Reviews: A Year of Waterloo Region Speculative Fiction

Inch By Inch, Row By Row

In the Company of Others — Julie E. Czerneda

To quote Julie E. Czerneda’s online bio:

Julie Czerneda is a Canadian author and editor whose first novel, A Thousand Words for Stranger, was published in 1997 by DAW Books. Since then, Julie has produced over a dozen more novels, edited fifteen anthologies, and written numerous short stories. Her work has won awards, consistently made bestseller lists, and garnered praise from readers and reviewers around the world.

As noted that same bio, Czerneda was a student at the University of Waterloo and thus she is fodder for A Year of Waterloo Region Speculative Fiction.

Czerneda’s 2001 Aurora Award-winner In the Company of Others is a stand-alone science fiction novel.

Interstellar exploration turned up dozens of worlds suitable for human occupation, given some well-thought-out terraforming. All that stands between humanity and endless frontiers is a bit of time, some ingenuity, will, and applied technology.

And the Quill. But the Quill on their own are enough to bring the space colonization effort to a sudden halt.

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A Spaceman Came Travelling

Salvage and Destroy — Edward Llewellyn
Douglas Convolution, book 4

Edward Llewellyn-Thomas (1917- 1984) had a long and interesting career. Two elements of that career warrant inclusion here. The first is that towards the end of his life, he began writing and publishing science fiction under the pen-name Edward Llewellyn. The second is that he was a Professor in the University of Waterloo’s Psychology Department, something I only discovered while reading his obituary in 19841.

1984’s Salvage and Destroy is the fourth book in his Douglas Convolution sequence.

The Ult have ruled the Cluster for millennia, ever since the Drin, former masters of the Cluster, made the terrible mistake of contacting the then-barbaric Ult. Extermination denied the Drin the chance to learn from their error; the Ult, now the most civilized of civilized races, remember how they came to power. They will never make the mistake of handing a youthful barbarian race the keys to the stars.

Their compulsively altruistic Ara cousins, on the other hand, could not leave well enough alone. Which gets us to the matter of the humans.

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Because You’re Mine

Plain Kate — Erin Bow

American-born Canadian by choice Erin Bow is a physicist turned novelist, whose work has won the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award, the CBC Canadian Literary Award, for the poems that became Ghost Maps, the Monica Hughes Award twice, once for The Scorpion Rules and once for Sorrow’s Knot, the CLA Book of The Year for Young Adults for The Scorpion Rules. Shortlists include the Pat Lowther (for Ghost Maps), the Amy Mathers Award (for The Scorpion Rules) and currently the White Pine (for The Scorpion Rules) and the Sunburst (once for Plain Kate and once for Sorrow’s Knot). More details on Bow can be found at her website.

2012’s secondary world fantasy Plain Kate is a stand-alone young adult novel. Young adult fiction is a lot like juvenile science fiction, except that teens actually buy and read young adult fiction.

Plain Kate to her neighbours in the village of Samilae, Katerina Carver is beautiful to her doting father. She demonstrates a talent for wood-working as a toddler; in a better world she would have become her father’s apprentice as soon as she came of age. In the rather dismal world in which she lives, disease takes Kate’s father from her before he has a chance to give her the legal status of apprentice. The carver’s guild then steps in to take from Plain Kate virtually everything else her father owned.

Bereft of everything save her father’s tiny market stall, the clothes on her back, some tools and her skills, Plain Kate is forced into a hand-to-mouth existence.

The mysterious stranger will cost Plain Kate even that.

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Visited By A Majestic Hymn

A Wizard’s Henchman — Matthew Hughes
Kaslo Chronicles, book 1

British-born Canadian Matthew Hughes has lived in many places. One of them was Kitchener-Waterloo, which earns him a spot in A Year of Waterloo Region Speculative Fiction. Hughes writes in a wide range of genres, both non-fiction and fiction. To quote from his site, he has been employed as

a journalist, then as a staff speechwriter to the Canadian Ministers of Justice and Environment, and — from 1979 until a few years back — as a freelance corporate and political speechwriter in British Columbia.

He also writes science fiction and fantasy, as well as mystery. He has won the

Crime Writers of Canada’s Arthur Ellis Award and has been shortlisted for the Aurora, Nebula, Philip K. Dick, Endeavour, A. E. Van Vogt, and Derringer Awards.

Despite these accolades, Hughes is often overlooked. It’s inexplicable, although his tendency towards humour may explain some of it. Humorous F&SF, save of the broadest, least subtle sort, is generally not popular in North America. Perhaps this work, which is more apocalyptic than funny, will appeal to a broader range of readers.

2016’s A Wizard’s Henchman is the first volume in Matthew Hughes’ Kaslo Chronicles.

There are ten thousand inhabited worlds in the Spray and none of them are utopias. Problems abound. Erm Kaslo has made a very nice living for himself as an all-round troubleshooter for rich men who are able to pay well for services rendered. The rich and powerful don’t get that way by being ethical or trustworthy—but even the most ruthless learn that it’s never a good idea to disappoint Erm Kaslo.

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Into the Magic Night

The Untold Tale — J. M. Frey
Accidental Turn, book 1

To quote the bio in her novel:

(J. M. Frey) is a voice actor, SF/F author, professionally trained music theatre performer, not-so-trained but nonetheless enthusiastic screenwriter and webseries-ist, and a fanthropologist and pop culture scholar. She’s appeared in podcasts, documentaries, radio programs, and on television to discuss all things geeky through the lens of academia.

Frey has been nominated for both the Aurora and the Lambda Awards.

2015’s The Untold Tale is the first volume in The Accidental Turn series.

Kintyre Turn is a bona fide hero, complete with the magic sword Foesmiter and his very own loyal sidekick, Sir Bevel. Most damsels in distress, at least the ones from Hain, would be relieved to get Kintyre’s help. Lucy “Pip” Piper isn’t from Hain and she’s not at all relieved to be rescued by Kintyre. That’s because she has to make do with Kintyre’s much less impressive stuttering brother Forsyth.

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My Guide the Morning Star

Two Travelers — Sarah Tolmie

Sarah Tolmie is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Waterloo. Her first spec-fic novel, 2014’s The Stone Boatmen, won a starred review in Publishers Weekly and a glowing blurb from Ursula K. Le Guin. Since The Stone Boatmen, she has published four other books: 2014’s NoFood andSonnet in a Blue Dress and other poems, 2015’s Trio, and the subject of today’s review, a 2016 collection titled Two Travelers.

Two Travelers is a single-author collection containing two short pieces, a novelette (Dancer on the Stairs) and a novella (The Burning Furrow).

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Creeping Through the System

The Adolescence of P-1 — Thomas J. Ryan

The Adolescence of P-1 is the first and (so far as I know) only work of science fiction by Thomas J. Ryan. Ryan is an enigmatic author about whom little is known. His middle name was Joseph and he was born in 1942; if he has died, that fact is not known to my sources. There is one other fact about Ryan that one can easily deduce from this novel: he was very familiar with the University of Waterloo as it existed in the early 1970s. His book was the first SF novel I had ever read that drew on places and institutions I found cosily familiar.

Our protagonist is Gregory Burgess, a student at the University of Waterloo, majoring in Honours Getting Laid, with a minor in Keeping His Marks Just High Enough to Avoid Expulsion. His indifference to hard study vanished when he first encountered a book on computer programming. Girls were forgotten as Burgess honed his hacking skills and began to amass files and resources to which he was not remotely entitled. He was talented, but not quite talented enough: UW spotted and expelled him.

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