Marie Bilodeau Archive

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Book Review: Nigh Book 1

Ages ago, I said something – seemingly innocuous – about how Marie Bilodeau’s writing style would lend itself to a serialized novel. Imagine my surprise when the acknowledgements of Nigh’s first volume called me out, by name, for that recommendation.

“Adam Shaftoe…This is on you!”

A portent to be sure, and while it’s not usually my role to play the Haruspex, I dare say that Nigh’s first installment bodes simultaneously fantastic and terrifying for the balance of the novel.

Even though Nigh’s inaugural entry only amounts to sixty pages (or so my Kindle tells me) it has already managed to throw this reader for a few loops. Case in point: the balance of the preamble mentions faeries. Naturally, I braced for fantasy. The novel opens, however, with an introduction to Alva Taverner, an automotive mechanic and amateur horologist. And as quickly as I settled in for day one of Shadowrun, an all-consuming mist shrouded the small town of Lindsay, Ontario, and Nigh turned my thoughts toward Stephen King.

The stopover in King’s territory, however, is a brief one. Rather than housing monsters, the mist itself is a monster. It smashes cars, manifests soul reaving avatars, and twists the terrain into a series of organic bear traps. Whatever presumptions a reader might have about Nigh being a “faerie story” of the pedestrian variety should immediately but locked in an iron box and cast into the sea. In but a turn of the page, the tedium of the small town gives way to the sort of brutality one would expect to find in the pages of an Andrezj Sapkowski Witcher novel.

Bilodeau also seems intent on keeping Nigh reasonably far removed from the usual (i.e. boring) high-fantasy tropes. Nigh’s protagonist may be of exceptional lineage, but she isn’t about to go on a Skywalker-esque journey of self-discovery. Granted there’s a mystery to unravel, but there’s no reason to believe Alva and her over-sized wrench aren’t capable of meeting the challenge before them. The absence of the heroic cycle’s prelude further suggests Nigh will more likely follow the pattern of a survival story; in this case it’s Robert Kirkman meets the Brothers Grimm.

I think it’s also fair to presume there will be a considerable environmental theme to the story. As I mentioned before, the violent nature of Nigh’s apocalypse is decidedly aimed at the edifice of human civilization. Cars are smashed under the fist of an impossibly powerful force. This same force splits and shatters roads as if they were made of cardboard. At one point, a car gets knocked off a jack, bisecting an unwary mechanic in the process. The mist rages against the humanity’s products, but people, save for the aforementioned mechanic, appear as fodder to be consumed by the mist.

Similarly, the eventual weaponization of the natural world strikes as an immediate contrast to the professional background of the central players. Consider how mechanics and watchmakers labour to maintain the artificial systems that make civilization function. In the case of watch makers, they go so far as to impose an absolute order on nature through the conscious and exacting measurement of time. I can’t imagine these pieces of character development being coincidental to the apocalypse.

While there’s much more of Nigh to come, its introduction is nothing short of fantastic. Despite Marie Bilodeau’s existing and well-deserved reputation for doing terrible things to her characters, Nigh reflects a darker turn from her previous books. Where those works were a slow burn to various horrors and cruelties, Nigh offers no such gentle warm-up. Red shirts are introduced, humanized, and then mercilessly killed in a way that would make George R. R. Martin raise a concerned eyebrow. Though thematically appropriate, here’s to hoping we don’t have to wait until spring for Nigh’s second installment.

Nigh Book 1

Author: Marie Bilodeau

Publisher: S&G Publishing


5

Adam’s First Blog Hop

Last Friday, Matt Moore tagged me in a blog hop. What’s a blog hop, you ask? Apparently, it’s a Ponzi scheme with writers at the helm. Marie Bilodeau tagged Matt; wherein he had to answer a handful of questions before tagging three other writers to do the same thing. Little did I know, Marie wasn’t the genesis point of this seemingly infinite regression. Marie was tagged by Eileen Bell, who was tagged by Mahrie Reid, who was tagged by Mary M. Forbes, who was tagged by Sara Walter Ellwood. Forget about Ponzi schemes, this is like following the genealogy of a character in a George R.R. Martin novel. Nevertheless, I’m happy to participate. Here are the questions that Matt put to me.

