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The call came late last night, with an Albertan area code and a very friendly man asking for me and asking if I knew the reason for his call. Of course I didn’t. But then he said, “you’ve won an Aurora Award”, and that made my evening.

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I was honoured to have Icarus Down included among the finalists for the Best YA category this year in the Prix Aurora Awards (also known as the Aurora-Boreal), but winning was a pleasant surprise. It was announced Saturday night at Halifax science fiction convention HalCon, and I’m pretty sure nobody knew in advance. I asked when I could announce, and the man told me to go ahead and cheer, so I did, on Facebook and Twitter, to a lot of great responses.

It looks like a great time was had in Halifax, and I’m sad I wasn’t there (not that you need much of an excuse to visit Halifax). Robert Sawyer had a fantastic night, winning both the Best of the Decade category for The Neanderthal Parallax and Best Adult Novel for Quantum Night. Margaret Atwood (along with Johnnie Christmas and Tamra Bonvillain) was also honoured with Best Graphic Novel for her work, Angel Catbird. Indeed, here’s the full list of winners:

  • Best of the Decade: The Neanderthal Parallax, Robert J. Sawyer, Tor Books
  • Best Novel: Quantum Night by Robert J. Sawyer, Penguin Canada
  • Best YA Novel: Icarus Down by James Bow, Scholastic Canada
  • Best Short Fiction: “Marion’s War” by Hayden Trenholm, Strangers Among Us: Tales of the Underdogs and Outcasts, Laksa Media
  • Best Graphic Novel: Angel Catbird, Volume One by Margaret Atwood, Johnnie Christmas and Tamra Bonvillian, Dark Horse Books
  • Best Related Work: Strangers Among Us: Tales of the Underdogs and Outcasts edited by Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law, Laksa Media
  • Best Visual Presentation: Arrival, director, Denis Villeneuve, 21 Laps Ent, FilmNation and Lava Bear
  • Best Artist: Samantha M. Beiko, cover to Strangers Among Us: Tales of the Underdogs and Outcasts
  • Best Fan Publication: Speculating Canada edited by Derek Newman-Stille
  • Best Fan Organizational: Randy McCharles, chair, When Words Collide, Calgary
  • Best Fan Related Work: Derek Newman-Stille, Speculating Canada on Trent Radio 92.7 FM

Thanks to R. Graeme Cameron of Polar Borealis Magazine for posting this list. The organizers of the Prix Aurora Awards have also issued an official press release.

Congratulations to all of the nominees and winners, thanks to the people organizing the Prix Aurora Awards, and thanks especially to everybody who voted and nominated and who supports Canadian speculative fiction.

Sat, Sep
2
2017
Sat, Sep 2, 2017

The Fourth Computer

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It has been 11 years, 10 months, and 20 days since I switched from the Windows universe to MacIntosh, but who’s counting? Today, we said goodbye to the oldest MacBook in our family, a 2008 unibody aluminum model purchased 8 years, 5 months and 4 days ago. I managed to sell it for $150 to a young man in Hamilton.

It had been the workhorse of the family, but things get old, software gets updated, and requirements get more onerous. I upgraded to a MacBook Air, and then to the current MacBook Pro (now over two years old), while Erin got herself her own MacBook Air, and the children got our hand-me-downs.

The unibody MacBook was showing its age. Its trackpad stopped working, so we replaced it with a USB Mouse. Then its wi-fi card gave up the cost, so we purchased a USB wi-fi nodule. Finally, it got so slow at running Minecraft that we set it aside and tried to buy Daughter the Younger an inexpensive computer to play with.

That didn’t work out. Windows has moved on since I departed, and the new system is so alien to me, I can make neither head nor tail of it. It also doesn’t play well with Minecraft for OsX. Worse, the computer we bought, an Acer 2-in-1 combination tablet/laptop was flimsy and underpowered as all get out. Daughter the Younger abandoned it in frustration and took to borrowing Erin’s laptop whenever possible.

Finally, this week, at Erin’s suggestion, I went on Kijiji and found somebody selling their desktop iMac. Their model was from 2010, and somewhat underpowered compared to our latest laptops, but it looked in good condition and the seller only wanted $500. After some negotiation to find a time to pick up the iMac, I got it in the car, brought it home, and set it up in Erin’s writing shed.

