Edward Willett

Cave Beneath the Sea, Book 4 in The Shards of Excalibur, now available!

CaveBeneath_theSeaCave Beneath the Sea, Book 4 of my Shards of Excalibur young adult fantasy series from Coteau Books, officially released on November 15. I’ve been thrilled with all the covers of the Shards of Excalibur series, and I think you can see why, looking at Cave Beneath the Sea. All the books have looked fantastic, and I can’t wait to finish off the series in the spring with Door into Faerie, the climactic conclusion.

Here’s the description of Cave Beneath the Sea:

“Seeking to recover the shards of King Arthur’s sword Excalibur before Rex Major (the ancient sorcerer Merlin in a modern-day guise), Ariane and Wally have traveled around the world, but their quest is not over. Thanks to Wally, Ariane knows her mother is alive-and that Rex Major is trying to find her. In Cave Beneath in the Sea, Ariane and Wally race to the Caribbean as they try to find Ariane’s mother and the fourth shard of Excalibur before Major does. As they struggle to stop him, Ariane and Wally must make the most difficult decisions of their lives.”

I had a great time writing Cave Beneath the Sea and I can’t wait for readers to experience it. It’s available directly from Coteau Books, or through Amazon.ca or Indigo, in both paperback and ebook formats.

Of course, if you haven’t read any of the series, the previous three books, Song of the Sword, Twist of the Blade, and Lake in the Clouds, are all still available and awaiting your reading pleasure. You can read more about the series at the website I’ve dedicated to it, www.shardsofexcalibur.com.

Here are some recent reviews:

“The strengths of Willett’s series really shine in these two recent books (Twist of the Blade and Lake in the Clouds). Throughout both, the plot moves with enthralling velocity as Willett heightens the tension for Ariane and Wally. Not only does the race for the shards of Excalibur build momentum, but the challenges Ariane and Wally encounter from family, friends and enemies consistently deepen their characters and force them to grow in significant ways.

“Moreover, Willett provides a wonderfully evocative sense of place. From Regina, Saskatchewan, to Lyon, France, to Queenstown, New Zealand, and the rivers and lakes and clouds through which Ariane and Wally travel, Willett crafts immersive locations that lend genuine vigour to the story…

“At the heart of these two novels, however, is the evolving relationship between Ariane and Wally. In a world of absent parents…they must rely upon themselves and upon each other. They must learn to trust each other, for they are being changed by their contact with and use of old magic steeped in old conflicts, desires and mysteries — all of which become particularly vital in Lake in the Clouds. How Ariane and Wally deal with such changes, and with the increasing responsibilities of their quest, makes them truly admirable characters.

“Willett’s The Shards of Excalibur series…gives fresh life to the Arthurian legends, and there is, indeed, much to look forward to in the next two instalments.” – Matthew Johnstone, Canadian Children’s Book News

“Well written, and fast moving, with touches of humour, The Lake in the Clouds will appeal to young readers who enjoy adventure as well as adults who might like a modern visit to the timeless story of King Arthur and his knights. Recommended.” – Ronald Hore, Resource Links Magazine


Speculating Canada reviews Falcon’s Egg

Falcons-Egg-Cover-194x300Just in time for the Bundoran Press launch party tonight at Can-Con 2015, Derek Newman-Stilles of Speculating Canada reviews Falcon’s Egg:

“In “Falcon’s Egg” Edward Willett takes on the notion of heroism itself, exploring the casualties of war and the results of battle on the psychology of the protagonist who has endured the traumas of war….Willett creates a coming of age narrative that is not limited to a youth. He portrays Lorn as a man, like most others, who is perpetually going through coming of ages, understanding himself in new ways as his viewpoints change with experience. Lorn experiences an awakening to his own ignorance and self denial that lets him finally come to find himself and find meaning in his life beyond the fairy tale narratives of the hero that are portrayed by his society. Willett creates a character who is learning how not to be a hero, but, rather, learning to be a human being.”

Read the whole thing.


Another nice review of Lake in the Clouds

Lake_intheClouds_smallerThis one is from Resource Links, and is posted to Coteau Books‘ website:

“The overlay of the Arthurian legend on a modern Canadian context works surprisingly well. Merlin’s magical powers are invested in Rex Major’s spyware embedded in the internet. Wally’s loyalty and courage accurately reflect both Arthur’s strength and his fatal flaw. Ariane’s coolly calculated actions echo the dispassionate deeds of the Lady of the Lake . . . Readers who are invested in the series will eagerly anticipate the final two books.”

Read the whole thing.

Glowing review in Canadian Children’s Book News

544661-summer-2015-vo 1Twist of the Blade and Lake in the Clouds were among the recommended books reviewed in the Summer 2015 issue of Canadian Children’s Book News.

Reviewer Matthew Johnstone writes, in part:

“The strengths of Willett’s series really shine in these two recent books. Throughout both, the plot moves with enthralling velocity as Willett heightens the tension for Ariane and Wally. Not only does the race for the shards of Excalibur build momentum, but the challenges Ariane and Wally encounter from family, friends and enemies consistently deepen their characters and force them to grow in significant ways.

“Moreover, Willett provides a wonderfully evocative sense of place. From Regina, Saskatchewan, to Lyon, France, to Queenstown, New Zealand, and the rivers and lakes and clouds through which Ariane and Wally travel, Willett crafts immersive locations that lend genuine vigour to the story…

“At the heart of these two novels, however, is the evolving relationship between Ariane and Wally. In a world of absent parents…they must rely upon themselves and upon each other. They must learn to trust each other, for they are being changed by their contact with and use of old magic steeped in old conflicts, desires and mysteries — all of which become particularly vital in Lake in the Clouds. How Ariane and Wally deal with such changes, and with the increasing responsibilities of their quest, makes them truly admirable characters.

“Willett’s The Shards of Excalibur series…gives fresh life to the Arthurian legends, and there is, indeed, much to look forward to in the next two instalments.”

