April 24, 2017: My Favorite Genre Short Stories of 2016

Yesterday, I offered up a list of My Favorite Genre Novelettes of 2016.

Today I’d like to offer up a list of My Favorite Genre Short Stories of 2016.

Of the roughly 200 stories I read last year, these were, in my humble opinion, the Top 30.

I’ve included a short synopsis and links to an online reading copy. You may also want to consider purchasing the issues outright (or, better yet, subscribing!). And, if you’re interested in further reading, I would heartily recommend RockStackRank, a site that offers up monthly aggregate ratings for works in the categories of short stories, novelettes, and novellas.

“Salvage Opportunity” by Jack Skillingstead (Clarkesworld #114) – SF

Badar has a 4-year contract sits all alone at a salvage site on Kepler-186f.  – RocketStackRank

“The Governess with a Mechanical Womb” by Leena Likitalo (Clarkesworld #114) – Post Apocalyptic

Agneta and her little sister, Saga, are among the last human survivors. The invading aliens have assigned a modified human “governess” to watch over them. RockStackRank

“Into the Wreck” by June Oldfather (Strange Horizons – February 22nd, 2016) – SF

A human science team studies the colossal wreck of an alien spacecraft. RocketStackRank

“The Artificial Bees” by Simon Guerrier (Uncanny #9) – SF

Randall, a robot, investigates an unfamiliar place: a home garden. RocketStackRank

“Not a Wardrobe, Tornado, or Looking Glass” by Jeremiah Tolbert (Lightspeed Magazine #69) – Fantasy

Ellie used to travel freely to the other world, but lately her door doesn’t work. In fact, all the portals are broken for some reason.RocketStackRank

“Blessed are Those Who Have Seen and Do Not Believe” by D.K. Thompson (Beneath Ceaseless Skies #91) – Magical Steampunk

Elijah is dying of tuberculosis in a London where Darwin discovered spirits, not evolution. He and a vampire friend descend into the underground to look for a cure. – RocketStackRank

“In Skander, For a Boy” by Chaz Brenchley (Beneath Ceaseless Skies #91) – High Fantasy

Having no heir, King Rulf sends Harlan, his most trusted adviser, to find the son of the king he overthrew 20 years ago.RocketStackRank

“We Have A Cultural Difference, Can I Taste You?” by Rebecca Ann Jordan (Strange Horizons – April 18th, 2016) – SF

Filo/Gee, an intelligent giant amoeba, isn’t the ideal college roommate, particularly since he experiences the world through touching and tasting, which is hard on books, electronics, and relationships.RocketStackRank

“1957” by Stephen Cox (Apex Magazine #84) – SF Horror

Daniel is 17, attends a British boys school, and is very happy except in those moments when he remembers a very different life.RocketStackRank

“Blameless” by Jeffrey Ford (A Natural History of Hell – Stories)

A couple are invited over to a neighbor’s daughter’s exorcism. (Small Beer Press) – New Weird Horror

“Life in Stone, Glass, and Plastic” by Jose Pablo Iriarte (Strange Horizons – June 13th, 2016) – Contemporary Fantasy

Sergio is called to remove an offensive mural, but when he touches it, it makes him “remember” things from other people’s lives. – RocketStackRank

“A Good Home” by Karin Lowachee (Lightspeed Magazine #73) – SF

A disabled human veteran takes in a disabled AI veteran. The AI doesn’t talk anymore due to trauma, but Tawn tries to get through to it, even though his mother thinks it’s dangerous.RocketStackRank

“Binaries” by S.B. Divya (Lightspeed #73) – SF

The narrator describes his life in exponential steps.RocketStackRank

“Cuckoo Girls” by Douglas F. Warrick (Apex Magazine #85) – Horror

Nikki and Samantha are on the run from luminous monsters that are trying to kill them–and anyone they care about who’s near them.  – RocketStackRank

“Lullaby For A Lost World” by Aliette De Bodard (Tor.com) – Horror

Charlotte’s sacrifice kept the forces of chaos at bay, but only for a while, and in her grave, she grows resentful.RocketStackRank

“Against the Stream” by A Que (Clarkesworld #118) – Time Travel

An “illness” causes a man to wake each morning in the previous day, and as he lives his life backwards, he sees the mistakes he made.RocketStackRank

“The One Who Isn’t” by Ted Kosmatka (Lightspeed Magazine #74) – SF

A woman appears to be helping a child recover from some form of brain damage. His perceptions and memory are off, but something is off about her too.RocketStackRank

“The Assassin’s Secret” by Adam Troy-Castro (Lightspeed #75) – Fantasy

The world’s greatest assassin sits in his lair, waiting for people to come to him to beg his assistance.RocketStackRank

“The Gentleman of Chaos” by A. Merc Rustad (Apex Magazine #87) – High Fantasy

An immortal assassin threatens the new king, so he has his sister trained as the ultimate bodyguard.RocketStackRank

“The Engines Imperial” by Sean Bensinger (Clarkesworld #119) – Fantasy SF

The starship Rook returns to the system to mourn her sister starship, who died there 10,000 years ago.RocketStackRank

“Rooms Formed of Neurons and Sex” by Ferrett Steinmetz (Uncanny Magazine #12) – Near-Future SF

Lydia’s boyfriend, Ross, was just a brain in a jar. So how, exactly, did she injure him during sex?RocketStackRank

“Of Sight, Of Mind, Of Heart” by Samantha Murray (Clarkesworld #122) – SF

You adopt an android baby. You name him Ben. He grows amazingly fast.RocketStackRank

“Afrofuturist 419” by Nnedi Okorafor (Clarkesworld #122) – SF

Nigerian astronaut Abacha Tunde has been abandoned in space since 1990 and he would appreciate some help getting home.RocketStackRank

“Every Day Is The Full Moon” by Carlie St. George (Lightspeed Magazine #79) – Slipstream

B’s werewolf dad beats her, but what really gets her down is she hasn’t become supernatural like her friends have.RocketStackRank

“A Salvaging of Ghosts” by Aliette De Bodard (Beneath Ceaseless Skies #195) – Space Opera

Thuy seeks her daughter’s remains in the twisted parts of unreal space where salvagers pick over the remains of wrecked starships.RocketStackRank

“Terminal” by Lavie Tidhar (Tor.com) – SF

A vast fleet of “jalopies” carry individuals on a one-way trip from Earth to Mars. People do it for different reasons, some of which we learn about in this story.RocketStackRank

“The Savannah Liar’s Tour” by Will McIntosh (Lightspeed Magazine #68) – Urban Fantasy

In the near future, Ben uses cryosleep for a side-effect: while he’s under, he can meet his dead wife. Trouble is, he has a new wife.RocketStackRank

“Secondhand Bodies” by JY Yang (Lightspeed #68) – SF

Agatha wants a svelte replacement for her plump body, but since she can’t get one grown in a reasonable time, she looks into an illegal swap.RocketStackRank

“Two’s Company” by Joe Abercrombie (Tor.com) – High Fantasy

A warrior woman and a thief fleeing from the south meet a male warrior fleeing from the north in the middle of a bridge. Then it gets complicated.RocketStackRank

“Blood Grains Speak Through Memories” by Jason Sanford (Beneath Ceaseless Skies #195)- SF

Frere-Jones controls the nanobot “grains” that help protect the ecology in the bit of land she “anchors.” She’s come to view the grains as a tyranny, but there doesn’t seem to be much she can do about it.RocketStackRank

August 13, 2015: Recommended Reads! And Dark Matter screenshots!

After last year’s impressive reading tally, I set the bar a lot lower this year but, even so, it looked like I was going to come up short of the 100 book mark.  Over this past month, however, I’ve done some major catching up.  Here are a few of the titles I enjoyed…

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Half A War by Joe Abercrombie

The third and final instalment in Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea trilogy is epic fantasy at its high flying, action-packed finest.  This one has all of the elements one would expect from Abercrombie – colorful characters, heart-stopping twists and, best of all, that wicked sense of humor I’ve come to know and love.

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Heaven’s Queen by Rachel Bach

The second book in Rachel Bach’s (Aaron’s) Paradox Trilogy continues an SF series that stands out well above the rest.  These books are smart, fast-paced, engrossing and, without a doubt, flat-out the most FUN you’ll have reading in recent memory.

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Get Carter by Ted Lewis

I’m not a huge fan of noir-themed titles but this British classic, adapted into a movie starring Michael Caine back in the early 70’s, hooked me early and held my rapt attention through the entirety of my cover to cover single seating read.  A brilliant and brutal crime novel that has restored my appreciation for the genre.

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Sharpe’s Tiger by Bernard Cornwell

Having worked my way through most of George MacDonald Fraser’s similarly-themed Flashman series, I decided to give Cornwell’s historical anti-hero a shot – and came away mightily impressed.  I loved this book and hope the rest of Sharpe’s adventures are as masterfully detailed.

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Arcadia #4 by Alex Paknadel and Eric Scott Pfeiffer

This mind-bending SF series continues to, well, bend minds.  Paknadel juggles intellectually intoxicating narrative elements to magnificent effect while Pfeiffer’s art dazzles in perfect compliment.

