Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: review

Review: What We See in The Smoke by Ben Berman Ghan

Comes out June 6

Part novel, part anthology, Ben Berman Ghan‘s What We See in The Smoke is an evocative and powerful read. Each chapter is a separate short story that can be read on its own, independent of the other chapters. Taken as a whole, they form a grand epic of humanity’s descent into the far future–through a Torontonian lens. Each section and story progressively moves further from the Toronto (and Earth) we know.

The sci-fi elements are both outlandish and belieavble. The tone is often dark and sometimes funny, and there’s always something at stake that hits at the heart.

The first section, “These Memories of Us,” covers the nearly familiar future. We see inter-connected people struggling against overbearing and implacable systems while tending to their own limitations and empowerments. “Planet 58” put us in the mind of people whose understanding of the wider world threatens to cut them off from the local one. “Time Loop Tango” dances with determinism in a way that pushes at its limits. “A Carnival World” jars the reader with 2nd person narration.

Aside: I heard a professor say it wasn’t possible to write convincingly in the 2nd person but obviously that prof had never read “A Carnival World” or the other 2nd person stories in this book or N.K. Jemisin.

The second section, “These Violent Machines,” stretch all the way to 2280. The first story, “Yum,” opens with an epitath from Moby Dick that sets a dark stage for the rest of the book.

“Cannibals? who is not a cannibal?”

While the stories are not (all) about cannibalism, they each introduce a dehumanising factor. “Darkly Dreaming” envisions a Toronto in which the controlling arm of the corporations reach deeper inside a person than we ever thought possible. “Re-Pilot” follows a job applicant trying to adjust to life on Mars. “The End of History” puts the reader in the front seat again, returning to the 2nd person to watch the end of the world as it comes.

As the stories fly further and further from out present-day point of view, Ghan keeps bringing us back to ourselves with relatably broken characters.

Finally, “An Uncertain and Distant World” takes us far from familiar earth, with mind-implants, teleporting art theives, robots on trial, and (my favourite) an ever-evolving race of beings waging eternal war on a hull breach. The settings and circumstances are believebly outlandish. The characters are tanglible and real.

What We See in The Smoke peels back painful and beautiful layers of humanity in a time when we are becoming more and more aware of the futures we are constructing for ourselves. These stories are engrossing and powerful. The prose is darkly comic and brightly sombre. This is a book for anyone who loves stories about Toronto, rocket ships, and the kinds of love that can survive apocalypse. Go buy it!

Buying Options:
Crowsnest Books
Chapters Indigo

2011 Review

I got nothing for you this morning, friends. So here’s my favourite posts from 2011:

Review – Introspection – P.J. Tremblay

For 23 years, I had been living the life of someone else. For 2 years, I became intentionally undone. For 2 years, I initiated the development of my true identity. This year, only the strongest songs of that on-going journey have reached this album.

I don’t usually dare reviewing music. I find it hard to say anything intelligent about most music because it’s like trying to comment on an art form that I know next to nothing about. But I recently realized that you don’t need to say intelligent things to say worthwhile things, so on we go!

I just got this album and it’s been playing in my car non-stop. Loving it. You know how a lot of artists seem to have just one kind of song that they repackage again and again? Not this guy. Each song stands apart from the rest, truly original. I sat for about half and hour trying to figure out which genre to list it under on my iTunes. It refuses to confirm to any box, which I guess it really the point.

The whole album is the story of the artist’s journey from a superficial existence toward something authentic, real and ultimately much more satisfying than anything artificial could be. As I listened to it for the first time I resonated with so many of his feelings and observations. I think this album will really connect with anyone who has felt that their life is heading in the wrong way and there needs to be a change. Especially with people who have already started to make that change.

Even without the lyrics which chronicle the journeys of the artist, the music itself is soothing and energizing. Head over to the artist’s site and buy it! You won’t regret it, I swear. Good stuff, Phil. Good freakin’ stuff.


Is it just me, or is it so absurd that elephants have gone unheard?
I can’t live like this now, communicate with me somehow
I am not your enemy
I just see things differently
Too much time’s been spent in fear
You can at least respect me here
– Is This Thing On?