My schedule for Can-Con 2015

aOXhYrAE_400x400I’m really looking forward to being Author Guest of Honour at Can-Con 2015 in Ottawa Hallowe’en weekend. The draft programming schedule is now online, and here’s what I’m going to be doing (in addition to the scheduled events below, I’ll be taking part in Blue Pencil sessions, giving feedback to writers):

Friday, 7 p.m. Opening Ceremonies: Edward Willett, Trevor Quachri, Cristina Perissinotto, Derek Künsken (m)

Friday, 9 p.m. Bundoran Press/SFCanada Party: Featuring readings, mingling with fans, writers, editors and publishers.

Saturday, 1:30 p.m. Reading from Falcon’s Egg and Cave Beneath the Sea.

Friday, 2 p.m. Derek Newman-Stille of the Aurora-winning Speculating Canada interviews Aurora-winning GOH Edward Willett.

Friday, 4 p.m. Authors and Editors in Dialog: Marie Bilodeau, Gabrielle Harbowy, Edward Willett, Hayden Trenholm.

Saturday, 8 p.m. Writers Read Their Juvenilia: The earliest writings: Ryan McFadden, Andrew Barton, Gabrielle Harbowy, Edward Willett (m).

Sunday, 11 a.m. Writer-editor-publisher etiquette: Gabrielle Harbowy, Hayden Trenholm (m), Edward Willett, Leah Bobet.

Sunday, 1 p.m. Improvisation: What skills do improv comedians import into their writing? Edward Willett, Hayden Trenholm, Jim Davies, Matthew Johnson

Sunday, 2 p.m. The Road Goes Ever On: Song Cycle of Tolkeinian Poems Set to Music in the 1960s and Performed by Edward Willett at multiple WorldCons.

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Cover art reveal: Door into Faerie

81rEdc1D1+LHere’s the cover art for Door into Faerie, Book 5 in my Shards of Excalibur YA fantasy series, due out in May from Coteau Books. And here’s the description:

In the climactic fifth book of The Shards of Excalibur, Ariane, Wally, Flish, and Rex Major are on a collision course, converging on the resting place of the final piece of the sword: the hilt, long ago removed from its original hiding place by the descendants of King Arthur. When Wally uncovers its surprising location, far closer to hand than they’d ever guessed, it seems all Ariane and Wally have to do is claim it and reforge the sword to defeat Merlin forever.

Except…how, exactly, do you reforge a magical sword? Especially, how do you do it when the richest man in the world is on your trail and pouring all of his enormous resources into stopping you?

When the pieces of the sword are at last reunited, the results aren’t at all what Ariane and Wally imagined. With Excalibur whole again, the long-closed door into Faerie swings open wide. Who—and what—emerges from it may destroy everything and everyone Wally and Ariane have fought so hard to save—and allow Rex Major to snatch victory from the very jaws of defeat.

Fighting side by side, Ariane and Wally must draw on all their strength, courage, magic, and love to save the world…and there’s no guarantee it will be enough.

Read the first chapter of Falcon’s Egg

Falcon's Egg CoverWe’re just a little over a month away from the official launch of Falcon’s Egg at Can-Con 2015 in Ottawa, October 30-November 1, at which I’ll be Author Guest of Honour, and in honour of that august fact, here’s Chapter 1 for your reading pleasure.

The sequel to Right to KnowFalcon’s Egg is a fast-paced action adventure. Discovering a plot to reassert Imperial control over the recently rediscovered Peregrine, Lorn Kymbal tracks the conspirators into the deepest and most dangerous reaches of the planet and beyond. Kymbal, a veteran of the war of liberation that almost costs his life, fights killer robots and his own inner demons as he tries to win freedom for himself and his planet.

Killer robots, people! Need I say more?



Falcon’s Egg

By Edward Willett

Chapter 1

No smoke rose from the ramshackle cabin.

There should be smoke, Lorn Kymbal thought.

He lay in the snow atop a ridge overlooking the clearing, his winter field uniform making him little more than one white lump among many in the snow-drenched landscape, peering through binoculars powerful enough he could zoom in on individual nail holes in the cabin’s rough wood planking. But the windows were shuttered, the door was closed, the snow lay as thick and crisp and even as even Good King Wenceslas could have liked, and there was no smoke.

There should be smoke.

Lorn checked his watch. Two minutes until he was supposed to approach the cabin and meet with the man who had lived there for as long as he could remember…the man who had never asked to meet with him before, or shown the slightest interest in him, despite his long relationship with Lorn’s parents.

He dearly wanted to unsling the multirifle he carried on his back, but one thing he knew very well about Javik, the man in the cabin—if he was there—was that approaching him with a weapon was a very bad idea. Even if he was the one who had asked for the meeting.

Lorn wasn’t even sure why he was so nervous about this whole set-up. The only threats he normally faced in this part of the frontier—where, after all, he had grown up—were winter-starved longtooths and the occasional poacher. The dead-enders of the Skywatchers cult had been cleared out of this region long since. Lorn had cleared out a few of them himself a few months ago, and had a jagged red scar on his thigh to show for it, from a slug which had come within centimetres of taking out his femoral artery, and him with it.Things had generally been quiet here.

But now it’s too quiet, he thought. . As they like to say in the holoadventures.

He scanned the surrounding woods. Nothing moved, and maybe that was why it seemed too quiet. Not a bird, not a barkrat, not a biterbunny. As though everything had gone into hiding.

As though something had scared them off.

Probably just a big predator, Lorn thought. Longtooth, maybe—or a pack of meathawks. Nasty, but nothing I can’t handle.

Though he’d be surer of that with a weapon in his hand.

His watch vibrated. Time to see what’s what at last. He got to his feet and headed down the snow-covered slope.

The door stayed closed. The windows stayed shuttered. The only sound was the crunch of his booted feet in the snow.