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Descender by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen

From The Underwater Welder to Sweet Tooth to Trillium, Lemire’s work is distinguished by its grounded, at times painfully real characters struggling in fantastic and surreal environments.  In Descender, it’s Tim-21, a child robot who may be the key to averting a looming invasion.  A delightfully sweet and compelling series.

And a couple of screenshots from Friday night’s all-new episode of Dark Matter:

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FOUR against seven.  They’re gonna need more guys!

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Seeing double?

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What do we have here?!

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Well, look who’s coming back to stir things up!

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The boys convene in one of my favorite scenes in this episode.

Don’t forget to join me for a live post-episode Periscope after both airings tomorrow night.

Watch the show…

10 pm EST

7/10 pm PST

Then join me for a Periscope chat…

11 pm EST

8/11 pm PST

December 31, 2014: Best Books of 2014!

“Top 25?!”said Paul.  “How many books did you read this year?”

Well, after the paltry 65 I got through in 2013, I decided to make a concerted effort to improve on that embarrassing number in 2014.  My goal was a lofty 120 – which I ended up far exceeding, racking up a very respectable 180 books on the year (and I could have done even better had I not been distracted by this pesky production).

Let’s be real.  Most Best of the Year lists are full of crap, lazily lauding critical darlings or rewarding mere premise over execution (I’m tempted to compile a list of “Top 10 Worst Books That Made Everyone Else’s Top 10 Best Books”).  This, on the other hand, is my diverse list of the books that truly resonated with me this year; books I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.  And do!

So, yeah.  Top 25.  But then, after I started compiling my list, I realized I was excluding some terrific books – and so, I expanded it to a Top 30.  And, eventually, 35.

Many of these books were published prior to this year – but I’ve indicated the 2014 releases with an asterisk (*) and capped my countdown with a mini Top 10 Titles of 2014 list.

All to say – here are the books I most enjoyed reading between January 1st and December 31st (inclusive!) of this year.  It’s a nice eclectic mix covering everything from graphic novels and genre (horror, fantasy, SF, mystery) to general fiction and non-fiction.

What titles made your list?

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*35. BIRD BOX by Josh Malerman

A series of bizarre murder-suicides in Russia pique the media’s interest, but when these horrific incidents begin to proliferate and start striking closer to home, the world descends into a blind panic. Rumour spreads that people are being driven insane by the sight of some mysterious otherworldly entities and, soon, people have retreated into their homes, covering up their windows, refusing to open their eyes if they venture outdoors.  A helluva page-turner.

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*34. THE ROAD TO RECKONING by Robert Lautner

You can almost smell the gun smoke, sweat, and campfire in this gritty Western character piece about a young boy, orphaned after his father’s murder, who enlists the help of an ornery bastard to get him home.  Smart and absorbing.

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*33. FROSTBORN by Lou Anders

Award-winning editor Lou Anders first novel is a Norse-inspired, adventure-fueled tale for young fantasy enthusiasts. Karn, a young farmer-to-be, strikes up an unlikely friendship with Thianna, a half-giantess, to take on undead forces, an ancient dragon, troublesome trolls, an opportunistic uncle, and more! If you’re looking to inspire your child to follow in your Martin/Eddings/Jordan-loving footsteps, then this book is a great place to start.

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32. ANCILLARY JUSTICE – Anne Leckie

The mysterious Breq is much more (and less!) than she appears. Once a military starship possessed of Artificial Intelligence, she now exists as merely one of the thousands of former ancillaries (a.k.a. corpse soldiers) that live as extensions of her former self. Reduced to a single fragile human body, fueled by the memories of her powerful past, she sets out on a seemingly impossible mission of vengeance. Sound cool? Well, it is. And smart. I haven’t read an SF novel this engrossing in quite a while.

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31. A CALCULATED LIFE By Anne Charnock

In the late 21st century, society has stratified into the haves (genetically-enhanced individuals who live comfortable lives free of addiction and crime) and the have-nots (drudge workers who live in segregated, crime-ridden communities). Our protagonist, Jayna, is a hot up-and-comer at a corporation that track global trends. She has the perfect job, the perfect life and yet, she can’t help but feel that something is…off. Perfection aint all it’s cracked up to be and when Jayna decides to inject a little unpredictability into her ordered existence, things take a turn for the dangerous.

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30. SCHRODER by Amity Gaige

In the heat of a custody battle, a desperate father takes his daughter on an ill-advised extended road trip. It’s one of several big errors in judgement that lead our protagonist down an inevitably heartbreaking path. The fairly straightforward premise belies a surprising complexity in this touching and tragic tale. On the surface, not “the type of book” I’d enjoy – but I was thoroughly engrossed.

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29. THE INVERTED WORLD by Christopher Priest

A city moves along a railroad track in constant, laborious progress, attempting to keep up with something called “the optimum” – or risk losing pace and falling victim to a gravitational field that has warped space and time. This is a truly bizarre work of science fiction that jumps between multiple narrative styles in telling a story that is both grounded in its characters yet intellectually and creatively provocative in its conceit. At times, I felt like I was reading Leigh Brackett’s The Long Tomorrow – on acid.

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*28. TO RISE AGAIN AT A DECENT HOUR by Joshua Ferris

Online identity theft turns a middle-aged dentist’s life upside-down in this wickedly dark novel about self, faith, and the inherent dangers of not flossing.

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27. The Circle by Dave Eggers

Our young heroine lands a job working for The Circle, a cutting edge internet company that is Google, Facebook, and Yahoo rolled into one. Before she knows it, she is at the forefront of a wave of technological advancements that will revolutionize social interaction. But at what price? A smart, scary book that explores the potentially insidious consequences of our increasingly “connected” lives.  Delivers a powerful message on our increasing willingness to relinquish privacy and freedom in exchange for convenience.

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26. Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

Joe Abercrombie has distinguished himself in a fairly crowded field, delivering gritty, visceral, yet darkly humorous tales that fly in the face of established high fantasy conventions. His world-building is as unique and richly textured as the colorful characters who battle and banter their way through his stories, and I list him among my very favorite authors. Period. Beginning with his first book, The Blade Itself, and continuing through five subsequent novels, I can honestly say “I’ve never read an Abercrombie book I haven’t loved.”.  Red Country is Joe at his consistent best, a story about a young girl, Shy South, who sets off to rescue her younger siblings from a group of murderous outlaws. She is aided in her quest by Lamb, her (seemingly) spineless soft-spoken stepfather, and the unlikeliest of allies in a group of risk-averse mercenaries. A hell of a lot of fun.

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*25. ANNIHILATION by Jeff VanderMeer

A team of four women set out to explore a mysterious region known as Area X. By all accounts, they are the twelfth group to journey into the bizarre amazon-like territory. All of the previous expeditions have ended badly, marked by murders, suicides, disappearances, and, in the case of the eleventh, the inexplicable return of its members, sickened and psychologically broken by their experience. Our narrator, a biologist, apprises us of her team’s progress as they venture deep into Area X, making strange discoveries and unearthing hidden agendas, all the while dogged by a creeping suspicion that all is not right…

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24. The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

A great near-future thriller that follows Detective Henry Palace in his investigation of a suspicious suicide – amidst the backdrop of societal breakdown as the world prepares for the apocalyptic arrival of Asteroid 2011GV.  While the clock ticks down toward an extinction level event, suicides abound and people abandon all to pursue their bucket lists, but Henry demonstrates single-minded focus.  The first book in a three part series, each focusing on a different investigation – and the continuing erosion of civilization.

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23. House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III

A clerical error sparks a property dispute between a former Iranian Air Force Colonel and a recovering addict, a conflict fueled by desperation and pride that eventually leads to tragic consequences. Dubus does a masterful job of presenting us with the very real and very sympathetic people on both sides of the issue. This one will stay with you.

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22. Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch

Herman Koch excels at developing fascinating morally ambiguous, occasionally sociopathic characters – and his books are the opposite of feel-good summer reads.  So, with that warning in mind, prepare to be thoroughly engrossed by this novel about a physician to the stars who faces some serious legal consequences after one of his celebrity patients dies following a botched medical procedure.

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21. Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin

After a series of horrific child murders casts suspicion on the local Jewish community (a valuable tax source for the English court), King Henry II brings in a brilliant coroner, educated at the school of medicine in Salerno, to lead the investigation.  The only hitch – she’s a woman.  Operating at a time in England when female doctors are about as prevalent as tennis rackets, our protagonist, Adelia, must feign assistantship to her own assistant in order to solve the murders.  A great historical mystery.

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*20. We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt

A story of two sisters and their incredible bond. Nell and Layla are inseparable, the best of friends, drawn even closer by their parents’ divorce. But Nell begins to notice a change in her sister. Layla becomes withdrawn and secretive, and Nell suspects it may have something to do with a popular high school teacher. Restrained and real.

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*19. Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?  by Roz Chast

At times reminiscent of Art Spiegelman’s brilliant graphic novel Maus in its depiction of the relationship between aging parents and their middle-aged offspring, this bittersweet memoir traces artist Roz Chast’s struggles to care for her increasingly infirm mother and father as they deal with their loss of independence, their health and, eventually, each other.  At times very funny and at times heartbreaking, it’s an eye-opening account of the realities that await us all.

