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Canadian booksellers pick top science fiction and fantasy books of 2012

Q&Q contacted independent booksellers across Canada to get their picks for the top science fiction and fantasy titles of 2012.

Chris Szego, manager of Toronto’s BakkaPhoenix Books, says sci-fi and fantasy are becoming mainstream genres. She speculates the appeal is a byproduct of big-budget film franchises such as Harry Potter, Batman, and Lord of the Rings.

Over the past year, Walter Bruce Sinclair, co-owner of Vancouver’s White Dwarf Books, has observed the waning of Twilight-style fiction. “There has been a glut of paranormal romance and zombie novels, which have crowded out other genres,” he says. “This seems to be running its course, and we’re starting to see a resurgence of hard science fiction.”

Click on the thumbnails below to read more about the year’s biggest books.

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Q&A: Kevin J. Anderson on collaborating with Rush, steampunk, and Fan Expo

U.S. sci-fi writer Kevin J. Anderson has published 115 books, including spin-off novels for popular series like Star Wars, The X-Files, and Dune. Since 1993, 47 of his novels have appeared on bestseller lists.

Anderson will be at FanExpo in Toronto this weekend, signing copies of his new “steampunk novel,” Clockwork Angels (ECW Press), a collaboration with Rush drummer and lyricist Neil Peart, based the band’s latest album.

When did your fandom for Rush begin?
I grew up in a very small town in Wisconsin that didn’t even have a record store. We’d get these little mailers from the Columbia Record Company that had these little perforated stamps with album covers on them. The stamps for Rush’s 2112 and A Farewell to Kings had these science-fiction-like pictures on them ,and suddenly a whole world opened up. From there I followed everything that Rush did.

How did your relationship with Neil Peart and the band come to be?
As I got out of high school, around when the band came out with Grace Under Pressure, I was writing my first novel, Resurrection, Inc. As I was plotting out the novel, I was finding things in the music that seemed relevant to the story. I shifted the novel a bit so that every song on that album had a counterpart to chapters in the book.

I didn’t know Rush at that time – I was just a fan boy – but I acknowledged the band in the book. I signed a couple copies and sent them off to their label, Mercury Records. I got a letter back from Neil saying he liked it. We’ve been friends for 23 years now.

How did this cross-discipline project come to be?
When Neil was developing the story for the album he was already using me as a sounding board for some of his ideas. So as the album’s story came together, I was already talking to him like a novelist. I didn’t realize I was being auditioned.

He sent me the lyrics to the album, which are snapshots of the story, so I already had it intellectually in my head, but it wasn’t until I got the rough tracks of the finished music with Geddy Lee’s vocals, the bass, Alex Lifeson’s guitars, and Neil’s drums that it all came alive for me.

What was your collaborative process like?
Neil stayed at my house in Colorado while Rush was on tour. Between two shows we climbed a 14,000-foot mountain peak. During that climb we sketched out the thematic underpinning of the novel and the order of events. I was writing chapters every day and sending them to him, really rough drafts that I wouldn’t normally show anyone. It was a fast process as he wanted the book to come out at the same time as the album. Fortunately I’m a fast writer. There’s a creative momentum when you can tell the story and write and live with the characters and getting immersed in the world.

Do you often listen to music as you’re writing?
I do most of my first-draft writing while I’m hiking outside with a recorder. I’m always off climbing mountain passes or in the middle of the forest. The story I’m writing doesn’t have to be set there, but just having all that extra colour and input is like rocket fuel for my imagination and music does that for me as well. It’s like an added dimension, instead of black-and-white Kansas, it’s Technicolor Oz. It evokes moods and images in my mind that if I’m sitting in silence don’t necessarily come by themselves.

Steampunk has become a trendy, broadly used term. What is your relationship to the genre?
Oddly enough I was writing steampunk back in the ’80s before anyone knew it should be called steampunk. I had Jules Verne* and Dr. Frankenstein in a steam-powered hot-air balloon in one of my books from 1989. I thought it was a refreshing view of the future the way the Victorians thought it was supposed to be – instead of a gritty, dark Blade Runner kind of future. This is a fun and colourful fantasy version of science and industry.

You are no stranger to events like Comic Con and Fan Expo. What are those events like?
There are a lot of intense fans and very dedicated fans, and I happen to be one of them, but I also straddle the fence by making my living at it. I can talk for hours with other fans about the lyrics of an old Rush album or comparing different versions of Star Trek episodes or who was the best Doctor Who. I fit in with these people because I’m one of them.

What is your favourite Rush album?
Clockwork Angels because I’m so closely connected to it, but Grace Under Pressure shaped my career as a writer. I got something out of it that inspired me to do better work than I would have without it.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post misspelled Jules Verne’s surname.