It works quite well, and will probably be even better when we upgrade the current 4 Gb of RAM to 16. It’s everything Erin needs to write while she’s in the shed, and Daughter the Younger can use Erin’s laptop during those times, though Erin has been quite clear that the laptop remains hers when she needs it, like on business trips.

The whole thing was a bargain considering that I also sold the old MacBook for $150 and the Acer for $100. Apple has taken a lot of criticism, much of it justified, for failing to keep up its design excellence when it comes to its latest models, but I think it says a lot about the overall strength of Apple that a seven-year-old iMac is still perfectly serviceable for this writing family, and an eight-year-old laptop with a bum trackpad and broken wi-fi will still sell for more than a Windows computer purchased not more than a year ago.

Take that, Windows!

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Fri, Aug
25
2017
Fri, Aug 25, 2017

On Hydro Rates

I wrote this column for the Kitchener Post back on March 7, 2017. It remains pretty relevant today…

A lot of blame to go around on hydro file

OPINION Mar 07, 2017 by James Bow Kitchener Post

Sometimes, politicians just can’t win. We elect them to make tough decisions, but when tough decisions get made, we reward them with unpopularity and electoral defeat.

Too often, politicians are enticed to make decisions that are popular, but are bad for the public over the long term, leaving future politicians to deal with the unpopular fallout.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the debate over Ontario’s rising electricity rates. Currently, Ontarians are mad as hell over the high cost of electricity in this province. The target of their anger has been premier Kathleen Wynne, as Conservative and New Democrat critics harangue her as the culprit for different reasons.

The Conservatives claim that the Liberals paid too much for green energy initiatives and locked in deals for years that pushed our rates up. The New Democrats blame privatization and power companies putting profit above public interest.

There is a lot of blame that should be laid at the Liberals’ door, but the fact is all three parties have made good and bad decisions, as well as popular and unpopular decisions, regarding our electrical network. They all share the blame for our current situation.

In the eighties, the Ontario Conservatives of Bill Davies and the Liberals of David Petersen spent billions investing in nuclear power plants but refused to pay up front for the construction. Plants like Darlington were built entirely on credit during a period of high interest rates. This move significantly increased the debt Ontarians are still paying off.

The New Democrats under Bob Rae tried freezing rising power rates, only to have power companies refuse to invest in new and better power production. The Conservatives under Mike Harris tried privatizing parts of the electrical grid and found that exposing Ontarians to market forces meant rapidly raising rates.

The Liberals under Dalton McGuinty inherited a power grid that was struggling to keep the lights on, as seen by the power blackout that darkened Ontario and several American states in August 2003.

The current Liberals have made our power grid cleaner and more robust, but did so by securing public-private partnerships by guaranteeing profitable rates over the next several years.

The Liberals also made bad decisions for their own political benefit, such as shutting down unpopular power plants as they were under construction at the cost of billions in penalties.

And now, to deal with the mounting backlash against high electricity rates, Premier Kathleen Wynne announced plans to refinance Ontario’s debts associated with our electrical grid. By lowering payments on the debt, our rates may drop as much as 25 per cent, but we’ll be paying those interest payments for years longer, meaning we will be paying billions more than we should.

As our governments scramble, our opposition spins the issue in the most partisan way possible. They exaggerate the impact Ontario’s green energy initiatives have had on Ontario’s debt problem. Some even suggest we spend more on nuclear — the power source that put us in this debt in the first place.

In this haze of blame and liability, is it any wonder that Ontarians are confused, frustrated and looking to blame the one in charge?

But this doesn’t solve the long-term issues we are dealing with. If we want to have an honest debate about high electricity rates, all parties should admit their share of their culpability and offer criticism and suggestions for the benefit of Ontarians, rather than their own partisan interest.

Tue, Aug
22
2017
Tue, Aug 22, 2017

On Facing the News

Here’s an excerpt of a column I wrote for The Kitchener Post on August 14, 2017:

Being reminded of my children’s tenacity

OPINION Aug 14, 2017 by James Bow Kitchener Post

When Daughter the Elder was one year old, we cut cable television out of our home. There was too much violence on television, and we were wary of the way the shows lulled us onto the couch.

