Category Archives: reading

A Short Winter Tale for a Short Day

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Clang!

I was picking at the stubborn ice in the garage entrance. Again.

Clang! Clang!

My shovel made such a racket that I was certain the whole neighborhood had heard. At least, those neighbors who didn’t go out for work, which was, a lot of ’em this peculiar, cursed year. The current temperature danced around a balmy zero Celsius, but the wind had frozen everything hard. 

If, at least, the Sun had spared some if its heat for the fissured blacktop of the entrance, the ice would have melted by itself. Alas, a bunch of gray clouds had been squatting the whole sky all day.

I hated it when winter couldn’t decide, once and for all, between staying over or under the freezing temperatures. One day, snow to our knees, the following day, it all melted into slush puddles; then the following night created uneven ice patches everywhere. Add the sidewalks to that equation, their broken slabs a danger for any walkers, hidden under the layer of pristine snow, and that’s southern Lake Ontario for you.

As my nice neighbors’ car entrance was a slippery incline, the risk of a bad concussion was multiplied tenfold. Hence me, hacking the ice like a mad woman, the metal reverberations grating my ears, the vibration stunning my wrists even if I wore padded mittens.

For now, the wind factor was chilling the sweat channel pouring over my spinal column. Swerving around the buildings, the wind surged from every direction, surprising me. I should have covered myself better than a sweater and padded vest, but too many layers only made me sweat more.

If only the darn winter could make up its mind! That dance around the zero was driving me nuts, besides wearing down the asphalt. And my patience…

At this hour, I should be cooking the no meat turkey, mashing the potatoes, finishing the chocolate cake that would only be a pale reflection of the one my grandmother made. And I had to set the table to greet the husband and son coming back from their own errands. And choose the best plates, those perched on the high-altitude cupboard shelf.

But the thought of my neighbor, not much older than I was but with her hip broken in a bad fall, prodded me on. Her husband’s sore back and weak heart prohibited him from any undue exertion, like shoveling dense snow. I was in good shape, relatively speaking, of course, so I toiled for them.

Of course, it was stupid of me to risk a heart attack to de-ice a car entrance.

***

Evening fell too fast, giving birth to a colored rivalry of Christmas lights, enhanced by technical prowess. I felt a pinch of envy regarding this prodigality, but those lights offered a gift of beauty to any passerby.

The world was so dark, so hard. Those constellations of blue, green and white lamps warmed up my soul. I paused, the echo of my last shovel hack sounding for long seconds. A fragile bubble of silence expended over the deserted street.

My breath created soft clouds of condensation that dissipated too fast.

The silence, in a city, was something to cherish. I listened for the chatter of chickadees, the angry twip of a house sparrow, the tiny crack of the hardened snow under the paws of a cat, or the light bounces of a scurrying rabbit.

But the only sound I heard was the dry crinkle of an envelope under my boot. Untouched, unopened, escaped from the recycling van with the complicity of the wind. On its face, printed Christmas ornaments and holly leaves, framing a too familiar message: give generously!

In my humble opinion, printing Give generously! or urgent!!! We need you! with an excess of exclamation points, constituted a strategical error. Most of those envelopes landed directly in the recycling basket.

I didn’t want to cast the first rock at my neighbors. But since charity organizations had taken to systematically share our address lists, it was twenty, thirty Give generously envelopes that fell in my mailbox, just because I, once, forgot to tick the microscopic square hidden in a small fonts paragraph.

This accrued pressure had caused a mild case of giving fatigue.

My thoughts turned darker. Yes, give generously, while tycoons and bankers fired men and women or conspired to shrink their worker’s rents, inflating their own wealth!

And those same ultra-rich would put one hand over their heart at charity galas, while the other slipped gifts in politicians’ pockets, garnered further tax breaks with legal tricks, accruing the burden for all others. (And then the politicians opened their hands and told the populace, “See, we do not have money…”)

Strangled by all those speculators, what would be left of this famous middle class that shrank and shrank? Donations dropped year after year, even with the added promise of an anonymous donator doubling or tripling the given amount. So many of us toiled at two or three jobs to make ends meet, conscious to be at one illness, one accident, one job loss from homelessness…

Clanggg! I hit the blue-brown ice with a vindictive zeal.

