Archive for February, 2010

The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad

Posted in Book reaction/review with tags , , , , , , on February 25, 2010 by JonH

I go through periods as a reader (and consumer*) where the only stipulation in finding a new book is that the writer must be Canadian. I tend to start my search for writers closest to my home base (Edmonton) and then gradually proliferate outward to include writers from the rest of Canada.

Now, by no means is my list of books by Canadian authors exhaustive; it has been, however, and for the most part, rewarding. Authors like Shani Mootoo, Fred Wah, Margaret Atwood, John Ralston Saul, Ronald Wright, and George Bowering are a few of the ones I’ve had the pleasure of encountering.

But one genre sorely underrepresented on my list of CanLit is science/speculative fiction.

I do have a subscription to Edmonton’s own On Spec, but I’m ashamed to say even though Spook Country and Idoru are sitting on my bookshelf, other than Fragments of a Hologram Rose, I haven’t read any William Gibson – not even Neuromancer, and, as far as I can tell, not having read this seminal scifi book will be considered a serious infraction by many in the community.

Oh yeah, I haven’t read any Robert Sawyer, or Cory Doctorow either.

Oh well, with my Can(scifi)Lit credibility seriously undermined, I would like to publicly proclaim that my days as a literary lightweight when it comes to this genre are over. I am going to change my ways!

Why? You may ask.

Because I’ve seen the light, I’ll respond. And it was a Minister that showed me the way.

Minister Faust, aka Malcolm Azania, is the Edmonton author of the novel The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad. The book tells the story of two friends and roommates, Hamza Senesert and Yehat Gerbles. The former is a dishwasher, and aspiring writer suffering from an extreme case of literary constipation due to unrequited love who, prior to the action, was kicked out of university for plagiarizing himself; while the latter is a video store clerk with an IQ just a few points below Oppenheimer’s. Their lives generally revolve around comics, movies, and Coyote Camp, a generally non-profit camp the two friends operate for kids in the community they live in, until everything is turned upside down when a mysterious woman named Sherem walks into Hamza’s life.

As the story moves forward we also meet the brothers Meaney and their quest for an ancient artifact, as well as an ex Edmonton Eskimo football player who runs a rag-tag group of assassins, thieves, and dealers with an iron fist. Running parallel to all of this are themes of cannibalism, doomsday, good versus evil, heartbreak, and ice-cream sandwiches.

However, no matter how much the aforementioned themes cover what just about anybody would look for in a book, Azania’s writing is not for everyone. He’s a big fan of Star Wars, Star Trek, and comic books – and he lets readers know it at almost every turn by continually interspersing references throughout the book. This will, no doubt, alienate some.

The most difficult part for me as a reader, however, was dealing with his use of dialect. He’s got a great ear for it, but he spares the reader nothing. The story posits a unique approach by presenting most of the narrative in the first person, but told from close to a dozen different perspectives this becomes a bit distracting because rarely do any two characters use the language in the same way.

Weighing in at over 500 pages, I’ll admit that at times the size of the book seemed to conspire with the two points previously mentioned thus straining my commitment to finish reading it. Fortunately, this was tempered by points in the book where the prose became so beautiful in its description and powerful in its impact that I just couldn’t help but forge ahead. I also greatly enjoyed Azania’s unabashed pride in the city in which he lives. His writing has given Edmonton new soul.

Azania has got a very unique and powerful voice. One I’m eager to read more of, and one which has become the foundation for my new interest in Can(scifi)Lit.

*In keeping with the local theme, I try and buy all of my books from either Audrey’s downtown or Greenwoods on the Southside.

I figure the big stores don’t need my money as much as these guys do.

Advertisements

Calgary Born Hitmen

Posted in Editorial with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2010 by JonH

When the Calgary Hitmen started last season it was widely believed that they were entering a rebuilding period. After all with team leaders like Karl Alzner and Ryan White leaving to start their professional careers one could hardly be faulted for thinking that sophomores Brandon Kozun, Ian Schultz, and T.J. Galiardi (all born and/or raised in Calgary) would have the leadership skills necessary to guide the team into the playoffs, much less the top of the league. However, they did and they finished the year with their best regular season record in team history.

Here we are a year later and even with the loss of seven players who combined for a total of 496 points last year and the departure of head coach Dave Lowry who took a job as an assistant with the Flames, the Hitmen have barely even flinched and again can be found at the top of the league.

What gives with this level of success against all odds? Is there something in the water? Fresh mountain air, maybe? What about the Chinooks?