On the porch he took one last look round at the dark, brooding woods, then put his hand on the latch. It lifted easily, and he stepped inside.

From the outside, the cabin had looked like the thrown-together-out-of-odds-and-ends shelter of some sort of bearded mountain man. On the inside, as he had suspected it would—though the man who lived there had never before, to his knowledge, allowed anyone to enter it—it looked like the nerve center of a global intelligence gathering operation…which, in way, it was.

But Javik was not seated at the rough wooden table, above which flickered the restless lightning of holographic data displays. Instead, he lay on the bed in the corner, as rough a piece of furniture as the table, made of unpeeled branches. His eyes were closed, but his eyelids twitched, and his lips with them, though he made no sound. The green blanket beneath him was stained and the smell rising from it made Lorn blink hard and swallow. Javik had never been one for personal hygiene, but from the look and smell of things he’d not only not bathed in weeks, he hadn’t moved from the bed for days.

Maybe he’s sick, Lorn thought. He stepped closer to the bed and cleared his throat. Javik didn’t respond. “Javik,” Lorn said. “It’s Lorn Kymbal. I’m here.”

Javik’s eyes jerked open. “Anomalies,” he said, his voice a croak. “Anomalies!” His right hand, which had been lying out of Lorn’s sight on the far side of the bed, suddenly rose. In it he held a small rectangular object, black and featureless—a netlink. “Take it!”

Lorn reached for it. The moment the netlink, still warm from Javik’s hand, was in his grasp, Javik’s hand dropped and he dug under the blankets for something else Lorn couldn’t see. His head turned toward Lorn, his pupils wide black pools. “Now go. Into the woods. Get out of sight.”

Lorn felt the familiar surge of the anger that these days always lay close to the surface. “Like hell! You hauled me all the way out into the middle of nowhere for this! I don’t care how secretive you like to be, you’re damn well going to tell me—”

“Get out!” Javik snarled. His right hand came up again. Now it held a pistol, a massive, ancient slug-thrower of a design Lorn had never seen outside of a museum. The end of the barrel gaped at him like a screaming mouth. “Now!”

Lorn’s hand twitched as though feeling for the familiar-but-missing weight of his own sidearm. Fuming, he backed slowly away, never taking his narrowed eyes from the reeking hulk of the man in the bed. The pistol tracked him to the door.

“Into the woods,” Javik said. Now his voice held a note of pleading. “Into the woods, boy…Lorn. Out of sight. Fast!”

Lorn hesitated. “Javik—”

The pistol flashed and roared and Lorn ducked instinctively but uselessly as a large chunk of the doorframe disintegrated, showering him with splinters. “Damn it, Javik!”

“Out!” Javik said, the sound a howl. “Out! Hide! Now! Time’s up!”

Furious, Lorn turned and slammed out through the door. He ploughed through the deep snow and into the woods, then turned and glared back at the cabin. The man’s finally gone crazy, he thought.

Crazier, he amended. Javik hadn’t exactly been right in the head since the day he’d installed a permanent link to the planetary ’Net in his own brain, and whatever bizarre software-to-wetware translation algorithm he’d come up with to make the interface possible. Why does he even need those holodisplays? he wondered. He snorted. Because he can’t get an upgrade, that’s why. Technology’s leaving him behind. Maybe he’s—

His thought broke off as he heard a faint sound, the rustle of something small moving through the snow. So not everything’s been scared away. He glanced through the screen of branches toward the noise. Probably a barkrat. Too bad I can’t shoot at it without Javik emptying his pistol at me. Make a good supper

He froze. The thing moving through the snow wasn’t a barkrat. In fact, it wasn’t any animal he’d ever seen before.

What it looked like was a giant black spider, but no such creature existed on Peregrine to his knowledge—certainly not in these familiar mountains, though who knew what dwelt in the uncharted jungles of Margaret’s Land, across the sea…

Then he realized what it really was and he tried to stop breathing. Because he had seen something like it before…but not on Peregrine. He had seen it in Mayflower II, the ancient starship in orbit above the planet, whose near-disastrous arrival seven years before had almost led to the planet’s destruction—not to mention his own: he’d almost died there as a teenager.

It was a robot, kin to the maintenance robots aboard that ship—maintenance robots that could also be programmed to kill.

Though this one was much smaller, little bigger than the barkrat he’d first thought it. It scuttled across the snow on eight flickering black legs. It scaled the wall of the cabin. It dashed across the tree-branch roof and dropped down the fieldstone chimney.

Javik’s pistol boomed once, making Lorn flinch and sending snow sliding from the roof.

And then the cabin exploded.

The blast and a wave of searing heat hurled Lorn onto his back, burying him in the snow, while bits of wood and metal and stone tore through the tree branches above him in a deadly hurricane. Bark and leaves and branches dropped all around him. He could hear debris pattering the ground for several seconds.

Lorn hauled himself to his feet, coughing on the acrid smoke drifting past him. He stared at the shattered hulk of the cabin, nothing left but a few blackened support timbers, splintered and splayed out from the few hearth stones left standing like the petals of some strange charcoal-colored flower.

He didn’t bother looking for Javik’s remains; he knew he wouldn’t find them.

Shit, he thought. Shit shit shit. The crazy man with the built-in netlink had always just been here, part of the background of his life as long as could remember. And now, just like that, he was gone.

He lifted the netlink in his hand and examined it. Blank and black, it told him nothing. He’d have to activate it if he wanted to learn anything. Which at the moment seemed like a really bad idea.

Javik knew that thing was coming. He knew it was coming, and he wanted me to see it…and to have this. But why?

Why me?

He hadn’t been close to Javik. The only person who could make any claim to have been close to Javik was his mother. And now I’ll have to be the one to tell her he’s dead. Damn fool. What the hell did he get himself mixed up in? What is he trying to mix me up in?

