“The Emperor’s Dragon”

I’ve sold a short story, and it will appear in the next issue of NewMyths.com. I’m not sure it’s science fiction, because it introduces no extrapolated science or technology ideas. Instead, it looks at the development of aviation in the distant past.

When I was doing some reading on the history of aviation, something struck me: the Wright brothers were not ahead of their time. I say this because of the way aviation exploded across the globe in the years following their 1903 flight. It was as if they let the genie out of the bottle.

For thousands of years, humans had dreamed of flying, but progress was sporadic and slow. The Montgolfiers flew a hot-air balloon in 1783, but it went nowhere. Did we have transatlantic balloon flights in 1800? Nuh-uh. Dammit, they were French: they had Champagne. They could have been doing a thriving business in sight-seeing excursions. Pardon the pun, but it just didn’t take off.

Otto Lillienthal made over two thousand glider flights in the late 1800’s and any modern observer would recognize his aircraft as a hang-glider. But he remained a novelty, a curiosity. There could have been hang-gliding clubs taking railway excursions to fly the Alpine slopes in droves, but there were not. Where was our dream then?

But after the Wright brothers did their little hop at Kitty Hawk, progress was exponential. A mere sixteen years later, in 1919, Alcock and Brown flew across the Atlantic. By 1931, the Supermarine S.6B was flying at 400 mph (on floats!), and in 1947, Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in level flight. Let’s stop and think about that: we went from the first powered flight to the speed of sound in less than fifty years. Orville Wright was alive, aged 77, when Captain Yeager flew the X-1.

The speed of this progress suggests that aviation was waiting to happen, like a dam about to burst. The Wright brothers made not the first crack, but the critical, fateful one.

I omitted the role of war in my summary, but it is inescapable. The Vickers Vimy flown by Alcock and Brown was a modified WWI bomber. The S.6B was a forerunner of the Supermarine Spitfire. And Chuck Yeager’s flight was at least partly a military project.

Aviation is good for warfare, and vice versa.

But what if the dam had not burst in the twentieth century? What if the river had flowed much earlier?

China had silk and bamboo a long time ago, and they experimented with manned kites and developed a good understanding of some aspects of flight. To say that this was before the Wright brothers would be an understatement; it was around the time of Jesus Christ.

By a thousand years ago, the Chinese had gunpowder, and were close to developing rockets. I think they could have devised a form of powered flight, and could have used it to defend the Great Wall on their northern border.

The technology I imagine is plausible, but risky. You wouldn’t volunteer to pilot such a contraption.

You’d have to be conscripted.

“The Emperor’s Dragon” will appear in issue #39 of NewMyths.com on June 15th.

Keycon 34: Sunday

I agreed to three hours of programming on Sunday, and I ended up doing four. That’s kind of nuts, but it was actually okay. All of the rooms were within one floor of each other, so walking time was minimal. I had two back-to-back sessions, then a one-hour lunch break, then two more back-to-back sessions, and that took us to the closing ceremonies.

First up was an hour of readings. I joined Sherry Peters and Melinda Friesen for this, to try and improve the audience numbers. To be honest, it didn’t really work. Still, our tiny audience was nice, and there were questions. I read the first scene from Avians, Sherry read from Mabel the Lovelorn Dwarf, (the first of her series) and Melinda read a suspenseful scene from Subversion, the sequel to Enslavement. We kept our readings short, in the five to seven minute range.

Right after that was a panel on Critique Group Survival with Lindsay and Daria. I was grafted onto this panel late in the game because the convention planners didn’t want to make my Sunday so hectic. But when Lindsay asked me, I jumped at the chance. Their critique group made a huge difference to my novel opening, and quite likely helped make it good enough to get a publishing contract. See this older post for more. So I talked about that, and we urged the writers present to seek out critique groups. Take your pages. Leave your ego at home. The harshest criticism will do the most good.  Try to find a group with at least some members in the same genre.

Lunch, and the three of us joined a group of other writers in the hotel’s restaurant: Gerald Brandt, Craig Russell, Sherry Peters, Melinda Friesen. Craig entertained us all with a devious thought experiment about the desirability of intelligence and honesty, and it gave me a chance to unwind for a bit.