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Book links roundup: Carol Burnett gets book deal, Guardian’s hunt for a 10th title, and more

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Canadian literary event roundup: April 20-26

  • Fan Expo Vancouver celebrates science fiction with Spider Robinson, D.D. Brant, A.M. Dellamonica, and Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Vancouver Convention Centre (April 21-22, check website for times)
  • Blue Metropolis Festival offers readings, panel discussions, master classes, literary performances, slams, and awards, Opus Hotel, Montreal (April 20-23, check website for times)
  • Michael Christie reads from The Beggar’s Garden, Waverley Resource Library Auditorium, Thunder Bay (April 23, 7 p.m., free)
  • Seven Readings for Seven Masters, University of Toronto Masters of Arts in creative writing graduates read, Supermarket, Toronto (April 23, 6 p.m., free)
  • This Is Not a Reading Series presents the launch of Richard Stursberg’s The Tower of Babble: Sins, Secrets and Successes Inside the CBC, Gladstone Hotel, Toronto (April 24, 7:30 p.m., $5)
  • Gary Geddes reads from his travel memoir Drink the Bitter Root, Runnymede Library, Toronto (April 24, 7 p.m., free)
  • The Anansi Press Poetry Bash features readings by Erin Knight, Dennis Lee, A.F. Moritz, and Erin Mouré, Tranzac, Toronto (April 25, 6:30 p.m., free)
  • John Gould reads from 7 Reasons Not To Be Good, Christianne’s Lyceum of Literature and Art, Vancouver (April 26, 7 p.m., free)

Quillblog is looking for photos from literary events across Canada. Send your photos to

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Book links round-up: HarperCollins expands entertainment offerings, forthcoming book from Michelle Obama, and more

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Erin Bow’s Plain Kate wins TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award

Erin Bow has won this year’s TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award for her historical fantasy YA novel Plain Kate, published by Scholastic Canada.

Bow received her $25,000 prize at a gala event in Toronto last night. The Canadian Children’s Book Centre also announced winners of the following awards:

Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award ($20,000)
I Know Here by Laurel Croza; Matt James, illus., Groundwood Books

Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-fiction ($10,000)
Case Closed? Nine Mysteries Unlocked by Modern Science by Susan Hughes; Michael Wandelmaier, illus., Kids Can Press

Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People ($5,000)
The Glory Wind by Valerie Sherrard, Fitzhenry & Whiteside

John Spray Mystery Award ($5,000)
A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee, Candlewick Press/Random House of Canada

The CCBC also introduced the Monica Hughes Award, which will honour excellence in the children’s science fiction and fantasy genre. The inaugural $5,000 cash prize will be awarded annually, starting October 2012. To be eligible, the book must be an original work in English, aimed at readers ages eight to 16.

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Book links round-up: hidden meanings, rhetorical devices, and more

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Book biz round-up: Anna Porter on the “shaky state” of Canadian publishing, and more

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The Writers’ Trust of Canada presents 2010 Dayne Ogilvie Grant to Nancy Jo Cullen

Poet Nancy Jo Cullen has won the 2010 Dayne Ogilvie Grant for best emerging gay writer in Canada, with honours of distinction presented to fiction writers Lisa Foad and George K. Ilsley. The jury was made up of writers Brian Francis and Suzette Myer, and grant founder Robin Pacific.

Cullen is the author of three books of poetry: Science Fiction Saint, Pearl, and Untitled Child, all published by Frontenac House. She has received an Alberta Book Publishing Award and was shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award for best first book of poetry, the Writers Guild of Alberta’s Stephan G. Steffanson Award for Poetry, and the City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Book Prize.

Established in 2007, the annual award is presented by the Writers’ Trust of Canada to an emerging gay or lesbian writer “who demonstrates great promise through a body of work of exceptional quality.” It is sponsored by donor Robin Pacific, in honour of her late best friend Dayne Ogilvie, an editor, writer, and passionate supporter of literature. The prizes will be presented at a ceremony during Pride Week in Toronto.

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Harlequin tries for some online love with digital publishing venture

Harlequin Enterprises, best known as a publisher of romance novels in the traditional “dead tree” format, has just launched an online publishing house, Carina Press. According to the Carina home page, the new venture will focus on romance novels but “will also acquire voices in mystery, suspense and thrillers, science fiction, fantasy, erotica, gay/lesbian, and more.” An inaugural blog post on the site provides a kind of mission statement for Carina: “There are hundreds of fantastic stories out there that for one reason or another don’t yet have a home. Our intent is to give them one and provide the authors behind them with opportunities to play an active role in this exciting and ever-changing digital space.”

Indeed, a quick scan of the Carina site indicates that authors will be required to play a very active role in promoting their books: the FAQs page says that authors “have more control over [their] own brand” in the digital arena and that Carina will provide the tools to help authors begin “self-promoting in the digital space.”

Additionally, Carina authors will not be paid an advance, but instead will be “compensated with a higher royalty.” And Carina does not offer digital rights management to prevent authors’ work being copied or downloaded illegally.

According to a Harlequin press release, Carina books will be sold directly to consumers via its own website and various third party websites. The release continues:

“As a digital-only publisher Carina Press is a natural extension to our business; it builds on our digital strength and leadership position. We expect to discover new authors and unique voices that may not be able to find homes in traditional publishing houses,” said Donna Hayes, CEO and Publisher of Harlequin Enterprises. “It definitely gives us greater flexibility in the type of editorial we can accept from authors and offer to readers.”

Angela James, described in the press release as “a well-known advocate for digital publishing,” has been named executive editor of Carina. The “press’s” first books are expected to appear online in spring 2010.

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Eva Stachniak's Empress of the Night

Eva Stachniak poses with a copy of her book, Empress of the Night

Tea and snacks inspired by Eva Stachniak's Empress of the Night

Rimma Burashko with author Eva Stachniak

Eva Stachniak talks to the audience about the best and worst of Catherine the Great's favourites

Eva Stachniak smiles as she signs a copy of Empress of the Night for a fan

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