Monday, April 22, 2024

My Poem Reprinted

My poem, "Memory Loss" has been reprinted in the Fragments of Lost Time collection from Dark Thirty Poetry Publishing (Adam Shove).

"Memory Loss" is my only serious poem so far, so am pleased to see it given new breath in this collection.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Review of The Lost Expedition

The Lost Expedition by Douglas Smith
Reviewed by Robert Runté

The Lost Expedition is the third and final volume in the Dream Rider trilogy. The first two novels, (The Hollow Boys, reviewed in ORB November 2022, and The Crystal Key, reviewed May 2023) were wildly successful, garnering critical acclaim including an Aurora Award and a juried IPA award. If you haven’t already read the first two Dream Rider books, you need to start there; if you’re already read those, I won’t need to sell you on this one because you will have already been waiting for answers and lined up for this one.

The story concerns rich comic artist,18-year-old Will; his street-wise girl-friend, Chase; and her kid brother, Fader. All three have mysterious but limited powers that have allowed them to enter dreams and move between the worlds of the multiverse, battling an as yet unidentified villain or power. The central mystery is to find out what happened eight years ago that caused their parents to go missing, and their powers to manifest. Thus, the search for the lost expedition.

I compared the first volume to a superhero comic or a graphic novel—sans graphics; I compared the second to the thrill of a 1950s movie serial, once a regular part of Saturday matinées. This time, The Lost Expedition put me in mind of A Wrinkle in Time. Both books are about the conflict between order and chaos, both place unreasonable demands on their young protagonists, both have the same sweeping scope that engages one’s sense of wonder. Evoking the same emotional response, The Lost Expedition took me back sixty years to the exact weekend I discovered A Wrinkle in Time and the forgotten memory of reading in the dark after lights out.

Looking back as an adult, though, I far prefer Smith’s world building and politics to Madeleine L’Engle’s. Smith has written a series that is far more inclusive and far less elitist than L’Engle’s. Smith’s characters represent different social classes, ethnicities, abilities and weaknesses. The Dream Rider series is targeted to today’s modern YA audience and so better suited to current sensibilities. Whoever reads this book will find at least one POV character with whom they can identify.

Which is not to say The Lost Expedition doesn’t have a few flaws. I was annoyed and distracted early on by a logical flaw in the plot, only partially mitigated by the characters recognizing that inconsistency themselves twenty pages on, and that was therefore an important clue. I was similarly annoyed that one of the characters, Nix, can only remember key facts when it is time for the next clue to be handed out—again, somewhat mitigated by a reasonable explanation in the denouement. Withholding key information from the reader in a mystery feels like a bit of a cheat, even though Smith eventually explains why and the reader has to grudgingly admit it all makes sense. Still, waiting until the end to explain everything from all three books in the final chapters of this one meant the denouement went on a bit too long after the grand climax. Indeed, there are several occasions throughout the novel when the characters get bogged down explaining things to each other while the action grinds to a stop.

Notwithstanding these minor reservations, The Lost Expedition is a solid ending to a great series. The various mysteries are finally revealed in all their intricate complexity; there are several twists I totally did not see coming; and there is a sweeping majesty to the world building we have not seen since—well, since A Wrinkle in Time.

Marathoning all three books at once is probably best, so that one can keep all the fiddly bits of the mystery in mind and so that the denouement in book three becomes proportionate to the series as a whole. If you haven’t done so already, you should package up all three volumes to gift to any young adults in your life—or any adult in your circle nostalgic for the Golden Age of science fiction fantasy.

The Lost Expedition is published by Spiral Path Books.

This review originally appeared on The Ottawa Review of Books.

Monday, April 15, 2024

"Exit Duty" Republished on Short Story Substack

My shot story, "Exit Duty" was reprinted on Short Story Substack today.

"Exit Duty" originally appeared in the William and Mary Review, a university literary magazine so I am very pleased to see it now available to a wider audience.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Keynote Address at WordBridge 2024

I was honoured to be one of two keynote speakers at the 2024 WordBridge Writers Conferencce in Lethbridge Alberta. I was asked to speak to the theme "Home/Writing From the Heart" so talked about building a writing community in Lethbridge, the advantage of choosing a smaller Canadian regional publisher over going for the Big 5, and writing authentically.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

"Crossing Avenue" Reprinted Online

My flash fiction, "Crossing Avenue", was published by Stupefying Stories and is available for free online.

The story originally appeared in the literary magazine Meat for Tea:The Valley Review Vol. 14 #1, 2020; and was reprinted in Polar Borealis #Dec 2022, pp31-32.

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Monday, March 18, 2024

Review of The Year's Best Canadian Fantasy and Science Fiction Vol 1.

This review originally appeard in The Ottawa Review of Books January 15, 2024.

When John Robert Columbo came out with the first anthology of Canadian speculative fiction, Other Canadas, in 1979, it was the first time most of us realized that there even was a Canadian version of the genre. To cobble the collection together, however, Columbo had to scour all of history and pad the list with the likes of Cyrano de Bergerac and Jules Verne—non-Canadians who happen to have set a story in the polar north—to fill his pages. By 1985, the field had expanded sufficiently that Judith Merril was able to solicit enough contemporary Canadian SF to fill the first Tesseracts anthology.

