A Smokey Hike To Wedgemount Lake

In the midst of all the forest fire smoke a few weeks ago my friend and I took a Tuesday off work to hike to Wedgemount Lake. 

Vancouver Trails describes it as "the most difficult hike in Garibaldi" and a "gruelling trek" with "spectacular scenery." 

I was into it. 

 A lot of the hike was like this, but steeper: classic BC landscape. 

A lot of the hike was like this, but steeper: classic BC landscape. 

 After a few hours of hiking, the trail flattened out a bit. You can see the haze in the air here from the smoke. 

After a few hours of hiking, the trail flattened out a bit. You can see the haze in the air here from the smoke. 

 A few more steps and we saw the lake - the light quality was surreal, and really made it feel like a different planet. You can see the glacier in the background of this photo. 

A few more steps and we saw the lake - the light quality was surreal, and really made it feel like a different planet. You can see the glacier in the background of this photo. 

 We hiked out to the other side of the lake to get a different view. Once again, you see the smoke in the air. 

We hiked out to the other side of the lake to get a different view. Once again, you see the smoke in the air. 

 We worked up a thirst on the way up. 

We worked up a thirst on the way up. 

 We hiked all the way to the glacier - maybe one of the last times to be up close to one with the way the world is going. 

We hiked all the way to the glacier - maybe one of the last times to be up close to one with the way the world is going. 

 Some beautiful mountain flowers. 

Some beautiful mountain flowers. 

All in, it took us about five hours round trip (though that was with lots of stops for photos and lunch). 

I'd really recommend this hike - it's probably even more beautiful on a clear day. 

 

 

Istanbul > Tbilisi > Beirut

Every once in a while things line up for the opportunity to take the trip of a lifetime. In this case, it was the combination of a flexible work schedule and my friend Amir living in Beirut. 

I'd never really had a huge interest in visiting the Middle East (or Eurasia), 

Three Days In the North Cascades

During the Victoria Day long weekend here in Canada, I drove down to Washington State to go ski touring with a couple of friends. 

It was one of the tougher trips I've done (that said, it feels like every trip we do is the toughest one I've done!) and really pushed me out of my comfort zone. 

 Some of the gear. Not picture: skis, poles, boots, additional warm weather gear. 

Some of the gear. Not picture: skis, poles, boots, additional warm weather gear. 

 After a 5km walk down a logging road (in ski boots, carrying our gear), we should have had an fairly easy ski up to camp. Snow conditions were brutal, it was a lot more technical than we thought and there was a lot of swearing.

After a 5km walk down a logging road (in ski boots, carrying our gear), we should have had an fairly easy ski up to camp. Snow conditions were brutal, it was a lot more technical than we thought and there was a lot of swearing.

 Our camp on the fist day. This was either immediately before or immediately after we got hit with freezing rain, and laid low in the tents for an hour or so. 

Our camp on the fist day. This was either immediately before or immediately after we got hit with freezing rain, and laid low in the tents for an hour or so. 

 Sunset view from camp facing the other way. 

Sunset view from camp facing the other way. 

 Sahale Peak was our destination: that little black triangle in the centre of the photo. It was still a a long ways off, but the weather was great. This photo was taken around 8am, after a 6am departure from camp. 

Sahale Peak was our destination: that little black triangle in the centre of the photo. It was still a a long ways off, but the weather was great. This photo was taken around 8am, after a 6am departure from camp. 

 Rearranging gear and getting a drink as we head up Sahale Glacier. 

Rearranging gear and getting a drink as we head up Sahale Glacier. 

 Pete out ahead, boot packing the last snow section until the peak. It was steep. 

Pete out ahead, boot packing the last snow section until the peak. It was steep. 

 Just relaxing before the summit. 

Just relaxing before the summit. 

 Different angle as previous photo. Just chilling near the summit. 

Different angle as previous photo. Just chilling near the summit. 

 Ty lead-climbing the final summit section with his skis and gear - what an animal! He was planning on skiing off the far side, but conditions weren't good for it.   Not pictured: Me freaking out when I had to climb this section and almost not making the summit. Thanks for pushing me through it, Ty and Pete! 