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*18. Afterlife with Archie (Escape from Riverdale) by Roberto Aguire-Sacasa

Archie Andrews and the gang from Riverdale face a zombie apocalypse when their high school dance is crashed by the undead, forcing them to take refuge at Lodge Manor. Surprisingly dark, this grim take on the hitherto silly comic is shockingly effective. Right up there with The Walking Dead and World War Z.

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17. N0S4A2 by Joe Hill

Hill finally comes into his own with an unsettling story about missing kids, a dark fantasy land, and a creepy yet surprisingly nuanced villain. A standout read.

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16. Going Clear by Lawrence Wright

A history of scientology and its frighteningly far reach. Terrifying.

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15. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

I generally hate blog books but this one is the exception.  Incisive, engaging, and very, very funny, it’s complimented by some perfect and perfectly hilarious illustrations.

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*14. Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

Jason Fitger writes a lot of reference letters.  A lot of woeful, meandering, passive-aggressive, unintentionally offensive reference letters that, if nothing else, offer tragic-comic insight into the world of their author, an embittered professor of creative writing at a small liberal arts school.  The book, a hilarious collection of his (un)professional missives, will have you carefully reconsidering the next time you ask someone for a professional recommendation.

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*13. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

Many will no doubt draw comparisons to Kate Atkinson’s much-hyped Life After Life given the similar premise – a protagonist is continually reborn after death, reliving his/her life over and over – but whereas Atkinson’s heroine has no knowledge of her past experiences, North’s hero does and this makes for a completely different and (in my opinion) far more interesting narrative.  Armed with the memories of what came before, Harry August discovers others like him, time traveling kalachakra, who hold the secret to saving the world – and ending it.

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*12. In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides

Historical documents, journals, and personal accounts are used to reconstruct the ill-fated polar voyage of the USS Jeanette and its 33 man crew who are forced to undertake a grueling thousand mile journey across the frozen Arctic when their ship goes down in icy waters.  Harrowing.

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11. Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyer

When a young American backpacker turns up dead in Capetown and her friend disappears, Detective Benny Griessel is tasked with the politically-charged job finding the missing girl.  The narrative jumps back and forth between the official investigation and the young woman on the run in this highly suspenseful, immensely captivating page-turner.  Impossible to put down, I read this novel in a single night, staying up until 2:00 a.m to finish it.

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*10. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan

It’s an going series, so I’m including it as a 2014 release.  Two former soldiers, deserters, and star-crossed lovers from opposing sides of an interplanetary conflict attempt to put the war behind them and raise their daughter with the help of some unlikely allies.  But their pasts come back to haunt them in the form of some even unlikelier enemies – and otherworldly complications.  The comic book version of an intricately plotted, character-driven cable drama.  Fiercely original.

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*9. The Troop by Nick Cutter

A field trip to an isolated island takes a horrific turn for a group of young boys when their scout leader welcomes an emaciated stranger into their camp. It’s a horror version of Lord of Flies that is at turns harrowing, humorous, and thoroughly engaging. Wonderfully written. It’s heads and shoulders above most novels in the genre.

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8. Super Graphic by Tim Leong

This visual guide to the comic book universe uses pie charts, venn diagrams, bar graphs, maps, and trajectories to highlight fun facts. Whether it’s a rundown of DC’s alternate Earths, the pizza particulars of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the alliances and connections of the denizens of Sin City, a Walking Dead kill counter, a map of Tintin’s travels, or a taxonomy of animal-named characters, there’s something here for most every fan to geek-out over. LOVED it!

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7. The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay

Moorish Spain (or a fictional version thereof) is the backdrop of this sweeping historical fantasy involving sieges, warfare, diabolical plots, courtly intrigue, crosses, double-crosses, friendship, and romance. At heart of it all are three protagonists whose backgrounds and alliances lead them on intersecting paths both heroic and tragic. Brilliant world-building and wonderfully nuanced characters. My introduction to the works of author Guy Gavriel Kay novel. Highly recommended.

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6. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

When his wife goes missing, family and friends rally in support of her distressed husband – until evidence surfaces suggesting he may have had a hand in her disappearance.  As suspicion mounts and the onion is peeled on a less than ideal marriage, the reader discovers that appearances can be very deceiving.  Replete with twists and turns, a compelling read.

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*5. Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

Young Prince Yarvi is son to the King of Gettland.  Born with only one good hand and no aspirations to the throne, he has grown up in the shadow of his older brother.  But when his father and brother fall in battle, it falls on him to avenge them.  His scheming uncle has other plans, however, and Yarvi is betrayed and sold into slavery.  And so, it’s from his lowly position as a galley rower riding the Shattered Sea that his quest for revenge begins, one that will see him forge alliances with reprobates and renegades, battle fierce adversaries, and, ultimately, reforge himself into a force to be reckoned with.

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4. This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

To honor the memory of his recently deceased father, Judd Altman learns he must sit shiva, spending the week in mourning with his fractured family.  Disparate personalities clash as unresolved issues resurface in this wickedly humorous novel.

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3. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Don Tillman, a brilliant but socially inept professor of genetics, comes up with the optimal means to finding his ideal companion: a sixteen page questionnaire designed to weed out unsuitable candidates and zero in on his perfect match.  His scientifically sound approach to love yields unexpected results in this touching and thoroughly charming novel.

1*2. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Inspired by an experiment in the 1930’s in which a husband and wife research team raised a baby chimp in their home as a member of their family, this novel offers a fictional account of a similar experiment run some sixty years later – and its heartbreaking effects on those involved. Our narrator is Rosemary, a woman who reflects back on her childhood, growing up with a human brother and chimpanzee sister – until the dark day her sister, Fern, was taken away. The loss of their beloved family members has far-reaching consequences for all of them. Some fifteen years later, Rosemary attempts to learn the truth about her sister’s fate.  Humorous and poignant.

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1. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The book opens with our narrator, Jeannette, on her way to a New York City function, when her cab stops beside a homeless women rooting through the trash. Upon closer scrutiny, Jeannette realizes that homeless woman is, in fact, her mother. And so begins one of the most amazing books I’ve read in recent memory. The blurb on the back of the jacket does it an enormous disservice, painting it as a bleak autobiographical account of woman growing up in an abusive family. It’s actually quite touching, uplifting – and incredibly funny, reminiscent of David Sedaris at his very darkest. One of my Top 10 books of all time. Go read it!

MY TOP 10 BOOKS OF 2014

#10 – We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt

#9 – Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast

#8 – Afterlife with Archie (Escape from Riverdale) by Roberto Aguire-Sacasa

#7 – Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

#6 – The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

#5 – In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides

#4 – Saga by Brian K. Vaughan

#3 – The Troop by Nick Cutter

#2 – Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

#1 – We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Happy New Year!

January 9, 2014: Hot chocolate! Ice cream! And books!

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It’s that time of year again!  Time for Vancouver annual Hot Chocolate Festival! From January 18th to February 14th, 24 local participants will be offering over 60 flavors.  At roughly two hot chocolates a day, I think that’s eminently doable.  Last year, Akemi and I managed to sample about half the hot chocolates being offered and, this year, we plant to do even better.  Yes, we’ll be like athletes, pacing ourselves, giving a 110% in the face of adversity except that, instead of running a marathon, we’ll be downing liquid chocolate.

There were some great offerings last year:

1Last years winner in my mind (and mouth and stomach): The Jasmine dark chocolate at Chocolaterie de la Nouvelle France.

February 17, 2013: The Hot Chocolate Festival Wrap-up! And the Winners are…!

And I’m eager to get started.  I’ve started my training by consuming a quarter bar of dark chocolate every day leading up to kick-off.  Wish me luck!

Perfect timing too as, today, I received a clean bill of health from my doctor.  Well, more or less.  Essentially, he didn’t find anything wrong with me and that’s good enough for me.

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A couple of days ago, my sister sent me the following link:

The 10 Most Expensive Pints of Ice Cream

Yep, mighty expensive.  And, in some cases, kind of intriguing as well.  Double vanilla with cashew brittle?  Whiskey eggnog?  Sea salt caramel?  Hmmm.

You folks strike me as worldly in the ways of ice cream.  Ever sampled any of the mentioned brands?  Are they worth their premium price tag?  Or are we sticking with Breyers?

Did you cast your vote for our upcoming Book of the Month Club?  What do you mean you don’t have time to read?  Make the time!  I certainly will.  In fact, I’m going to read all seven contenders in the running for our next BOTMC.  They are…

P.S. FINALLY started reading Joe Abercrombie’s Red Country yesterday.  Fabulous! A wicked mix of action, adventure, dark humor, and unforgettable characters.  A very hard book to put down.

July 21, 2013: A 17 (actually, 21) Question Science Fiction Book Meme!

The gang at http://www.sfsignal.com/ have launched another one of those irresistible SF-themed memes, what they’re calling a ” 17-question science fiction book meme for a lazy Sunday”.  I wrestled over a few of my responses, struggling with the relative worthiness of some of the titles, and finally decided to solve the problem by adding four extra questions to the meme (17 to 20) to round it out to an even twenty.  Er, plus one.

What follows are my responses.  Answer as many of the following as you can, in the comments section of this blog and over here: http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2013/07/a-17-question-science-fiction-book-meme/#more-79721.  They’d love to read your feeback!

