After Armageddon – A SHTF scenario

This History.com show on a global flu pandemic offers a ton of great tips, many of which are applicable in almost any survival situation.

Posted in Blogging, Videos | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Review of Slow Apocalypse

Despite wars with Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as 9/11, the United States’ dependence on foreign oil has kept the nation tied to the Middle East. A scientist has developed a cure for America’s addiction—a slow-acting virus that feeds on petroleum, turning it solid. But he didn’t consider that his contagion of an Iraqi oil field would spread to infect the fuel supply of the entire world…

In Los Angeles, screenwriter Dave Marshall heard this scenario from a retired U.S. Marine and government insider who acted as a consultant on Dave’s last film. It sounded as implausible as many of his scripts, but the reality is much more frightening than anything he can envision.

An ordinary guy armed with extraordinary information, Dave hopes his survivor’s instinct will kick in so he can protect his wife and daughter from the coming apocalypse that will alter the future of Earth—and humanity…

So reads the preview on Amazon of John Varley’s Slow Apocalypse. Somehow I missed this one when it came out, but I saw it on a trip to the book store – and it sounded interesting enough to get me to cough up the $10.

Overall, it was a decent read with an interesting premise – a screenwriter hears something ludicrous from a retired Army Colonel who used to provide him with story ideas. The characters are generally likeable and the story is interesting. Varley keeps the apocalyptic mayhem rolling with natural disasters (Dave Marshall live in LA, think about it) one after the other, as well as the things we might expect if the power went out and our high energy civilization collapsed.

The protagonist, Dave, after seeing his informant assassinated almost in front of his eyes, flees the scene and begins to stockpile food, fuel, water and everything else one might need to survive a catastrophe. Interestingly however, most of what he buys is he geared to the short term, not things that will make his life better long term, like seeds or tools or spare parts or even solar-powered chargers for his electronics, as one might need if there was suddenly no gas to power our society any longer. That made it interesting to me, as the author could have turned him into a prepper extraordinaire and ruined the novel. Instead, Marshall and members of his family make mistakes here and there, which is far more realistic than a screenwriter suddenly doing everything right all the time.

The only drawback for me was that I would have preferred to see a more global approach in this novel. Varley sets the novel in Los Angeles and never really leaves the area for very long. He describes in detail which street intersects with another street in LA, which neighbourhoods are located next to each other and so on. It would have been nice to use a broader lens at time to really see how something like this might affect the entire country, if not the world. Other End of Oil novels like Ill Wind and World Made by Hand show a wider canvass and were, I think, stronger for it.

While this wasn’t the best apocalyptic story I’ve read, it was better than quite a few and kept me turning the pages to see what happened next. Best of all, Varley adds an Epilogue so that readers can get some closure and sense of what happened across the country.

*** Three out of five stars

Posted in Blogging, Book reviews | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

I’ll do my best to be awesome!

Okay, I realize most of us already have more than enough email to deal with on a daily basis. However, sometimes it’s much easier to fire off a quick email than it is to write up a post. I know that sounds lazy, but sometimes I wonder if anyone honestly reads the stuff I post here!

So, if you are interested in occasional – and I do mean occasional – emails about Zombie Night in Canada and other stuff I’m doing (like when I’m changing prices, releasing new titles or offering stuff for free), then please sign up.

Newsletter Sign up here

I’ll try to be interesting and I promise NOT to SPAM you, as that’s one thing I hate more than anything myself!

Posted in Blogging | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Review of Supervolcano: Eruption

Yellowstone National Park sits on a hotspot: a plume of molten rock coming up from deep inside the earth capable of volcanic eruptions far greater than any that have occurred in times past. It has been silent for many years, providing false security for a nation unprepared for the full force and fury of nature unleashed.

It begins with explosions that send lava and mud flowing far beyond Yellowstone towards populated areas. Clouds of ash drift across the country, nearly blanketing the land from coast to coast. The fallout destroys crops and livestock, clogs machinery, and makes cities uninhabitable. Those who survive find themselves facing the dawn of a new ice age as temperatures plummet worldwide.

Colin Ferguson is a police lieutenant in a suburb of Los Angeles, where snow is falling for the first time in decades. He fears for his family who are spread across America, refugees caught in an apocalyptic catastrophe where humanity has no choice but to rise from the ashes and recreate the world…

Sounds like a pretty solid premise right? On the surface it is, which when coupled with Turtledove’s story-telling abilities and writing, it sounds like a potentially awesome story.