Ty lead-climbing the final summit section with his skis and gear - what an animal! He was planning on skiing off the far side, but conditions weren't good for it. 

Not pictured: Me freaking out when I had to climb this section and almost not making the summit. Thanks for pushing me through it, Ty and Pete! 

 Pete's boots as he belays Ty. 

Pete's boots as he belays Ty. 

 Summit view. 

Summit view. 

 Rappelling down from the summit (thanks for the photo, Ty!).

Rappelling down from the summit (thanks for the photo, Ty!).

 We found some nice snow to ski down on the descent. Not pictured: my huge, wide turns (my legs were too tired to make pretty turns). 

We found some nice snow to ski down on the descent. Not pictured: my huge, wide turns (my legs were too tired to make pretty turns). 

 Skiing out the final section after waking up in the clouds. You can sort of see some glaciers up on those cliffs, with big waterfalls running off of them. 

Skiing out the final section after waking up in the clouds. You can sort of see some glaciers up on those cliffs, with big waterfalls running off of them. 

 Hiking back out 5km down the logging road with our gear - the green of the temperate rain forest felt like a different world after two days of snow, ice and rock. 

Hiking back out 5km down the logging road with our gear - the green of the temperate rain forest felt like a different world after two days of snow, ice and rock. 

It was an unbelievable trip, and there was no way I could have done it without Ty and Pete planning, leading and guiding me through it. 

I'm glad I pushed through and made the summit for no other reason than the sense of accomplishment.

 

 

Pfizer Caremate

A few months after I started working in advertising, I was at a party and met a friend of a friend who had been in the industry for years. 

"You'll be lucky if you see one thing you worked on get made per year," he told me. 

He went on to clarify that what he meant was that it was rare to see things get made the way you as a creative or strategist truly envisioned them. The journey from idea to finished project is a long one, with lots of hurdles in the way in the form of feedback (client and internal), cost, changing business needs and production along the way. 

Even if something does get made, there's not guarantee you'll actually see it in any a reasonable timeframe. Especially if you leave the agency and/or country, and the actual product has a niche or internal audience. 

One example of this is Pfizer Caremate, an app that helps advanced stage renal cancer patients manage their treatment, symptoms and issues. I worked on it while I was the Lead Digital Strategist at DDB New Zealand in Auckland almost 3 years ago, and only just learned (via Campaign Brief) that it's gone live (I suspect the long delay has to do with the legal and regulatory approvals that come with creating anything in the pharmaceutical/healthcare space). 

This is one of those projects that was hard to work on, but that I'm equally happy we did. As the strategist, I conducted a number of interviews with health care professionals to learn more about the symptoms and treatment, and while this isn't a cure it's something that will help. 

There's more from the Campaign Brief article, featuring my old colleague Hayden Kerr, here: 

Caremate is a digital platform designed to help those with advanced renal cancer take control of their treatment. The digital format makes adhering to their programme and monitoring their condition easy and convenient regardless of where they are, ultimately helping them achieve better treatment outcomes. 

Pfizer manufactures a leading medication for renal cancer patients. The Caremate programme was prompted by research gathered by Pfizer NZ in an effort to understand how to improve the lives of renal cancer patients and go beyond medication with comprehensive care. 

DDB Digital NZ creative director, Haydn Kerr, says that while a creative agency developing a digital app to support patients taking a medicine may sound unusual, using creativity and empathy to solve a medical problem makes a world of sense.

Says Kerr: "At DDB we believe our role is to create real-world solutions for the businesses we serve. Caremate is an innovative new programme that does just that, and we're proud to work with Pfizer NZ to bring it to life for those in need."

The Caremate app and its support pack work together to remind patients to take their medication, record their blood pressure, mood and symptoms on a daily basis while tracking their treatment. It also provides guidance on how to deal with symptoms they may be experiencing.
Healthcare professionals can access the data from the app during patient visits to obtain a more accurate overview of how the treatment has been working and a better understanding of how to optimise it.

