Saturday, February 20, 2010

a mix of the artsy with some respectable hard SF: Schellenberg reviews Finding Creatures

Finding Creatures & Other Stories, C. June Wolf, Wattle and Daub Books, 2008, 236 pp.

The Storyteller and Other Tales, K.V. Johansen, Sybertooth, 2008, 106 pp.

I’d like to take a look at two recent short story collections, Finding Creatures & Other Stories and The Storyteller and Other Tales. Both are by Canadian authors, and are published by small Canadian presses (see more detail below). I feel like it’s been a while since I’ve checked in with the work being done by Canadian author and publishing outfits, so this was an interesting return for me. The short version: the work looks very good indeed.

Finding Creatures is a collection of 15 stories by Wolf and has an insightful introduction by Charles de Lint. The 15 stories make for a mix of the artsy with some respectable hard SF that I wasn’t expecting from a collection like this. No offence meant to small press short stories, but I don’t see a lot of hardcore science-fictional speculation from them.

The artsy side of the collection is represented by stories like “Claude and the Henry Moores,” the opening story (I’ll talk about this story in more detail in just a moment), and the title story which is about imaginary creatures and loneliness.

I liked these stories a great deal. In particular, Wolf does a good job with endings. Since we get a lot of detail about the internal life of the characters, the structure that leads to the ending is most often an epiphany, a moment where all those internal musings or developments come together in a rush, like a plateau before the next ascent begins. Not an “I feel ripped off” artsy ending, but an artsy ending that the story is nicely tailored for.

I’ll use the Henry Moore story that opens the collection as an example. Claude works as a security guard at the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto), and he becomes fascinated with the Henry Moore sculptures on display in the gallery. Then entranced, then possessed with an incredible connection with the personality of each sculpture, then convinced that there is an entity trapped within each sculpture. The writing is very moving, and the “freeing” of the AGO sculptures is a memorable sequence. That could be the ending, but in the last few paragraphs, Claude realizes there are Henry Moores across the whole world. It’s both closure and grand reveal of new vistas for the protagonist. Neatly played.

I don’t want to give away the endings of any of the other stories in the collection; rest assured that they are just as craftily constructed.

Of the stories with a more science-fictional nature, I’ll mention “Thunderbirds” and “Equals.” The first is an unusual first contact story, between Norman the human, living by himself in the woods, and Chitta the alien, who crashes nearby. Again, the story works toward an epiphany, but the alien details along the way are suitably convincing. The second story is about a research mission on an alien world named Lorin4. I was reminded of Robert Charles Wilson’s Bios in Wolf’s careful attention to biological details.

The longer stories in the collection – “Thunderbirds,” “Finding Creatures,” “Miss Lonelygenes,” “The MagniCharisma Machine,” “Equals,” and “Kouzen Zaka” – are generally better than the shorter ones, but all told, the reading is very rewarding.

On to The Storyteller and Other Tales. I didn’t get as much of a grasp of Johansen’s style, since The Storyteller only has four stories in it. All are based on historical moments (or our stories of those moments, appropriately enough considering the title), but the styles vary. Each story has a motif illustration by Johansen herself.

The title story is about a character named Ulfleif, a royal girl in a remote kingdom, and two visitors, Moth and Mikki, storyteller and warrior respectively. The storyteller begins a familiar tale about seven demons who were bound into earthly prisons a long time ago, but the story takes a turn that brings the events right into the building with them. It feels like a piece of a longer story, but it works very well.

The next story, "He-Redeems," is about 3 slaves living in the palace of the Lady, and reminded me a great deal of Eileen Kernaghan's Winter on the Plain of Ghosts. One of the slaves is accused of heresy, and the title character, who is impossibly naive, gets his eyes opened in a painful way. A journey into apostasy, but rather baldly stated.

"The Inexorable Tide" is a serviceable bit of Arthuriana, told through the eyes of Nimiane, daughter of Merlin. The emphasis is on how Arthur's wanderings and distant battles are a form of desertion for those back home. Nimiane and Mordred and Guenevere get up to all the familiar troubles, but there's a reason for their actions in the absence of the king. Nimiane manages a happy ending for herself, but the moment of Arthurian glory is brief, as it always is.

“a.d. cmxci” (AD 991 for those of us who have trouble deciphering Roman numerals) is a short piece, riffing off of an old epic poem. It feels like a bit of academia, rather than a finished story.

Both books are published by small presses here in Canada. Wattle and Daubis a west coast outfit, putting out a handful of books each year. Finding Creatures and Other Stories is a nice edition, so they’ve done good work so far.Sybertooth is a little harder to figure out: they’re on the east coast, and have published a lot of Canadian humour. I hadn’t run across Donald Jack’s Bandybooks in years and years, so I’m glad to see that someone is keeping that series in print. They’ve also published a number of genre works by Johansen and other writers.