The shovel broke a layer of ice that would have felled my fragile neighbors. Smashing the ice was as difficult as weeding the garden. In summer, I struggled to unearth the deep roots of invading plants instead of just pulling the heads off. Battling the roots of corruption was as difficult; many politicians pulling off some scapegoat from their hat and going on as before.

Under the thin ice, another envelope winked at me. All red, with the same holly leaves and Christmas tree ornaments, but bearing a different message. Flash sale, Find your gifts here, 50% on everything

The other face of the holidays, where stores and banks and insurance agents offered pre-approved credit cards with incredible rates… Those two injunctions fought for my mind space.

Buy, buy, buy!

Give, give, give!

Buy or give, but never disturb the generous speculators who congratulated themselves with champagne at Davos while pouring crocodile tears over the climatic crisis brought by their own profitable actions.

So be it.

***

This year, I had decided to forego the shopping and give all that I could: clothes, food, kitchen items, books to nourish the dreams…

A low drone rose.

I thought it was the car of a neighbor returning from a job that might evaporate next year, in another reorganization. Then I heard distant bells tingling under the loud clangs of my shovel. Under the tingling bells, a chorus of voices sang, soft like the abating wind. Were there still people singing carols?

For a moment, magic bathed my soul.

Then a familiar rumble of a diesel engine cut through the magical moment. 

The beams of two spotlights swept the sidewalk that I was furiously hacking. I turned around, sweating and out of breath, my palms aching from the shocks, intent on spilling out my consumer/donator frustrations.

The chorus I had heard a moment before was flowing from the driver window of a huge eighteen-wheeler, pulling a semi-trailer. The trailer’s side was marked with an unfamiliar logo with holly leaves and one round tree ornament. Such a mastodon should never have been able to engage in our narrow, curved residential street! Neither should have it been able to ground to a halt without a loud hiss of brakes.

A ginger cookies scent titillated my nose, along with a waft of warm air from the open window. The left elbow of the driver jutted out, wrapped in candy-red, shiny coat.

A bearded face leaned out of the window, the lower edge encrusted with ice crystals that fell as his arm brushed over them. The soft singing was still pouring out, probably from a high-quality radio system, because the voices were so clean it sounded like an entire choir had been squeezed inside the truck’s cabin.

“Excuse me,” the driver said, “I’m kind of lost.”                      

His gravelly voice betrayed an age in the advanced seventies, confirmed by the beard, whitened by worries.

Another elder who had lost his pension and had been forced to work as long as he had some strength remaining.

No, it was his way that he had lost. And, as like most truckers, he was ‘on the clock’. I put my bad mood in my pocket, with the envelopes, and planted the shovel like a flag into a precarious snowbank.

“Where are you going?” I asked, my voice raspy with the cold.

The driver turned to cut his engines, gaining my silent approval. The rumble of diesel died out like an organ endnote. He scratched his head under the rim of his knitted cap. Red like the anorak.

“Well,” he said, “it’s a bit complicated, since my GPS has retired…”

“Retired? He’s luckier than I am!”

Oops! I had talked without thinking. The paper tip of my bad mood’s viper tongue peeked from my pocket.

“Sorry,” I said. “I’m a little like you, a freelance artist living day-to-day, so there’s no retirement package for me.”

“Oh,” he said.

He smiled, and that changed his physiognomy.

I mean, the guy didn’t have that perfect Colgate smile, whiter than white, over gums redder than his anorak. His teeth showed some wear and tear, toned to a soft ivory taint like an elephant’s defense. However, there was a light in his smile that rose to his eyes, their irises the pale blue of the ice, when free of impurities.

And this warmth, this light, evaporated the worries in my head, the magnates of this world receding into nothingness. I didn’t feel the cold sweat channel in my back, either.