Well, in reality, astute management is probably one of the biggest reasons.  GM Kelly Kisio is a smart guy and he knows how to build a winner. And, while I don’t know if it was deliberate, this year’s team is stocked with a stable core of veterans as well as some quality prospects all of whom are products of the Calgary and area minor hockey system.

Here is a brief run down on all of them:

Ian Schultz, RW
4 February 1990, 6’3, 208 lbs
Minor hockey: Lake Bonavista

Ian was previously featured in the winter 2008 issue of Hockey Calgary magazine. Since that interview, he finished the season with 41 points. Now coming close to the end of his third full year with the Hitmen, his first as co-captain of the team, he’s put up 46 points in 60 games placing him seventh in team scoring.

“I bring the same thing to the table every game: hard work and I guess I’m getting the same bounces,” he said of the similarity between the two years.

Ian’s current line-mates are Misha Fisenko and Chase Schaber.

Drafted in the third round by the St. Louis Blues in 2008, Ian had another opportunity to go to a pro camp to see what life was all about.

“It went very well,” he said of his experience at the camp. “Traverse City was a lot of fun.”

Traverse City is a small town 270 miles north of Detroit that hosts a rookie tournament every year for nine of the American NHL teams. This year’s tournament took place from September 6 to 10. Schultz played primarily on the fourth line.

Three for Ian:

  1. Do you get any feedback from the Blues’ coaching staff regarding your development?  “Yes, they like what they are seeing from me so far.”
  2. With the exception of being drafted, what’s been the highlight of your career so far? “Winning the Eastern Conference Championship last season with the Hitmen.”
  3. First guy that comes to mind as the toughest opponent to play against? “Luca Sibsa (Philadelphia Flyer prospect), defenceman with the Lethbridge Hurricanes.”

Brandon Kozun, RW
8 March 1990, 5′ 9, 164 lbs
Minor hockey: Blackfoot/Midnapore

Currently on a line with Joel Broda and Tyler Fiddler, Brandon Kozun was featured in the winter 2007 issue of Hockey Calgary magazine. In the article, one of Brandon’s former coaches is quoted as saying, “I think if [the Hitmen] use him in the right time and place, they’ll have a real super junior hockey player on their hands.”

And do they ever.

This past spring, Kozun was drafted in the sixth round by the Los Angeles Kings; but, as is often the case with late round picks, Brandon wasn’t watching.

“It was getting late so I stopped watching but got a call from my agent a short time later,” said the winger. “It felt pretty good,” he said on being picked by the team from the city he was born in. “LA would have been on the top couple of teams I would have wanted to go to.  It’s especially exciting to be picked by a team with a lot of up and coming potential.”

The winger went to the Kings’ development camp in July and its rookie camp in September. Was he given any advice?

“They told me they wanted me to have a good start to the year and to get bigger and stronger.”

Genetics aside, Brandon is certainly doing as he’s told. In fact, after putting together a 108 point season last year to lead the team in scoring, the winger is on pace for another big one, and with 87 points in 55 games, he’s currently dueling with a couple of other players, including Oiler first round prospect Jordan Eberle, for the league lead in points.

“I look at it a little,” said Brandon regarding personal stats, “but I’m more concerned about the Hitmen team success.”

Kozun played for Canada at this year’s IIHF World Junior Championships and helped bring the country home a silver medal.

Three for Brandon:

  1. With the exception of being drafted, what’s been the highlight of your career so far? “Last year’s playoff run with the Calgary Hitmen.”
  2. Describe your decision to try out for the Canadian juniors rather than the American juniors. “I felt like I’ve been living and playing hockey in Canada the last 10 or 11 years so it was kind of an easy decision to make.”
  3. Toughest opponent to play against?  “Colton Teubert (LA King prospect) of the Regina Pats.”

Kris Foucault, LW
12 December 1990, 6’1, 204 lbs
Minor hockey: Midnapore/Buffaloes

Drafted in the fourth round by the Wild in 2009, Foucault, like team mate Ian Schultz, also played in the Traverse City Rookie Tournament, but for the Wild. He was the hero as his shoot out goal decided the game against the Dallas Stars’ rookies.

Foucault came to the Hitmen after brief stints through 2006 to 2008 with the Kootenay Ice and Swift Current Broncos, never having played more than a full season’s worth of games for either team. But, after coming over from the Ice in a 2009 deadline deal, he settled in with the Hitmen posting 16 points in 22 regular season games and then another 16 points, including 11 goals, in 18 post season games last year. His post season efforts were rewarded when he was named the Husky Eastern Conference Championship Most Valuable Player. So far this year, Kris has slipped somewhat and finds himself tenth in team scoring with 32 points in 58 games.

