Fri, Oct
Fri, Oct 21, 2016


With my long-time interest in rail public transit, one particular thing that caught my attention following the September 11 attacks was how the PATH subway network handled the destruction of their World Trade Centre station. The story of the PATH dispatchers’ quick thinking of shutting down the station early and running trains to evacuate passengers and transit workers from it in the early moments of the attack, saving hundreds, is the stuff of legend, and remarkably they had a temporary terminal in place at the old site within two years. They have now just opened the permanent replacement.

This video, not sanctioned by PATH, showing a walk-through of the World Trade Centre station, and its famous “Oculus” great hall, is mesmerizing to look at, even if I didn’t see any trains. The music choices, and the slow meander through the public areas, is a moving and heartening experience. You can’t help but think what happened here fifteen years ago, and amidst the architecture, and the quiet but upbeat manner of all the people walking through the space, you’re also impressed by how well the phoenix has risen from the ashes.

The last time I was in New York, I explored a portion of the MTA subway, but I didn’t get a chance to ride the PATH (which is operated by the Port Authority, and is the only subway train that connects with the New Jersey side of the river). I regret that. I hope I’ll get a chance to ride the line and see this place at some point in my future.

Tue, Oct
Tue, Oct 18, 2016

How Stupid People Threaten the World

Here’s a column I wrote for The Kitchener Post back in July. It seems a good thing to bring up again as we enter the final weeks of the American election, and Britain still struggles with the fallout from Brexit:

Stupidity can come back from brink

Kitchener Post
By James Bow
SEE MORE articles from this author

I’ve been searching in vain for a quote I thought former Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard had said in the early 1990s. It was when the Meech Lake constitutional accord hit a reef and he quit the Progressive Conservative government to eventually found the separatist Bloc Quebecois.

I remembered an unguarded rant where he said something along the lines of, “Stupid people are the reason why this country is falling apart.”

I have not found this quote, so it was likely not said. However, I still think about it, because I don’t think Bouchard was wholly wrong. Stupid people on both sides were destroying Canada.

Canada was shaky in the early 1990s. Quebec separatism was back on the rise. Quebec had angered English Canada by using the notwithstanding clause to block English on all signs within the province.

On our side, 27 cities, including Sault Ste. Marie, adopted divisive, “English-only” resolutions. Protesters in Brockville stomped on the Quebec flag.

I had just graduated from high school; I was at that precarious age where the adult world stretched out before me but I wasn’t sure if I was ready to leap into it.

My friends and I watched the rising rants from both sides and wondered, how could we be doing this? We had a good country, and these forces were throwing it all away.

It’s strange to think of that now, 25 years later, as Americans upset at the rise of Donald Trump and Britons fearful of fallout from Brexit talk about moving to Canada as refugees. You hear echoes.

Donald Trump doesn’t lie so much as he makes things up off the top of his head without caring whether it’s true or not. He proposes solutions that would be unconstitutional and disastrous if tried, but which appeal to his supporters because they mix well with their ongoing anger that the world isn’t working as it should.

In the United Kingdom, proponents of leaving the European Union are today trying to walk back their promises of what was possible should the Leave option win.

Leave proponents are now confronted with the reality of the financial and political cost of the uncertainty they’ve inflicted, the mammoth task of rewriting all the laws, and the vicious and misplaced anger against immigrants that they stirred up in order to win.

All of these things were told to the proponents and their supporters before the polls closed, but they replied that “Britain was tired of listening to experts”.

That’s how stupid people threaten the world.

And I’m not using “stupid people” as the insult one thinks of it as. I myself have been a stupid person on occasion. Who among us can say different?

Who hasn’t gone with their gut rather than their brain? Who among us hasn’t responded with fear or anger because reason didn’t seem so satisfying, or possible?

And yet Canada had a period where our political leaders did stupid things on behalf of their followers. They killed the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords and brought this nation to the brink of rupture.

But then we pulled back and moved on.

Separatist and federalist parties have governed in Quebec; Liberal and Conservative parties have governed in Ottawa. We’re still here.

It’s a comforting thought. Even as the United States and England find themselves on the brink, Canada shows it is possible to pull back, and stop being so stupid.

Erin is now off on a three-week tour to promote Swan Riders. She is in Calgary right now at WordFest, and will be heading to Vancouver and then Rossland for book related events. The kids and I miss her fiercely, but these will be great events for her, and one should never miss an opportunity to see Calgary, Vancouver and the interior of BC.

