Saturday, May 27, 2017

Aurora Award Nomination

Dr. Runté poses with cover of Strangers Among Us anthology which garnered six Aurora Award nominations on the 2017 ballot.

The Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association has released the Aurora Award Ballot for 2017, and I am honoured to be included on the shortlist for one of my short stories, "The Age of Miracles".

"Age of Miracles" was published in the anthology Strangers Among Us: Tales of the Underdogs and Outcasts, edited by Susan Forest and Lucas Law. The anthology's theme was speculative fiction addressed to issues of mental health, and my story looked at how someone with schizophrenia might navigate the world of the near future. (It plays on the idea that if we see someone on a corner talking when there is nobody else there, how do we know whether they are crazy or just talking on their cell phones?)

I'm pretty pumped that my story made the ballot, because humour is often a hard sell, especially when up against excellent serious stories, and the Strangers Among Us anthology alone had a number of outstanding stories, let alone the rest of the field this year.

The CSFFA makes available a voter package with the nominated stories/books/comics/artwork (or as many of those that publishers permit) for all CSFFA members, so voters can base their decisions on actually having read/seen the nominated works. Membership in CSFFA is only $10 a year, so the voter package is a great opportunity to see the best of Canadian SF&F, as nominated by CSFFA members. Additionally, again this year Kobo Canada has donated a Kobo for a prize draw for one randomly chosen voter to encourage voter turnout. So $10 buys you the right to vote, the right to read some great Canadian SF, and a chance at a free ebook reader. Join here.

Here's the 2017 ballot:

The 2017 Aurora Award Ballot

This ballot is for works done in 2016 by Canadians. The Aurora Awards are nominated by members of the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association. The top five nominated works were selected. Additional works were included where there was a tie for fifth place.

Best Novel
Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay, Viking Canada
Company Town by Madeline Ashby, Tor Books
The Courier by Gerald Brandt, DAW Books
The Nature of a Pirate by A.M. Dellamonica, Tor Books
Quantum Night by Robert J. Sawyer, Penguin Canada
Stars like Cold Fire by Brent Nichols, Bundoran Press

Best Young Adult Novel
Day of the Demon by Randy McCharles, CreateSpace
Door into Faerie by Edward Willett, Coteau Books
Heir to the Sky by Amanda Sun, Harlequin Teen
Icarus Down by James Bow, Scholastic Canada
Mik Murdoch: Crisis of Conscience by Michell Plested, Evil Alter Ego Press
The Wizard Killer - Season One by Adam Dreece, ADZO Publishing

Best Short Fiction
"Age of Miracles" by Robert Runté, Strangers Among Us: Tales of the Underdogs and Outcasts, Laksa Media
"Frog Song" by Erika Holt, Strangers Among Us: Tales of the Underdogs and Outcasts, Laksa Media
"Living in Oz" by Bev Geddes, Strangers Among Us: Tales of the Underdogs and Outcasts, Laksa Media
"Marion's War" by Hayden Trenholm, Strangers Among Us: Tales of the Underdogs and Outcasts, Laksa Media
"Seasons of Glass and Iron" by Amal el-Mohtar, The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales, Saga Press
"When Phakack Came to Steal Papa’s Bones, A Ti-Jean Story" by Ace Jordyn, On Spec Magazine

Best Poem/Song
No award will be given out in this category in 2017 due to insufficient eligible nominees

Best Graphic Novel
Angel Catbird, Volume One by Margaret Atwood, Johnnie Christmas and Tamra Bonvillian, Dark Horse Books
Crash and Burn by Kate Larking and Finn Lucullan, Astres Press
Earthsong by Crystal Yates, Webcomic
It Never Rains by Kari Maaren, Webcomic
Weregeek by Alina Pete, Webcomic

Best Related Work
Clockwork Canada: Steampunk Fiction edited by Dominik Parisien, Exile Editions
Enigma Front: Burnt, managing editor Celeste A. Peters, Analemma Books
Lazarus Risen edited by Hayden Trenholm and Mike Rimar, Bundoran Press
Strangers Among Us: Tales of the Underdogs and Outcasts, edited by Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law, Laksa Media
Superhero Universe (Tesseracts Nineteen) edited by Claude Lalumière and Mark Shainblum, EDGE