Four for Kris:

  1. With the exception of being drafted, what’s been the highlight of your career so far? “Winning the scoring title in Bantam AAA.”
  2. Strengths and weaknesses? “My strength is goal scoring; my weakness is defensive play.”
  3. Any Calgary minor hockey coach come to mind as particularly influential? “Larry Doyle, coach of pee wee one Midnapore Rangers.”
  4. First guy that comes to mind as the toughest to play against? “Mark Guggenberger, goaltender for the Kelowna Rockets.”

Ben Wilson, D
26 March 1991, 5′ 10, 160 lbs
Minor hockey: Bow Valley

In his first season with the Hitmen, Wilson, an alumnus of the AJHL’s Olds Grizzlys’, has been partnered with Matt MacKenzie and has posted three goals and 11 assists in 56 games so far. His first WHL goal came in a 4-2 victory over the Edmonton Oil Kings and he says that so far that’s been the highlight of his young career. He describes his shot as his weakness and his speed as his strength. Interestingly, on a roster consisting of 20 players six feet and taller, the 5’10, 160 lbs Wilson (the smallest of the Hitmen defense corps) currently sits fourth overall in penalty minutes for the team.

Two for Ben:

  1. Any Calgary minor hockey coach come to mind as particularly influential? Scott Switzer.
  2. First guy that comes to mind as the toughest opponent to play against? Brayden Schenn (LA King prospect) of the Brandon Wheat Kings.

Peter Kosterman, D
6 February 1993, 6’4, 182 lbs
Minor hockey: Lake Bonavista Breakers/Buffaloes

This is Peter Kosterman’s first season in the WHL, but you get the sense this guy has a good head on his shoulders for someone so young.

“It’s a learning experience adjusting to the lifestyle both on and off the ice and getting to know a new group of guys,” says the lanky defenseman. “The travel demands from Prince George to Brandon mean you have to find ways to both rest for games while balancing school.”

He points out that Joel Broda, Michael Stone, and Matt Mackenzie have been showing him the ropes of life in the WHL.

In another interview, Hitmen head scout Brad Whelan described Kosterman as “a smart, heady player and as he gets stronger will be able to log some minutes for us.  He makes a good first pass, but it’s hard to tell how physical he’ll be because he’s so slight right now.” When Peter was drafted he was listed at 6’2”, 170 lbs. He’s now listed at 6’4”, 182 lbs. What does he think of the scouting report on him and what does he think his ceiling will be?

“I think Mr. Whelan’s assessment is fair.  I’m working on using my size more consistently and I’m regaining comfort with moving the puck at this next level.  My ultimate goal is to play in the NHL and have a successful career there.  With that in mind, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what exactly my ceiling is going to be.”

Three for Peter:

  1. Describe your strengths and weaknesses. “Strengths: Getting the puck out of the zone. Weaknesses: relaxing in pressure situations.”
  2. So far in your young career who has been the most difficult player to defend against? “Brandon Kozun and Joel Broda in practice.”
  3. Any Calgary minor hockey coach come to mind as particularly influential?  “I was fortunate enough to have really great coaching throughout all my minor hockey experience, but if I had to pick one in particular, it would have to be Coach Rob Cox.  He provided excellent leadership and was a great role model because he taught me the importance of team chemistry and being first to the puck.”

Giffen Nyren, D
18 April 1989, 6′ 1, 195 lbs
Minor hockey: Westwood Warriors/Northwest Calgary Athletic Association/AAA Flames

One of the team’s over-agers, Giffen is a capable skater and puck mover that played two seasons with Moose Jaw and just over one with Kamloops before a trade brought him back home. “It was pretty cool,” he said about the trade. “I went to Hitmen games as a young kid and always dreamed of playing at the Saddledome for them.” Currently partnered with Austin Madaisky, Giffen is not known as an offensive defenseman, although he did post 46 points in 69 games last year with the Blazers.

“Right now I’m focused on playing my best hockey every game in hopes to make the next level,” says Nyren. And with 25 points in 35 games, he seems to be doing just that.

Two for Giffen:

  1. Highlight of your career so far? “My first Western Hockey League game.”
  2. Any minor hockey coach come to mind as particularly influential? If so, why, and which team? “I’ve had a lot of great coaches along the way who’ve helped me reach my goals.”

Michael Snider, G
22 February 1991, 5′ 9, 173 lbs
Minor hockey: Okotoks/UFA Bisons

As his record of 15 wins (two by shutout) in 23 games seems to indicate, sophomore goaltender Michael Snider certainly rises to the occasion when the coaches call on him to play.

