Tag Archives: Fairwood Press

Book Review: Over the Darkened Landscape

Canadian fiction, speculative fiction, Fairwood Press, fantasy, SF

Derryl Murphy’s collection is stellar.

When I go to writing/fan conventions I usually try to pick up a couple of books or magazines to purview. Last year, at When Worlds Collide in Calgary I picked up Derryl Murphy’s reprint collection Over the Darkened Lanscape. Derryl is a fellow Canadian writer and I know him somewhat (translation: like many writers, we’ve chatted writing over a drink or two). But I wasn’t sure I knew his writing. As well as Derryl, I wanted to help support Patrick Swenson’s Fairwood Press, out of Washington, who has always done a quality product.

The trade size book has an intriguing cover. I don’t know how it was made but I’ve never felt a cover that was so velvety, almost like skin. It holds up well to greasy paw prints as well. The cover art is not necessarily dark or even speculative in the SF/fantasy sense, and in a way it reflects Murphy’s stories perfectly. As well, this guy with a distorted face is sliced by a canvas that he peers over. When you read Derryl’s coven of stories you’ll find they are poignant perspectives of delving into a very human psyche, sometimes in extraordinary circumstances, sometimes in that visceral way where life tugs on you revealing its glories and sorrows.

I’ll try not to give away too much about the contents so you can enjoy the slow reveal of them. Murphy does a deft blending of science with the human machine and this is seen in the unique perspective of “Body Solar.” “Last Call” is not really speculative except for imagining what you would say to your wife while in space. Very poignant and one of the stories I had read before. “Frail Orbits” is a sad and tender handling about used up veterans. “Voyage to the Moon” is probably one of my favorites for a very fresh way of handling a fairy tale as science fiction. I won’t say more but even that might be too much. I really enjoyed the deft new twists.

“More Painful than the Dreams of Other Boys” deals with a world where kids don’t always grow up and one who does; growing pains always hurt. “The Day Michael Visited Happy Lake” is another tale about the reality we give our favorite childhood tales. One of the more disturbing tales, another that I had read before, “Clink Clank” examines a future where government farms out the feeding of prisoners and what children who don’t listen to their parents discover. It’s a cautionary tale of how one can place a command in someone’s thoughts. By saying “don’t touch that” we can no longer think of anything else but touching that object.

Louis Wain, H.G. Wells, paranormal, horror, speculative fiction

Wain’s paintings grew increasingly more demonic.

The collection covers vast reaches from the earliest times, to our future travels in space. But “Ancients of Earth” truly links the past and the present with a teacher in Dawson City at the time of the Gold Rush, who tries to save an ancient find, and is targeted by those ancient memories. A careful blend again of science and magic. “The Cats of Bethlem” begins with the true tale of H.G. Wells intervening in the commitment of Victorian artist Louis Wain to a sanitarium Wain was obsessed with drawing cats and it’s now believed that as he aged he grew more schizophrenic while his paintings of anthropomorphized cats grew more abstract and wild.  But what if….

Other tales take Canadian history and put it into a Gordian knot. “Canadaland” is a very tongue in cheek look at our (Canada’s) future. While the Canadians reading it will truly get the nuances, there are ample narrator-biased footnotes. Well worth a trip through our cultural foibles. “Northwest Passage” is a lonely tale of fighting the frozen winter environment that holds its ghosts close. “Cold Ground” travels into the vestiges of the Riel rebellion from the point of view of its surviving sorcerers. The title piece of the book, “Over the Darkened Landscape” was probably one of my other favorites with MacKenzie King (Canada’s 10th prime minister) and his talking dog who solve mysteries, including what happened to the missing painter Tom Thomson, who was one of the famous Group of Seven. Here, the painting is the medium, in all senses of the word.

These stories are both historic and speculative, fantastical and empathic. If I could choose only one word I would say that Derryl Murphy’s tales are visceral in pulling you along the emotional ride of  humans in odd or life threatening situations. Ingenuity, acceptance and compassion flavor Over the Darkened Landscape. I didn’t know what to expect originally but I found the stories resonated for a long time with me. It’s an excellent collection well worth reading. I’m not the only one of this opinion. Murphy’s collection has been nominated for this year’s prestigious Sunburst Award. Check it out.