It was at this moment that I noticed he had addressed me in my native French, despite my living in an overly English neighborhood in the Toronto area. How could he have guessed my proud Franco Ontarian culture?

“What brand is your GPS?” I asked. “A Garmin, a Tom-Tom?”

“It’s a Rudolph-2.”

“I’m not familiar with that brand.”

“Well, the first was the best, but since he retired…”

 He had spoken on such a good-natured way that I almost didn’t notice the incongruity of a GPS going into retirement. I thought that poor trucker must have been so lonely on the long roads, that he spoke to his equipment. So, I asked him a good-natured question.

“And what are you transporting?”

His arm wove toward the back of the truck.

“Gifts,” he said.

As the single syllable left his fleshy lips, a warm scent of chocolate cake tickled my nose. I felt myself shrinking into a smaller me, transported in a familiar kitchen, as my grandmother was pulling from the oven a magnificent cake. Her mittened hands deposited the dessert on a pad on the countertop. Then she would spread her special cacao icing, a glory as each bite melted in the mouth, and place a little maraschino cherry at the center.

How I missed my grandmother!

I came back to the present with a start. If the bearded trucker carried food…

“Nothing perishable, I hope?”

“Oh, don’t worry, it will keep. I’m delivering everything this night.”

***

In certain stories or movies, there are moments when snotty critics qualified a character as genre blind.

For instance, you watch a movie with a bunch of teens in a haunted house, and the leader brilliantly decides, “let’s split up to cover more ground.” Of course, that was a staple of countless horror movies, like the young woman stuck in a mansion as Victorian as empty, who hears a noise coming from the cellar and goes down there to investigate the source, alone with her skimpy night robe…

That kind of genre-blind, of cognitive dissonance, was on me now. My brain had not connected all the dots yet, still rattled by the solicitation envelopes in my pocket.

So, I addressed the bearded man, hedging my bets.

“So, you’re a kind of Santa Claus,” I said.

I added my best ivory-toothed smile, the fruit of my privileged access to dental care.

At that moment, a concert of tweets and chirps rose in my back. Turning, I discovered a whole gallery of birds, the dream of any ornithologist doing the Christmas bird count.

Cardinals redder than red, with their more discrete dames, their plumage a beige and soft red. Cheerful black-headed chickadees, Black-eyed Juncos, with their best gray and white tuxedos, blue jays harping, and others that my eye couldn’t identify. Among them, a lone peregrine falcon perched on a branch, surprisingly indifferent to all those little meals chirping under its claws.

I was afraid that the truck would dematerialize like in the tales when I turned back.

But no, the driver was still there, one hand on the wheel, his kind eyes contemplating the bird assembly. Maybe I was mistaken, and it was St-Francis of Assisi hiding under this beard.

Really, I would be fine with that.

“Yes,” he admitted. “And I must deliver at a series of addresses.”

He foraged on the passenger seat and grabbed a pack of old matrix print paper. There must have been a hundred pages, all perforated on the sides. I glanced at the top address.

Not mine.

I felt a weird let down feeling. Then, I shook it off like snow from my boots. What was I griping for? Living in a fair neighborhood, in a country at peace?

A light bulb flickered in my mind: the first line was the address of a distribution center of food and clothes in my city. Because of the elite’s neglect or indifference, more families struggled to make ends meet, and donations were dropping. No wonder Santa Claus had changed his routes tonight.

Under the first address, I recognized others: a refuge for the street kids, a safe house for women and children in danger, a halfway house for ex-prisoners. I did not know the other places, but, flipping the accordion-linked pages, I could see area codes in Cyrillic characters, Chinese ideograms…

A gulf of gratitude filled me, warm as hot fudge poured from the pan. I clapped my hands in delight.

“Oh, I see what you’re doing, it’s, it’s fantastic! Thank you, thank you!”

He seemed happy from my reaction, and the birds tweeted louder.

“Yes,” he said, “and Mother Claus had even given me the locations of hidden political prisoners camps.”

That last bit saddened me. Long ago, I had sent a box of children’s shoes to an organism in Afghanistan. The box never got there. Lost in transit…

“The jailors will keep the gifts for themselves,” I said, my voice heavy.