But Turtledove blows it. He creates a lot of very unsympathetic and unlikable characters, which is his first mistake. The protagonist, Colin, is okay, but the rest of his family are so bad you almost hope that some of them get wiped out by the volcano. His two sons are burn-outs who spend their lives more concerned with smoking pot than doing anything constructive with their lives and his daughter is both promiscuous and man-hating at the same time. His ex-wife is a whiner who spends most of the book complaining that her life sucks and does little to solve her problems.

*** SPOILER ALERT ***

The next mistake he makes is that the disaster really only seriously affects some people living in the flyover states (Colin and his family all reside in California). Sure, people on the coasts have to worry about rising gas prices (preventing them from driving everywhere), power shortages (which make it difficult it is to charge their cellphones), or that the food they are eating – which is still relatively abundant – isn’t as fresh as it was prior to the disaster. The worst thing that happens to any of Colin’s family is that one narrowly escapes the fallout plume and winds up in a FEMA-run refugee camp.

There is no real breakdown in society even though most farms are unable to produce food, there is no money to buy oil/gas to run civilization or really any of the other standard fare of most apocalyptic stories. For me, that was the real kicker, as this was an apocalyptic novel without an apocalypse!

I really enjoy reading Turtledove’s alternate history books – he is an absolute master at it. Unfortunately, he ISN’T a master of the apocalypse and should probably stick to writing alternate history.

Three stars out of five.

Posted in Blogging, Book reviews | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Will your city survive a zombie apocalypse?

Back in March, Estately Blog did some research and came up with this wonderful map of which American states might not survive a zombie apocalypse.

Then, Edmonton’s own Mike Ross, did his own take on the topic, looking at which Canadian cities might survive a zombie apocalypse.

While I didn’t totally agree with his methodology – not all military bases are created equally and comparing St. John’s tiny Naval base with Edmonton’s huge army base was incorrect IMHO – it was still interesting to see.

I also found it interesting that his research dovetailed quite nicely with what I posited for the Zombie Night in Canada trilogy.

So using Mike’s numbers, I created the following visual map of Canadian cities and how they would fare in a zombie apocalypse.

I took some liberties and added in a few cities he didn’t have (Charlottetown, Fredricton, Kelowna, Iqaluit, Whitehorse and Yellowknife). Those city’s colours are NOT based on his research data, which I don’t have access to, but based on educated guesses (climate, military bases, gun ownership, fitness, etc.). In the case of the three Territorial capitals, their colour is based largely on climate (cold most of the year) and gun ownership (lots of people are hunters/trappers and/or members of the Canadian Rangers).

Anyways, here it is…

As Mike noted in his post, you really don’t want to be in southern Ontario is a zombie apocalypse erupts – you’re pretty much zombie bait!

Posted in Blogging, Zombie Night in Canada | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

What makes Edmonton a great place to live and write

Without sounding like a tourist organization advertisement, I’m going to give you a couple reasons why Edmonton is a great place to live and write.

1. Weather

Sure, it’s damned cold and dreary here five months of the year (November – March), but the summers are glorious. I’ve travelled around the world to a couple dozen or so countries and I’ve yet to find a place with such great summers. The average daily high is +24 with 17-18 hours of sunlight. That means the sun is up at 5 am (perfect for an early round of golf) and doesn’t set until after 10 pm, which is great for sitting on a patio and enjoying the evening.

2. The River Valley

While it might not be San Antonio’s River Walk, Edmonton’s River Valley park system is the largest urban park system in North America (larger than Central Park in New York). Parks in the river valley feature paved biking/jogging paths, golf courses, off-road BMX bike paths, playgrounds, man-made lakes, mini-golf courses, paddle boats, snow sledding hills, a dozen or so footbridges, science centres and all sorts of other great attractions.

It also easy to stumble across wildlife in the park, from jack rabbits to deer to hawks and even the occasional bobcat. To top it off, when fall hits, it explodes into vibrant hues of red, orange, yellow mixed with the evergreen trees.

3. Festivals

Edmonton is also known as the Festival City because we have lots of festivals. The Street Performer’s Festival (my personal favourite), the Fringe Festival, the Folk Music Festival, several food festivals (Taste of Edmonton & What the Truck ) and the Heritage Festival to name a few. If you can think of a reason for a summer festival, there’s one in Edmonton.