Breathe the breeze
And just seize the seas
Just leave the worry to someone who aint free… that aint me
– Free

I lived oh so Christianly, devout as I could ever be
Lived a way that would look alright, but I was so lost inside
I’m not strong, I’m just not afraid of being weak

So I took all the things in my life that were stained and threw them out my door
Started new with a genuineness that gives me peace for evermore
I’m not strong, I’m just not afraid of being weak
– I’m Not Strong, I’m Just Not Afraid of Being Weak

I don’t believe it’s right
to let others define your life
I can do anything I’m interested in
and I’m interested in all that I can do
– The CarTune Song

Not Fulfilling Your Promises

I like stories. But you know that.

Lost had a great story for a while. A lot of people thought it started to get death chills around the second season, but I didn’t think so. Sure, there were a few plot holes and a few things done out of character, but all in all I still appreciated it up to the end. It was everything a good fantasy should be. Convoluted, full of deep, interesting characters, incredible setting. Good stuff all around. We were all very excited for the finale.

If you haven’t watched it yet, and you’re planning to, you ought to stop reading now, by the way.

My first thought after watching the finale was this: They lied to me.

The series made a few promises, you see. Not explicitly, of course, but by introducing the sorts of questions they did, they implied that they would answer them. Is Claire really crazy? Where did the island come from? Why did the light do what it did? What is the freakin’ island?

And they answered none of these questions. All they told us was what the alternate universe was (and that was unsatisfactory, too. It’s the afterlife? And yet people died there?). Matt was not pleased.

It was kinda like a Stephen King novel. Great concept. Amazing beginning and middle. But something happened at the end. Something not good. It seemed lazy, to me. And a bad ending ruins everything. I cannot bring myself to care about the story or characters anymore. There is no point. The Lost universe was damaged with such a weak ending. If a story’s ending doesn’t match the middle, it messes everything up. The endings to Mistborn and Eye of the World completed and wrapped the entire tale up in a glorious package. Lost’s ending didn’t finish the job. It was like getting a present without proper wrapping. Or getting a great piece of electronics with shoddy batteries.

If you make stories, pay attention to your endings. Sweat for your endings. The end is the part people remember. And now my memories of Lost will be less than fond.

The Mangled Creature

I finally finished the Harry Potter series. I know that a lot of Christians are really upset about Harry Potter. I’m not. I’d tell you why, but this post isn’t really about that.

Something in last book of the series tickled my imagination. I’ll try to get it to tickle yours without too many spoilers.

At the very end of the series, Harry gets a glimpse of the world of souls. For a moment he thinks it’s the after life, but it becomes clear, I think, that it’s just a place where people exist in forms that are true to what the condition of their souls are. And in this place, Harry comes across the soul of the antagonist, Voldemort.

On earth, Voldemort is a powerful and fearsome person. The kind of person that no one could ever stand up to. His followers worship him as a god. But what is he in the world of souls?

He’s a mangled, raw, dying child.  Thrown under a bench and abandoned.  Anyone who goes near him is repulsed by him.  His soul is so horribly disfigured, in fact, that even Dumbledore is forced to say that he sees no hope for it.  And, even as Harry encourages Voldemort to repent, the reader is sure that it’s impossible.

This picture of the soul immediately registered with me.

Jeremiah considered the human soul to be deceitful and desperately sick.  But not just the ones like Voldemort’s, who had maimed his soul through unspeakable evil deeds.  But every soul.

Each of us had a broken soul.  The image of God that separates us from the animals is maimed.  Our souls are not just damaged by what we have done, but they are wrecked from the beginning.  If it were not so we would have discovered and implemented a way to build a perfect society by now and I’d never choose anything that was bad for me.

So what Dumbledore uttered for Voldemort’s soul applies to everyone, then.  “It is beyond saving.”  Harry could never have convinced Voldemort to repair his soul.  Heck, even if he tried, he wouldn’t know how to begin.  And so when Voldemort was killed, his body was destroyed and he was left with nothing but his useless, pain-wracked soul.

Is it impossible to heal a soul?  Of course.  But it’s also impossible for a man four days dead to come out from his tomb.  It is a good thing that Jesus enjoys doing impossible things, eh?

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