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Orycon 31 Wrap-Up

I just got home from a weekend at Orycon, Portland’s Science Fiction convention. Since I didn’t really attend Vcon I can say that this is the first fan con I’ve been to probably since Worldcon in Toronto. Orycon is a midsized convention I think, neither as large or Dragon Con or Worldcon  but not as small as Vcon.

I can only speak to my experiences from being there as a pro, in writing and editing. My early experience was with the committee in charge of organizing the panels. First, they found me through this blog as my email had changed since the last time I was down (probably a dozen years ago), and sent me an invitation to attend. They then sent out a list of possible panels and asked which ones I might like to be on. This form allowed for submitting a bio and a bio picture at the same time.

A couple times I needed to contact the committee to clarify some things (such as was the reading at midnight Saturday meaning midnight Friday because that’s technically Saturday) and they got back to me promptly. Thanks to Kami Miller and Rick Lindsley for all their help and organizing the panels well.

I did notice on site that there were no bios at all except for the guest of honor so I’m wondering why we needed to submit it. A bit disappointing that but the panels were listed in the large program book and the little pocket booklet. It would have been better to put some bios in the program book and left the panels to the booklet but then they needed room for describing them. I had offered (beforehand) to fill in on a couple more panels if needed but I never heard back and I did notice several panels only had two people on them. However, there were panels offered on art, editing, writing, costuming and other fan-oriented activities so that there were about five panels or more on at all times.

The booklet listed panels by room or by time and basically you could cross reference any way you wished. The kept all the readings off of the main listing though and had them separate which means many people missed them because they weren’t listed in the regular schedules. And I guess they were several hundred programs short in the printing.

I went to the art show, which was so spread out in a very large room that it look kind of empty. It might have been better to put the art panels closer together. The show ranged from the professionals like Lubov (the artist GoH), Alan Clark and a few others to the amateurs. There were fewer pictures of characters from Star Trek and other shows but it almost seems as if the unspoken theme was that of dragons.

That theme of dragons carried over into the dealers room, which was quite large. From what I could see I’m predicting Steampunk is on a huge rise and it will be flowing into mainstream fashion soon. There were many steampunk items from hats and goggles to other mysterious items and corsetry. There were very few books at all in the dealers room and the only presses selling their publications were Apex Book Company, Bizarro Fiction from Eraserhead Press,  and Talebones/Fairwood Press. I meant to go back and by one of the Bizarro books but forgot (and Apex too).  Darn. But the dealer’s room had gadgets, toys, comics, books, clothes, jewellery and all the goodies that people love to buy.

I missed taking a gander at the dance or masquerade and though there were few room parties they were fun and casual. The Pirates of the Columbia hosted one and I think they just do it for fun, plus there was the Radcon party, the hospitality suite and IRoSF, which my brain is blanking on right now.The costumes I did see were quite fun, from women in baroque dresses (complete with ship on the hair) to steampunk farmers and the Joker.

The hotel itself seemed fairly nice, and new from the Jantzen Beach hotel of previous Orycons. It was an extremely cold hotel though and they could have done with turning up the temperature a couple of degrees. I didn’t eat much but the food seemed all right and the hotel very apologetic when they screwed up our reservation. The rooms were quite spacious and nice with small balconies.

I’m notorious for not getting to panels at cons. Because I arrived at 6 I don’t think I attended a panel Friday except to do a reading at midnight in conjunction with Darklady Reed, Kal Cobalt and Tami Lindsley (hopefully I have those names right). Saturday I moderated the “Drowning in Slush” panel and attended one on Steampunk and on neural interfaces.  That’s a better average than usual. The Steampunk panel was quite interesting and well balanced. The neural interface panel was in jeopardy of being dominated about people talking about their disabilities but was save by the other panelists extrapolating into what’s being done and where it might go. And I managed to chat with the physicist so that I can worked out the logistics of a virtual environment story I’m working on.

Overall, I enjoyed the con and would consider going again. I also lucked out on driving weather, which was perfect. With stopping to visit friends, it was a pleasant (if long) drive.

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