The only thing Edmonton doesn’t have is an annual winter festival, which will hopefully change soon. But it is yet another thing that makes Edmonton summers amazing. Every weekend all summer long there is something exciting and new to check out.

4. Post-Secondary Institutions

Edmonton now has two universities, the University of Alberta (the first university in Alberta) and Grant MacEwan university, as well as half a dozen or so colleges.

As a writer, it is great to have easy access to so many brilliant people who are willing to answer almost any question a writer can think of. As a student, it is nice to know that you can get a world-class education to kick start your career. As a parent, it’s nice to know that there are excellent institutions for your children to attend sometime in the future.

5. Culture

Edmonton has a vibrant and diverse cultural mosaic with several large ethnic enclaves, including Chinatown, Little Vietnam and Little Italy. Edmonton was also home to Canada’s first (and almost North America’s first) mosque (Al-Rashid Mosque). Just east of the city, the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village gives visitors a taste of the life of Ukrainian immigrants in the early 20th century. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

6. Arts Scene

Despite its relatively small size, Edmonton also has an amazing arts scene. From the RAM (Royal Alberta Museum) which is relocating and getting a facelift at the same time, to the Art Gallery of Alberta to the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, the Citadel and the Winspear, the arts thrive in Edmonton. I’m sure part of it is due to our winters and wanting something to do on those cold January nights.

All in all, despite Edmonton’s harsh winters, life here is pretty damned good here.

Posted in Blogging | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Writing Fiction with Bad Language

Lately I’ve noticed something about reviews on Amazon (and other book sites).

It’s not uncommon for reviewers on Amazon and other sites to mention bad language in the book they are reviewing. That example isn’t a complaint as is often the case, but it still seems out of place in that review.

And before you think I’m griping about a reviews my work has received, let me nip that in the bud. Nobody has ever mentioned in any of my reviews, at leat not that I’ve noticed. Certain characters in my work do use bad language, but I am careful to include a warning that they are not for those under 16 and include graphic violence, harsh language, etc.

It just seems to me a silly thing to even mention in a book review. Characterization, writing, plot, story, etc are all valid things to point out, but complaining that someone says “Fuck” when he gets angry is silly.

Some cite it as a turn off and basically say that they are not interested in anything else the author has published. Others say there is too much foul language and argue that it affected the storyline. However, I would contend that those opinions are typically in the minority. I also would note that these types of comments are often levelled at indie authors and not usually at traditionally published authors.

Bad language however, is hardly the sole purview of indie writers – lots of authors use bad language in their writing. Check out this line from a novel by a NY Times best-selling author;

“Fuckers gonna pay! Motherfuckers gonna pay!”

Any ideas who wrote this? I’ll tell you later…

Writers use bad language to convey emotions, develop characters and portray people realistically. In almost any story about working class stiffs (military, factory work or similar occupations), swearing is not out of place, whereas if you’re writing something about the upper classes in Victorian England, than yeah, it probably makes no sense to add it in.

Let’s be honest. People swear – that’s life. Sure, not all of them swear, but a large number of them do.That’s just the way things are. If a person doesn’t want to read that, then that’s entirely up to them. But it shouldn’t be a factor in book review in my humble opinion.

BTW, the author who wrote the quote above was Tom Clancy, hardly someone noted for bad language in his many techno-thrillers. It takes place during a battle scene in Executive Decision (pg. 1249 of my paperback copy). And it’s not the only time Clancy used bad language in the novel either. Several other times, characters swear for effect, usually anger, but sometimes just because. The hero, Jack Ryan also swore occasionally in previous novels;

“Why is it called golf?”

“Because shit was already taken!”

Posted in Blogging, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

What the heck is happening in Alberta?

Okay, seriously, what the hell is going in Alberta?

In less than a week, there has been not one, not two, but three shocking incidents in Alberta – two of them in Edmonton.

This one was the most disturbing – a woman, likely on drugs, growls then attacks the guy sitting beside her on the LRT (Edmonton’s subway). Check it out:

That was last week.

Then on Friday, in the small town of St. Paul, about two hours northeast of Edmonton, a shootout between RCMP and somebody left two people dead – including a Catholic priest – and three RCMP officers wounded.

The shooter apparently ran the town’s health food store!