“Anomalies,” he growled. He pocketed the netlink, turned, and climbed back up to where he had left his pack and his snowshoes, unshipping his multirifle as he toiled up the slope. He didn’t figure he’d be putting it down soon, because whoever had sent that robot likely hadn’t wanted any witnesses. He had to get out of there. “Damn snow,” he muttered as he trudged along the ridgeline toward his camp, a kilometer distant. “How am I supposed to hide my tracks in this?”

The answer was, of course, that he wasn’t. All he could do was keep an eye on his back trail, and hope that if those black spider-robots moved in pairs, they didn’t have enough autonomy to follow trails in the snow—even really obvious trails like the one he was leaving.

But he couldn’t keep looking behind all the time. An hour later he was struggling up a particularly steep and slippery bit of slope toward the rocky outcropping he had chosen as a landmark to mark the route down to his camp, just a couple of hundred metres away on the far side of the ridge. The climb had required him to sling his multirifle again and use both hands to take advantage of the handholds provided by the undergrowth. He knew how vulnerable he was during those four or five minutes, and that made him hyperaware of the sounds in the snow-shrouded woods all around him—otherwise he might never have heard the soft slithering sound of something behind him.

He threw himself to the side. The multirifle was out of the question, but his sidearm was in his hand even before he raised himself up again, facing back down his trail—just in time to see the black spiderbot, twin to the one that had skittered down Javik’s chimney, gathering its metal legs under it. It jumped and he fired at the same time.

The pistol, like the multirifle, could fire a laser, a slug, or an explosive shell. He’d set it to default to the slug, and the bullet caught the spiderbot in mid-air. A single pistol shot, as he knew from bloody experience, couldn’t transfer enough energy to an onrushing human attacker to stop his forward momentum, but the spiderbot massed far less than a human: it wasn’t hurled back, but it was stopped in mid-jump. It dropped into the snow, legs splaying out as it fell. It immediately scuttled forward again, but the momentary pause had given Lorn enough time to thumb his sidearm from slug to laser. He pulled the trigger. A flash of light, and the spiderbot simply…stopped. There was a neat round hole through its center, the edges glowing red but already darkening. Lorn rolled over again and frantically scrambled on up slope.

He’d just crested the ridge when the spiderbot exploded.

The blast sent him tumbling down the slope in a welter of snow. Ten metres downhill he slammed into a tree trunk. Groaning, clutching his bruised side, he pulled himself upright and looked at the cloud of smoke dissipating overhead. “If Javik wasn’t already dead I’d kill him myself,” he said out loud. He shook his head. His ears rang. “And I really should stop talking to myself.” Then he snorted. His therapist had said something like that. “Which is reason enough to keep right on doing it!” he said. Then he clamped his mouth shut, because that had just sounded crazy.

He could see the bright blue of his tent just a few more metres downslope through the trees. With relief, he struggled to his feet and stumbled down to it.

Hoping the spiderbots didn’t travel in threes, he set to work striking camp. He wanted to be kilometres away before dark…and before he looked at the netlink. He had everything in his backpack and was heading down the slope into the next valley over from the one the unfortunate Javik had called home within ten minutes. He continued to keep a close watch on his back trail, but nothing moved, and as he plunged through the snow he heard birdcalls resuming in the trees around him—a reasonably good indication, he hoped, that no strange black spiders were stalking him through the trees.

At the bottom of the valley a stream burbled over rocks, flowing to his right—south—eventually emptying into the Green Falls River, the biggest river in this part of the Peregrine wilderness, and a relatively heavily populated region, though the scattered farms and villages along it were still considered remote from the heartland on the other side of the mountains rising behind him. If he set out straight ahead, over progressively lower ridges, he would relatively soon emerge into the vast desert that dominated the eastern half of the continent, stretching all the way to the ocean. It was out there that he and his father had seen an aircraft crash seven years ago, when he was just fifteen, and had rescued from the wreckage Art Stoddard, whose arrival on the planet from Mayflower II had triggered so much change.

Not enough change, Lorn thought, not for the first time.

His boots were waterproof and heated; he stepped into the stream without hesitation and began picking his way downstream. Running water was still the best way to throw anything off a trail, whether human, animal, or—he hoped—robot. The going would be slow and the footing treacherous, but it was more important to cover his tracks then to traverse large distances. Distance would mean nothing to something like those spiderbots.

As he cautiously made his way along the streambed, checking behind him at regular intervals, he tried to figure out where they had come from. They clearly weren’t of Peregrine design. That pointed directly at Mayflower II.

Could they have been smuggled down from the ship? There were dead-enders on board—Art Stoddard’s parents, for example—who refused to descend to the surface, living aboard the starship as though nothing had changed (though he suspected even the Stoddards weren’t averse to eating the fresh food shipped up to Mayflower II by shuttle).

But the only way to get anything down to the surface from the ship was via that same shuttle, and knowing what he knew of the security procedures in place, he had a hard time picturing how that could happen. If the devices weren’t found during the initial screening on the ship, they would surely be found during the careful examination on the planet. The Peregrine authorities weren’t about to trust to the good intentions of anyone who had chosen to remain aboard the ship that had once threatened to bombard the planet with matter/antimatter missiles.

That didn’t mean, though, that the designs hadn’t been smuggled down, and the spiderbots constructed in some hidden microfactory. Pretty much anything could be made by one of those, given the right programming and raw materials. So that could explain how they had been constructed. The bigger question was why—and without looking at the netlink, it was a question he couldn’t even begin to answer.

One thing was clear. Javik, the man hardwired into the planetary ’Net who had been the first person outside the government to know about the approach of Mayflower II all those years ago, had also known the spiderbot—or something—was coming for him. Which meant not only that he had discovered something someone desperately wanted to remain secret, but also that those same someones knew their secret had been discovered.

The uncomfortable question from Lorn’s point of view, then, was: did they also know Javik had summoned him?

