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October Books

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Issue: 31 Section: Literature & Ideas Geography: Canada Topics: poetry

October 11, 2005

October Books

futureways_web.jpg Futureways
Ed. Rita McBride & Glen Rubsamen
Arsenal Pulp Press, Vancouver, 2005

Futureways is the second in a series of four 'ways' books, which aim to "exploit and decipher genre writing with an entertaining and refreshing collective structure." This is certainly genre writing – any reader who does not enjoy science fiction should steer well clear of this book, which does not transcend any of that genre's limitations. Readers who do like sci-fi, however, should run out and buy it right away. The writing is highly intelligent and precise, posing questions about contemporary science and technology in the challenging way that the masters of this genre have always done. The pieces in the collection, penned by a diverse group of authors-- who are also artists, architects, writers, journalists, curators and critics-- is haunting as well as thought-provoking. The only place where the editors may have fallen short of their goal is in the "collective structure." The collection works as a typical anthology, but loses this reader when it describes itself as a "beguiling novel." Don't distract yourself trying to find the stories' linking elements, or figure out the references to the exhibition. Simply enjoy these incredible science fiction stories.
--Matthew J. Trafford

Mermaid: A Puppet Theatre in Motion
by Alice Walsh
Gaspereau NS 2005

Walsh's book, which aims to give readers an in-depth examination of the Maritime theatre company Mermaid, entirely lacks the liveliness and awe that the company continues to brings to stages across the world. Mermaid: A Puppet Theatre in Motion takes the reader on a lengthy tour through Mermaid's history, from its formation in Windsor, Nova Scotia in 1972 up to the present day. Following the lead of Jim Henson's Muppets, artistic directors Jim Morrow and Sara Lee Lewis, along with the acclaimed Evelyn Garbary, sought to offer entertaining children's puppet theatre. Walsh discusses Garbary at unnecessary length. Although Garbary is a controversial figure of Mermaid's past, the narrative sparks that ought to have been created by tensions between the company's founders are smothered out by Walsh's bad habit of fiddling with miniscule details of performances that span over three decades. This finicky approach, along with an attempt to offer too wide a scope on the history of Mermaid, prevents the chronicler from effectively bringing Mermaid's magic to the page.
--Jessica Grant

salmonwars_web.jpg Salmon Wars
Dennis Brown
Harbour, 2005

Brown provides a thorough and well-balanced examination of the West Coast salmon fishing industry, addressing the various methods currently used by commercial fishers and introducing the major figures in the industry over the past century. If that sounds like something that should interest you, but doesn't, you are certainly not alone. While Brown's book is competently written and he approaches his topic with a certain passion, the style he employs is not gripping enough to inspire a similar passion in his readers. This failure aside, his description of the key controversies in the field during the past decades-- over issues such as licensing, quotas, native rights and environmental impacts-- displays an impressive depth of knowledge in the field. It is impossible to read this book without being convinced of the importance of the issues surrounding commercial fishing; Brown does an excellent job of untangling these while emphasizing the industry's impact on the people whose livelihood depends upon it.
--Guil Lefebvre

standingwave_web.jpg Standing Wave
Robert Allen
Signal Editions: Montreal, 2005

"I have it/ all here in my head," Allen tells us early on in this, his thirteenth book. "I don't know what it's worth." Standing Wave opens on a note of non-promise, a refusal to indulge readers' expectations. This allows Allen to hold words and thoughts down until they've given up to him a certain essential energy that more permissive writers lose. Much of the book is lyrically bare-- "I am writing you because the night/ would not listen"—the better to capture themes of sadness and loss of certainty. Allen works both with sonnet forms and, in the last section, with a jolting arrangement of free verse that recalls fragments of Greek lyric in its deliberately sundered lines. This section is also a narrative challenge, as it continues a story published elsewhere about a turtle on a Ulyssean voyage. This kind of daring allows Allen to move from dryly precise to jubilantly tangential, and I could wish that he had sustained this sense of pushing at conceptual or formal boundaries throughout. The middle section was the collection's only slight disappointment, representing a retreat onto the well worn ground of nature poetry, and for whose located tone Allen gives up the intriguing ambiguity of his original standpoint.
--Linda Besner

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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