1) When did you know you wanted to be a writer. It must be a specific moment.

This is actually an easy one for me. It was April of 1999, toward the end of my grade 12 year of high school. For the most part, I only wrote in high school when somebody held a knife to my throat and said, “words on paper or else I bleed you slowly.” I liked the process, but my love of video games and movie watching trumped most other concerns at that point in my life.

My relationship to writing started to change when I took OAC Theatre (this is back when Ontario had five years of high school) and half my grade depended upon writing, producing, and directing my own one act play. That pushed me way out of my comfort zone. It is one thing to write a science fiction story for an English class, but it’s another thing to make a science fiction story work on stage. The “I want to be a writer” moment came on a Friday evening after my play made its debut in our class’ one act festival.

Yeah, that’s the kind of high school I attended. You didn’t perform the play for your peers, you aired your dirty laundry for the public.

When the dust settled on the festival, my teacher and the head of the theatre department sat myself and four other directors down for the critique session. I hated the critique session. It was not unheard of for these debriefings to reduce student directors to tears. When they finally got to my play, the head of the theatre department looked me in the eye and said, “I hate science fiction, but right now, the only thing I hate more than science fiction is you for making me like science fiction.”

That’s the moment when I knew that I could make this writing thing work.

2) Which of your stories would you like to see come true?

Hmmm, this is tough one. Being that most of my stories are set in terrible versions of the near-future, I don’t know that there are many I would want to come to pass. However, in the spirit of fair play, I’ll pick the transhumanism story that I have been shopping around. I like to think that when humanity figures out how to use biomechanical augmentations to improve quality of life, it won’t precipitate a debate on what it means to be human, followed by persecution and fear of that which is not.

3) A new writer comes to you and says “I feel like I should quit writing.” What do you say?

“Good, you should probably quit, at least for a little while.”

I know that sounds capricious, but there is method to my madness. Half a dozen years ago I started to feel like I was writing on autopilot. That is to say I wrote because I was afraid to not write. If I wasn’t writing, then I wasn’t a writer, and if I’m not a writer, what the hell am I?

Sometimes a person needs to stop and find their footing. My hiatus only lasted about three months before I couldn’t ignore the myriad of ideas that kept popping up into my day-to-day thoughts. If/when a writer on a break gets to that point, they can pick up their pen because they know it is something they want to do.

4) Twilight turned vampires into brooding, sexy teens. What’s the next monster (yes, MONSTER!) we should make sexy? And how?

Okay, wait for it…

Sexy Horse Vampires.

The horse vampires are very anthropomorphized – think along the lines of Thundercats, only horses. The rest pretty much writes itself.

A teenage girl wants her father to buy her a horse so she can hang out with the equestrian club at her private all-girls prep school. The father concedes to her demands, as pushover fathers are wont to do, only the horse that he buys her has a dark secret with ironic consequences. The more the horse vampire feeds on the girl’s magic blood, the more he turns into a man. But the more he becomes a man, the more he wants to bang her (or thinks about banging her since we want to keep this PG-13 as to bring in as wide of an audience as possible), and those impulses make him revert into horse form. Thus do we witness the eternal struggle between man and beast…and vampire.

Publishers and film producers of the world, I await your phone calls and dump trucks of money.

And now to spread this blog hop to three more people. I’m tagging Nicole Lavigne, K.W. Ramsey, and Simon McNeil.