That didn’t seem to bother him, no more than the time zones and Earth’s circumference.

“It will be a delicate affair, young girl, but for a guy who had slipped into millions of houses by chimneys or windows in a single night, no problemo!

 His young girl passed on me like a balm, because it was sincere. The good grandfather perceived me as the child I had been, as I was still inside.

However, there was just one little detail at odds with my ecological conscience. The gas-gurgling truck.

“Wouldn’t it be less polluting to drop your gifts from your sleigh, with the flying reindeers?”

There, he burst into a hearty laugh. Not the fabled ho-ho-ho, but a joyous wah-ha-ha-ha!

“A truck is less conspicuous. Especially with all those drones firing on everything, even the birds! As for the gas, the elves have produced a biofuel.”

He restarted the engine. I could smell a sharp scent of ginger coming out. He winked.

Capiche?”

So, stepping on the foothold, I gave him the directions to get out of the street, and to reinitialize his GPS. His eyes perked up when the little red sleigh icon blinked on his screen. A powerful Ha! escaped in the night.

“I thank you, young girl. Do you want something in exchange?”

I considered the flock of birds happily hopping by, and breathed in the odor of grandma’s chocolate cake and ginger breads, all coming from the exhaust tubes. 

One writer, on the verge of dying, had said that his most marvelous discovery had been to know that he already possessed everything he needed to be happy.

Me too.

A roof over my head, a family to cherish, a work I loved.

“You just gave me my gift,” I said, tears in my eyes. “I don’t need anything else.” 

“Well, it has been a pleasure to talk with you. Embrace your loved ones for me.”

And, just like that, the gift truck rumbled on, leaving its good smell of ginger and chocolate behind. I followed it with my eyes until the taillights were gone.

***

I stood, unmoving, savoring the moment under the stars that shone without concurrence from the Moon. Then, the to-do list raised its ugly head in my mind.

Ice to break; meal to prepare; table to set.

My hand reached for the shovel’s handle.

And froze there.

Under my feet, the concrete slab was as dry as in July. The ice had evaporated on the sidewalk, so nobody would slip and get a hip fracture. On the street, and on the driveways near me, the black top had been regenerated, all cracks gone from its smooth finish. Nice of Santa, to think of the municipalities crushed under debts, putting back repairs.

Thank you, I thought.

You’re welcome, a voice answered in my head, just as a snowflake tickled my nose.

Snow was falling, big fluffy tufts, magical, as they only covered the lawns and gardens by now empty of birds. I put back the shovel inside our empty garage and headed for the front door.

As soon as I pushed it open, a flurry of good smells greeted me. Mashed potatoes, vegetables, tofu turkey with cranberries… 

To my surprise, the table had been set.

With the best plates, those that usually waited on the high-altitude shelf, disposed on the clean fabric with their attending cutlery. It was as if a fairy—or Mother Claus?—had prepared this feast.

I was tempted to cry out You shouldn’t have done this!

But I didn’t.

Because, at that moment, I saw—and it drew tears from my eyes—what occupied the center of the table: a wide, generous china plate, the edge ornate with holly leaves (real, fresh ones) and small golden marbles.

And, on this round throne, a cake, worthy of my grandmother’s best art, covered with a thick layer of chocolate fudge icing, sending up a warm scent of cacao. On its top, a small round cherry sat, like a tiny Christmas ornament.

*The End*

May you all live and give
in this Holiday Season !

(c) Michèle Laframboise 2021


Enjoyed this tale? At the time I actually wrote it, Serge Bouchard, a dear friend of all poets, who had been a trucker, had just left us. So the generous character in the truck would look a bit like him.

Find this tale and four more in 5 Chocolate-Rich Holiday Stories, a heart-warming collection published by Echofictions.

A special Fearless Lady Byrd Adventure!

