December 2010

Lind Honus Roland Crowe

Here’s some family news worth mentioning. My brother, Geoff, and his wife, Shannon, had their second child yesterday. Lind Honus Roland Crowe was born at 10:48 AM MST, weighing in at 3.9 kg. Pictures? Yes.


SFContario: Michael Swanwick, Jo Walton, Teresa Nielsen Hayden

So Jennifer and I attended SFContario a few weekends ago. As usual, I’m only getting around to telling you about it now.

As I mentioned last year, this was SFContario’s inaugural year, and, if you ask me, this year’s con augurs well for future cons. It was small, at least compared to Ad Astra, and the hotel was a little claustrophobic. Not everything went off hitch-free: the Dr. Horrible sing-a-long fell victim to technical issues, and no one but us showed up for the Eye of Argon reading. But these sorts of things can strike cons that have been running for decades, I suspect. I’ll cut a con a lot of slack its first time out.

The programming was pretty good, I thought. Despite the fact that there weren’t many concurrent panels — i.e., there were only a few to choose from — there was usually something I wanted to see. Sometimes, annoyingly, more than one thing I wanted to see at the same time, and I found it difficult to choose. This is not a bad problem to have. But in the event I missed roughly half the things I wanted to see because we made new friends and talked to writers, and that took precedence.

I made a point of limiting my photo-taking to the beginning of panels as much as possible, both to avoid disturbing the panelists and to allow me to enjoy the panels as an audience member rather than as a journalist. My SFContario photos are here; for photos taken by others, see the SFContario 2010 Flickr group. For the same reason, I gave up taking notes after the first panel, and just sat back to enjoy the show. There are plenty of reports online that give a sense of what went on:

For us, highlights included meeting Michael Swanwick, in whose mighty presence I babbled like a total goof, and Jo Walton — but that’s another story.

Shawville’s grocery store strike

Shawville’s grocery store — a Loblaws franchise — has been on strike for more than a week now. It’s the second grocery strike since we moved here in 2003; the last one lasted four months. From what we’ve heard, this one will go on at least until the new year. The Ottawa Citizen story reports the details we’d previously heard only as rumour and scuttlebutt: the union is asking for 12 percent over four years, and Loblaws is publicly musing about closing the store altogether, as it’s a marginal operation. It must be, if a dollar-an-hour raise is enough to put its viability into question; most of the employees are part-time as well (benefits, you know).

For the time being, we’re shopping in Renfrew, where the selection and prices are better. It’s half an hour away, but a lot of people were already shopping there for those reasons. If more of the store’s customers keep shopping over there after the strike is over — if they don’t come back — that may well be it.

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Mice to buy, mouths to feed

Grab and swallow

The price of feeder rodents seems a lot higher than it was 10 years ago. Lately I’ve been feeling a little sticker shock: I now have fewer snakes in the house than at any time in the past last decade (though still a lot by rational standards), but the cost of mice — we buy in bulk every two months or so — isn’t going down by a commesurate amount. Mouse and rat prices are going up faster than the snake numbers in our house are going down.

Cheap bastard that I am, I thought it might be a good idea to figure out exactly how much each of our snakes costs to feed (at least on paper: the real cost depends on their willingness to eat when fed and our remembering to feed them on time). One thing I was particularly interested in was whether there were any cost outliers: i.e., whether there were snakes that were more expensive to feed.

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The Alchemist and the Executioness

The Alchemist and The Executioness For our road trip to and from SFContario earlier this month (more on which anon), we listened to The Alchemist and The Executioness, a pair of linked novellas by Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias Buckell, respectively. Both works are sufficiently full of awesome that I fully expect to see them battling one another on an award ballot at some point — and I’d be hard pressed to decide which one to vote for.

They’re both set in a world in which magic works — but, as usual, at a price. Where magic is used, a poisonous plant called bramble grows, soon choking out everything else and forcing people to flee. The use of magic is, as a result, banned, and punishable by death. Even so, people work small magic every day, and the bramble keeps coming. In The Alchemist, an alchemist finds a way to destroy bramble, but discovers to his horror that the authorities have other, more sinister uses for his invention; in The Executioness, an executioner’s daughter, chasing after raiders who stole her children, finds herself, much to her surprise, taking on the role of a hero.

The bramble itself makes for a beautiful and (to use Tolkien’s preferred term) applicable theme: how something that is innocuous when one person does it is catastrophic when everyone does it — that could be applied to everything from fossil fuels to file-sharing.

Jennifer and I have been arguing about which of the two stories we prefer. The Alchemist is the darker and more intense story, with the greater power: she found herself tearing up at several points. After that experience, The Executioness was downright cathartic: it sounded more triumphant notes, with enough ass-kicking to make us smile through much of it.

The reading were beautifully done — Katherine Kellgren’s performance of The Executioness was astonishing. It’s a reasonable $10 for a five and a half hour recording. If you’d rather read it than hear it, Subterranean Press is publishing each book in hardcover next month (announcements: The Alchemist, The Executioness). My advice: buy both!

The Alchemist and the Executioness by Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias Buckell (audio)
The Alchemist by Paolo Bacigalupi (hardcover)
The Executioness by Tobias Buckell (hardcover)