Wolf was recently interviewed over at Strange Horizons and talked about Canadian SF and fantasy (among other interesting topics).

I feel a bit like this is a sequel to my earlier piece,The Latest in Canadian SF, from 2007. The venerable Tesseracts series, collecting Canadian fantasy and science fiction short stories since 1985, is now at number 13, with a fourteenth volume set for release in 2010. Canadian authors have been doing very well for themselves – Robert J. Sawyer’sFlashforward is now a TV series on ABC, Karl Schroeder’s Virga series is now at 4 volumes, and much, much more. I’m looking forward to something new from Nalo Hopkinson, and of the books on my shelf, Robert Charles Wilson’s latest,Julian Comstock, is the one I’d most like to read. And I’m glad to see that small presses like Wattle and Daub, Sybertooth, and Edge are fighting the good fight.

Last modified: February 20, 2010

Copyright © 2010 by James Schellenberg

Friday, February 19, 2010

My Haiti Writings

I was asked by a friend where she could find my writings on Haiti. I discovered that they are not so easy to find on this blog as I'd assumed (bad tagging?), so here is the digest of important links. (There are also a number of Haiti postings not written by me, which you can find by following the tag "Haiti".)

For a list of books about Haiti, check out my LibraryThing site:

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Jou a Rive: The Day Will Come

TREZO "Jou A Rive" Music Video from Ciné Institute on Vimeo.

Ciné Institute
Jacmel, Haiti
Ciné Institute provides Haitian youth with film education, training and production support. The Institute's programs are: Ciné Lekòl; a film school offering training in fiction documentary and commercials. Ciné Services; an income generating production center for film school students and graduates. Ciné Klas; daily educational film screenings in partnership with national public schools and Ciné Klub; weekly public screenings of world cinema.

Ciné Institute began as a film festival in Jacmel, Haiti. Held for three years, Festival Film Jakmèl showed hundreds of films from around the world free of charge to tens of thousands of local audiences.

Our mission is to use the power of cinema, integrated educational programming, technical film training and production funding, to entertain, educate and empower Haitian youth to create a movement that grows an industry in national cinema and arts which creates jobs, stimulates regional economies and drives sustainable long term development.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Nice Makes Write: Interviewed by Robert Runté

Here it is! Robert Runté's interview of me in today's issue of Strange Horizons. The photo was taken by Patrik in La Vale de Jakmel, Ayiti (Haiti) in 2006. That's mayi boukonen I'm eating and it is yummy and CHEWY!

Nice Makes Write: An Interview with Casey Wolf

By Robert Runté

Wolf’s stories represent a uniquely Canadian approach to fantasy: where others write about the astronaut hero, she writes about the father who is left behind; where others write about planetary conquest, she writes about multiculturalism and the respect for alien life; where others write about revenge, she writes about reconciliation; where others write stories filled with sound and fury signifying nothing, her stories quietly engage the reader in the real lives of ordinary people—who become extraordinary because they have imagination, perspective, courage—and above all—integrity.

Yet, unlike a lot of CanLit, her stories are never depressing or dry. The speculative element makes her stories both more interesting and, in some strange sense, more real than other Canadian literature exploring the same themes. Consequently, I really wanted to ask Casey about her writing, and how her settings, themes, and characters reflected her Canadian upbringing. She graciously agreed to this interview.

Wolf: Not all of my characters do the right thing. But when they don’t, there are repercussions—not in terms of divine (or authorial) retribution, but in the same terms as life. I don’t see this as being about niceness, or characters putting others ahead of themselves. It’s more about integrity, something some of my characters summon up with ease where others struggle with it. When we live without integrity, we suffer the consequences: greater isolation, with all the lack of resource—emotional and psychological, at least—that that implies; lower self-regard (on whatever level we are honest with ourselves); an extinguishment of a sense of belonging and all-for-oneness that gets human communities through long periods of difficulty and want. In other words, supposedly selfish behaviour actually drags the individual down. We don’t like ourselves as much, and no one else holds us in such high regard, either. And we don’t heal from our wounds, but carry them around sequestered behind our defenses.

To read the whole article go to Nice Makes Write.

Dr. Robert Runté is an associate professor at the University of Lethbridge and co-edited (with Yves Meynard) the Tesseracts5 SF anthology. He has won two Auroras as an SF critic and was Fan Guest at the 52nd WorldCon. He is a regular reviewer for NeoOpsis Magazine.