Then yesterday (Sunday), Edmonton’s Tactical Team (aka SWAT team) executed a warrant in the city’s southwest and another shootout ensued. This time, only one person – the person wanted on the warrant – died and one police officer was wounded.

Three high-profile and incredibly dangerous incidents in less than a week. It sounds to me like something out of David Moody’s Hater (Hater series)

Posted in Blogging, Random Insanity | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s Emergency Preparedness Week again!

You probably remember the 2011 CDC zombie apocalypse campaign – if not, here is the poster to jog your memory. It’s actually so popular with people, that the CDC still talks about it – and lots of emergency preparedness organizations around the world have copied it.

Thankfully, Alberta hasn’t jumped on the bandwagon and copied the CDC like the province of BC has, but they still talk about the issue, as does the federal government.

The federal government sponsors Emergency Preparedness Week (the first week of May each year) to get people to prepare for the unexpected. This means being ready to deal with natural disasters like ice storms, floods or tornadoes, to dealing with other unexpected crises (like terrorist attacks).

Now this isn’t the Canadian government embracing any apocalyptic scenarios, but rather a way for the government to make people more aware of how long it takes disaster response networks to get up to speed. The government certainly isn’t saying build a bunker and fill it with firearms and cases of ammunition and/or flats of canned goods.

No, what they are trying to get across is that it can take federal agencies (and NGOs) a while to get to a disaster area and begin administering aid and comfort to those affected by it. As such, the government hopes that people are prepared to be on their own for a minimum of 72 hours (3 days) before they can realistically get aid.

Here a number of links that you might find useful:

Potential Hazards & Risks

Emergency Preparedness Plans

Emergency Preparedness Kits

Posted in Blogging | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

10 things I learned about conventions

Last weekend, I attended the Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo and here’s some tips I learned about going to conventions/expos.

1) Have a ‘GO bag’ packed with all the little things you will need – pens (half a dozen just in case), tape, scissors, string, Sharpies, a few extra sheets of paper, etc. You might also want to pack some snacks insdie it, like granola/power bars, trail mix, pretzels, etc.

2) Bring water and some snacks (if they aren’t already in your Go bag). Bring some mints as well – nothing turns people off like bad breath!

3) Make sure your tablet/smartphone is fully charged at the beginning of each day. You’ll need it for photos, to tweet/FB updates to fans and maybe even make a call or two. While I’m not a huge fan of tablets, this is one place where a tablet is better than a laptop. I don’t recommend a laptop, simply because you’ll have to carry it around with you whenever you leave your booth – when you get lunch, when you go to the bathroom, when you go exploring, etc.

4) Make sure you have lots of promotional materials. I used chapbooks, a small 4 page pamphlet with the first chapter of my novel as my main promotional tool. Mhy other tool was a stack of business cards. The front had my book cover on it and the back had contact info AND a QR code for people to find and buy my book.

5) Have a good, short description of your novel memorized and come up with a couple short phrases to write in books – I wrote, “Enjoy the apocalypse!”, “Enjoy the end of the world!”, etc.

6) Have candy or chocolates (individually wrapped) for people to take. A few people will take one and just keep on walking, but most people will at least ask for one first and often, stop to chat with you about your book.

7) Leave your business cards everywhere (see point #4). I was located close to the food court at the Calgary Expo, so each morning, I left a couple on every table in the food court. It helped drive traffic to my table. Another person told me they left theirs on top of the toilet paper dispensers in the bathrooms, “It’s a captive audience!” Good point, but I don’t know if I would go that far. Still, when they are a few cents each, you can leave them all over the place.

8 ) Have adequate signage. Make sure everyone knows what is free on your table and what costs something. It can be confusing for passerbys otherwise. If you accept credit cards, have a sign for that too.

9) Have a partner. I can’t stress this one enough. Bring someone along so you can both wander around the show and talk to people, hand out cards, take meal and bathroom breaks and so on. You can always ‘friend’ those in the booths next to you and ask them to watch your booth, but if they get busy with fans/customers, they won’t have time to talk to your fans/customers.

10) Above all, bring a good sense of humour and some patience. I liked to tease people that the chocolates on the table were 10 cents each. That always got a smile or even a chuckle when I added, “Just kidding, they are free!” You also need to remember that not everyone at a convention will be interested in your book, so expect that people will walk by your booth without stopping. That’s fine. If the show is big enough, you’ll be too busy engaging those who are interested anyways.

Posted in Blogging, Zombie Night in Canada | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment