. Just the same I managed to read many of the stories within, and appreciated the chance to catch up on my Kipling.

I found this copy of I’ll Have What She’s Having: How Nora Ephron’s Three Iconic Films Saved the Romantic Comedy along the atrium in the CBC Toronto Broadcasting Centre. It looked interesting, so I picked it up, but haven’t read it yet.

Last year, at CANCON, a writer’s convention in Ottawa, I was about to purchase a book in the dealer’s room when I spotted the author of that book. It’s a friendly conference so I thought, oh, I’ll just introduce myself to the author and tell them I’m about to buy their book and maybe they’ll sign it for me and then I’ll have fond memories of our brief encounter while I’m reading the book and forever more. I did so. After informing the author that I was about to purchase their book, my impression was that they could not wait to get away from me. We did not chat and they did not offer to sign their book. So I put the book back and did not purchase it.

Immediately afterward I met the author C. L. Polk, who was as friendly as could be, so I bought her book instead, and she signed it for me. As an author myself, if somebody told me they were about to buy my book, they would have my full and undivided attention, not to mention gratitude. Now, I get that everyone is fighting their own battle, and maybe this other author was having a bad day, or was in a huge rush, maybe really had to pee or something, but… too bad. I bought C.L. Polk’s book instead, and it’s C. L. Polk’s book Witchmark that I’m reading RIGHT NOW instead of theirs. (Well, not exactly right now… when I finish writing this blog post.)

The Knowledge: How to rebuild our World From Scratch, by Lewis Dartnell is the book you want in your hands when civilization finally crumbles, which, from the looks of it, could happen any day now. I bought it thinking it would be handy writing a post-apocalyptic novel, which I’ve always wanted to do. Now I’m thinking it might come in handy in a month or two. (Perhaps I shouldn’t be so flip about our collective possible fate. I’ll just add that to the growing list of other things I shouldn’t do either, such as walk in the house with my boots on. Shh! Don’t tell my wife.)

Legend by David Gemmell is just a terrific book, one I’ve read several times. Thoughtful action/adventure in the sword & sorcery vein, and a treatise on heroism. Highly recommended.

Dune, by Frank Herbert. An SF classic; enuff said. Well, maybe not enough… apparently they’re making another film version of it. Here’s hoping it’s better than past versions.

Stephen King, a couple of books in the Dark Tower series. Gradually working my way through this one. I was lukewarm on the first book, but quite liked The Drawing of the Three, another clever title, I realized, once I completed the book.

The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman. Another absolute classic. If you haven’t read this book already hie thee to a book store immediately (or, um, as soon as the pandemic is over) and pick this one up. You won’t regret it. I’ll take this opportunity to recommend another, lesser known Haldeman book as well: Camouflage, which won the Nebula Award in 2005. Just a great read.

Flesh and Gold, by Canadian author and poet Phyllis Gotlieb. I really enjoyed this book, which I suspect has flown under the radar of SF fans.

Born Standing Up is an autobiography by comedian Steve Martin. This is also a great read, really interesting insight into the man himself, the nature of comedy, and his somewhat sad relationship with his father.

An Army at Dawn by Rick Atkinson. Haven’t read this one yet, but looking forward to it. Some day, when I have the time. Maybe after I retire!

And finally, Frederik Pohl’s Gateway, a neat little SF tale, with a tragic story at its core, that I also wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.

Happy reading!

*Filmmaker Peter Bogdanovitch told Orson Welles he was thinking of changing the title of his film adaptation of the novel “Addie Pray” to “Paper Moon,” but wasn’t sure whether the new title worked. Orson allegedly told him, “With a title that good forget the film, just release the title!”

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