With a host of success stories in both New Zealand and Australia, Pfizer is now assessing how Caremate could be employed globally for other diseases where patients face similar challenges.
For Kerr, the fact that Caremate is already being used daily by patients to manage their treatment is immensely rewarding.

Says Kerr: "We produce work all the time to help businesses achieve their goals, whatever they may be, but to see something like this out there helping people and know that, with the weight of Pfizer behind it, it might go on to help many, many more people -- it's a very cool thing to see and an amazing thing to be a part of."

Apparently, the app also won a "Primey": Excellence in Patient Support at the Prime Awards in Australia. 

 

2017 Athletic Accomplishments

They say that the hardest thing in the world to give up is a regular paycheque, but that working for yourself is incredibly rewarding. Having quit a fairly good job on a steady career trajectory (with the associated steady paycheque) to strike out on my own in a new city about two years ago, I can say that that is definitely the case. (I'll probably write another blog post about the experience of working for myself at some point soon). 

It's been an interesting journey, and one of the pluses has been the flexibility to pursue some athletic activities and knock off a few accomplishments. 

1.) I summited Mt. Baker on Skis 

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Although I grew up skiing in the Rocky Mountains just outside of Calgary, I spent most of the last ten years chasing waves around the world. When I moved to Vancouver, I knew I wanted to do more mountain stuff, but didn't envision that it would include skiing UP a 10,000 foot volcano, sleeping on a glacier and skiing down it the next day. 

it was the hardest trip I've ever done, but also the best.  

Read the trip report here. 

2.) I won a Gold Medal at a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competition 

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I've been training BJJ for a few years, and have competed before (a mix of last place and silver medal finishes), but November at the Vancouver Open was the first time I won the gold (and was an entire weight-class lighter than the guys I competed against). My coach said I won my matches by "the thinnest of margins," but a win is a win, and gold feels pretty good after a lot of hard work. 

3.) I did 2000m in 6m46s on the Indoor Rowing Machine 

It's not quite as exciting as the other accomplishments, but to me it's massive, and enough to put me way above the 90th percentile of the types of people who record these things. 

If you've ever tried a 2k erg, no matter what your time, you'll know how gruelling it can be. Men's Health magazine describes it as a "test of psychological will."

(I also pulled a 3m11s 1000m, but definitely think I can improve on that). 

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I turn 36 in a few months, and am already looking forward to what I'll accomplish in the next year. 

 

 

 

The Crystal Clear Waters of Watersprite Lake

After seeing a few photos from friends of an incredible green lake hidden in the mountains, I knew that I wanted to hike there. 

I took a Tuesday in the middle of the week for the trip to avoid the crowds, and made the drive up to Squamish. The trailhead was about an 40 minute drive down a logging road near the Sea-To-Summit Gondola. 

 The first part of the hike is pretty standard BC trail, with a few interesting features like this mountain stream. 

The first part of the hike is pretty standard BC trail, with a few interesting features like this mountain stream. 

 But once you make it past the final incline, you arrive at this incredible view. 

But once you make it past the final incline, you arrive at this incredible view. 

 It really does look like this. And it's cold (I went for a quick swim).

It really does look like this. And it's cold (I went for a quick swim).

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Not much more to add at this point, except it was a great afternoon of trail running and hiking. 

Two Days In the Mountains - Russet Lake, Whirlwind, Overlord

One weekend last summer, a few friends and I drove out to Whistler on an early Saturday morning, took the chairlifts to the top of the mountain then hiked into the back country. 

 The view from the top of Whistler. In the middle of winter, this is covered in snow and skiers. You can see Black Tusk off in the distance. 

The view from the top of Whistler. In the middle of winter, this is covered in snow and skiers. You can see Black Tusk off in the distance. 

 Mountain Meadows en route to our camp site. 

Mountain Meadows en route to our camp site. 

 After about 10-12km, we arrived at Russet Lake. Our camp site was about 50 meters to the left of this photo, alongside a stream running out of the lake. The peak in the photo is Fissile Peak. 

