gift guide: When visions of sugarplums dance about, making a mess of things, leaving things sticky.

It’s begun. December. The time of year when people I haven’t spoken to in six months start asking me about “good” presents, the sort of memorable, interesting, quirky gifts that perpetually win. This year, partially in self defence, partially because there’s really no good reason why not, (and I’m certainly not going to write Canada Council Grant Applications for all of you), I’m going to attempt to write a gift guide.

To start, here’s some pretty fabulous reading material.


  • Oryx & Crake and After The Flood: a duo of nested dystopian science future novels from Margaret Atwood detailing the collapse of an utterly believable civilization only a few steps farther down the road. They’re fascinating, beautiful books, not only for the intense, incredible story telling and characters, but for how terrifyingly accurate her future seems, as the science and politics of her future world are not so much invented as they are extrapolated from current breakthroughs in technology and recent social and economic developments. When I first finished Oryx & Crake, I turned immediately to the first page and read it again. Upon finishing After the Flood, my response was the same.
  • Boneshaker: Steampunk! Seattle! Zombies! The ever exciting, ever fantabulous Cherie has fallen in love with every larger-than-life pulp archtype possible, and a few more besides, and hells bells, ladies and gentleman, it makes for a heck of a ride when she packs them all in. (HINT: She’s currently writing an “urban fantasy adventure about a neurotic vampire/thief and her wealthy blind client, now with Bonus! Cuban drag queen and military intrigue”). I haven’t even read this one yet and I’m excited. The reaction to its release has been bloody overwhelming, and all of it positive. For extra fun, Amazon’s offering it cheaper when paired with Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, another grumptious run through the world of sepia-tinted rivet sci-fi/fantasy.

    (One of her publishers, Subterannean Press, is having a 50% off pre-orders sale right now, too.)

  • Scenting the Dark and Other Stories: Primarily a puppeteer, of all delightful things, Mary‘s also on Subterranean Press, and also an incredible, wonderful woman I wholly endorse. This most recent book especially, as not only is she a very dear writer, I love short stories, a format woefully underappreciated outside of Strange Horizons or 365Tomorrows. Her puppeteering story Body Language is now up at OSC’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, as the cover story. (IGMS charges $2.50 for access to the full issue).
  • COILHOUSE magazine: Inform. Inspire. Infect. Mer, Nadya, and Zoetica got together to make a magazine and madly, madly succeeded. Here’s their schtick, “COILHOUSE is a love letter to alternative culture, written in an era when alternative culture no longer exists. On paper and on the web, a collection of articles, interviews, rants, musings, and imagery showcasing the planet’s bravest explorers of Ye Old Future.” Each issue is a piece of art wrapped in design then hammered onto paper. As a bonus, they’ve also got some pretty sleek t-shirts.
  • Chiggers: One for the kids, Hope‘s latest graphic novel is a very sweet story about “nerdy teenaged girls” who meet at summer camp. The local indie bookstore has it on the shelf up next to Twilight with a little sign that says, “this author won an Eisner Award, please give this to your daughter instead.” (Really, I even took a picture.) Salamander Dream, her first book, is available on-line.

    (As a footnote, Charity Larrison, someone I will love forever, also has kid-recommended work available on-line. Start with Busted Wonder, a work of joy if there ever was one.)

  • Y: The Last Man: A graphic novel set for the adults, this time, by Brian K. Vaughan and David‘s darling friend, Pia Guerra. A mysterious plague has killed every man on earth except Yorick Brown, who was somehow spared. Pia’s a solid, very talented artist, and I sorely wish she’d had the chance to contribute to the writing near the end of Y as much she did at the beginning, but even so, they’re well worth your time.
  • The fast fiction challenge by Lee Barnet: One of the best things about following Budgie on-line are his completely delightful, razor wire witty short short replies to a challenge he posted to his journal ages and yonks ago, “requested: “reply with a title (no longer than four words) about which you’d like me to write a fast fiction of exactly 200 words, along with a word you want me to include in the tale.” This little chapbook is 180 of his so-far favourites. Given how clever the man can be, if they’re his favourites, you know they’re going to be killer.
  • Hacking The Earth: “Environmental futurist Jamais Cascio explores the implications of geoengineering in this collection of thought-provoking essays. Is our civilization ready to take on the task of re-engineering the planet?” For $12.99, can learning how to save the planet get any easier?
  • The Age of the Warrior: Selected Writings: Robert Fisk is a war correspondant for London’s Independent. The bleak depths of winter might not be the perfect time for this, but if you’ve ever been curious to learn what is actually going down in the Middle East, here’s a grand a place to start. It’s understandably a bit liberally biased, as the man’s been living surrounded by atrocity and violence for thirty years, but it’s very well possible his writing and perspective on his topics are unmatched.
  • Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony: A magnificent small collection of essays by the scientist Lewis Thomas. I haven’t the foggiest how I acquired my copy. I suspect it was a gift in a batch of books, but I truly do not know, which is sad, as I would very much like someone to thank. Late Night Thoughts is a very pretty book, so elegant and thought provoking it near breaks my heart that the author is dead.
  • Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics: The Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner. They are excellent. I say so. The internet says so. I’ve just realized the time, so that’s all I’m going to say. Find them, read them, laugh, worry, enjoy. The life of the day-job requires I must now get to bed. edit: apparently they’re playing silly buggers all through the second book, so nevermind that one, stick with the first.