Best Visual Presentation
Arrival, director, Denis Villeneuve, Paramount Pictures
Orphan Black, Season 4, John Fawcett and Graeme Manson, Temple Street Productions
Killjoys, Season 2, Michelle Lovretta, Temple Street Productions
Dark Matter, Season 2, Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie, Prodigy Pictures
Murdoch Mysteries, Season 9, Peter Mitchell, Shaftesbury Films

Best Artist
Samantha M. Beiko, cover to Strangers Among Us anthology
James Beveridge, covers and poster art
Melissa Mary Duncan, body of work
Erik Mohr, covers for ChiZine Publications and Company Town for Tor Books
Dan O'Driscoll, covers for Bundoran Press

Best Fan Writing and Publications
Amazing Stories Magazine, weekly column, Steve Fahnestalk
BCSFAzine #512 to #519, edited by Felicity Walker
The Nerd is the Word, articles by Dylan McEvoy
OBIR Magazine #4, edited by R. Graeme Cameron
Silver Stag Entertainment, edited by S.M. Carrière
Speculating Canada edited by Derek Newman-Stille

Best Fan Organizational
Samantha Beiko and Chadwick Ginther, co-chairs, Chiaroscuro Reading Series: Winnipeg
R. Graeme Cameron, chair, VCON 41, Surrey, BC
Sandra Kasturi and Angela Keeley, co-chairs, 2016 Toronto SpecFic Colloquium
Derek Künsken and Marie Bilodeau, executive, Can*Con 2016, Ottawa
Randy McCharles, chair, When Words Collide, Calgary
Matt Moore, Marie Bilodeau, and Nicole Lavigne, co-chairs, Chiaroscuro Reading Series: Ottawa
Sandra Wickham, chair, Creative Ink Festival, Burnaby, BC

Best Fan Related Work
Ron S. Friedman, Villains and Conflicts presentation, When Words Collide, Calgary Comic Expo, and File 770
Kari Maaren, Concert, SFContario
Derek Newman-Stille, Speculating Canada on Trent Radio 92.7 FM

Best of the Decade
This is a special category for this year’s awards for works published between January 2001 and December 2010. Note: Items in italics are for multi-volume works. Multi-volume stories were considered if they began prior to 2001 but ended before or close to 2011. We defined a multi-volume story as one with a continuous narrative. Finalists were chosen by an eight-person jury from across Canada. The winner will be chosen by our membership’s votes.

Blind Lake by Robert Charles Wilson, Tor Books
The Blue Ant Trilogy by William Gibson, Berkley
Malazan Book of the Fallen, Steven Erikson, Tor Books
The Neanderthal Parallax, Robert J. Sawyer, Tor Books
The Onion Girl, Charles de Lint, Tor Books
Under Heaven, Guy Gavriel Kay, Viking Canada

The Aurora Awards Administrator, Clifford Samuels, shows off the new design adpoted in 2016 for the Aurora Trophy.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Canadian Science Fiction Fantasy Academic Conference

Of possible interest to clients:

I've presented at this conference three or four times (including as one of the two Keynote speakers in 2013) and it is always a very positive experience. What I like the most about it is the sense one gets of the next generation of Canadian SF&F scholars who are doing some excellent work, documenting and analyzing the Canadian version of the genre.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Finding an Editor

A good article on finding the right editor by proofreader, Louise Harnby. She talks about using national editor's association directory, Google, one's social network, social media, endorsements, and sample edits to find the editor who will be the best fit for your needs. Here at Essential Edits, we put a lot of emphasis on the sample edit not just to provide an accurate estimate of costs, but to ensure that the editor assigned 'gets' what the client is trying to do. And the sample edit allows the client to see if the feedback they are getting is the type and level they actually want before signing on for a full contract. Louise mentions the sample edit, but as a proofreader, she may place less emphasis on it given that there would be less variation for proofreaders than for substantive editors. But a good succinct overview of searching for an editor, so recommended reading.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Collapse (and Rebirth?) of the Textbook Market

Headline: Nelson Acquires McGraw-Hill-Ryerson


The continuing consolidation of the legacy publishers into one giant corporation continues apace. Even when the branding remains to provide the illusion of consumer choice, the reality is that there are fewer and fewer publishers to whom authors can submit, and fewer and fewer differences in content for consumers to choose between.