1. My favorite alien invasion book or series is…?

1

The Ophiuchi Hotline by John Varley

It’s not an alien invasion story in the traditional sense of the term but an alien invasion does precipitate the events leading up to another (indirect) alien invasion in this thoroughly engaging novel about cloning, restored memories, and a mysterious radio signal from distant space.

2. My favorite alternate history book or series is…?

1

Watchmen by Alan Moore.

To be honest, I’ve never been a fan of Alt. History scifi and yet, Alan Moore’s non-linear, iconoclastic take on the superhero genre stands out as one of my favorite works crossing several genres.

3. My favorite cyberpunk book or series is…?

1

Glasshouse by Charles Stross

Okay, it includes enough cyberpunk elements for me to make it my selection in this category.  A twisty, turny, scifi thriller with plenty of humor and suspense.

4. My favorite Dystopian book or series is…?

1

Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower.

Unrelentingly grim yet possessed of a spirit and hope embodied by its determined protagonist.  I’d recommend it over the similar-themed, better-known The Road.

5. My favorite Golden-Age sf book or series is…?

1

Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

When I was a kid, my mother encouraged me to read by buying me a bunch of classic SF – Asimov, Ellison, Niven – but my favorite was Arthur C. Clarke,  and Childhood’s End is my favorite Arthur C. Clarke book.  A race of mysterious extraterrestrials visit Earth.  They bring an end to war, poverty, disease, and help usher in a golden age of peace and prosperity.  But what future plans do these alien, dubbed The Overlords, have for humanity?

6. My favorite hard sf book or series is…?

1

House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds

I could have just as easily placed this novel in the space opera category and Iain M. Banks’s Culture series here as the works of both authors share common elements: breathtaking narratives spanning the universe peopled with colorful characters, fantastic alien races,  and mind-bending technologies. Big, brilliant ideas.

7. My favorite military sf book or series is…?

1

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi.

Not only my favorite military SF book or one of my favorite SF books in general but one of my very favorite books.  Period.  Every person I’ve recommended this novel to has become a John Scalzi fan.

8. My favorite near-future book or series is…?

1

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon.

Maybe a bit of a cheat in that it may not have enough scifi elements to please the average SF enthusiast, but it’s got enough – the near future setting and medical breakthroughs – for me to include this poignant, inspiring, beautifully written novel here.

9. My favorite post-apocalyptic book or series is…?

1

The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe

A “far down the road” post-apocalyptic science fiction novel in the guise of a fantasy novel chock full of allegory, literary allusions, and elusive subtext.  A challenging read, but well worth the time and effort.

10. My favorite robot/android book or series is…?

1

In the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker.

Not robot or androids per se but immortal cyborgs, employees of The Company, charged with the task of traveling back in time in order to locate and safeguard (read: hide) artifacts and valuable items for sale in the 24th century (when/where they will be discovered). Complications arise when our heroine, Mendoza, falls in love with a 16th century Englishman.  And mortal no less!

11. My favorite space opera book or series is…

1

Iain M Banks’ Culture series.

Grand, brilliant, staggeringly inventive and, yes, operatic, the Culture Series stands out as a marvelous literary accomplishment.

12. My favorite steampunk book or series is…?

1The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes

A washed-up illusionist and his imposing assistant battle to save London from dark forces in Jonathan Barnes’ witty, macabre, and all-out-bizarre novel.  There are surprises a plenty in a book in which no one can be trusted, least of all our narrator.

13. My favorite superhero book or series is…?

1The Superior Foes of Spiderman by Nick Spencer

Hmmm.  Though.  This changes week to week but, right now, coming off a highly entertaining first issue, this is the series I’m most excited about.

14. My favorite time travel book or series is…?

1

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman.

An exceptional treatment of time dilation makes this one the runaway winner in this category.

15. My favorite young adult sf book or series is…?

1

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

A seminal work of science fiction whose appeal extends well beyond young adult readers, this coming-of-age tale is set at a Battle School where, amid the training, the games, and the youthful interrelations, not all is as it seems…

16. My favorite zombie book or series is…?

1

Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead.

Before The Walking Dead television series became a breakout hit, there was the comic book series – smarter, grimmer and far more character-driven than the show.

17. My favorite ship-based sf book or series is…?

1

The Dark Beyond the Stars by Frank M. Robinson

Having grown up on ship-based science fiction (and worked on a ship-based SF series for two years), I couldn’t help but include this category – and this delightfully engaging novel centered on a shocking shipboard mystery.

18. My favorite New Wave sf book or series is…?

1

Camp Concentration by Thomas M. Disch

If we’re going to have a Golden Age category, I only think it fair we include a New Wave category as well and, as much as I loved Flowers for Algernon, Camp Concentration gets the nod here.  His refusal to enlist in military service lands our protagonist, a poet and pacifist, in a prison whose inmates are subjected to bizarre, brain-altering experiments.

19. My favorite Future Tech sf book or series is…?

1

Heroes Die by Matthew Woodring Stover

Science fiction AND fantasy.  Heroes Die offers the best of both worlds in a rip-roaring adventure that explores the effects of developed entertainment technology on eager consumers – and, in turn, the media conglomerates calling the shots.

20. My favorite Otherworldly sf book or series is…?

1

Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny

By “otherworldly”, I mean a story that takes place on a planet other than Earth – like, for instance, the colony world setting of this novel that gets taken over by the power mad former crew of a spaceship who use technological and physical enhancements to transform themselves into gods.  Fans of Stargate, take note!

21. The 3 books at the top of my sf/f/h to-be-read pile are…?

Okay.  One of each…

1

The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang

One of my favorite SF writers.  He’s not all that prolific but his work is consistently great.

1Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

If you like your fantasy dark, darkly humorous, and action-packed, then look no further than the works of Joe Abercrombie.

1A Terror by Jeffrey Ford.

A new release by one of the most wildly imaginative authors writing today.

Okay, those were my answers.  Let’s see yours!

August 19, 2012: Book Haul! Days of Stargate Atlantis Past! The Ark!

I know, I know.  What, you are no doubt wondering, am I doing STILL buying books – or, to quote an editor friend of mine, dabbling in “dead tree media”?  Well, truth be told, I do own a kindle which I find very convenient…whenever I travel.  But, the rest of the time, nothing beats the looks and feel of a good old-fashioned real book.  And nothing beats perusing a bookstore and picking up a title that just happens to catch my eye, something far less likely to happen when shopping online. In fact, four out of the five titles pictured above were impulse buys. The fifth was the reason I’d made the trip to Chapters in the first place, a book whose release I’d been anxiously looking forward to for months.

Crackpot Palace is the latest collection of short fiction by one of my favorite authors, Jeffrey Ford, whose work ranges from delightfully curious to mind-blowingly inventive.  I plan to ration these stories out, two a night, because this is a book I fully intend to savor.

If you’d like to check out Jeffrey Ford’s amazing work, might I suggest you start with The Empire of Ice Cream or The Girl in the Glass : A Novel or The Shadow Year: A Novel.

Hey, speaking of upcoming releases, look at what’s scheduled to hit the shelves just in time for my birthday month celebrations:

October 23rd!  Circle the date.  No one writes epic fantasy like Joe Abercrombie, delivering dark humor, colorful characters, and visceral action in novels that upend the staid genre in enormously entertaining fashion.  If you’re interested in checking out Joe’s work, might I suggest starting with The Blade Itself (The First Law: Book One).

Resuming our trip down Stargate Atlantis memory lane…

THE ARK (316)

As much as I find great satisfaction in arc-driven episodes, I love these truly SF stand-alone stories simply because they’re so hard to do. Shep and co. discover a deserted space station hidden within a moon.  Their subsequent investigation leads to a surprising discovery, a shocking double-cross, and a seat-of-your pants ride down from a rapidly deteriorating planetary orbit.  Great performances all around.

An inadvertent bit of product placement occurs in one scene, the result of  someone leaving a water bottle and Snickers bar in the shot. Nobody noticed – until AFTER the episode aired.  It has since been fixed by the VFX department.  I think.

The notes session on this script gave rise to one of the most memorable executive utterances.  Just as the conference call got underway, Brad was asked to clarify something: “So, just to be clear…is this Earth’s moon?”.  Earth’s moon?  This series takes place in the Pegasus Galaxy.  Welcome to Stargate: Atlantis, season 3.

January 5, 2011: My Top 10 2010 Reads!

What follows is a list of My Top 10 Reads of 2010.  These were books not necessarily published in 2010, but books I actually sat down and read between January 1st and December 31st of last year (excluding Book of the Month Club picks).   My faves…

The Heroes, by Joe Abercrombie

I was fortunate enough to receive an advance copy of Joe Abercrombie’s latest foray into nihilistic fantasy and, damn is it great. Set in the same world as his First Law Trilogy, The Heroes charts the progress of several campaigns in the war between the North and the Union.  Epic in scope yet delightfully detailed in its tracking of the various players involved, it delivers what we’ve come to expect from Abercrombie: dark humor, multi-faceted characters, blood and battle. The dizzying cast requires careful attention be paid, but patience is rewarded in the form of some beautifully drawn personalities and relationships on both sides of the conflict.