    Pipe up in the comments if you’d like a plug to something, (I’m looking at you, David), or even if you simply appreciate what I’m trying to do. The more positive response, the more I’ll put the effort in, and hot damn, have I got a lot of cool stuff I want to show you sitting open in tabs right now.

  • aw, my costume arrived and it does not fit, not even a little bit

    Make something great. Tell people about it. Do it again.


    I was finding over the weekend that my reflexology socks have begun falling down. Not to the point of continual adjustment, but enough that I decided it’s time to invest in another quaint pair of sock garters, (my last ones having gone to the great fuzzy sock drawer in the sky several years ago). Foolishly, I decided my best course of action would be to hit up SockDreams, the most thorough stockings site on the planet. Did I get in and get out, immediately leaving with what I went in for? No, frankly, I did not. High caliber words like angora, silk, lace, chenille, and shimmer, small fantasies, such words, every one, dismantled my conviction and made me stay.

    Charcoal, dirty olive, raspberry and trembling dark plum…

    I barely escaped alive.

    Every category silently tore at me, promising comfort, confidence, femininity, warmth, cleverness, flirtatiousness or sex, laying out possibilities like tarot cards, a future with the top of my naked thigh slyly being touched under a table, a moment of enjoying someone watch me as I slowly roll them on, or perhaps only random conversation at some unknown bus-stop, “I’ve always liked teal.”, meeting, then, my future best friend. Tabs were being opened, spreading across the screen like bleeding, unrestricted stanzas of flashy curiosity equaling, I’m certain, a similarly outrageous price-tag. I had to take action. Judiciously picking my way through the impossible, I first discarded the duplicates and most banal, anything that could be bought later, that never goes out of stock, then shaving at the edges more carefully, manipulating facts, rationalizing bits and pieces away until I was left with only the most unique, red in tooth and talon, and fun.

    In the end, however, I couldn’t manage to cut it down past a final batch of twelve. Some colourful tights for the upcoming winter, a pair of expensive, breathy thigh highs, some knee highs, a set of microfiber arm warmers, a pair of slate gray socks printed with birds on a wire, and a pair of criss-cross button fingerless gloves. I think, though I’m not precisely sure, they should arrive at my home in Seattle tomorrow.

    So, as it’s about to be a bit more imperative: Anywhere know an equally good place to get skirts?

    COILHOUSE 3 is on sale now!

    COILHOUSE, the smoothly wicked paper-child of Nadya, Zoetica, and darling Mer, is now selling Issue 3!

    Today, to celebrate, they’ve posted a tour of the magazine, which includes such treats as Xeni Jardin riding a unicorn, a searing collection of photographs from the Kowloon Walled City, and a Brief Tour of Pre-War Russian Pulp by author Jess Nevins.


    I can’t even pretend I’ve the extra money, but I’ve already bought my copy. It’s the only magazine I buy. I love COILHOUSE like I loved Mondo 2000, not only as a beautiful magazine stuffed with the sort of fascinating ideas that help shape our culture into more what I want it to be, but also as a lovingly crafted, stylish, sleek, and super sexy art object d’fetish. They’re so pretty I leave them conspicuously out when I am done reading them, solid space advertising, so guests to my home will see them and take note.

    Also, for the hardcore fan, which I can not afford to be, they also have t-shirts and stickers.

    today: plus ten for attending the lock-picking session. minus several hundred for missing breakfast.

    Matt “blackbelt” Jones is a clever, clever man, enough so that his spiffy keen blog is in my bookmark folder marked Required Reading right next to my favourite traveler, adventurer and corporate anthropologist, Jan Chipchase. Today’s good news: Matt’s wicked design reaction to Keep Calm and Carry On, Get Excited and Make Things, has been turned into a t-shirt!

    For Men. For Women.

    looking as if an angel had been threatened with a baseball bat

    taking a break on metropolis
    Originally uploaded by Foxtongue.

    I sat on top of a news-box downtown for half an hour with a book in my lap, trying to tune out the religious zealots handing out sheets of paper with the word Jesus at the top. Too exhausted to run for the bus, I was twenty minutes late. No one was there. No one came. I did not expect them to. Dinner had obviously been decided without me. No way to contact my friends, I decided to gather my chores in hand before I went back to the hospital. Official visiting hours are over, I thought, and I am having difficulty imagining myself mouth that I am Devon’s wife.

    The drugstore felt hollow, as if somehow I had fallen into a facsimile. I stood in the hair care aisle and let my eyes scan the products without me, looking for the word Organic. In my head, I would try to concentrate on the mundane task I was undertaking, but instead I would glimpse Devon in surgery, a garden of stars unconscious on a table, the illusion of a slight flash of the metal knife as it sliced into his skin. Eventually I chose two bottles of shampoo and turned to find soap. The cheap soaps are sometimes the best. Less scent means less chemicals. Small thoughts that have nothing to do with what went wrong or his face on the bed.