I admit, I'm a little jealous, but fall here has been beautiful, and I have a few events of my own coming up. I've also been coming off a high from the two events previously. I've told you about the Word on the Street event, but there was also the Bakka-Phoenix launch event that I shared with Erin on Saturday, October 1st. That really felt like a homecoming, given how much the store was a fixture of my youth, and how many people from my childhood came out to support Erin and I -- including my grade six teacher, Mr. Turner. The readings were successful, the Q&A lively, and the mingling afterward great fun.

Thanks again to the folks at Bakka-Phoenix for putting this event together, and for Scholastic and Simon & Schuster's support!

One more launch party awaits. I'm pleased to announce that I'll be partnering with Kaleidoscope Kids Books in Ottawa for a solo-launch of Icarus Down on Saturday, November 19 at 2 p.m. I've worked with Kaleidoscope Kids Books before, in launching The Young City, and they have a wonderful bookstore and they are passionate advocates for childrens and teen fiction. I'm really looking forward to going out there again and meeting old friends and family. I hope, if you are reading this, that you can make it out.

Finally, I received a very pleasant surprise yesterday when my editor forwarded me a copy of a page of the latest Quill & Quire magazine, featuring a full-page review of Icarus Down. The review isn't yet available on their website, but I can quote a paragraph below:

Nothing is simple in 'Icarus Down'. The book is laden with environmental themes and issues relevant to contemporary society, particularly the struggle for truth and reconciliation. Relationships are flawed and complex: Simon is brave and foolhardy and utterly incapable of living up to Isaac's memory, while Eliza is a steadfast yet vulnerable female heroine. The change of pace from the clifftop city to foggy forest is jarring -- but purposely so -- and works beautifully, catching the reader off guard and setting them up to see Eliza's side of the story. Gorgeous, creative and thrilling, 'Icarus Down' is a must-read for fans of science fiction and steampunk.

This really made my day. Thanks to everybody involved!

Mon, Oct
Mon, Oct 10, 2016

Books #39, 40, 41 and 42


Apologies for the delay in posting. Among other things, one reason for the lack of time to blog was the fact that I was working on another writing assignment. My non-fiction work comes and goes, but the fall seems to be when a bunch of them land in my lap. Due to unforeseen circumstances, I had seven days in which to write the book, but I managed to deal with that deadline handily. The next one has to be done in ten days.

Related to this, I’m pleased to say that, with Icarus Down being my 38th book (and my fourth novel), books #39, 40, 41 and 42 came to my local bookshop the other day, so I finally have the copies of all six of the books I’d worked on last year in my hand.

I’m especially proud of the “Robots Exploring Space” books. The subject matter was interesting, and I not only got to talk about Dwarf Planet Pluto, but also Dwarf Planet Ceres, which I didn’t know a lot about when I started the research. Now I know much more, and the journey has been worthwhile.

Hopefully books #43 and 44 land more quickly than these did, and I get to push on towards fifty.

Wed, Oct
Wed, Oct 5, 2016

The Great Canadian Mark-Up

My latest column for the Kitchener Post talks about our home renovations, and our experience with ordering products from the United States versus Canada. Here’s a sample:

The range hood brings me back to my opening paragraph. Because of someone else’s shipping mistake, we were lucky enough to purchase a great stainless steel range hood, valued at $500, for $50.

However, the deal was “as is.” The hood was in good condition, but there were no other spare parts to be found, and no manual. Fortunately, we did find the manual online, and I called the company to ask about obtaining particular parts.

The salesperson was initially eager to deal with me, walking me through identifying the model of the range hood and telling me exactly the parts I needed. These parts had a reasonable price tag of “$19.99,” the man said to me.

But then I gave him my address, and he paused as soon as he heard letters in the zip code. “Are you from Canada?” he asked. I said that I was.

He apologized, then, and said that there was another number I should call since I was calling the main office in the U.S. He could ship the parts to Canada, but the shipping costs would be double that of the price of the parts.

He identified the company’s Canadian parts distributor and said that they could give me a better deal on shipping. He gave me the number and I called them.

The Canadian parts distributor also knew what parts I needed. He said he could send them to me Express Mail, and I could have them in two business days. Excellent, I thought.

But then came the price — $59.99 — plus shipping.

Whoops! Still, I ordered from the Canadian office, because then I didn’t have to deal with Customs. Who knows what they might have thrown my way…

Recent Entries

On This Day

Recent Comments