The Somnambulist, by Jonathan Barnes

A washed-up illusionist and his imposing assistant battle to save London from dark forces in Jonathan Barnes’ witty, macabre, and all-out-bizarre novel.  There are surprises a plenty in a book in which no one can be trusted, least of all our narrator.

The Death of Grass, by John Christopher

This dystopian classic chronicles the disintegration of order in the wake of a global blight as seen through the eyes of a handful of desperate individuals.  Harrowing and shockingly brutal in its depiction of life after the fall and the lengths some people will go to in order to survive.

The Forest of Time and Other Stories, by Michael Flynn

I consider Michael Flynn one of the most underappreciated SF authors writing today.  I read and loved two of his novels, The Wreck of the River of Stars and Eifelheim, so took a chance on this collection of short stories and was rewarded with some terrific, thought-provoking tales. One of my favorites involves a doctor who believes he may have found the key to saving his ailing daughter (stricken with accelerated aging) in the form of an elderly woman who may – or may not – be 200 years old.  Each entry is followed by a short, insightful afterword that not only sheds light on his writing process, but offers up some great recommendations for further informative, non-fiction reading.

Misery, by Stephen King

My favorite Stephen King book. Taut, suspenseful, and thoroughly engaging, one of those novels it actually pains you to set aside.  It’s no surprise that this one speaks to me.  Having dealt with Stargate fandom over the course of my many years with the franchise, I’ve come across my fair share of cockadoodie Annie Wilkes types.  Scary as hell.  And one of those rare instances where the movie adaptation rocked as well.

Fool, by Christopher Moore.

In 2010, I finally discovered Christopher Moore.  What took me so long?!  Well, Fool was the perfect book to get me started.  It’s a ribald retelling of King Lear from the point of view of the court jester, an incorrigible rogue who proves endearing to some and positively infuriating to others as he navigates the salty, stormy seas of palace intrigue.  The funniest book I read last year.

Fear and Trembling, by Amelie Nothomb

This one came recommended to me by my old Tokyo travel buddy, Stefan, and I can see why it would have appealed to him.  The daughter of former ambassadors to Japan, Amelie returns to the country of her childhood to take a job at the prestigious Yumimoto company.  Unfortunately for Amelie, those fond childhood memories are in sharp contrast to her awkward, amusing, occasionally nightmarish lesson in Japanese corporate culture.  The fact that it’s an autobiographic experience makes it all the more effective.

Revelation Space, by Alastair Reynolds

Reynolds packs this novel with so many big, mind-boggling, uber-cool ideas that you almost feel the need to come up for air every thirty pages or so.  I never understood the attraction of space opera until I read this novel.  Brilliant.

Maus, by Art Spiegelman

Spiegelman interviewed his father, Vladek, a Holocaust survivor, then told his story in graphic novel form.  It’s a harrowing, heart-rending tale possessed of warmth and occasional humor that conveys so much in so many surprising ways.

The Third Bear, by Jeff Vandermeer

Vandermeer, one of the pioneers of New Weird fiction, doesn’t pull any narrative punches here.  The Third Bear delivers a selection of short stories sure to enthrall, entertain, and engender all sorts of nightmares long after these outrageously inventive tales have been read.

Hmmmm.  Someone I know may be looking for a good home for their french bulldog.  I know, I know.  I’ve got my hands full.  Still, I do have the room and I hate the thought of that poor little guy ending up who-knows-where.  I know at least one pug who’d love the company…

For about an hour anyway.

Well, can’t say I’m feeling better today.  Just – different.  My stomach issues have subsided, I’ve more or less conquered my insomnia, and while those seemed allergy symptoms haven’t disappeared, they have lessened somewhat.  Now, I’ve moved on to my next mystery ailment = slight dizziness.  Yes, doctor’s appointment tomorrow!

October 14, 2010: Joe Abercrombie’s The Heroes! Early birthday gifts and wishes! Marty G. a Tokyo no-show! Snow Monkeys Rule!

Ooooh.  Look at what arrived in the mail yesterday…

Yes, that’s right!  It’s an advance copy of Joe Abercrombie’s latest: The Heroes.  For those of you not in the know (and, really, you should be if you’re up to date on my blogly matters), Joe not only happens to be one of my favorite authors (check out The Blade Itself, the first book in his awesome First Law trilogy and go from there) but a close personal friend of Baron Destructo.  I’m dying to get started on it but, unfortunately, have had to put off my reading until I complete a first draft of that infernal script.  I’m aiming for Monday but I fear that maybe overly optimistic given that I’ll be spending all of tomorrow in editing on episode 16, The Hunt, which is two minutes long with about another five minutes owing.

Anyway, The Heroes happens to be the latest in a long line of terrific surprise presents I’ve received over the past few days in the lead up to my big weekend birthday extravaganza…

Back in early high school, I honed my French reading on Goscinny and Underzo’s Asterix and Obelix comics.  About five years ago, I picked up the collection – en Francais of course – and re-reading them brought back all sorts of great memories (like the time the boys traveled to Egypt and met Cleopatra, or the time Panoramix went missing on a druidic convention).  This copy of Le Grand Fosse comes compliments of blog regular, Anais.  Merci, Anais!

Also received…

My very own noodle cup, compliments of blog regular Lise, which I promise to put to good use once I actually start making my own noodles.  Thanks, Lise!

And, of course, who can forget the miracle fruit tablets and special mugs –

Compliments of blog regular Quade.  Thanks, Quade.  They’ve proven very popular in the front office.

Then today, guest director Alex Chapple swung by my office bearing gifts –

A delectable assortment of Jacques Torres (Mr. Chocolate!) chocolates.  Not so much an early birthday present as it is a thank you gift for inviting him to my annual chocolate party (check the archives, ed.).  I thought that was really cool and classy of him.

Speaking of birthdays, a BIG birthday shout-out goes out today to writer/director/executive producer/good friend/fellow foodie Robert C. Cooper who is no doubt out there somewhere enjoying himself immensely NOT writing.  I’m soooooo jealous.  Happy Birthday, buddy!

Talked to Martin Gero today and, alas, he’ll be unable to join Ivon and I when we hit Tokyo in December.  Turns out the Golden Boy will be busy working on a couple of super secret projects of his own.  It’s exciting stuff and I can’t say too much, but I will leave you with two words: ostrich gelding.

Also putting a damper on things was the performance of my Snow Monkeys in last weekend’s Stargate NFL Fantasy game play.  We got our asses kicked thanks to a poor performance by Texans Quarterback Matt Schaub.  We’ve fallen to 1-4, but I have high hopes for this weekend’s match-up vs. Petunia’s Crew.  Heading into Sunday’s games, I’ve got Bush (Raiders) and Gore (49ers) at the Running Back positions, Marshall (Dolphins) and Harvin (Vikings) at wideout, and I’ve picked up Moeaki (Chiefs) off waivers to bolster the TE position.  I’m losing faith in QB Schaub (Garrard [Jaguars] is my back-up and I’m also about to claim Atlanta’s Matt Ryan off waivers)  and the love for my team defense (The Baltimore Ravens) continues to ebb.

Snow Monkeys Rule!

 

September 21, 2010: A plethora of pics!

Well fine.

Apologies.  The trailer won’t be coming out until first thing tomorrow morning.  9:00 a.m. to be exact.  So set your watches.

Hopefully these pics will tide you over.

Addendum: Nope, sorry.  9:00 a.m. PDT.  Again, apologies.  The gang at post, led by the lovely Kerry McDowall, did an excellent job getting the trailer finished and ready to go by early afternoon – but we’ve been delayed by circumstances beyond our control.  Hopefully, it’ll be worth the wait.  There were ooh’s and aaah’s aplenty late this afternoon as it was being screened by various cast and crew.

I’ll be out on location tomorrow shooting Day #2 of The Hunt, so blogging time will be minimal.  I’m uploading the trailer vid tonight with the intention of bringing my wordpress blog up on my iphone and hitting “publish” tomorrow at 9:00 a.m.  The trailer will be up here, over on Gateworld, and various other sites including Show Patrol, SFSignal, TVOvermind, Pop Culture Zoo, and John Scalzi’s insanely entertaining Whatever blog.  Check it out at any or all of the aforementioned sites, then head back here an drop me a comment.  I’ll be checking them throughout the day and tomorrow night, time permitting, I’ll hop on and add a little write-up to accompany the trailer.

Today, Ivon informed me that he had bought me a book after listening to a radio interview with its author, John Vailliant.  Titled The Tiger: A True Story of Survival and Vengeance, it’s the true account of one poacher’s bad luck in messing with the wrong gigantic Amur tiger.  From a review by Christopher McDougall: “In 1997, deep in the remote Russian backcountry, a gigantic Amur tiger begins acting like the only thing more savage than a wild animal–us. It doesn’t just attack villagers; it hunts them, picking its targets like a hitman with a contract, at one point even dragging a mattress out of a shack so it can lie comfortably in wait until the woodsman returns home. A few days later, the woodsman’s horrified friends discover remains “so small and so few they could have fit in a shirt pocket.”  That’s what my second grade teacher, Mrs. Vowels, would’ve referred to as “an ouchie”.  Anyway, looking forward to reading this one.