    Earlier, I had to re-set my day’s plans. Alicia was to come by for eleven and I had set my day by that. Things came up however, as they often do, and it was two o’clock before she could swing by for her errand, so things red-shifted over a bit. I had dinner with Andrew instead of Alastair, and instead of going to a fencing demo, when I got off the bus across from Duello, I followed random impulse and turned left into Gastown. There’s a shop there I rather like, crammed with odd antiques and paper masks. In the basement there’s a chinese chest full of hundreds of small drawers that can steal an hour if your life if you let it. This time, however, I knew exactly what I came for. At the foot of the stairs is a small display of golden music boxes, the sort you crank by hand to hear the music. They’re louder when you place them on wood. I sorted through them as efficiently as possible to find the one that played the Beatles song, She Loves You.

    Going back to Duello, I fell into step behind a man I didn’t recognize. I heard him unlock the school doors above me and cursed a wee bit, knowing that meant that I’d missed everyone. I poked my head in anyway, curious to see if I was wrong. “Who’re you looking for?” “I thought to catch Devon.” “He’s in the hospital today.”

    At that, I turned and ran, another impulse. Down the stairs, across the street, down the hill, straight to Waterfront train station, where Randy happened to be standing inside the hall. Seeing him, standing perfectly as if framed for me to find him, I recognized my impulses as the impelling force of cinematic timing and I laughed. I stopped running and walked up to him. He covered the mouth of his cell phone for a moment, “Hey Jhayne, I’ve got news for you.” “Yes, but what hospital?” We stood chatting for close to ten minutes, glad to be in company, “I just talked to him, he’s obviously not dying,” then took the train together. As soon as the doors opened on Granville station, I began running again.

    There was a group of boys on the escalators, seven deep on either stair, pretending they were surfing. Such was my blithesom running that I decided they were an obstacle I wouldn’t wait for, rather I made thier day by jumping up onto the slippery thin metal divide between them and dangerously running up that instead. They cheered, but for safety’s sake, I didn’t look back down. Another two blocks and I was on the bus, feeling as if my legs were going to mutiny if I forced them one more step.

    there is no higher ground

    Does anyone knows where to find a copy of Useless by Kruder & Dorfmeister? I’d be happy for any of their music. What Do You Want Me To Say? by Dismemberment would be good too. I’m running out of downloaded music I like, and Pandora, though useful, runs itself into the ground when left alone too long. I set it to play Lamb and when I came back from a shower it had decided TATU would be a good idea. That I have no iTunes account merely adds to that particular annoyance. When I find enjoyable new music, I have no access to it.

  • Anti-teenager sound weapon.

    Day by day I have nothing planned. There’s a gentle tick tick tick in the back of my head. I’ll be gone in two days and I’m still uncertain what I’m doing. My house is cleaner, my room tidied, but my suitcase is sitting like a guilty house-pet on my bed, mouth open and half empty. I expected a call from Ray this morning, but the phone’s rung once and it wasn’t for me. Nicole tells me I have to face down a mall somewhere. Living in Vancouver doesn’t prepare a body for anything cold that doesn’t come out of a gelati parlour. I mostly have slim pieces of tie-on velvet and little black t-shirts with subtle line drawings of aliens on them. Nothing ready for snow, except for my scarf, and honestly, I’m not sure how many times I can pack that.

    Speaking of aliens, darling theramina posted this link to a video of a contortionist woman with especially extraordinary flexibility that is worth watching if only for the reminder that humans are capable of the weirdest things.

    Part of my shopping dread stems from the time of year I happen to be doing this in. There’s christmas lights in every display window and piped in “holiday favourites” in every store. Fake plastic trees that grab at nothing, offering hope only to little kids and people with real families. (And how many of those have secrets tucked away in sad apartments the other side of town?) I used to make stockings out of silk organza and taffeta edged with rhinestones as an attempt to fight against all the tacky red fake fur and gummy white fluff. This season though, like last year, I should be lucky to find a moment of respite in the places I plan on going to. I’ve no weapons against the overwhelming false cheer. All those beautifully wrapped boxes are empty.

  • A NOLA-area mall’s Katrina-themed holiday display has been gaining coverage.

    Nick, the regular godsend he is, has volunteered to take me down to Army & Navy today. He’s a heavy snow boarding enthusiast, so I’m going to let myself fall into his hands as if in a trust exercise. Is anyone else willing to dive into shopping hell with me? I don’t know where yet. The rare times I go shopping, I do it on The Drive. Someone suggested Metrotown, (Why don’t they ever name these places interestingly? I’d rather spend time somewhere called the virgin-whore complex.), which sounds pretty evil. Unless there’s a store marked WARM SOCKS & SWEATERS ETC, I suspect I’m going to be unsuccessful alone.