Strange Horizons ( is a weekly web-based magazine of and about speculative fiction. The term "speculative fiction" refers to what is more commonly known as "sci-fi," but which properly embraces science fiction, fantasy, magic realism, slipstream, and a host of sub-genres. The magazine was founded in September 2000, and as we said then:

[Speculative fiction is] important to the world. These stories make us think. They critique society. They offer alternatives. They give us a vision of the future—and warn us of the potential dangers therein. They help us understand our past. They are full of beauty, and terror, and delight.

Even as the print publishing market for speculative fiction has contracted, the genre has expanded. A new generation of writers and artists has emerged: multicultural, non-traditional, willing to step past clichés. Strange Horizons hopes to give these rising stars another place to shine.

Strange Horizons has an all-volunteer staff, which enables us to pay our fiction and poetry writers professional rates. We are committed to expanding the readership, professional status, and literary appreciation of speculative fiction in all media, for all people.

Award Winner!!!

Okay, not really fair. It isn't my writing that's won an award, but my blog, and it's a "fun" award, not a big prestigious award but HEY! Who cares? It IS fun.

Martina Carter of the blog Creative Chronicles picked Den Page of C. June Wolf as one of her choices for the Over the Top Award. What she says:

The rules of the award are to answer the questions with one word answers, then to pass it on.

Your Hair? - Whacky.
Your Favourite Food? - Healthy
Your Hobby? - Yakking
Your Fear? - Atrophy
Your pets? - Felines
Something You Aren't? - Pregnant
Where Did You Grow Up? - Canada
Your Life? - Quiet
Your Mood? - Content
Your Favorite Colour? - All!

And I'm passing the award to these little known bloggers:

Under the Oak

Writer's Travels
Eileen Kernaghan's Blog
The Beacon Blog for Writers
Wisdom Play

Please go check out their blogs and if you like what you see become a follower.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Letter from Carla in Port au Prince

Carla is one of the friends I was worried about when the earthquake hit Haiti. She has lived there for over 20 years and shows no signs of ever leaving. It is her beloved home. She is pictured here with neighbours as well as students from the US, listening to fellow N a Sonje founder Ari Nicolas. This is a note Carla sent out two days ago.

I am and continue to be overwhelmed by all of the messages of love and support since almost the first words indicating there had been an earthquake here. It was so overwhelming the first time I saw all the messages, I literally ran away from the computer as sobs started to rise from my chest to my throat as I realized that in the cries for knowing about us was because it was all too possible for us to be those under the rubble. Those emotions are constantly running through our brains and hearts almost numbed by our blessing both in being alive, having a house in tact and all of our closest friends still alive though many without homes.

Our home has been full, our guesthouse full, our yard full, always in a constant flux of different folks knowing they have a refuge with us and yet wandering the remains of buildings and places looking for family or friends. Now there is the wonder of what next, where will the next day come from, not only the next mouthful, but what thing will be there to hang a life onto in the world out there after you wake up. The 3 basics of any structure for a society have fallen, the state, the church and the schools, what's left are just dreams. How it will all unfold is the question, will the world just take over the country and the Haitian way of life evaporate the way Port-au-Prince has. Will there be Haitians left after those who can leave do? The president of Senegal and of Benin have opened their doors to Haitian, offering land for free. Welele, the young man who has lived with us for the past 4 years or so, is ready to go, he says after 200 years of not getting it together, it's time to leave. The country is naked before the world, the corruption and lack of vision of her leadership is clear as the dust settles and the world stands stunned at the devastation that Haitians themselves have known they've been living in for a long long time even before the quake.

Ah me, there are so many reflections going on every minute and every hour.

I have begun to work in a coalition of small ngo's who are working with a team of Haitian animators or community facilitators to try and find base communities in the places that now have camps so that they get connected to the humanitarian aid coming in but get it in a way that it doesn't cause damage, which most of it really does other than fill the hole of hunger as free stuff causes fighting, jealousy, stealing, selling, etc in the best of times. The coalition's intentions are to build the capacity of the base community organizations that are working in the camps of thousands, organizing the wounded, the sick, the children, the pregnant women and are looking for their basic needs, water, sanitation, medical care, food, and TENTS!!! The rainy season is almost upon us and it is almost certain there will be more deaths as there are so many just under sheets in these camps, especially the babies. It is amazing though the incredible capacity that so many of these organizations have in spite of all this disaster, this is evident and something of hope for the country to build on. The really important place now is the countryside, that's for sure and where the expertise of the animators we have known for years can be of the greatest help. The coalition is working to keep the channel open between these grassroots organizers and visionaries and the international communities that are flooding the country to keep the Haitian voice funnelled into the heavy powerful money and aid organizations, it's quite a challenge. The day of big egos, big potential for investments is upon the country and it can either go for the benefit of the Haitian dream or the profiteers.