As each publishers seeks to increase profit and therefore market share, it is much easier to do so by buying out the competition, then by predicting which books will sell. As the giant publishers acquire every other imprint, they do so by taking on debt (on the assumption larger market share will pay off the new debt over time). Having debt on that scale requires that each title produce a higher profit margin then when they had no debt, since the debt has to be serviced in addition to all the previous costs, and the only way to do that without moving price point beyond anything consumers would accept, is with economies of scale. Which means each title has to sell in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions. Mid-list authors no longer earn enough to be kept on, and niche markets can no longer be served.

These trends mean publishers can no longer afford to take risks, which means we’re looking at an increased tendency towards lowest common denominator and processed cheese.

In the Sf markets I write for, the number of major imprints (defined here as being available in brick and mortar stores) has fallen from over 40 when I started my novel to about 6 I can think of now. It’s worse in the textbook market—the strains have reached critical mass and the whole damn thing is (in my view) about to crash. My daughter’s textbook for the course she is taking in summer school is $210. But what choice does the instructor have? There are no cheaper choices because there are no other publishers, certainly no cheaper publishers, to choose from. But that is a ridiculous price! That could be a $5 ebook. Students complain, and instructors shrug, but eventually that trend will lead to rebellion. Instructors will (like me) stop assigning texts that students won’t even pretend to read, because they can’t afford to buy them. (My daughter’s roommate showed us her new $1000 bedside table in residence: it was a pile of four textbooks with a lamp on top.)

The collapse of McGraw-Hill-Ryerson in the k-12 market signals the end of the Canadian market—Nelson has made a miscalculation. As the increasing monopoly drives textbook prices even higher, there will simply be no k-12 textbook market left for it to service. The current attitude among the remaining publishers seems to be, well, what are schools going to do? Buy ereaders for every student and buy ebooks? No problem, we control the ebook market too and will make them pay hundreds for an ebook. Schools have to have textbooks, right? Bwahahahahahah!

But that’s not going to work this time. As I may have mentioned here before, I still have colleagues from when I worked in Alberta Learning (Albert's ministry of education) and I am reliably told that Alberta has made the policy decision to completely stop buying textbooks in 2018. That’s it’s. Done. No more textbooks. Because, they said, textbooks are "so 19th century" and no longer serve any purpose.

Textbooks were invented as a way a getting readings into the classroom economically when books were scarce. Previously, itinerate teachers would teach from whatever book they happened to have in their backpacks, but when schools evolved as stable public institutions, they became stable book markets: textbooks were provided via the state to make sure every classroom had a set of books cheaply; then to ensure that every classroom had a set of approved books [the Irish Readers being the first official textbook, whose explicit purpose was to teach Irish school children loyalty to the British Empire and suppress republican sentiments. The first Canadian Reader was the Irish Reader with a new cover on it; it wasn’t until the 1920’s that Irish Reader was replaced with a pro-Canada version]; and then to better organize material by grade and reading level.