We downloaded the programs we cared about, and took control over what we watched. But I wondered if we were sheltering our daughter too much. I hadn’t counted on other families.

I was shocked to find Daughter the Elder singing Disney songs when we hadn’t shown her a Disney movie. But there are currents of culture and information flowing past our children from the moment we send them to preschool. They really do pick it up through osmosis.

In our naiveté, we think our children don’t pick up on the news of the world, and for a while I think that’s true. Think back on the earliest major news story you remember; how old were you at the time? How did you find out about it? Chances are, your parents had the radio and television on and didn’t realize you were listening.

We didn’t try to hide things from our kids. We answered questions when asked, and they seemed to accept our take. Recently, however, Daughter the Elder and her friends’ attitudes have changed. They can look beyond our take on the news and draw their own conclusions.

My daughter has become politically aware at a bad time. The news today is full of the awful incompetence of Trump and his nuclear sabre-rattling with the insane leader of North Korea. She fears nuclear war.

I could tell her that I was in Grade 5 when The Day After debuted. I could tell her that her mother lived in Omaha in the 1980s and regularly saw the Looking Glass flying overhead — the secret plane that would command the war effort after all ground control had been destroyed.

I could tell her that her grandparents performed duck and cover drills, and that my father was listed with the Canadian Reserves during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I could tell her that we’ve known these fears and lived through them, and likely she will live through them too.

But I get angry when I think this. We’ve betrayed the promise of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I remember the awe and joy of that day when the threat of nuclear annihilation rolled back.

Yes, there were other perils to face, but we’d moved back from the brink, and the promise of that was that our children wouldn’t have to fear as we feared.

However, talking about this with Erin, she pointed out that this promise that our children will never grow up in fear has been largely illusionary.

Today, African-American parents sit their kids down and give them a different talk about the facts of life. They tell them how to stay safe when they are stopped by police. They tell them that a lot of people hate them simply because of the colour of their skin. This was in evidence long before the events of Charlottesville this past weekend.

They don’t have a choice, and neither do parents in other ethnic and religious groups. And, I don’t have a choice, either.

The world has dangers that our children have to face and overcome eventually. We blanch because we remember our own childhoods, and how terrified we were.

But, we forget how we lived through them, and we underestimate our children’s tenacity as they live through that fear as well.

(link)

Since writing this, I think the tide turned in some key ways. Ordinary people were incensed at what they saw in Charlottesville, and they joined those who have been working long and hard organizing. The Boston Neo-Nazi rally was swamped by anti-racist protestors. I see people who are more engaged now than before. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, but a part of me hopes that we may have crossed the watershed. We’ll see.

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Erin snapped the photo above. Didn’t ask what the tornado on sale was. She regrets not doing so.

I’m writing this in a motel room in Nashville. Daughter the Elder is kind of disgusted by the, shall we say, inexpensive accommodations, but it’s a perfectly serviceable place to sleep. It also has a surprisingly excellent outdoor pool.

And it’s packed! Totally and completely. We were, frankly, lucky to get this place for $80 per night when I booked it eight weeks ago. Someone here from Baltimore booked a room six months ago for $60, and he noticed someone else paying upwards of $200 for a room today.

We are heading out Monday afternoon. I had planned to stay overnight in Nashville, but as decent as the motel has been in terms of its service, they still assigned me a smoker’s room. And it seems that the hotels had been anticipating a flood of people tomorrow, and aren’t getting it, so we’ve lucked into a room in downtown Louisville. The executive suite normally sells for $313 per night, and we’re getting it for half price. It’ll be nice to be pampered.

There’s been a lot of driving on this trip, but we did see some beautiful cityscapes. Cincinnati pushed us off our Interstate as the one Interstate bridge over the Ohio River was at a standstill over construction, and I convinced Google Maps to find me an alternate that took me through the city’s downtown. Cincinnati has some interesting things going on, with rugged terrain, some run down areas, but a pretty built-up and invested-in downtown. And we were impressed by Louisville, which is so full of trees, and gave us a fantastic fried chicken lunch. We also saw more than a few “Welcome Immigrants/Refugees” and even a “Ditch Mitch (McConnell)”. Not something I would expect from the red state of Kentucky.

Now it’s time to sleep, and see the lights go out all over the city of Nashville tomorrow…

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