Black-capped Chickadee by Shutterstock
(c) Shutterstock / Bruce MacQueen

Virtue is a white robe only women get to wear…

Everything in this bird tour has gone awry: Lady Byrd wakes up too late, because the tour guide forgot to arrange the calls. In a foul mood, she has to get to the site herself. Then, her path crosses that of a pregnant birder in the throes of an abusive relationship, and cornered into a hard choice only women have to face.
What can an expert birder can do to lift this fog of sadness?

A spirited and hopeful story with the energetic Lady Byrd !

(This is an extract of the story. The ebook is available on paper and ebook formats at Echofictions.com.)


Chicks and Chickadees
A Fearless Lady Byrd Adventure

by Michèle Laframboise

1

See meeee!

The fluted call woke me from my heavy sleep. That chant was as familiar as my living room couch, coming from the tiny throat of a black-capped chickadee. The rest of the year, that small quick bird emitted a short chip, or a gleeful nasal, ha-han-han-haan, more reminiscent of a duck quack. They were the life of the party in any forest; hanging a lump of fat in a net is a sure way to invite them to any backyard.

But, as the snow melted, the perky chickadees’ thoughts turned away from food. They started singing that soft whistle.

See meee!

The bird was enjoying the morning; I wasn’t. At all.

A budding headache reminded me how foolish I had been to accept that glass of wine yesterday evening, even the light white brand that complemented the meal served at the hotel hosting our birding group. One blond lady was endlessly raving about her 150 mm cam, but I lost most of her words.

I pushed off the big fluffy down hotel coverlet from the bed, striking with my feet like I would a nighttime aggressor.

(I am lucky to never have experienced the event, but my niece had.)

(She did OK and sent the stupid horny student to the hospital. Nevertheless, I take extra precautions.)

I balanced myself to sit on the edge of the bed, my feet hanging inches from the floor. Extra-high hotel bed. A tingling feeling of something wrong nagged at me. Not the headache.

Then my eyes fell on the digital clock on the lacquered nightstand.

Ten past six. AM.

Holy Moly!

I was supposed to get up at five-thirty, eat a small collation and board the minibus that would take me and a dozen others to a secluded spot where a famed warbler had been last observed.

That warbler was that kind of elusive brownish bird, easier to hear than see. Its off-key colors made them the opposite of the chickadees: not only difficult to see, but a challenge at identifying.

Birders woke very early to get to the field at dawn. I winced. By now, the tour bus would have left with the rest of the group.

On my precedent birding tours, the organizers usually managed the morning calls so everyone was woken around the same hour, generally 5h00 or 5h30 AM.

I hadn’t met the Sully Bird Tours manager yet, only the athletic brown-haired girl, a Lucy Something (I should have remembered her name but the flight had left me slightly zombified) who greeted me at the airport and lifted my bags without breaking stride. She had driven me to this three-star hotel, where I later met the birding party, but the Sully of Sully’s tour had been apparently busy elsewhere.

If the manager was around her age, maybe he had left a Facebook message, Twitter notification or I don’t-know-what-tech alert to the tour members, not thinking that some tour members could be old enough to be his mother. Or grand mother, if he was that young.

I felt a surge of wrath towards this Ronald Sully. A competent birding tour manager would have made sure all members were up and seated before taking off.  Especially when said members had paid north of one thousand dollars for one week-end, all-inclusive package.

See-mee!

The love call tempered my disappointment. A chickadee’s spring mating call was a soft flute, not migraine-inducing at all. Maybe Ron Sully had called my room number, and I had been sleeping too soundly to be roused?

I checked the hotel phone.

No blinking red light. So no calls. I thought fast.

If I skipped breakfast and toothbrushing, I had a thin chance to catch the 6h30 AM hotel shuttle and get to the Park entrance in time. Normally, I would have called a taxi, but the town abutting the gigantic park didn’t have a lot of those, and no way at my age would I adopt the Uber application my tech-savvy nephew was raving about.

My hands went to my night gown, holding my full bladder.

To the bath-cave, my numb brain ordered.

2

While scurrying to the bathroom to get my three essentials “U” (Urine drain, Uplifting cream, UV screen), I thought about the surprises that this coming day held in reserve.