If they did, they knew his name. They couldn’t know where he lived, since he had no fixed address, but they could well know where his parents lived, with his little sister, Melissa, now a teenager; they would know his friends—though there were few enough of those. They could threaten him in all sorts of ways.

And if that second spiderbot had had visual capacity and someone had been monitoring its usage, they could be sending more—or something worse—after him right now.

“Thanks a bunch, Javik,” Lorn muttered. “I love you, too.”

He glanced up at the sky. He had hours more daylight. He intended to make the most of them.

The Space-Time Continuum: The world of fanzines

freelance-augsept-2015-f1-sm1 1Here’s my latest column from Freelance, the magazine of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild

Long before I ever subscribed, or even read, a copy of a professional science fiction magazine, I was reading—and even drawing illustrations for—science fiction fanzines.

In those pre-Internet days, fanzines filled the place today taken by Tumblr and Instagram and myriad other social media sites, allowing fans of science fiction in general, or particular genres (or sub-genres, or sub-sub-genres) of science fiction, to connect with the likewise-interested…likewise-interested who could be very hard to come across in, say, your average small-town (and sometimes small-minded) high school.

I began by reading Star Trek fanzines (probably because I’d read about them in The World of Star Trek by David Gerrold, and in the now long-forgotten hiatus between Star Trek: The Original Series, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Star Trek fans were starved for fresh Trek); then read for a while a fanzine devoted to the Darkover books by Marion Zimmer Bradley; then added one focused on the Sime-Gen stories of Jacqueline Lichtenberg.

But those were just the tip of the fanzine iceberg—and also came very, very late in the iceberg’s formation: fanzines go back almost to the beginning of the genre.

A good brief overview of science fiction magazine/fanzine history appears as an online exhibit at the website of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, which has several special collections of early pulp magazines and comics.

“Fanzine” is, of course, a portmanteau of “fan” (short for “fanatic”) and “magazine.” UMBC defines fanzines, accurately, as “amateur or hobby magazines which are often produced, edited, and published by fans of a specific genre for entertainment and/or use by other fans.”

Fanzines arose because of the explosion in popularity of science fiction pulp magazines like Amazing Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories, Astounding and Weird Tales beginning in the 1930s. It’s an interesting and oft-made observation that science fiction and fantasy readers are far more likely to want to join the ranks of published authors of their genres than, say, your typical mystery or romance reader. The desire to write science fiction, and to talk about it with other fans of the (rather disreputable) genre produced the first fanzines: magazines written, produced, and distributed by fans who were not involved in professional publishing.

As you’d expect from amateur writers, illustrators, and publishers, fanzines weren’t always of the greatest quality, either literarily or physically. (For one thing, the mimeograph was pretty much the only cheap printing method available.) But fanzines flourished because of the social aspect: they would often include mailing lists and addresses, so fans could communicate with other fans (and sometimes with professionals). Fan meetings could be organized, new fans recruited, and fan writing could find an audience. As science fiction conventions began (the first World Science Fiction Convention was held in New York City in 1939; the 73rd took place in August in Spokane), fanzines grew in reach and popularity.

Most fanzines were short-lived—they had a way of eating money and time. But some continued for years. And, yes, more than a few writers began in fanzines and eventually rose to the professional ranks (although the UMBC presentation linked above is wildly inaccurate in suggesting J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, and Edgar Rice Burroughs were among that number—Robert E. Howard died before fanzines really took off, Burroughs began publishing professionally long before they existed, and Tolkien probably never heard of them until the 1960s when The Lord of the Rings hit college campuses in the U.S.).

Printed fanzines still exist today, but most existing fanzines have gone online. The Hugo Awards, and Canada’s own Aurora Awards, both continue to offer awards for fans as well as professionals—best fan writer, best fan artist, etc.—an indication of how important fan activity has always been to the field.

My favorite fanzine is Ansible, run by Dave Langford in the U.K.: as of August 2015, it was up to issue 337. (My favorite Ansible feature is “Thog’s Masterclass,” in which Langford compiles some of the more wince-inducing prose to be found in science fiction and fantasy—sometimes by very well-known authors. In some future column I’ll collect my favorite examples. Fortunately, my own work is not among them…yet.)

Ansible’s site is also a cornucopia of other SF-related information, from the dates and locations of upcoming conventions to, yes, a long list of other fanzines. To explore the fanzine world—and the world of science fiction fans—further, that’s a great place to start: and, if you’re interested in writing science fiction or fantasy, it really is worth your time to check out the world of SF and fantasy fandom, from conventions to fanzines.

Yeah, I know, science fiction fans have a reputation for being rabidly focused on their particular area of interest and dressing up in wild costumes, but really, who are we to judge rabid fans in outlandish costumes?

May I remind you we live in Saskatchewan?

Go Riders!



Sneak peek at Cave Beneath the Sea: read the first chapter!

CaveBeneath_theSeaI turned in the final edited manuscript of Cave Beneath the Sea this week to Coteau Books, which is aiming for a November release. But you don’t have to wait that long to start it: here’s a sneak peek, in the form of the first chapter.

Enjoy–and be ready for the release of Book 4 in just two months!


Cave Beneath the Sea

Chapter 1: Snow Day

Ariane Forsythe stared out the farmhouse’s second-storey window at the swirling snow, and sighed. Just my luck, she thought. Lady of the Lake, in freaking Saskatchewan—where lakes are frozen solid six months out of the year.

Downstairs she could hear the radio playing “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” and Aunt Phyllis singing along, more or less in key. Christmas, she thought. Christmas in two weeks, and I still don’t have a clue where the fourth shard of Excalibur is.