As soon as I finish the one I’m reading now, Fool: A Novel by Christopher Moore, a hilarious retelling of the bard’s King Lear told from the point of the view of Pocket, the king’s fool.  I’m about a hundred pages in and enjoying immensely.  Other recent reads very much worth mentioning: Jeffrey Ford’s The Beyond (the third and final installment of his wildly inventive Well-Built City Trilogy), Jeff VanderMeer’s The Third Bear (a weird and wonderful collection of his short fiction), Daryl Gregory’s first novel Pandemonium (inscrutable, outlandish, and incredibly engaging), the Lou Anders and Jonathan Strahan-edited Swords and Dark Magic (one helluva a fun collection showcasing the likes of such fantasy heavy hitters as Steven Erikson, Glen Cook, Gene Wolfe, James Enge, Michael Moorcock, and Baron Destructo’s good buddy Joe Abercrombie), Stephen King’s Misery (a re-re-re-read of my favorite King novel – Stargate has its fair share of Annie Wilkes’s),  and a mind-bending double-shot of Alastair Reynolds – Zima Blue and Diamond Dog, Turquoise Days.

So what’re YOU reading?

April 3, 2009: Best Served Cold, by Joe Abercrombie

best-served-cold

 

With all this recent talk of revenge, I thought it a great segue to one of my top reads of last month: Joe Abercrombie’s latest, Best Served Cold. To those of you unfamiliar with Abercrombie – get familiar! His First Law Trilogy (made up of The Blade Itself, Before They Are Hanged, and Last Argument of Kings) is an enormously entertaining read; a series packed with action, humor, adventure, and a quirky rogue’s gallery of heroes, villains, and most everyone in between.

Best Served Cold is his latest and, on the surface, it’s a simple tale of revenge:

From the Publisher: “War may be hell but for Monza Murcatto, the Snake of Talins, the most feared and famous mercenary in Duke Orso’s employ, but it’s a damn good way of making money too. Her victories have made her popular – a shade too popular for her employer’s taste. Betrayed, thrown down a mountain and left for dead, Murcatto’s reward is a broken body and a burning hunger for vengeance. Whatever the cost, seven men must die….”

Initially, yes, it may seem fairly straightforward but, as the story progresses, the reader is ambushed by twists, turns, and shocking revelations that lead one to question not only the measure for measure motivations of our main players, but the very nature of vengeance as well.

Like Abercrombie’s previous works, one of the true standout elements in this latest outing is the characters – a colorful, comical, alternately lovable and reprehensible bunch on both sides of the issue: a down and out barbarian, a dandyish master poisoner, his precocious assistant, a ruthless murderer with a thing for numbers, a washed-up drunkard. And these are the good guys! Sort of. But not really. They’re a flawed and conflicted, morally ambiguous bunch, but, love ’em or hate ’em, you certainly feel for them. Their actions thrill, impress, frustrate, and disappoint. There are no true heroes here, which isn’t really a surprise if you’re familiar with Abercrombie but, shockingly, one comes to the gradual realization that, just maybe, there are no true villains either. Just as, in the book’s opening pages, our protagonist is lulled into a false sense of security before having the rug pulled out from underneath her, the reader is similarly waylaid by a smart and surprising narrative that eschews traditional cathartic trappings for dark developments and disturbing uncertainties.

Although Best Served Cold is a stand-alone entry, there are certain elements from the First Law series that find their way into this book. Two relatively minor characters from the trilogy, the Northman Shivers and the opportunistic mercenary leader Cosca, are major contributors on this outing – well-drawn, deep, and wonderfully compelling.

While the world these characters inhabit is the same, the focus shifts from the courtly intrigue and clash of empires to a venue reminiscent of the Renaissance Italian city states in which wars are fought, not by civilians, but by paid mercenaries. And, very much like the foreign condottieri who waged war on behalf of the Italian cities, the mercenaries in this world are smart enough to realize that it is far more lucrative to “reach an understanding” rather than bother with real battle. Of course, mercenaries can be very, uh, mercenary, and prone to shifting alliances, employers, and reneging on their end of the deal. Abercrombie does a bang up job of capturing the spirit of this period in history and while giving it his own twist. I wonder whether he was inspired by the by the works of Jacob Burckhardt (The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy) or Geoffrey Trease (The Condottieri: Soldiers of Fortune) which offer fascinating historical accounts of the era’s most colorful players (like Sir John Hawkwood and The White Company, famed female commanders Onorata Rodiana and Bona Lombarda, or that duke who delighted in rolling boulders down a hillside onto unsuspecting peasants.).

While the First Law series did a glorious job of turning the high fantasy trope on its ear, Best Served Cold does the same for revenge story in equally impressive fashion. It’s fast-paced, absorbing, darkly humorous, and unabashedly violent, fraught with crosses, double-crosses, triple-crosses and “back up a second did that really happen?!“ moments. Gripping stuff. A terrific introduction to the work of Joe Abercrombie for first-time readers, and an immensely rewarding read for fans of the author.

Highly recommended.

 

March 1, 2009: What happened to the rest of February?

Hey, how nice of Joe to send me...awww, damnit!
Hey, how nice of Joe to send me...awww, damnit!

Hey, it’s March already! How the hell did that happen?! Why didn’t anyone wake me up?

Damnit! I mentioned the other day that I had received an advance copy of Best Served Cold, Joe Aberdrombie’s latest. Well, it turns out it wasn’t intended for me after all. Scribbled on one of the inside pages was the message: “Joe, If you could pass this on to Baron Destructo I’d be most grateful.” And it was signed “Joe Abercrombie”. Unfortunately, the Baron is going to have to wait as I’m roughly a hundred pages in and not about to wait until the June-July release date to finish it. Great stuff!

Speaking of our friend Joe, if you’d like to check him and his charming (I think it’s a Swedish) accent out, go here (http://www.joeabercrombie.com/2009/02/see-me-through-your-eye-holes.html) and click on the links to the five quickie video interviews he recently did.

I think I’m going to start getting up a half hour earlier so that I can get into work a little sooner as this week, we finally start shooting on the Stage 4 Destiny set. Excitement abounds! I know that some of the actors have been holding off on visiting the set so that when they first lay eyes on the ship interiors, they’ll be lit and ready to roll. If I’m early enough, I’d love to catch the look on their faces when they first step onto what will be their home away from home for (hopefully) the next 6+ years.

Oh, I know Hell’s Kitchen can be stagey and overproduced, but I’m hooked. I watch the latest season on FOX, a previous season on the Food Network, The F Word, and the Brit version of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. The other day, I was out for dinner and ordered the scallops secretly hoping I would hear someone shout: “They’re fucking raw! Shut it down! Shut it down!”

I was reading an article on the recent knife attack on a tourist in Cairo by some wack job (http://www.iol.co.za/index.php?set_id=1&click_id=68&art_id=nw20090228150710250C794618). Perhaps even more shocking than the attack itself was the following excerpt from the Independent Online news story: “MENA reported that the suspect was mentally ill and had been previously detained in 2000 after attacking tourists and policemen. He was later released after doctors decided he had no control over his actions, it said.” Well, on the one hand he is incredibly violent but, on the other hand, he has absolutely no control over his actions. Let’s just let him go to be on the safe side. Seriously. Since when did Egyptians start taking pointers from the North American judicial system?

Hey, finish up The Book of Joby if you haven’t already done so and ready your questions and comments for author/illustrator Mark J. Ferrari. Discussion on the begins tomorrow.

Today’s entry is dedicated to Mackenzie’s Momma. Condolences.

Mailbag:

Mirjam writes: “Question: since we’re on uninhabited island topic, which Stargate actor would you prefer to find yourself stranded with? And which character?”

Answer: Do you mean which one would I prefer to have there to chop up and roast just in case I run out of papayas and coconuts, or which one would I prefer to have there to while away the days with? I’m assuming the latter. Stargate character = Samantha Carter because if anyone could figure a way off that island, it would be her. Stargate actor = Richard Dean Anderson because I figure he must’ve picked up a trick or two after 139 episodes of MacGyver.

Dovil writes: “My desert island DVD’s would be on “raft building”, “how to survive on a desert island”, and “playing dvd’s with the use of coconuts and palm fronds”. […] Am a fan of earlier seasons of Family Guy and South Park (if you like them you might like Robot Chicken and Harvey Birdman Attorney at Law), like both versions of The Office, and haven’t seen the rest.”

Answer: Actually, you’ve been gone so long I assumed you had been stranded on a deserted island. Glad to have you back. And, yes, I’m a fan of both versions of The Office but, if forced to choose, would go with the original. Also, yes, enjoy both Robot Chicken and Harvey Birdman Attorney at Law. Add Sealab 2021 to that mix.

Jenazz writes: “On a sort-of-related note: Watchmen! Yea, nay or indifferent?”

Answer: A very cautious Yea! I loved the graphic novel and really hope they do right by the source material – and all indications (based on the teasers and trailers I’ve seen) are that they will. Also, Stargate Art Director Chris Beech worked on the movie and had nothing but nice things to say about Director Zack Snyder and that makes me want to support the movie all the more. All that said, this is one of those very rare instances where I’ll probably wait for the director’s cut to come out on DVD. Does look spectacular.

Ytimyona writes: “We received a visit from a Stargate veteran who will be making a return to the franchise with Stargate Universe’s fourth episode: Fire.
Would this be a *different* veteran than the guest star you chatted with like 3 days ago? Or the same one?”