Birding expeditions were a fascinating adventure I had shared with Paul, my husband for thirty-two wonderful years. Then Paul’s strong body had been grabbed by the Crab, and nothing had been the same ever since.

Only our common love of birds had saved me from spiraling into depression and alcohol after Paul’s death. Each bird tour was a way of reconnecting with the man who had meant so much to me.

#

I got dressed, bundled my dog-eared Sibley Guide to Birds, my 8×25 Bushnell field binoculars in their case, and filled my water bottle at the sink.

Next, I put on my “fearless lady explorer hat”.

Strapping it under my chin, I looked like a Victorian-era explorer matron. The vintage pith jungle helmet had been a joking gift from Paul. I wore it without qualms: besides being well-padded, the off-white pith hat was a fine conversation starter.

I even got to learn what the word steampunk meant.

Minutes later, I walked up to the front desk among enticing smells of breakfast prepared at the restaurant, my soft-soled walking shoes plopping softly on the waxed oak floorboards. The morning clerk looked up at me from his screen, all fresh face and pimples.

“Can I do something for you?” he asked, his eyes squinting at my Victorian pith hat.

The first words coming to me were: Wasn’t someone supposed to wake me up? But I chose a more diplomatic approach.

“Yesterday, did I leave instructions for a wake-up call?”

The boy (I write boy because he couldn’t have been more than 16) bent on the screen raising like a flat obsidian monolith between us. I could only see his combed auburn hair, like waves.

“No, you didn’t.”

Oh, I thought. So I had forgotten.

No wonder. The plane trip had been exhausting.

Two hot-headed (and thoroughly inebriated) guys were spreading their politics around in loud angry voices with scant regard for their fellow passengers. As they sat on the row before me, it had been impossible to doze off.

Eventually the flight attendant got tired of the hate spiel and shushed them. As the attendant was a brown-skinned, petite Indian-looking stewardess, they scoffed and leered at her politeness, making me wish I had some knitting needles or hat pins to prod them in the ribs with, or more stamina. Only when the head steward, a burly, fortyish man with a military buzz cut, came to back up his colleague, did the two goons tone down, relenting under a male authority.

So I had accepted the complimentary wine glass on board to complement the kneaded napper meal.

Later, at the three stars, medium-sized hotel, I had been only too happy to meet fellow birders to care. The local brand offered at supper proved one sip too much, but I would discover this only in the morning.

#

The rumbling under my seat lulled me to a better mood. I munched on a soft ChocoPower bar, the one with nuts, while the shops and motels of the outskirts were replaced by fields and forested stretches. My multipocketed coat was rolled under my back to provide a support for my spine, and I rested my slightly pounding ball against the fabric headrest, the explorer hat on my knees.

It was past 6h 45 when the hotel shuttle grinded to a halt on the blacktop of the parking near the Conservatory entrance. (A conservatory was the same thing as a natural park, but without the noisy camping grounds.)

The parking lot was bare, except for a pine hut contained a pit toilet, and a green and blue minivan with the words Sully’s Birding Tour printed in another shade of blue across a pale grey seagull outline. Which looked strange because, this far inside the continent, the only seagulls I had seen were the ubiquitous ring-billed seagulls actively checking out the hotel’s waste containers.

I stepped off the shuttle in a deflated mood. At this hour, most morning birds would have flown off to ensure their survival. I would get the obvious customers, robins, woodpeckers and the happy-chirping chickadees.

The group’s route must have been another useful info the organizers had trusted to the Internet. Hence, I wasted another two minutes of early morning observation to consult the large wooden map, discolored by years of exposition to the elements. The paths were marked by vivid-colored plastic ribbons.

More disappointment piled as I discovered that most of those brightly-colored paths were over four kilometers long, and crossed higher slope gradients that I cared for.

I pulled out the tiny flat green cell my nephew had given me.

I didn’t care much for using a phone while birding, but I needed to know which path the group took. I punched the main number. After three rings, a primp, happy-sounding voice announced that Sully Bird Tour were unavailable and would I like to leave a message?