It wasn’t supposed to have worked out like this. When she had first transported Aunt Phyllis and her aunt’s old friend Emma Macphail to the Barringer Historic Farm Bed and Breakfast (and as she’d suggested to Wally, they’d both proved to be remarkably composed about being dissolved into water and whisked across the province in incorporeal form), she’d thought she’d be certain to sense the location of the fourth shard within a day or two. She’d expected to transport herself there easily, grab it, and return, and then go on to find the fifth and final piece, the hilt, within another week or so. With that much of the sword she could apparently (at least she’d been told she’d be able to) force Merlin—now living in the modern world as cybernetics billionaire Rex Major—to give up the piece he had, and that would have been that. Door to Faerie closed, Rex Major reduced to an ordinary man, no more magic, no more Lady of the Lake, back to school, back to her poor cat Pendragon, now living with the lady next door in Regina, back to the ordinary concerns of ordinary fifteen-year-old girls.

Such as finding her mother. With Rex Major no longer a threat, with the power of the Lady vanished from the world, there’d be no reason for her mother to keep running and hiding—if that was what she was doing. Their only lead was a photo from a convenience store in Carlyle. There was no reason to think her mom was still anywhere near that town, or even in Saskatchewan, but at least it was a place to start.

But she’d sensed nothing. The “few days” at Barringer Farm had stretched to two weeks, then three. And now to six.

On December 2 they’d celebrated Wally’s fifteenth birthday. “Now we’re the same age!” he’d said gleefully to Ariane.

“Only until March 12,” she said. “Then I’ll be sweet sixteen and you’ll still be a runty fifteen-year-old.”

He’d stuck out his tongue at her.

Two more weeks had gone by. Now Christmas was coming, the goose was getting fat, and here in a farmhouse Ariane sat.

Sam and Nancy Barringer, the proprietors of the B&B, had greeted Aunt Phyllis like a long-lost cousin. Apparently they’d hit it off big-time during her previous stay at the farm—so much so that, after a week, Sam and Nancy and Phyllis and Emma had somehow decided that Phyllis and Emma would housesit while Sam and Nancy went off to spend an indeterminate number of wintry weeks with their daughter in New Mexico, something they’d always wanted to do but had never been able to take time for.

It had all worked out perfectly. Phyllis and Emma and Ariane and Wally, tucked away in a rustic farmhouse on the northern slopes of the Cypress Hills, their only link to the outside world a land-line telephone, were as hidden from Rex Major’s Internet-surfing magic as they could possibly be. Wonderful.

Except for the little fact that Ariane didn’t have a clue what to do next.

She looked down from the swirling snow to the sheet of paper in front of her. Aunt Phyllis had formally withdrawn her from Oscana Collegiate in Regina, but that didn’t mean she was off the books-hook. It turned out Aunt Phyllis’s old friend Emma was a retired schoolteacher. It had also turned out that the “interesting books” Aunt Phyllis had mentioned seeing in the parlour during her previous visit to Barringer Farm included a number of schoolbooks and classics of English literature. Which was why Ariane was now trying to write an essay about Agnes Macphail, the first woman elected to Canada’s Parliament and apparently a distant relation of Emma’s. She’d gotten as far as “Agnes Macphail began her career as a country schoolteacher.” She’d written that twenty minutes ago.

She sighed and put down the pen, then shoved her chair back from the desk, stood up, and stretched. It was almost time to fetch Wally.

Doing schoolwork without Internet access was a struggle for Ariane, but Wally had clearly felt as if he’d had a part of himself amputated. Not only that, their only hope for tracking down Ariane’s mother was to troll the Web for traces. There was no doubt that was what Rex Major would be doing. Of course, as one of the richest men in the world, he could also hire an army of private investigators, and possibly had.

There was another problem, too. Major had talked Wally’s parents—well, magically Commanded them, actually—into letting Wally withdraw from school and live with him, but that arrangement had been permanently shattered when Wally had fled Major’s Toronto penthouse (clobbering a security guard with a poker in the process), gotten himself to Prince Albert, rescued Aunt Phyllis, stolen a sizeable amount of money from Major, flown to New Zealand on his own, and actually found and retrieved the third shard of Excalibur before either Ariane or Merlin had gotten their hands on it.

Major’s response had been to turn his attention to Wally’s sister Felicia, a.k.a. “Flish.” Being of the same family, she shared Wally’s mystical connection to their distant ancestor, the one and only King Arthur, and thus would apparently serve Major’s nefarious purposes just as well. With Felicia now occupying Wally’s former place in the lap of penthouse luxury on the north shore of Lake Ontario, Major had had no reason to continue to Command Wally’s parents to, basically, forget about their son. Instead, he’d told them that Wally had run away in Toronto.

Ordinarily, a single runaway wouldn’t have made the news, but once police traced Wally first to Prince Albert, then to Saskatoon, and then to New Zealand, his disappearance had become a national story—especially when they uncovered the fact that he’d never used his return ticket, and the last person to see him had been the taxi driver who had taken him to the base of the hiking trail leading to Lake Putahi, where the third shard of Excalibur lay hidden on an island.

A massive search-and-rescue effort had been launched in New Zealand, not surprisingly to no avail, since Wally was safe in Saskatchewan the whole time. The story had finally died away a month ago, with the working theory being that Wally had gotten lost in the mountains of New Zealand and met an unfortunate fate. But since that hadn’t been confirmed, Wally’s photo was in police missing-persons databases all over Canada.

Oddly enough, Rex Major’s name had never surfaced in the media as the person Wally had run away from. The Voice of Command at work, Ariane thought. It was peculiar that both Wally and Flish were immune to Major’s power to Command, although their father, Jim, wasn’t. Ariane and Wally had discussed it and decided it must be the work of the sword. A semi-sentient magical entity, it had apparently decided that it would be in its own interest for the two latest-generation descendants of King Arthur to be protected from outside influences—except, of course, from the influence wielded by Excalibur itself.