Answer: This one will be working behind the camera. The other one will appear in front of it.

Eduardo writes: “In the first picture the man who is beside Brad looks a lot like
Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden Leader and Vocals).”

Answer: That’s Director Martin Wood.

TrueCat writes: “You mentioned yesterday that Mr Carlyle will be using a Scottish accent for Rush. As a very long time fan of Robert Carlyle’s this gets two VERY big thumbs up.

But will it be a softened accent for American viewers like Beckett’s in Atlantis or will it be a proper Scottish accent like Mr Carlyle’s own Glaswegian accent he used in his old BBC series Hamish Macbeth?”

Answer: How’s this for amazing? According to Rob Cooper, Robert Carlyle offered up a choice of a good half dozen variations of his Scottish accent, effortlessly flowing in and out of each impeccable delivery. I’m not sure exactly which version they decided on but, having watched the dailies, I would the accent as “definitely Scottish”.

Belouchi writes: “Any revelations regarding the actual size of Destiny, I ask only for purposes of the scope of the setting of the new show?”

Answer: Somewhere between “big” and “freakin’ huge”.

Belouchi also writes: “Might sound silly but since you are such a nice man…. I’ll just go ahead and shoot…. can you dedicated the March 2 Blog entry to me for my 27th birthday.”

Answer: Sure, provided you remind me tomorrow.

RangerOne writes: “With the new series Universe using most of the same producers and writers, why should I think that it will have any better direction and an extensive thoughtout storyline?”

Answer: Given the tone of your comment I’d say you’ve already made up your mind on the subject. Still, I think that any fan of the Stargate franchise tuning in to Universe will be presently surprised by a series that is similar to the previous two series in basic premise and mythology but very different in terms of the storytelling.

Michelle writes: “Any chance Brad would make his script available, with all his directions and notations?”

Answer: I believe a copy of the script will be made available on the Nebula website.

February 25, 2009: Finally, That Cast Announcement!

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Well now you know as much as we do. No, no, that’s not exactly true. We still know more than you do. But at least we ALL know the names of our cast members. The news finally broke yesterday but, on the off-chance you were in your basement watching a Lord of the Rings marathon, here are the latest additions:

Alaina Huffman (Tamara Johansen): Alaina was one of the first auditions we saw way back in December (I was in Tokyo at the time and watched the stream from my room in The Peninsula). She was so good that, quite frankly, we would’ve been crazy not to cast her. I finally got the chance to chat with her today and discovered that, besides being quick-witted and absolutely lovely, she shares my affinity for Japan. Bonus points for that.

Elyse Levesque (Chloe Armstrong): Like Alaina, Elyse delivered a wonderfully nuanced audition, demonstrating impressive range in two very different ad demanding scenes. I only got the chance to speak to her briefly at the cast dinner but my first impression lines up with what everyone else has been saying about her: she is a sweetheart!

Ming-Na (Camille Wray):Back in my January 30th entry, I wrote “Meanwhile, we inch ever closer to casting one of my other favorites roles – the character of Wray.”. She’s one of my favorites because she has so much potential. That said, as I was working on the first part of the mid-season two-parter, I actually grew nervous. Wray has some nice, meaty scenes in my script and, without a strong actress in the role, the character would crash and burn. So you can imagine my delight to hear we had closed the deal with Ming-Na, a tremendously talented actress (and, apparently, poker player) who is more than capable of delivering bigtime.

Lou Diamond Philips (Colonel Telford): Speaking of talented actors, Lou Diamond Philips is another huge addition to an already impressive roster. He is a kick-ass Colonel Telford and incredibly charming both on and offscreen. I told him I’d enjoyed his work and, especially, his role opposite Mark Wahlberg in The Big Hit. He laughed and admitted it was one of his faves as well. Check it out!

Christopher McDonald (Senator Armstrong): Another experienced Hollywood veteran, Chris brings gravity and charisma to the role of Senator Armstrong. When I was on set the other day, he approached me, shook my hand, and told me how happy he was to be working on the show. A clas act.

Speaking of class acts – today, I was on set talking to some of the cast when the conversation turned to actors who are not only accomplished, but great to work with as well. And, not surprisingly, Bob Picardo’s name came up. As it turns out, Gateworld just posted an interview with him. Check it out here:  http://gateworld.net/interviews/man_in_a_suit.shtml

Had a nice, long chat with Brian J. Smith today. I continue to be impressed with his self-effacing, down-to-earth attitude. However, not so impressed with his NFL team of choice: the Dallas Cowboys. But fellow Romo-booster Rob Cooper certainly was. Hey, Sherry – unfortunately, the studio has put the kibosh on any behind-the-scene pics for the time being. I told Brian that I might convince you to provide some embarrassing baby pics of your son and, while he assured me that you have plenty, he strongly urged me NOT to ask. And so, in the interest of continuing to see that self-effacing, down-to-earth attitude – I’m not going to ask. For now. But I will welcome you to our little book of the month club.

If I had to give the award for Funniest Guy On Set (and I do believe I’ll be presenting the award at this year’s ceremonies), I would be hardpressed not hand it to David Blue. A very funny guy, but a professional through and through. Richard – I echo everyone’s best wishes for Buddy. Here’s hoping for a quick and full recovery that will see him bounding around that backyard in no time.

A pretty hilarious guy in his own right is actor Justin Louis who did a really nice job opposite Ona Grauer in some heartfelt scenes earlier this week. I told him: “You guys are eventually going to get tired of hearing it but – we are loving the dailies!”

Finally, late yesterday, Robert Carlyle delivered a performance in a key scene that was so outstanding it blew the doors off Stage 3 – and the entire crew away! “Masterful” would be one word to describe it. “Extraordinary” would be another. But I prefer to simply go with “Wow!”.

Hey, look at what arrived in the mail today! A super, special, advance copy of Joe Abercrombie’s latest: Best Served Cold. Regulars to this blog know that I’m a huge fan of Joe’s and consider his First Law trilogy among my favorite works in the fantasy genre. Will be jumping on it next and have a full report for you all next week. 

 

 

In the meantime, our continuing discussion of David Louis Edelman’s Infoquake:

AMZ writes: “Ironically, with my phone line and internet down I found I could really sympathise with the boys during Initiation…”

Answer: So could I.  Their technology-free wilderness survival training reminded me of my last trip to Montreal.  Minus the bears, wilderness, and training.  Still, my internet connection was kind of iffy.  I empathize.

AMZ also writes: “

I particularly liked the history he created, especially the Autonomous Revolt, which seems to have instilled in the people a fear of losing technology and creates a rich tension between moving forward with advancements and treading with a bit of caution…”

Answer: Which brings up an interesting point.  Given the repercussions of the Autonomous Revolution, is it difficult to accept that humanity would be willing to introduce nanite technology into their everyday lives?  Would they be more cautious given the past or could it be argued that enough time has passed to make them more accepting of the technology?

Sparrow_hawk writes: “ I’m not really a computer geek, but have a lot of friends and acquaintances who are. I was fully prepared to like Natch and his apprentices, but the more I saw of them, the less I cared about them. “

Answer: And how do these characters compare to your computer geek friends?  Is there a Natch in your midst?

Fsmn36 writes: “At the same time, it wasn’t a fully conscious act for Natch. I don’t think he can entirely be blamed for instinct. I don’t agree with it, certainly not, but was he fully himself in that moment? Or did fight-flight and self-preservation kick in?”

Answer: Except that he didn’t just happen to cross paths with Brone while the fight-flight instinct kicked in: “Until, as chance would have it, he spotted Brone.  Natch whipped around and headed in his direction.”  Sounds like he knew exactly what he was doing. 

February 6, 2009: The Secret Vancouver Restaurant List…and The Mailbag

So you’re in Vancouver and wondering where the heck to go for dinner. Well, if you’re an actor guesting on our show, all you have to do is swing by my office and I’ll provide you with a rundown of my favorite local restaurants. From the Japanese hotdog stand serving up Oroshi hotdogs to the latest celebrity chef venture in the heart of downtown, I’ve got you covered. Don’t bother with that list you received from the production office and, for Godsake, don’t ask your hotel for suggestions. When I first came to Vancouver, I made the mistake of asking the concierge at The Sutton Place Hotel to recommend a really good sushi restaurant. He directed to me to one of those places where the sushi selections float by on little boats, endlessly circling the bar like weary Bangkok prostitutes working the floor.
What’s that? You say you’re NOT a visiting actor but nevertheless plan on eating while in Vancouver? And you’d rather not do conveyer belt sushi? Oooh, look at you, all hoity-toity! Well, okay. Here’s a peek at my list of favorites. Just do me a favor. If you check out any of them, report back. Oh, and while you’re in town, DO ask your concierge for a good recommendation and report back on that too. I’d love to hear what they come up with.
Check out the list, then check out the mini mailbag.  Today’s entry is dedicated to a hopefully-on-the-mend-soon Sessy.

 

 

 

AMERICAN

Japa Dog: A hot dog stand with a Japanese twist.  Located on the corner of Burrard and Haro, steps away from The Sutton Place Hotel, it offers – in addition to the more typical Bavarian smokies and bratwurst – turkey smokies with miso sauce, Kaiware, and Japanese mayo, and okonomiyaki-flavor kurobuta dogs.