One of our own dreams is to work in education right here in our community as there is a true need to get children back into a routine but with something very valuable to themselves, education. We've always known that education doesn't necessarily happen within 4 walls and what a better time to try it out. We had a very informal summer camp that was pretty successful with hardly anything but good will, so we think that if we can brainstorm about how to form little mobile groups of children in age groups to circulate in the community, going to where there are people who can give training, knowledge, music, dance, art, science, making the whole community participate, especially the elders, using Creole and making our own texts using their own stories, it might be a place to begin again with the human resources right at our fingertips! The vision of N'a Sonje--to remember, to heal, to go forward--may find its place right here in Gwo Jan. There are some burgeoning organizations in the past 6-9 months that were beginning to get a feel for what that means and we hope that with Leres, our long time animator/friend, we can get more training on all kinds of organizations, especially cooperatives, we will see.

If you are interested in helping in some way, Beyond Borders is helping to sponsor this coalition approach and efforts, as well as their own great programs. You can check out their website: , the coalitions google group that is just getting started:

There is one story that has given me inspiration. There are so many stories of survival going around, especially as they kept finding people alive underneath the rubble after so many days. One last one was a young person, I didn't hear the story myself, though many people heard in on the radio, was pulled out and still alive after more than 14 days. When asked how did they make it for so long, the young person responded by saying that every day an old man in white with a long beard came and gave them a piece of bread and sugar water! However you want to understand it, it is a story of faith. This is my inspiration at this point because it feels like we are under the emotional, spiritual, psychological rubble of despair and only as we keep the lines open to the source of all life will we be able to survive all of this! It'll be the only way to keep going by getting our spiritual bread and water of life every day under the rubble.

All my love and appreciation to everyone, I'm off to translate for an American getting stories of survival for an Irish ngo, Worldwide Concern. It's a paying job, yeah!

More soon, keep praying as the stress continues with rumors of more quakes, inondations, volcanoes, military occupation, etc keep running around!

yours always,

more when I can...

Video by Claire Karoly. It and parts 2-7 can be found on YouTube.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

5th annual Cyberspace Poetry Slam for Brigid

Autumn Hiscock passed on through Facebook the invitation to publish Brigit poetry all over the web today.

And why would we do this?

Brigit is a Celtic triple goddess, as well as a saint of later and different but related fame. As a goddess she is patron (matron?) of Poetry, Healing, and Smithcraft. So it is not surprising that many writers of a Pagan or Christian bent are attracted to this personage. (Go to the bottom of this post to see my offering.)

Autumn encourages us to "Help weave a web of poetry today in honour of Brigid by posting a poem (original or otherwise) on your blog, journal, Facebook page, Twitter, or somewhere else (who says you can’t write one out and pin it to a bulletin board at work, or tape it to your office door?). Leave links to it in the comments area of other post...ed poems; follow the other links you find online to read a vast woven web of poetry today."

Here is the original invitation from Oak:

5th annual Cyberspace Poetry Slam for Brigid
Feel free to copy the following to your blog/facebook/website and spread
the word. Let poetry bless the blogosphere once again!

WHAT: A Bloggers (Silent) Poetry Reading

WHEN: Anytime February 2, 2010

WHERE: Your blog

WHY: To celebrate the Feast of Brigid, aka Groundhog Day

HOW: Select a poem you like - by a favorite poet or one of your own - to
post February 2nd.

RSVP: If you plan to publish, feel free to leave a comment and link on
this post. Last year when the call went out there was more poetry in
cyberspace than I could keep track of. So, link to whoever you hear
about this from and a mighty web of poetry will be spun.

Please pass this invitation on…

Hail, Poetry! Let the web be woven!

Autumn's offering can be found at

and here is mine. From 20 February 1995:

St. Brigit of Kildare

she was a short woman with heavy hair
the colour of peat
plaited and pinned back recklessly
her skin bore a swarthy
neolithic caste
hips hands forehead
broad and strong as rock

she never read
nor spoke from a pulpit
and no
she didn't appoint bishops
hang her garment on a beam of sun
cause the milk to flow
from calfless teats

she never met saint patrick
didn't catch the slippery christ
as he was squeezed from his mother's pelvis
she never was a goddess
though she believed in many
her god was well accompanied

the land spoke to both of them
birds' pathways meant much
and a poem sung on an injured part could heal

yeats would not have known her
we would not have known her
she would have stared at us
from crooked brows
if she had seen how we'd picture her

she would have trod on
a sort of prayer inherent
in her breath her step
her glance at the harebell
on the moist edge of the spring