Ariane’s and Wally’s problem had been to find a way to get Wally Web access without Rex Major detecting him, or if he did spot Wally, without being able to find him. Wally had pointed out the best way to do that was to access the Web from multiple, widely separated, randomly chosen locations. But Wally obviously couldn’t fly commercially without getting caught in either Merlin’s magical-software net or by the standard screening procedures, so all travel arrangements had to be courtesy of the Ariane Travel Agency: “The Lady of the Lake, for when you absolutely, positively, have to arrive at your destination soaking wet,” Wally had quipped.

Which was why Wally was currently in Gravenhurst, Ontario, “Gateway to Muskoka,” using a public computer in the local library, digging through online newspapers, police reports, photos, and everything else he could think of, looking for some trace of Emily Forsythe, Ariane’s mother.

But the afternoon was getting on (and of course it was already an hour later in Gravenhurst), and the only way Wally could get home was for Ariane to go get him, so it was time to get moving.

She took another look at the snow falling outside, thickening by the minute. She felt a sudden pang of worry. The farmhouse might be safe, but it was also a prison. The farmhouse water came from a well, and the aquifer it drew from didn’t extend far enough for her to travel through it to anywhere else. She could travel through the clouds, but not in heavy snow: she could wield frozen water as a weapon but couldn’t travel through it, so the falling snow acted as a barrier, keeping her grounded.

She could get to Wally from Maple Creek, thirty kilometres away, courtesy of any tap in any bathroom or kitchen. But she couldn’t bring him back there. She could only materialize them in a body of water deep enough to submerge them, and while Maple Creek had a swimming pool, it was an outdoor pool, snow-drifted and forlorn this time of year. Elkwater, the other relatively nearby settlement, had a resort hotel with a pool; but it was a saltwater pool, useless to Ariane.

That meant the only place they could reliably return to after each of Wally’s jaunts in search of Internet access was Medicine Hat, more than an hour’s drive from Barringer Farm in good weather. And the way this storm was shaping up…

Ariane grabbed the backpack she always kept handy, the one that held her bathing suit, a towel, a change of clothes, a waterproof flashlight and a knife. She already wore the first shard of Excalibur strapped to her side beneath a tensor bandage: she only took it off when she was showering or sleeping. She grabbed her coat from the foot of the big four-poster bed and hurried out into the upstairs hall. Six rooms opened onto it, and a central staircase led down from a well in the middle. The whole house glowed with polished wood and antique glass and brass. It was like living in a Lucy Maud Montgomery novel.

She thumped down the stairs. The radio had moved on to “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” but Aunt Phyllis wasn’t singing. Instead she stood in the big kitchen, with its oak cabinetry and black-and-white-tiled floor, one hand pulling back the chintz curtains that hung over the white enamel sink, peering out into the yard. She turned to Ariane, worry plain on her face. “Oh, dear,” she said. “I didn’t realize it had gotten so bad.”

“We’d better go,” Ariane said. “Before it gets worse.”

“Emma had best drive you,” Aunt Phyllis said. “You know I don’t like driving in snow. She grew up on a farm and learned to drive when she was thirteen.”

Ariane blinked at that. Emma Macphail had surprised her pretty much every day since she’d met her. “Okay,” she said. “Where is she?”

“Here,” Emma said, coming into the kitchen from the dining room. Tall, thin, and gaunt, with a shock of unruly white hair, she cut a striking figure. Ariane doubted she’d ever had the slightest problem with classroom discipline when she’d been teaching full time: she must have been terrifying.

Emma already had her coat on and held her gloves in her left hand, the keys to the Barringers’ ten-year-old Ford Explorer in the other. “I’m sorry, Ariane, I was engrossed in my book and wasn’t watching the weather. You’re quite right, we should hurry.” She smiled at Aunt Phyllis. “If worst comes to worst, we’ll just stay at the hotel tonight. I’ll call.”

Ariane zipped up her coat and jammed a tuque on her head. She pulled open the kitchen door and stepped into the small back porch, where she extracted her boots from the pile by the door, then sat down on the wooden bench that spanned one wall of the porch to tug them on. Emma sat beside her to pull on her own practical zip-up boots. Then she opened the back door.

An icy blast of freezing air and wind-blown snow instantly dropped the porch temperature twenty degrees. “Can we get through this?” Ariane said uneasily.

“Can’t tell from here,” Emma said. “There’s not much snow on the ground yet, so hopefully the drifts aren’t too bad. Come on.” She led the way out into the storm.

The Barringer Historic Farm Bed and Breakfast stood atop a hill, with a long drive leading up to it past the barn. Sam and Nancy had long since stopped farming the land themselves, instead renting it out to Jimmy Ferguson, the next-door neighbour who also looked after the snow-plowing-and-shovelling and general upkeep. The barn doubled as the garage, but the Explorer had been left out that morning in anticipation of this afternoon’s trip to Medicine Hat. A thick white blanket covered it, thicker on the lee side, where the wind hadn’t blown it away.

Emma and Ariane trudged through the snow to the vehicle. Ariane grabbed the snowbrush and began clearing the Explorer’s windows while Emma cranked the engine. It started without difficulty—despite the snow, it wasn’t particularly cold, around minus-ten degrees Celsius or so—and Ariane climbed inside. “Good day for four-wheel drive,” Emma said cheerfully as she backed up and turned so they were pointing down the long winding road that led to the grid road that led to Saskatchewan 724, which turned into Alberta 515, which led to the Buffalo Trail, which led to the TransCanada Highway, which led to Medicine Hat. The trip took an hour in good weather.

This wasn’t good weather.

Still, it was early in the winter and as Emma had noted, there hadn’t been a lot of snow yet. As she’d hoped, the roads weren’t drifting closed, at least not yet, and although Ariane could see only a couple of hundred metres ahead, the road was still mostly brown and not white, so Emma was unlikely to drive into the ditch. And they still had a couple of hours of daylight. But coming back…

“I think we probably will need to stay the night in Medicine Hat,” Emma said, echoing Ariane’s unspoken concern. “If it’s still storming we won’t want to try to drive back in the dark.”