“I’m much more confident in myself out there I find this year,” says Michael. “I’m not so intimidated by the big crowds and I worked hard throughout the summer to be better this year.  My goal is to be in the top few goalies in the WHL and earn a starting role for next year.”

Snider’s goals against average is 2.61 and his save percentage is .898 good for sixth and 22nd, respectively, overall amongst WHL ‘tenders.

Four for Snider:

  1. Highlight of your career so far? “Last year’s playoff run with the Calgary Hitmen.”
  2. Toughest shooter you’ve faced in the dub? “Jordan Eberle (Edmonton Oiler prospect) of the Regina Pats.”
  3. What about during practice? “Joel Broda or Michael Stone.”
  4. Any minor hockey coach come to mind as particularly influential? If so, why and which team? “I didn’t really have a very influential coach growing up that comes to mind but my favorite coach so far has been Dave Lowry.  He’s a great person to look up to because of his experience in the NHL and his knowledge within the game.  He’s a very down to earth guy and has a great personality.  It was an awesome opportunity to get a chance to play on his team.”

This is article is reprinted with the permission of Hockey Calgary Magazine.

Franklyn

Posted in Review with tags , , , on February 3, 2010 by JonH

The film Franklyn takes place simultaneously in modern day England as well as the dystopic world of Meanwhile City. It weaves together four narratives: a father’s search for his son, a soldier’s struggle with his past, a jilted man’s yearning for the purity of his first love, and a woman on a self-destructive path to self-discovery.

As far as the visual aspects of the film go, the juxtaposition of the two worlds is fairly stark and used to pretty good effect; especially towards the end. London is as you would expect it, albeit a bit sunnier than the stereotypes would have you believe; Meanwhile City is a huge, dark metropolis teeming with denizens that all subscribe to one faith or another – no matter how inane. Ironically, the only man that does not subscribe is Jonathan Preest. Preest is a masked hitman searching for another known only as The Individual. The costumes of the characters in Meanwhile City are highly stylized, and Preest’s definitely seems to be a nod to The Watchmen’s Rorshach.

This is the first movie by writer/director , and it’s an ambitious undertaking that delves into issues of faith and fate, as well as psychological trauma and its implications. The story is very intriguing and somewhat reminiscent of the investigation of the interiority of mind that the movie Pan’s Labyrinth portrayed.

Overall, the movie was pretty entertaining. The acting, however, is a little flat, and as far as the writing goes, there seem to be a few characters that seem extraneous. This bugs me because it makes me think I’m missing something. However, go see it and let me know what you think.

Groundhog Day

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on February 2, 2010 by JonH

Most of you know the significance of February 2. For those that don’t it’s called Groundhog Day. This day is very important to a great number of people, most notably to my brother-in-law, for some strange reason.

Groundhog Day is a North American custom that has its roots in European culture whereby large masses of people congregate around a hole in the ground allegedly occupied by groundhogs named either Balzac Billy (the Prairie Prognosticator) here in Alberta, or Buckeye Chuck in Ohio, or Wiarton Willie in Ontario, or the most famous groundhog of all, Punxsutawney Phil (used to be Pete, but he died).

What they’re waiting to see is whether or not these groundhogs will see their shadow.

It works like this: when said rodent emerges from its hole and fails to see its shadow, it will leave thus signifying that winter will end in six weeks. However, should the groundhog see its shadow, it will retreat back into its burrow thereby signifying six more weeks of winter.

I don’t have time to get into the science, but suffice it to say that the action of the groundhog is absolutely pivotal in determining whether or not we will have more or less winter.

But not all is fun and games. Some areas of our beautiful continent are conspicuously low on groundhogs, so what are the citizens that want to gather around a hole to watch a rodent to do?  Well, thanks to the quick thinking of then-Governor Sarah Palin and the rest of the Alaskan Legislature, rather than call off celebrations because they didn’t have groundhogs, they passed a bill in 2009 officially changing the name from Groundhog Day to Marmot Day.

They have plenty of those. (They look kind of lazy, though . . .)

Whew, crisis averted!

Another great Groundhog Day tradition for many North American families has been to gather the clan around the tube to watch the classic movie Groundhog Day staring Bill Murray as the smug Phil Connors, the Pittsburgh weatherman that gets stuck doing an assignment he’d rather not be doing. He somehow finds himself reliving the same day over and over again until he finally learns to become a better man.

And should anyone think I’m being ironic when I use the term ‘classic’ to describe this movie, know this: in 2006, the Library of Congress added Groundhog Day to its film preservation list honouring films which are deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”

So there. Have a great Groundhog Day.