0

Fiction Friday: The Aurora Awards Edition – Part 2: Marie Bilodeau’s The Legend of Gluck

The Barbarian by ~XiaMan via Deviant Art

Image by ~XiaMan via Deviant Art

This week’s Aurora Awards edition of Fiction Friday changes gears from alternate Earth primate assassins to sword and sorcery fantasy. Before I get into the review I’ll offer one quick disclaimer. I’m not the biggest reader of fantasy stories. Moreover, I thought the first half of The Fellowship of the Ring (book) and the entirety of Peter Jackson’s movie of the same name were boring as sin. Those formative experiences have, for good or bad, shaped a lot of how I evaluate fantasy stories.

What’s it about?

The Legend of Gluck was originally published in Dragon Moon Press’ When the Hero Comes Home anthology. As such, the story centers on events that occur after Gluck the Barbarian, ninth of his name, has fought with an alliance of elves, dwarves, and fairies to defeat Klar the Dark. The story’s opening scene sees Gluck dragging the decapitated head of Klar the Dark back to his ancestral homeland.

For Gluck, defeating Klar was never about saving the world from the forces of evil. Gluck’s motivations were much more personal. Among his people, Gluck the Seventh, Gluck’s grandfather, was believed to actually be Klar the Dark. Therefore, Klar’s festering inhuman cranial remains were to be the proof that absolved Gluck’s family line from the shame that had been heaped upon them. Unfortunately, Lurp the Seventh, chieftain of the barbarians, refuses to acknowledge Klar’s maggoty head as acceptable proof of Gluck the Seventh’s innocence. When Klar’s head comes back to life, things really get bad.

Why it works

First and foremost it tells a story in a fantasy setting without having a word count that is best conveyed in scientific notation. (I’m talking to you, George R.R. Martin.)

There’s also the fact that Marie Bilodeau has eschewed every awful stereotype of barbarians in her construction of Gluck and his tribe. These aren’t the sort of barbarians who include lamentations of widows among the things that are best in life. Gluck’s people have a well developed class structure and vicious internal political squabbles. The few lines of text that shed light on this reality make Gluck’s people seem more akin to Florentine nobles than any sort of Sumerian gimmick.

While there’s an inevitable pathos that comes with stories about war veterans, regardless of the genre, war is hell, The Legend of Gluck draws upon it with the utmost in subtle brushstrokes. In doing so, Gluck’s return home contrasts the difficult relationship between people of worldly perspectives and those who are more provincially minded.

Gluck’s people cling to ancient racial stereotypes of elves as sneaky and dwarves as lazy, despite the fact that those people fought a war, which in the case of the fairies was a genocidal affair, on behalf of the isolationist barbarians. In the hands of a lesser writer, a scenario such as this would lend itself far too easily to a pro-military propaganda piece disguised as fantasy. Such is not the case with this story. Gluck may see his people as narrow minded cowards when they turn on his elven comrade in arms, yet he also recognizes that his sense of self, as well as his personal honour, has grown beyond his tribe’s limited definition. In that realization, going home does not mean returning to the place he was born, but the place for which Gluck took responsibility: the world at large.

The Most Memorable Part

This bit, right here.

Gluck grabbed his axe – the double edged weapon was covered in nicks, but still sharp.

““Wait,” Alara shoulted, but Gluck ignored her, rushing forward. He embedded the axe in both Klar’s eyes with a cross hit. Dark liquid gushed forth.

If I live to be one-hundred twenty years old, I will never, ever be able to get that image out of my head. Awesome.

The Bottom Line

Marie Bilodeau’s The Legend of Gluck might work within established fantasy confines, but it tells a tale that imagines the barbarian as a character who is as sharp as the weapon he wields. There’s a persistent appeal to emotion, but reason is the dominant motif that carries the narrative. Unburdened by excessive world building, the plot is fast paced yet remains suitably complex. Rather than reinventing the wheel, Marie Bilodeau simply fixes horse to cart and lets the story happen. This is exactly what every fantasy story ought to strive for.

The The Legend of Gluck was originally published within the When the Hero Comes Home anthology. Joining the CSFFA allows for access to this story, as well as many other great works of Canadian fiction.

Next week, Randy McCharles’ One Horrible Day.