Memphis Blues Barbecue House: 1465 West Broadway (604-738-6806)
For a taste of almost everything on the menu, try the Memphis Feast.  Finish with the pecan pie a la mode.

CHINESE

Long’s Noodle House: 4853 Main Street (604-879-7879)
Tiny, hole-in-the-wall, family-run restaurant.  Try the wine chicken (best in the city) steamed dumplings, pig pot (pork shank served on a bed of spinach), or the house meatballs (with egg-yolk centers).  *Cash only.  They don’t take credit cards.

Sea Harbour Seafood Restaurant: 3711 No. 3 Road, Richmond, Vancouver (604-232-0816)
A little out of the way and pricey, but you won’t find a better top quality Chinese restaurant.  The house chicken is to die for. 

Sha-lin Noodle House: 548 West Broadway (604-873-1816)
Casual and inexpensive handmade noodles (you can actually watch them being made).  Try: the curried dragging noodles with barbecue pork, and the spicy cumin lamb.

Sun Sui Wah: 3888 Main  (604-872-8822)
Great dim sum.  Excellent: Lobster with Ginger and Green Onions, Peking Duck, Braised Abalone.

FILIPINO

Rekados Grill: 4063 Main Street, Tel: 604-873-3133
Filipino food at its rib-sticking best. Check out the crispy pata (pork hocks) or the sizzling sisig (crispy pig ear).  And, for dessert, the cheddar corn ice cream that tastes a lot better than it sounds.   

FRENCH

Bistrot Bistro: 1961 West 4th Avenue, Tel: 604-732-0004
Rustic French country fare.  If it’s on the menu, try the duck confit mac and cheese.

DB Bistro:  2551 West Broadway (604) 739-7115
The Bistro is Daniel Boulud’s recent entry into the Vancouver restaurant scene.  Nice, warm atmosphere.  Try the handmade orechiette pasta. http://www.dbbistro.ca/

La Regalade: West Van (604-921-2228)
Rustic French cuisine served in earthenware pots.  Huge portions.  Excellent.  Try the pear/goat cheese tart appetizer.

Le Crocodile: 100 – 909 Burrard (604) 669-4298
This restaurant has been serving upscale traditional French cuisine for over 20 years.  If you’re feeling adventurous, try the oven-roasted beef bone marrow or the pan-seared sweetbreads with porcini mushrooms. http://www.lecrocodilerestaurant.com/

Lumiere:  2551 West Broadway (604) 739-7115
Boulud’s team now runs the kitchen in Vancouver’s celebrated high-end Lumiere.  I haven’t been since the changeover but I’ve heard the food is excellent.  Choose from three set menus: prix fixe, chef’s, or vegetarian.   http://www.lumiere.ca/

INDIAN

Rangoli: 1488 W. 11th Ave. (604-736-5711)
Vij’s more casual sister restaurant.  Try the Savory Chaat and the mutton kebabs.

Vij’s: 1480 W. 11th Ave. (604-736-6664)
Inventive Indian cuisine and one of the city‘s best.  Try the lamb Popsicles, short ribs, and the mutton kebabs.  Get there early though as the restaurant doesn’t take reservations.  Last time Harrison Ford was in town, even he had to wait.

ITALIAN

Don Francesco Ristorante: 860 Burrard Street(604 685-7770)
Right across from the Sutton Hotel.  In addition to great standard Italian dishes, they have an excellent wild game selection that includes terrific grilled quail, venison, pheasant, and partridge.  THE dish to get, however, is the Squash Agnolotti with black truffle butter.  It’s listed as a main but you can ask them to serve it as an appetizer.  In fact, should you have any requests (ie. mixing and matching pasta and sauces) just ask them.  They’ll be happy to oblige. http://www.donfrancesco.ca/

Quattro: 2611 W. 4th  (604-734-4444)
Great beef carpaccio and an excellent antipasto platter.  Galetto (Cornish game hen), Spaghetti Quattro (black bean, garlic, and oil), and the House Tiramisu are excellent.

Villa del Lupo: 869 Hamilton St (604) 688-7436
Grand Italian.  If you want privacy, call ahead and book the wine cellar.  http://www.villadellupo.com/

JAPANESE

Aki: 745 Thurlow (604-682-4032)
Mix of modern and traditional.  Best Dynamite Rolls in town.  Also check out the Katsu Curry, Butter Beef, and Live Uni

Tojo’s Restaurant:   1133 W Broadway (604-872-8050)
Upscale sushi and Japanese dishes.  The place is expensive but offers the best sushi in town.  Excellent bluefin tuna and live uni in season.  Get: the dynamite hand cone, spider roll, tuna tataki nigiri, and Tojo’ tuna, and Canadian sablefish. http://www.tojos.com/

Yuji’s Japanese Tapas: 2059 W. Fourth Ave (604-734-4990)
More casual than Tojo’s and the emphasis here is less on the sushi and more on the creative small plates: meguro avocado crepes, isobe, spicy curry calamari, deep-fried spicy tuna rolls, and the green tea creme brulee.

Zakkushi: 1833 W. 4th (604-730-9844)
Don’t go expecting sushi.  This place serves some of the best robata in the city.  Tiny, but very authentic fare.  In addition to the great grill items, check out the homemade tofu. 

KOREAN

The Seoul House: 36 East Broadway (604-874-4131)
Barbecue your own meal on tabletop grills.  Try: the premium cut short ribs.

LATIN AMERICAN

Cobre: 52 Powell Street604-669-2396
Actually, Nuevo Latino Cuisine.  Among the offerings: Patagonia battered Baja rockfish with chipotle ajo aioli, and Indian candied salmon tamale with green apple jalapeno jelly and platan. 

MALAYSIAN

Banana Leaf: 820 W. Broadway (604-731-6333)
Great seafood.  Try the Black Pepper/Garlic Cracked Crab.

PACIFIC NORTHWEST

Boneta: 1 West Cordova (604) 684-1844
French-Italian fusion.  Located in the city’s Gastown area, it’s very popular.  http://www.boneta.ca/

Fuel Restaurant: 1944 West 4th Ave., 604-288 7905
Focuses on fresh seasonal ingredients.  Pacific Northwestern.  Rather than ordering from the menu, leave it up to the chef and go with a multi-course menu.  Request that they include the crispy duck (the restaurant’s specialty).  They’ll happily accommodate anyone with specific dietary restrictions.  They’ll take very good care of you.  http://fuelrestaurant.ca/

Market: 1115 Alberni Street Tel: (604) 689-1120 
Just opened in the brand new Shangri-la Hotel, this is international super chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s first Vancouver venture.  And it’s fantastic.  Be sure to check out the Rice Cracker Crusted Tuna appetizer and Soy-Glazed Short Ribs for your main course.  http://www.shangri-la.com/en/property/vancouver/shangrila/dining/restaurant/market

West
2881 Granville (604-738-8939)
Very inventive, upscale regional cuisine.  Named one of the top ten restaurants in the world by the UK Sunday Independent.

VIETNAMESE

Au Petite Café: 4861 Main St. (604-873-3328)
Inexpensive Vietnamese.  Closed Wednesdays and evenings after 7:00 p.m.  Try: the pho, and the Vietnamese sandwiches.  *Cash only.  They don’t take credit cards.

Thai Son Vietnamese: 373 E. Broadway, Tel: 604-875-6436
It don’t get much more hole-the-wall than this place.  Serves up great pho, grilled lemongrass chicken, and, evenings, a seafood crepe that’s worth checking out.

Mailbag:
Ytimyona writes: “Haha I was gonna say I was surprised that Window of Opportunity and Ripple Effect aren’t your favorites, but I see I’ve already been beaten to the punch!”Answer: They’re certainly in my top 5, along with Morpheus (loved Vala’s psychiatric evaluation).

FatherCrow writes: “Why do all these writer guys seem to have an absence of hair? Is that a prerequisite of being a writer Joe?”

Answer: Untrue. Check out fantasy author extraordinaire Joe Abercrombie’s ( http://www.joeabercrombie.com/author.htm) full head of hair, the envy of every Nebula and Hugo nominee.  Also, while you’re there, weigh in with your thoughts on the cover art of his forthcoming book, Best Served Cold:  http://www.joeabercrombie.com/news.htm

AMZ writes: “In response to your response to Michelle about why you pick actors, I have to ask: by picking “the best actor” do you mean their abilities, presence etc? And do looks have a lot, or not-so-much to do with the decision?”

Answer: Again, it really comes down to the performance. You can have to equally skilled actors but one may offer a different take on the character that a producer may more readily respond to. Also, as writers, we tend to have an image of what the character looks like in our heads so, yes, appearance does enter into it as well.

Toomi writes: “When there’s various writers creating characters how difficult is it to get a balance between what everyone wants? How much fun is it to come up with each characters quirks and idiosyncrasies? Not asking for specifics but has there been a disagreement over a character in SGA, SG-1 or SGU where two opinions from both ends of the spectrum and no one would budge?”

Answer: My approach is to roll the dice. Take chances with the characters (which is what I’m doing in my first SGU script). But don’t fall in love with anything. At the end of the day, Brad and Rob, the show’s creators, will have the final say.