When I co-edited the fifth Tesseract anthology over a decade later, we had over 400 submissions, and I confidently predicted further explosive growth for Canadian SF&F. The Tesseract series is now up to number 22 though the series has morphed into themed anthologies rather than a general survey of the Canadian genre. Imaginarium 2012 was the first attempt at reprinting the “Year’s Best” but the series ended with Imaginarium 4. We therefore have lacked a “Best of Canadian SF&F” series for the last eight years.

Enter Stephen Kotowych, the editor of the Year’s Best Canadian Fantasy and Science Fiction, Vol.1 (2023).

If I thought working on Tesseracts 5 was challenging, I cannot begin to imagine trying to keep on top of a field that has expanded continuously over the last thirty years. The undertaking, especially by a single individual rather than a team backed by an established publisher, is outrageously audacious. And yet, Kotowych seems to have pulled it off. With 37 entries from 24 different magazines and 6 anthologies—a total of thirty different venues—the collection is certainly a representative survey of the field. The stories range from hard science fiction through fantasy, horror, and fevered dreams to pure CanLit. Inevitably, as with any anthology, tastes differ and one might quibble whether this or that entry is the “best” Canadians have to offer, but there’s no question Kotowych has nailed the breadth of what’s out there. Story quality ranged from “solid” to “outstanding” with the overall weighting tipped heavily towards the “excellent” end. If I’m honest, I think this collection is better than the one I co-edited, a reflection of how Canadian speculative fiction has expanded and matured in the decades since.

Best of all, the collection introduced me to a number of authors with whom I had not previously been acquainted. How had I missed, for example, Suyi Davies Okungbowa? I was shocked to find a stack of novels by this University of Ottawa prof, whose “Choke” is one of the outstanding stories in the current collection. That one discovery is worth the price of the collection five times over. Although “Choke” feels as if it would be comfortable in any CanLit magazine, it originally appeared in Tor.Com, so legitimately qualifies as speculative fiction. But wow! The freshness of the phrasing, the passion of the writing, the absolute resonance of the contemporary experience just floored me. That’s six new novels added to my To-Be-Read pile right there.

Similarly, I had no idea Nebula-nominated Ai Jiang was Canadian. Her “Give me English” is a great opening to the anthology, not just because it’s a gem of a story, but because it nicely illustrates how the current generation is infusing fresh themes and viewpoints into the Canadian genre. I have banged on for years how Canadian SF differed from that of the American (and to a lesser extent, the British) mass market SF&F, but I have to concede that the (English-language) Canadian genre often lacked culturally diverse voices, beyond some influences from Quebec. Jaing’s story speaks not just to the immigrant experience, but to the post-colonial, anti-capitalist themes that have become a natural part of the SF scene. Chelsea Vovel’s “Mischif Man” story of a Métis superhero similarly takes on Settler colonialism, and Lavigne’s “Choose Your Own” is one of the best feminist pieces ever: wincingly on target.

These and the majority of the entries fit my argument that Canadian speculative fiction is oddly optimistic despite the often downbeat premises. The future is on fire in Premee Mohamed’s “All that Burns Unseen”; perpetual war and exploitation are central to Michelle Tang’s “Vihum Heal”; oppressive religion stifles life in Kate Hearfield’s “And in the Arcade”; Charlotte Ashley’s “Distant Skies” features capitalist manipulation of our destinies through genetics; Holly Schofield’s “Maximum Efficiency” has robot soldiers vs humans; KT Brysk’s “Folk Hero Motifs in Tales Told by the Dead” is set in hell, for heaven’s sake. And yet, life goes on and people (or other sentients) find a way. I love this approach of ordinary people bumbling through tough times to carve out acceptable outcomes. It is the literature we need amidst the dumpster fire we’re living through.

Reynold’s “Broken Vow: The Adventures of Flick Gibson, Intergalactic Videographer” provides some needed comic relief, and the fiction is broken up by the inclusion of nine rather good, accessible poems.

Overall, it is a great collection, a great reflection on what Canadian speculative fiction has to offer, and a great first entry in which one can only hope will continue as an annual series.

The Year’s Best Canadian Fantasy and Science Fiction Vol.1 (2023) is published by Ansible Press.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Al/ice Reprinted

My short story "Al/ice" has been reprinted in the Queens in Wonderland anthology from No Bad Books.

The story was originally published in Shoreline of Infinity #21 (April 2021), which provided a really helpful sensitivity read.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Detour on the Eight-Fold Path

My short story, "Detour on the Eight-Fold Path" has been reprinted in JayHenge's anthology, AI, ROBOT.



The story originally appeared in Neo-Opsis Magazine #31.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

The Changeling and the Bully" Reprinted

My short story, "The Changeling and the Bully" was reprinted in Polar Borealis #28, February, 2024, pp. 54-63.

