Weekly Churn 011: Fuck Utopia

Ahoy! This is the Weekly Churn, where every Sunday I post about what I’ve been reading, watching, and thinking about over the previous week. This week got away from me, so it’s being posted on the Monday instead. Sandra Newman recently wrote in The Guardian about how the literary genre of the utopia has been largely abandoned in favour of its shadow genre, the dystopia. For some reason she believes this shift to be in part the result of the Soviet Union under Stalin being the only real-world utopian project people have had to examine, and in part the result of cynicism and nihilism run amok, a surrendering to conservative criticisms of liberal and left-wing idealism. She also believes that this shift causes such a surrender, enacting a vicious cycle in which we come to believe that any hope for a better world is lost, or that change for the… Continue Reading

Weekly Churn 009: Catching Up

Ahoy! This is the Weekly Churn, where every Sunday I post about what I’ve been reading, watching, and thinking about over the previous week. On a personal note, my father is doing better. He had his surgery, and while the outcome is not entirely what we’d hoped, he’s doing better and should have improved quality of life in the long run. It was a stressful time, and I’m glad I was able to be there for him. A few years ago I would not have been able to, and given how stressed I still am five days after getting home, I can only imagine how difficult that would have been. I’ve gotten back to reading. I’m just shy of 200 pages into The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, by Shoshana Zuboff. It’s a fantastic book, although I’m not sure… Continue Reading

Weekly Churn 006: Blank Pages

Ahoy! This is the Weekly Churn, where every Sunday I post about what I’ve been reading, watching, and thinking about over the previous week. I’ve spent a lot of time staring at blank pages this week. Or not blank so much as unyielding. For a while now, and by “a while” I mean a few years, I’ve been working on a story called “A Fire in the Snow,” or maybe just “Fire in the Snow.” It’s the first project I’ve worked on that integrates some of the experiences I had working in northern Saskatchewan. At it’s core it’s just a scary-monster-in-the-woods story with Lovecraftian overtones, but it’s also about how men bond at work when that work is dangerous and isolated, and in a very small way it touches on the damage that settlers have done to First Nations communities—something that I think is important to address in stories about… Continue Reading

Weekly Churn 005: Public Policy and Innovation

Ahoy! This is the Weekly Churn, where every Sunday I post about what I’ve been reading, watching, and thinking about over the previous week. If you follow me on social media you might have heard some of this before. There’s this company called “Alphabet” that Google created, a kind of umbrella corporation to house all of its different experiments and subsidiaries without overtly drawing a line between those entities and Google’s worsening international reputation. Or at least I think that’s what it’s for; maybe it’s a tax thing, I don’t know. Anyway, one of those Google sister companies is called Sidewalk Labs. They are in the smart city business, and are looking to develop “Quayside,” which is part of Toronto’s eastern waterfront. There are a lot of problems with Sidewalk coming to town; some are related to consultation and democratic practice, some are related to trust and reputation issues. There… Continue Reading

Weekly Churn 004: The Worst Is Yet to Come

Ahoy! This is the Weekly Churn, where every Sunday I post about what I’ve been reading, watching, and thinking about over the previous week. Today is my mother’s birthday; she would have been sixty four this year. Computers are dumb, no matter how much we like to pretend otherwise, and some of the conveniences that programmers and device manufacturers have added to them have unintended consequences when we are faced with what is both catastrophic and inevitable. At fifteen minutes after midnight my iPhone suggested that I call my mother and wish her a happy birthday. The computer doesn’t know she’s dead, but the people who made it somehow didn’t anticipate this very human development, nor, apparently, that I’d be unwilling to remove her entry from my address book, or at least unwilling to do so after only six months. The relentless stupidity of technologists in the face of how… Continue Reading

Weekly Churn 002: Comics

Ahoy! This is the Weekly Churn, where every Sunday I post about what I’ve been reading, watching, and thinking about over the previous week. This week I thought a lot about comic books. I swear most Weekly Churn posts aren’t going to be as long as this one. I’ve been a comics nerd for as long as I can remember. I don’t know what my first books were; likely some Garfield collections. I have a distinct memory of asking my father for one at Harley’s grocery store and him telling me that I could get colouring books cheaper somewhere else. I was an Archie fiend for years, first glomming on to Dan DeCarlo’s depictions of Betty and Veronica, and then slowly acknowledging that Harry Lucey’s work was superior, although there have been a number of other fine artists to work on Archie over the years. I can’t say I’ve ever… Continue Reading

Weekly Churn 001: Television and Tattoos

Yonge Dundas Square

Ahoy! Welcome to the Weekly Churn, a regular series of posts about what I’ve been reading, watching, and thinking about over the previous week. This is sort of my response to the whole newsletter phenomenon, but mostly it’s about getting me back into a headspace where writing is a habit rather than an event. So here goes. The big news for this week is that Tim Maughan’s book Infinite Detail finally dropped. I’ve been a fan of Tim’s work for quite some time—somebody recommended Paintwork, his self-published collection of short fiction, and I was hooked right from page one. It took Infinite Detail almost a year longer to come out than expected, but it’s well worth the wait. I’ve been re-reading Bragi Ólafsson’s work as prep for my review of Narrator, his latest book to be translated into English, but I was so excited about Tim’s novel that I set… Continue Reading

Infinite Detail, by Tim Maughan

Infinite Detail cover

It’s rare for me to be as excited about a new release as I am about Tim Maughan’s excellent debut novel, Infinite Detail. I don’t recall exactly who put me on to Maughan’s work—someone on Twitter, surely, as that’s where I’ve gotten most of my book news and recommendations for close to a decade now—but I read Paintwork in 2016 and felt like I’d finally found the kind of science fiction I’d been looking for, and which the genre seemed determined not to give me. For those who haven’t encountered Maughan’s fiction before I’d probably say that it combines William Gibson’s remarkable ability to see right to the heart of now with the politics and analysis of someone like Adam Greenfield and the weird narrative prototyping of design fiction, although that doesn’t seem quite right. Jay Owens might call it kitchen sink dystopia, which applies to much of his short… Continue Reading

2018: Year in Review

My mother

Normally at the beginning of every year I post a breakdown of all the reading I’d done the previous year. I won’t be doing that this year. I’ll include some recommendations at the end of this post, but I’m having a hard time worrying about how many books I read by certain authors, or books of a certain kind, or whatever categories interest you, or have interested me in the past. Today, I don’t care. 2018 was not a good year. I’ve already written about my cat dying, but my mother also passed away in September, following complications from what is generally routine day surgery. I’ve had great difficulty reading, since then. In the four months since my mother died I’ve read seventeen books, which is roughly the count I normally have for December alone. My concentration is shot, my motivation is shot, and my investment in the world around… Continue Reading

Belated Reading Breakdown for 2017

2017 Reading Breakdown Feature Image

I apologize for the lateness of this reading breakdown; I’d anticipated having time to work on it back in January, but other projects intervened over and over again, and I simply haven’t had the time until today. My reading project for 2017 was significantly smaller in scale than in previous years, and if nothing else, the sharper focus yielded fewer books I didn’t connect with—in fact, I chose not to make a “worst of the year” list at all. For those who haven’t been reading along, for Canada’s 150th birthday I read and wrote about one book every month that was new to me but is considered a Canadian classic by one metric or another. Since I finished early, I also wrote about a “bonus” thirteenth book that was recommended by several people. I read a total of 71 books in 2017, down 22 from 93 in 2016 and down… Continue Reading