And that tradition has continued pretty much up to now. Largely out of force of habit. But the Alberta government has figured out it can save millions by not buying any more textbooks. Because, why bother? Teachers can assign the appropriate entries on Wikipedia, or choose from the millions of pages—or more likely, video*mdash;of appropriate material available on the web. Which will be more up-to-date than any textbook, since it takes years for textbook to go from commission to publication, and so are two to three years out of date by the time they reach classrooms. But schools only renew textbooks for any particular curriculum once every ten years. In Alberta, it's done on a rotating basis, so this year social studies, next year Language arts, and so. That way curriculum committees have ten years to refine the next curriculum based on new research, assigning authors to write the update, arranging with publishers and so on. . . And schools only have to invest in textbooks for one subject per year, keeping those textbooks for ten years while they buy one other subjects per year, by the end of which time those initial texts are both worn out and too out of date to continue using, but then that subject comes up again in the rotation. But the down side has always been that teachers always had to supplement to bring up to date, particularly in social studies and science. Now, skip the cost and inconvenience of the outdated textbook entirely and let teachers use free, uptodate materials by following self-updating wikipedia and various teacher sites. Let classroom teachers custom make the readings for their particular class’ range of abilities and interests, for their particular community and neighbourhood (let’s use the Chinese examples in this class since 28% of this neighbourhood is ethnic Chinese, or use Calgary example for this class in Calgary, etc) for their particular slant. Let math teachers show the Khan academy videos. Why pay for textbooks at all?

So Alberta is done. Alberta is always at the forefront of any trend in Education (the Deputy Minister appointed my former colleague to the explicit position of seeking out innovations and mandated that there wasn’t to be a single innovation anywhere in the world that Alberta wasn’t on top of evaluating, and immediately adopting if it worked) so I won’t be surprised if we’re the first to go textbook-less. . .but um, won’t be the last.

At the university level, I think there is increasingly the opportunity for small presses and independent authors to put out inexpensive ($10) ebooks or ($40) Print On Demand textbooks without any role for these mega-corporations. Let me finish my text on test construction, post it to Amazon, and let individual instructors decide whether it meets their needs for their class. The author makes $5 per copy, instructors get an expensive text for their students, and everybody’s happy. Universities will eventually figure out to count self-published texts towards a professor’s output by asking about sales (i.e., how many other instructors are using their book) rather than by asking how prestigious the publisher is.

A more boring textbook for Teacher Education than it needed to be.

And we will get much better, much more interesting textbooks. I’ve no doubt already mentioned in previous posts how the publisher of my first textbook insisted on me taking 95% of the humour out because a few of the referees thought I was not sufficiently serious about the subject. So I did take the funny bits out (because I needed the publication credit for tenure), and that textbook tanked after two years—but the stuff I took out and subsequently distributed myself is still in use in some Education Faculties across Canada, 25 years later (and has made me more money than the publisher paid as the advance for the whole book) precisely because they are funny/outrageous. History is BORING, for example, because textbook publishers explicitly remove anything remotely controversial, lest it be unacceptable to some market somewhere: as the saying goes,"if you can’t sell it in Texas, you can’t sell it anywhere.” So no evolution in biology texts, nothing but the bare facts of history, because talking about Louis Riel sells differently in Quebec than Alberta, so just avoid the whole controversy and stick to just dates and indisputable (i.e., uninteresting) facts. Nothing local, because we have to sell the same book to everybody, everywhere. (Or more recently, make only token changes in the new “pick and choose your chapter” textbooks which switch “Alberta” into the sentence from “Ontario”, which are about as useful and meaningful as those kids books you can buy which will print your kid’s name in as one of the character names.) Why you hated every textbook you’ve ever read, but loved every science book by Claire Eamer. . . . Let’s just go with Clarie’s books from now on, eh?

Thus endith today’s rant.


And now it's another day:

Years ago the Social Studies Curriculum changed to include an understanding of the Acadians (specifically, the community of Meteghan, NS) in Grade 2. Unfortunately, teachers found that when they came to that portion of the program of studies, the province hadn't actually gotten around to writing a textbook or providing any other resources about Meteghan. Since I had a daughter in Grade 2 and was an Education professor, I set out to prove to my student teachers how easy it was for a classroom teacher to produce their own curriculum materials--that they don't need to wait around for, or be dependent upon, textbook writers. I produced the "Tigana Learns About the Acadians" website, gathering & filming the material in one day, and constructing the actual website in about two to three weeks of after hours fiddling. And that website got over 80,000 hits by Alberta Grade 2s, until the province got around to producing resources three or four years later.