Of course, they would have disconnected their cells, because a sudden noise erupting from a pocket could scare the birds away. Even the more discreet vibration setting was picked up by the birds’ tine-tuned ears, resembling a low-throated alarm buzz that most species heeded as a predator presence warning.

I puffed my cheeks. Looking at the tour bus, I decided to leave a low-tech message. I sacrificed a page from my small do-it-all notebook for the busy woman (a gift from my niece) and wrote my cell number and my name, plus “on Trail 4”.  

Trail 4 was the shortest circuit available, which would let me amble at my own pace and make the best of this day. And, with luck, one of the guides would check on me.

After a cautious stop at the pit toilet (making sure my cell phone did not fall at the bottom), I set on the path winding between tall pines.

(End of extract)

The whole story can be found at Echofictions.com


This story was up for one week only, for International Women’s Day, but I left it on this blog five months because: this Covid period needed hopeful stories. If you liked it and want to support my writing, please buy the ebook and offer it to someone. Available on paper and ebook formats at Echofictions.com.
Bird Pic (c) Shutterstock / Bruce MacQueen

Reading Shock…

The reader, after finishing a good book, want's to thank the writer A.C. Crispin, but finds out she's gone.

I just finished “Sarek” an excellent SF novel by Ann. C. Crispin, set in the Star Trek universe.

In these trying times, I need some comfort readings, which I get from some Star Trek novels.

I just finished Sarek, (a story with Spock’s dad), a tale with finesse and a touch of Pon Farr that enriches the universe of the original series. (I ignored the ST reboot at the cinema). There, we meet Amanda in depth, and learn about her love affair with Sarek. The novel shows up this Vulcans are not walking cold computers, not perfect, but people with their own emotions, tradition clashes, preferences, disagreements. But they settle their difference in a more zen manner.

As with “Vulcan Heart” by Josepha Sherman (another fine writer we lost in 2012) and Susan Shwartz (many thanks to you!), this reading leaves me with a strong impression that our humanity, sick with conspirators, hate groups, anti-vaccines and anti-science, would need Vulcans (and also the Bene Gesserit, but that’s another universe). Just the basic control of emotions and the philosophy would prevent many problems from even happening (what’s the logic in despising dark-skinned persons?) in addition to cleaning up most prejudices.

The only flaw in this book, alas, is that we can no longer thank its author … Ann Carol Crispin left to count the stars in 2013. It’s a shock when it is a contemporaneous author who disappears.

Has the same thing happened to you? What was your most shocking experience? Please, share your testimony, because I haven’t found my zen state yet. So many writers to be grateful to, so little time!

Fortunately, Ann C. Crispin and the other departed writers have left many books behind, like a trail of excellent chocolate chips leading to the stars!

Beat the heat with 10 refreshing books!

As the summer heat and Canada Day are upon us, most of you are looking for a place to spend your vacations… and for good science fiction adventure books to read!

So I look forward to dive into refreshing novels.

The choices are so much diverse than when I was a teenager looking for space adventures, and finding only guy’s adventures. I would say “white guy’s adventures” but in the 80s, male characters were on their way of getting more diverse, not so the female characters… (There were notable exceptions, and books from Ursula K. LeGuin that I  didn’t know existed at the time.)

When I dip into the waters of an enthralling story (like The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal ) and explore its depths, forgetting all about the outside world. It feels like this:

 

Reading GoodBookShort

When you emerge from a powerful and moving story, gratitude floods you, along with a faint regret of having finished the book… but there are many other waiting!

And, speaking of good books…

SpaceTravelCovers1000

The Space Travelers StoryBundle reunites several wonderful writers, and I am proud to be a part of it with one novel (Clouds of Phoenix, featuring a disabled heroine on planet Phoenix) and one short-story (Closing the Big Bang) in the Space Travelers Anthology.

This StoryBundle is a joint promotion that gets 10 very affordable books in your hands, and helps you discover new writers along the way.