Polar Borealis is available as a free PDF download from

This is the origin story for my Ransom and Friends urban fantasy series. The story was originally originally published in Mythic #17, Oct, 2021, pp. 65-74.

Monday, January 15, 2024

Review of State of the Arc

This review originally appeared in The Ottawa Review of Books, Nov 2023.

State of the Ark: Canadian Future Fiction Edited and Introduction by Lesley Choyce
Reviewed by Robert Runté

As soon as I heard about this anthology, I knew I had to have it for my collection, because I already have Lesley Choyce’s and John Bell’s pioneering 1981 Visions from the Edge, the first anthology of speculative fiction from Atlantic Canada; and Choyce’s 1992 Ark of Ice, a now classic anthology of Canadian speculative fiction (Canada being the ark in question). State of the Ark represents the current state and range of speculative fiction in Canada 2023, including checking in with some of the same authors from the 1992 volume. It is, like its predecessors, an excellent cross-section of the Canadian speculative genre at one moment in time.

At one end of the spectrum, we have traditional space fiction: Robert Sawyer’s “Star Light, Star Bright”, is an approachable story of Dyson spheres, interstellar colonies, and good parenting. Sawyer’s stories are always about exploring the less-than-obvious implications of big scientific concepts and bringing those down to the human level. This short is an example of why Sawyer is arguably Canada’s most successful science fiction writer.

Julie E. Czerneda’s “Foster Earth” is similarly a classic first-contact story: humans trying to figure out how to communicate with The Silent with absolutely nothing to go on . . . and coincidentally, another story about great parenting. I love it!

My favourite SF story, though, is Julian Mortimer Smith’s “Read-Only Memory”, which explores near-future tech to absolutely nail contemporary attitudes and relationships. I’m definitely going to have to hunt down more of Smith’s work.

Jeremy Hull’s “Bright Future” covers the similar ground of virtual technology and relationships, but this time from a parenting angle (hmm, starting to see a trend here). C.J. Lavigne’s “Side Effects May Include” is a sharply Canadian take on medical tech’s relationship with late-stage capitalism.

Other more or less traditional SF entries included Spider Robinson’s story of slow interstellar travel; John Park’s “Hammerhead” other-world colonization; Terri Favro’s “Winter Pilgrimage of the Storytellers”, a multi-world portal novel; and Hugh A.D. Spencer’s “Shoebox or The End of Civilization in Five Objects or Less”, a delightful satire of pompous museum staff, the ill-treatment of freelances, and the comeuppance Spencer (himself, a museum consultant) would wish upon them. Greg Bechtel’s “2115: Notes Toward Nine Stories of the Future” examines recent articles to project nine mutually exclusive punchlines for future fiction.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have the stories that lean heavily into CanLit, like Katherine Govier’s “VIXEN, SWAN, EMU, BEAR”. I really enjoyed her writing which connected each totem to moments in the narrator’s relationships. This story could comfortably have found a home in any Canadian literary journal. If anything, I questioned whether the speculative element was a bit thin, really only appearing in the last page—it felt a little tacked on. I was, therefore, not entirely surprised to read in her bio that the story had indeed originally appeared in Exile Literary Quarterly and the ending was added for this volume. I am not complaining though! It’s a marvelous piece of writing, and I am always appreciative that our best literary writers are open to stepping across genre lines, which elsewhere are often considered impenetrable. The number and influence of Canadian literary writers crossing over into speculative fiction is one reason our version of the genre is distinct from the mass market American version.

Between these two poles are stories that blur the line between literary and speculative genres.

Élisabeth Vonarburg’s “Terminus” is a parallel world story, but mostly about relationships, identity and self-worth. Casey June Wolf’s “Substance. Light” works some of the same themes, but with an even more poetic bent. Both allude to suicide (so: trigger warning).

Candas Jane Dorsey’s “The Card is the World” a dark--or maybe darkly funny--story plays with literary structure to deliver a commentary on science, suits, and--inevitably--relationships. (And almost as an aside, the invisibility of older women.) Tim Wynne-Jones’ “Eternity Leave” has flying saucers, but it is really a story about imagination, the literary life, and a beautiful day. The story nicely balances literal narrative and Wynne-Jones’ whimsical style.

Lesley Choyce’s own “Tantramar: A Love Story in a Time of Crisis” is either speculative fiction if we believe the characters, Canlit if they are delusional. It could go either way, but it works as a love story, so is categorization important?

I judge The State of the Ark an accurate presentation of current trends in the genre. Old writers and new are both represented, the new bringing a hopefully growing diversity of voices. There is an underlying optimism running through all these stories, even the dystopian ones, which is perhaps new. The collection as a whole is more literary than idea-driven, more about the writing than story-telling, which I would argue reflects the growing maturity of the speculative genre overall, even beyond Canada. Better yet, the majority of the stories here straddle these divides to combine the best of both CanLit and SF. There is room for both space ships and poetic language in Canadian speculative fiction, and even the straight-forward SF all has an identifiable Canadian slant to it.

The State of the Ark is a ‘must-have’ for anyone wondering what Canadian future fiction fares these days.

The State of the Ark is published by Pottersfield Press, 2023.