Next up was Lindsay’s panel on Aviation & Airships. She had everyone fill out a five-question quiz. Not exactly True or False, the choices were more like Plausible and Improbable, or something similar. The idea was to look at some tropes and misconceptions, like, “If a pistol bullet is fired through the skin of an airliner at altitude, there will be an explosive decompression.” While the audience was scribbling, we talked about some aviation fiction scenes that missed the mark. Lindsay’s questions were devious enough that no-one got all five right, at least not by our definition. Two guys tied with four out of five, and we settled it with a run-off question. In the end, I gave both of them signed copies of Avians. I don’t think my book was the draw here. I think it was the chance to participate and compete that drew people to this panel. Lindsay gets all the credit on this one – I was dubious, but I now count this a lesson learned. I’m already scheming to do something a bit similar at my next convention.

Last was How Do Writers Read? This panel featured Author Guest of Honour Kelley Armstrong, DAW author Gerald Brandt, and Den Valdron, who is with Five Rivers, same as me. I originally planned to nod politely while the better-known authors did most of the talking. However, for personal reasons, Gerald asked to step out of the moderator role, and I was asked to fill in. Not quite at the last minute; I had four hours to prepare. But during those four hours, I had three hours of panels. The show must go on. I basically winged it from the program description. Luckily, all the panelists were in fine form, and it was a fun panel.

As you can see, I had no time on Sunday to attend anyone else’s stuff. Said some quick goodbyes in the Dealer Room, and then I had to run, because we had a drive home ahead of us, and a deadline to retrieve our dog from the kennel.

This was the most involvement I’ve had in any con, and it could have been grueling, especially with a schedule that put so much on one day. It could have been, but it wasn’t: I had a really good time at Keycon this year.

 

Dinner Debriefing: Sous Sol

Sous Sol is tucked away in a basement in Winnipeg’s Osborne Village. There’s barely a sign. I’d say you have to be hip to eat there, but then I’d have to explain how I snuck in.

The menu is small, and changes often, so I don’t know how long that link will work. The ambiance is candlelit. The art is consciously trashy, which pairs well with the dim light. The chinaware is ornate, but mismatched, as if it were bought at yard sales. The food is divine.

Caroline and I joined our friend Donna, our Winnipeg guide to out-of-the-way bistros.

I started with the French cheese selection: a sharp goat cheese, an unpasteurized Trappist and a bleu, with an apricot compote, a tomato coulis and crostini. I let the ladies eat the bleu in exchange for a sample of the Fennel Salad they shared.

Caroline had the pork tenderloin, paired with the mushroom ragout. The pork was perfect. I chose the beef noisette with king oyster mushrooms and Calvados barbecue sauce. I also teamed it with the mushroom ragout. Donna had the crab croquettes with remoulade, poached egg and caviar. Technically, that’s a side dish, but it was as generous as the entrees. She got an order of sweet potato gnocchi for sharing. Everything was excellent.

Donna ordered the wine, the Chateau de Gaudou Malbec Merlot. It was too dark to see the colour, and I draw the line at turning on my smartphone’s flashlight to check it out when other people are trying to enjoy a meal. It tasted rich and dark, and we enjoyed it.

Caroline and Donna shared the last slice of a chocolate cheesecake, but I don’t remember the details.

Would I go back? Yes, definitely. In fact, this was our second visit.

 

 

Keycon 34: Saturday

On Saturday, I had a light schedule, with just one presentation in the morning. This is the first time I’ve gone to a convention as part of a team. Three of us from one critique group worked at supporting each other. I did my slideshow on Alternative Aviation in SF, with Lindsay Kitson’s help on the projector and Daria Patrie looking after details of giving away a signed copy of my book.

There’s no need to go into the content of my presentation in this post, the online version is available as a page on this blog.  Despite ensuring in advance that I had the right cable for the job, my tablet would not send anything to the projector, so we had to run the pictures from a USB stick. A couple of images didn’t display, but nothing that did real harm to the talk, and it was quicker than setting up my spare projector. (I’m a pilot. I have a backup plan for everything. I had three USB sticks.) Audience participation was good.

After that, I was free to wander around the convention. I ran into my nephew Keith and his family, and otherwise tried to follow Lindsay and Daria’s panels. Then I heard another presenter needed a projector, so I headed up to the admin suite to see if I could help. Of course, the cable I had didn’t work for his laptop, so he went to the hotel’s concierge, and they got him set up.