“That means a computer check-in,” Ariane said uneasily.

“In my name,” Emma said. “It shouldn’t raise any red flags. Rex Major hasn’t connected me to you lot.”

That we know of, Ariane thought. But there was no point in telling Emma that; she knew it as well as Ariane. Besides, risks were everywhere. Driving into the ditch and possibly freezing to death by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere was probably a greater one than the possibility Major would connect a random check-in at the Medicine Hat Lodge to his young adversaries.


They turned north onto the Buffalo Trail about an hour after leaving the farm. Visibility improved a bit, and they made better time driving north to the TransCanada. Once they were on the four-lane, the storm seemed barely a nuisance. But they’d lost a lot of time nonetheless, and Ariane was uneasily aware that the appointed hour when she was supposed to retrieve Wally from Gravenhurst—6 p.m., his time—had come and gone, and was receding further into the past with every second.

They had the challenging process of travelling by swimming pool down to a science. Every time Wally went on one of his research trips, they would drive into Medicine Hat (after calling the Lodge first to make sure that there was public swimming that day—sometimes, when the hotel was full, drop-in swimming wasn’t available). They went into their respective change rooms and put on swimsuits, leaving their clothes in the locker. (Ariane had made a point of buying a new one-piece to replace the bikini she’d stolen from Flish’s wardrobe, which hadn’t covered nearly as much of her as she liked to have covered.)

They didn’t actually vanish from the pool itself; they didn’t need to. Instead they just waited until one of the bathrooms was empty and no one was watching, and slipped in together. Ariane turned on the tap, and away they went.

She’d become much better at navigating: she could pick a town on the map and find her way unerringly to it, through senses she couldn’t describe, even to herself, especially since those abilities only existed when she was in the magical watery form the powers she’d inherited from the Lady of the Lake permitted her to take. When she materialized again, everything she had done in that immaterial state seemed almost dream-like.

They’d chosen Gravenhurst for this latest trip because, like the other towns Wally had travelled to in order to access the Internet, it had an indoor pool. In the case of Gravenhurst, the pool belonged to the YMCA, and offered recreational adult swimming in the morning. (They’d researched it at the Maple Creek library: they weren’t worried—much—about Rex Major connecting a search for swimming pools to the pair of them.)

She’d taken Wally to Gravenhurst early that morning, the two of them materializing in the YMCA pool and swimming up from the bottom of the deep end, startling two elderly ladies gently exercising in the shallow portion. “Where’d you two come from?” one had said, laughing. “You startled us!”

“And why are you carrying a backpack in the pool?” the other had asked Wally.

“Long story,” Wally had said cheerfully.

“Sorry for startling you,” Ariane added. “Come on, Wally.”

She’d given up worrying about explaining anything to anyone when they were seen arriving in a new location. People would make up their own explanations, none of which, she was pretty sure, would involve the Lady of the Lake, Excalibur, or magical powers.

They’d walked, dripping, out of sight, Ariane had ordered them both dry, and then Wally had trotted off to the change room while Ariane had gone into a washroom, turned on the tap, and headed back to Medicine Hat.

Sometimes Ariane just waited in Medicine Hat until it was time to retrieve Wally, but that morning Ariane had asked Emma to take her back to the farm so she could work on her homework. Considering she’d only managed one sentence of her essay, that had clearly been a waste of time. Ariane stared out the window at the snowy landscape. And now we’re late.

Emma turned off of the TransCanada at the first main road into the Medicine Hat. The Medicine Hat Lodge, a four-storey building of brown brick, stood close by the highway, and two minutes later they pulled to a stop in its parking lot.

The snow had thickened in just the last few minutes of the drive. Emma sighed as she turned off the engine. “Looks like we’re definitely spending the night,” she said. “I’ll book a couple of rooms—one for you and me and one for Wally.”

Ariane nodded. She hurried into the lobby, filled with the fading light of the snowy day outside through the big slanting atrium windows overhead. Emma followed at a more sedate space. “You check in, Aunt Emma,” she said loudly for the benefit of the desk clerk. “I’m going swimming!”

She heard the clerk, a young First Nations woman, laugh. “She’s excited,” she said.

“She loves the water,” Emma said.

“So do I,” the clerk said.

Not like I do, Ariane thought.

The pool area featured a leisure pool and a four-storey dual waterslide. It was quiet that evening. The worst thing from Ariane’s point of view was that the waterpark filled an interior courtyard, so that hotel room windows stared down at it from all directions. But who really noticed an extra kid or two in a pool? She and Wally always materialized at the bottom of the waterslide, and her powers, more finely tuned all the time, allowed her to delay until the area was empty. Who would note that the two youngsters climbing out had never actually gone down the slide?

Into the change room, out of her clothes, into her swimsuit, leaving the shard of Excalibur in its place, snug against her side. She put on the backpack and went over to the change-room sinks: no need to go into the pool to start her trip. She turned on the water. Just before she touched it, she checked the time on the wall clock.

Seven o’clock. Eight o’clock in Ontario. She was two hours late.

Sorry, Wally, she thought uneasily, then let the water take her away.

I’ll be Author Guest of Honour at Can-Con 2015 in Ottawa!

aOXhYrAE_400x400I’m pleased and honoured to announce that I will be Author Guest of Honour at Can-Con 2015: The Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature, in Ottawa October 30 – November 1. Really looking forward to it!

The Editor Guest of Honour will be Trevor Quachri, editor of Analog Science Fiction and Fact, and Professor Cristina Perissinotto from the University of Ottawa will be the Renaissance Studies Guest of Honourfrom New York. As usual, there’ll be a strong science track, with university professors coming in to talk about cutting edge physics, astronomy and cognitive science.

Programming details will follow before long.

If you’re in the Ottawa area, hope to see you and greet you there!