More details about how the Space Travelers StoryBundle works for you are explained in last week’s blog entry. The gist is: you pay what you want for the ebooks, and they will get into your reading device, whatever formatting you use. This helps the writers get new readers.

As for discovering new authors, I already knew Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith, and they are entertaining and never dull. I discovered Robert J. Jeschonek, Lindsay Buroker and Leigh Saunders for their short-stories in anthologies.

However, I will discover Kristine Smith (I met her in 2006 at a convention) with this StoryBundle.

I can’t wait to dive into those new, exciting novels!

 

 

A Delectable Issue of OnSpec

I’m late! I know…

Magazine Data File

Although I regularly miss the submission deadlines at On Spec, I do recommend this Canadian magazine published in Alberta.
I appreciate the work of Diane Walton and Barb Galler-Smith, whom I have had the pleasure of meeting at Canadian conventions, but many others writers, artists, editors are dedicated to making this magazine a success!

I read from one cover to another this number 109.

Sinkhole by Al Onia, takes place in Australia on desert background, where a meteor absorbs all the matter around, creating a hole. The story waves its way between the points of view of the scientists summoned there and Allan, an aborigine working at the cultural center built near Uluru Rock, who trusts in his spiritual traditions to ward off the threat.

Konstantine Kaoukakis’ non-fiction article To boldly go where no teacher has gone, gives a perspective from an English teacher who integrates fantasy and SF reading in his classes, genres that fascinates students who would otherwise be bored. And what efforts to get this new course accepted!

My favorite story, Joyhound, by Calder Hutchison, is a jewel of SF and black humor in a mafia setting, fedora hats included.  Imagine a werewolf who emits pheromones that make him so irresistible, that his prey, bathed in an ineffable happiness, strives to be eaten… In addition, the predator’s saliva is a painkiller. What a sublime treatment, what a heroine in shades of gray! And what link with the murky underworld of mafiosos? Read on and be happy!

Another story, “Two from the Field, Two from the Mill“, by Geoffrey Cole, who loves hockey a lot! Imagine that one night, all the dogs ascend to the sky and disappear, in a “rapture” way. Dogs, these devoted beings, left a big hole behind them, which even Christians seek to fill. A professional female hockey player (we have a visionary author there!) who also lost her dog, must manage the situation in her small town before it turns sour. I had read two stories from Cole, and I appreciate his humor and sport settings. The title hails from a biblical quote (Matthew 24, 36-42).

The other stories are Lee Chamney’s When they burned my bones, in which ghosts experiments such a difficult after-life, but it’s better than nothing! Fear and zen, then.

Spirits’ Price, by Van Aaron Hughes, a fantasy story, where you can get your desire with a well-told tale that appeals to spirits, but there’s a price tag to this. And what is the price of passing on the gift to your descendance?

Death is a Blindfold, by Rati Methrota, a story of encounter of the second type that leaves the witnesses a lasting impression. But if no one believes them and the ET never come back, why stick to it? This author, interviewed in this issue, has been inspired by reports of UFO sightings.

Two interviews complete the issue: Toronto-born Rati Methrota, a resident of Toronto, and René Martinez, the Cuban-born, Toronto-based cover artist who produces colorful and generous illustrations worth of Gaudi.

The prologue by Brent Jans, the organizer of Pure Speculation is worth the detour: “Everyone deserves to be Conned. Brent realizes that his event, which rolls very well, lacks diversity. He will fix it, even if it means skipping a year. The best sentence:

“I struggled with the idea that I was somehow to blame in an SF culture that could somehow accept aliens and elves, but passively and actively made it unsafe for women, people of color. LGBTQ2S, our Indigenous population -basically, anyone who was not me.”

We do not often get the point of view of an organizer, and his efforts to make his event accessible (like what I witnessed at the Utopiales in Nantes, who have sign language interpreters, and the first two rows of seats reserved for deaf people.)

By moving the premises and cutting the entrance fee, Brent made the Pure Speculation Festival accessible to wheelchairs, and for many low-income fans. And no, he did not regret it nor di he get bankrupted. Those are very encouraging words to read these days.