While I was doing that, I missed my friends’ panels on self editing, so I showed up in the boardroom for Daria’s panel on poetry in SF. Her co-presenter was MC (Matt) Joudrey, and he opened my eyes to some of the poetry hidden in speculative fiction. Example: “One Ring to Rule Them All.” Daria brought some works by some of her favourite poets in the genre. Whose names I should have written down, I now realize.

In the afternoon, I took in a couple more panels, one on Myth & Legend, and one on Point of View that tightened up my understanding of the different third person forms. Said hi to Melinda Friesen, because we would be doing readings on Sunday, along with Sherry Peters.

I ran into some friends in the Dealer room. One offered to review Avians, and when I pulled one of my author copies from my bag to sign, startled me by insisting on paying for it. Later, at supper with my wife and a friend, it was pointed out to me that this was the first sale of one of my books. Toasted that with a sense of wonder.

 

Keycon 34: Friday

Keycon is an SF convention held in Winnipeg on the May long weekend. I go because they have lots of stuff for writers. A few years ago, KeyCon 30 was the first sizeable convention I attended. I went to panels on publishing and agents, and I signed up for some blue-pencil sessions.

I remember being depressed after that. I went in thinking that with the book written, the rest would be easy. I left knowing that finishing a book is just the beginning.

I persevered.  I found a publisher. Avians is coming out in a few months.

Now I’m a panelist and a presenter, and I know most of the other writers there. I even own a display stand to show off my book.

Friday evening I had one panel, but it was perhaps the most challenging of the weekend. Chris Barsanti, the convention organizer who contacted me about attending, suspected I might be a Hiyao Miyazaki fan. His hunch was correct: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is one of my favourite movies, and influenced my own story telling in several ways. Chris suggested we do a panel on Miyazaki and Flight. Miyazaki’s other films are worth watching, too, so I rewatched Kiki’s Delivery Service and Castle in the Sky, and took in Porco Rosso and The Wind Rises for the first time. This is the kind of gruelling convention prep that the professionals do, I suppose. Good thing I did.

We were never able to find any other fanboys panelists to join us, so the two of us had to work hard. Chris brought the notion that flight is almost a character in Miyazaki’s works, with its own character arc and resolution. I argued that flight is more of a recurrent theme for Miyazaki, like feminism, pacifism and ecological sensitivity are. All of those are influences on my own work, as are his richly complex antagonists.

I still think Nausicaä is the best of his films. It is one of a very few films that I have watched more than twice.

We had a good discussion, and the right audience. Two people stopped by the table afterwards to recommend Last Exile, an anime series from the same people as Blue Submarine No. 6, but with flying machines. I’ve been watching it ever since I got home.

 

 

Dinner Debriefing: Inferno’s on Academy

We were in Winnipeg for the weekend: I was going to KeyCon, a convention with writerly stuff, and Caroline was planning to go plant shopping. We hooked up for dinner each day.

Inferno’s in St. Boniface is one of our favourite Winnipeg restaurants, but with our hotel near the airport, and my convention downtown, there wasn’t time to venture so far. Inferno’s on Academy offers a similar menu, with much less driving, making it possible for us to eat, drop Caroline off back at the hotel, and still get me downtown in time for the opening ceremonies at 7:00.

We went at around 5:00, so there was no need to worry about noise or a busy kitchen. The food was tasty: we had wonderful calamari, and I sipped a Bulldog beer, while Caroline had a glass of house Chardonnay. We made it a seafood theme, Caroline chose mussels and frites, I went with the arctic char with gruyere. Both were good, and Caroline got her frites extra crispy, as she asked.

Highlight of the evening was Caroline’s dessert, a chocolate fantasy that swept her away.

I don’t do ratings, I only say whether I would return. Yes I would. I still prefer the original Inferno’s Bistro location, because I like the ambiance a little more, and find the servers more knowledgeable and a smidge more attentive. But if I was in the neighbourhood, I’d happily go to Inferno’s on Academy again.