And that was before YouTube was really a thing! (2006 is so long ago that most modern browsers won't show the .MOV files on that site without some fiddling, though there are workarounds for teachers who are still using the site with their Grade 2 classes.) It is WAY easier to do that these days: which begs the question, why ISN'T producing their own curricular materials an expectation on teachers?

Not every objective in every course, of course, but maybe one thing a year? So that all together we in effect crowd source the whole curriculum? Sounds ridiculous, but it really isn't. Every teacher I have ever met has one unit in their curriculum where they think the text is stupid or the module is missing something key, or, don't just complain, upload something better. Then let other teachers grab it or not, based on their classes and their tastes.

There are in fact, lots of websites like that today--some charge teachers to download lesson plans and pay the teacher who uploaded it a percentage, like any textbook publisher, only better because it's custom made by the people who are teaching the concepts, the frontline workers, not someone who hasn't seen a classroom in 20 years. Not that there isn't room for authored books (see Claire Eamer example above) but teachers could regain a degree of professionalism, of professional autonomy, if as a profession they produced at least some of their own collaborative materials.

Or in sociological terms, the separation of curriculum design from classroom teachers reduces teachers to deskilled workers: technicians who implement other's design, which inevitably leads to alienation from the work process. Allow teachers to develop their own resources and you automatically get better teachers and better resources. The Wiki format or the upload/down load for cash format, or just everyone produce their own Youtube videos and self-published books for sale on Amazon...or something new we haven't thought of doesn't matter, we just need to take charge of our own teaching again.

Sunday, May 7, 2017


An excellent piece on misattribution and misinformation: "Why You Should Cite The Source of Images by Bev Newman.

...but I doubt the average Pinterest user cares about copyright issues or attribution or historical accuracy or anything much beyond 'pretty' and 'good illustration for my alternative facts.' So preaching to an empty church.

Even academics are getting ridiculously sloppy about such things. In my dissertation (1991) I demonstrated that scholars in Education had been misquoting the conclusions from Sociology for over 28 years, because no one Education had bothered going back to the original source, but had just cited each other citing the sociologist they were misquoting. Consequently, everything on that topic in the Education literature of the 1980s and early 1990s was wrong, tracing back to a mis-reading from the mid-1960s. Alternative facts indeed!

And that was back in the 90s, before Google Scholar. Now misquotes are (I would suggest) more frequent than accurate ones. Under the pressure of putting out unrealistically high levels of productivity to maintain one's competitiveness in a shrinking market for tenured positions, a lot of 'scholars' are looking for short cuts. And google supplies! Typically, a desperate scholar trying to remember where they once read that quote they now need for their current article, will google the desired phrase, and up it pops. That's great for finding stuff vaguely remembered, but's a short step from there to "I could use someone saying X about here...Say,I wonder what Google can find for me." And so up pops the statement they need for the next paragraph, and click here's the citation reference, and Bob's your uncle. Without, um, actually READING the article the quote is pulled from...

Everybody is tacitly happy with this situation: the author gets another paper pumped out, filled with current citations without, you know, the time consuming process of actually reading all the literature... The dean is happy because look at how productive all his people are being...and the original author got another citation to his paper which beefs up his 'impact' score, so who cares really if he was misquoted?

Except, my wife and I keep finding examples of where citations to our work have got the argument we were making exactly backwards--because they quoted from the bit we were refuting, or took the quote out of context, or just left out the "not" in the sentence. It's appalling to be cited in support of arguments we find offensive or which go against all logic, or serve someone's political agenda in the face of the scientific evidence. But if it happens to my colleagues and I this often, then it's happening at epidemic proportions.

I'm okay with people using Google etc to quickly locate relevant literature, but read the damn article, people...or at least the whole paragraph where the sentence is found.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Quote of the Week: Fletcher on self-editing

Me Writing: So many beautiful words! I love the words, all the words!

Me Editing: So many fucking words! Die words, DIE!

—Micheal R. Fletcher, author of 88, Beyond Redemption, Mirror’s Truth