 

 

Prose & Cons: My Keycon Schedule

In May, I’ll be in Winnipeg for Keycon. The organizers consider me a published author, which is nice of them since Keycon 34 runs from May 19th to 21st, and Avians won’t actually be released until August 1st. Blatant plug: Avians is available for pre-order now at Five RiversKobo, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

I get to do stuff.

FRIDAY

On Friday evening, at 8:00PM, I’m attempting Miyazaki and Flight with Timothy Gwyn: Flight has fascinated humankind for centuries. Join our panelists as they discuss anime master Hayao Miyazaki’s use of flight in his films, and how they’ve inspired writers and fans alike.

Hayao Miyazuki’s anime works, especially his Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, have been a big influence on my fiction. He portrayed some lovely and fantastic flying machines: airships, multi-wing flying fortresses, jet powered gliders, and more. Not only that, he made the machines and their flight characteristics integral to his plots. The other panelists are still TBA.

SATURDAY

Saturday, I have it easy.

From 11:00AM to 12:00 noon, I present Alternative Aviation in Science Fiction with Timothy Gwyn: From Autogyros to Zeppelins: a catalogue of unusual aircraft past, present and future. A look at the strengths and weaknesses of each, plus how much technology is needed to build them, and how well they fit into different sub-genres of SF. Examples from noteworthy fiction, and how they played a role in plot or worldbuilding. Do you need air transportation in the age of steam, or on an alien world? Alternative aviation may hold the answers you’re looking for. Remember: getting there is half the fun!

I did this slideshow at When Words Collide last year, with Lindsay Kitson’s help. She has offered to run the projector and help again. Wait, did she say help or was it heckle?

After that, I’m free to roam around and take in friend’s panels. Such as Lindsay’s, and also Daria Patrie’s. I’m looking forward to How to Edit Your Own Work, and Why You Need an Editor, with Lindsay Kitson, J. Boone Dryden, Diane Walton and Daria Patrie, Point of View, with Gerald Brandt, Melinda Friesen, Lindsay Kitson, and Daria Patrie, Women in Speculative Fiction with Kelley Armstrong, Tamsen McDonough, Lindsay Kitson, and Van Kunder, and Critique Group Survival with Lindsay Kitson and Daria Patrie.  I’m in their critique group, and it’s been invaluable.

SUNDAY

Sunday, I’m busier.

From 11:00AM  to 12:00 noon, I’m doing the Book Reading with Timothy Gwyn, Sherry Peters and Melinda Friesen: Timothy Gwyn reads from Avians, Sherry Peters reads from Mabel the Mafioso Dwarf, and Melinda Friesen reads from Subversion. A question and answer session follows the readings. Stay until the end to receive a free ticket for a chance to win $40.00 in Dealers Room Dollars. One ticket, per person, per Reading Session. Draw to be held Sunday at noon.

Sherry and I go back several years, and I’m looking forward to meeting Melinda.

From 2:00PM to 3:00PM it’s Aviation and Believable Airships and Aircraft in Science Fiction with Timothy Gwyn and Lindsay Kitson: An interactive session with two pilots who are also writers. Lindsay Kitson and Timothy Gwyn tackle the credible and incredible in aviation fact and fiction. Learn how getting aviation right can enhance your story. Some pointers on how to keep it real with aircraft and airship scenes that actually work.

Lindsay and I both cringe at some of the things we see written about aircraft. In exchange for putting up with our grousing, audience members brave enough to take a quiz will have a chance to win one signed and dated author’s copy of Avians. Remember, that’s a pre-release first edition.

I might give away a second copy at one of my other slots. It’ll be a surprise.

From 3:00PM to 4:00PM, I have How Do Writers Read Books? With Kelley Armstrong, Gerald Brandt, Timothy Gwyn and Den Valdron: Can a writer read a book for pure enjoyment without critiquing the writing? Can genre writers read books within their own field without being overly influenced by those books? What books do writers read? What books do writers recommend aspiring writers to read?

This will be a nice way to finish up. Gerald Brandt helped me write queries and gave me great advice on a word-count problem. I’ve seen Kelley Armstrong at cons, but never really spoken to her, despite us having a name in common. Like me, Den Valdron is with Five Rivers Publishing, and I was at the launch of his The Mermaid’s Tale at When Words Collide in Calgary last summer.

Come see me and my friends at Keycon. I’m excited about it.