After about 10-12km, we arrived at Russet Lake. Our camp site was about 50 meters to the left of this photo, alongside a stream running out of the lake. The peak in the photo is Fissile Peak. 

 It was the middle of summer, but it gets cold in the mountains once the sun starts to go down. Thankfully one of our group brought some wine to keep us warm. I made dinner for some of us: pasta with canned chicken and pesto sauce. it would have been gross under any other circumstances. 

It was the middle of summer, but it gets cold in the mountains once the sun starts to go down. Thankfully one of our group brought some wine to keep us warm. I made dinner for some of us: pasta with canned chicken and pesto sauce. it would have been gross under any other circumstances. 

 The view from our campsite. The lake in the photo above is behind us in the photo. 

The view from our campsite. The lake in the photo above is behind us in the photo. 

 An iPhone will never be able to do justice to to way the sky looked in the mountains on such an unbelievably clear night, and this is the last photo I took before it got dark. We sat outside for an hour or so after this and just looked at the stars. 

An iPhone will never be able to do justice to to way the sky looked in the mountains on such an unbelievably clear night, and this is the last photo I took before it got dark. We sat outside for an hour or so after this and just looked at the stars. 

 A few of us got moving at at 6am the next morning to try and tackle a few of the nearby peaks. This is the view on the way up - the lake is just off to the right of this photo as we're moving up a steep scree slope. 

A few of us got moving at at 6am the next morning to try and tackle a few of the nearby peaks. This is the view on the way up - the lake is just off to the right of this photo as we're moving up a steep scree slope. 

 A view fro the summit of Whirlwind, the first peak we hit. You can see the next one we were aiming for, Overlord Mountain, along the end of the ridge trail on the left of the photo (we had to follow that ridge).  

A view fro the summit of Whirlwind, the first peak we hit. You can see the next one we were aiming for, Overlord Mountain, along the end of the ridge trail on the left of the photo (we had to follow that ridge).  

 View from the top of Overlord, looking back along that ride and Whirlwind. At this point, it was 9am on Sunday morning and the weather and views were amazing. 

View from the top of Overlord, looking back along that ride and Whirlwind. At this point, it was 9am on Sunday morning and the weather and views were amazing. 

 Descending down from Overlord. It's not really a hike, more of a scramble. 

Descending down from Overlord. It's not really a hike, more of a scramble. 

 Ty on the descent. 

Ty on the descent. 

 Hiking bike to civilization with Whirlwind and Overlord in the background. 

Hiking bike to civilization with Whirlwind and Overlord in the background. 

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It was a pretty good way to spend a weekend with some great friends. 

Check out more of the hikes and scrambles I've done in the past little while at the Explore section on BlogCampaigning.

Tricouni Peak: Blue Sky Scramble

Tricouni Peak - about 40 minutes from Squamish, British Columbia - has been on my friend Ty's bucket list for years. He's attempted the summit a few different times (on foot and skis) but told me that each time he was turned back by weather, conditions, snow or timing. 

A few weeks ago he asked me to join him to try it again on what was probably the last non-rainy day of the season. 

 3D satellite image of Tricouni Peak via Google Earth Pro. The little lake in the bottom middle of the photo is one of the frozen ones in the image below. 

3D satellite image of Tricouni Peak via Google Earth Pro. The little lake in the bottom middle of the photo is one of the frozen ones in the image below. 

 Looking up at the peak across a frozen lake. This was a couple of hours into the hike. 

Looking up at the peak across a frozen lake. This was a couple of hours into the hike. 

 Looking back across that same lake as we hiked a bit further - at this point, the "trail" was mostly frozen snow and loose rock. 

Looking back across that same lake as we hiked a bit further - at this point, the "trail" was mostly frozen snow and loose rock. 

 Ty leading the way across frozen snow - we both had two trekking poles for most of the trip, but as things got steeper we switched to mountaineering axes. 

Ty leading the way across frozen snow - we both had two trekking poles for most of the trip, but as things got steeper we switched to mountaineering axes. 

 Getting a bit higher up. 

Getting a bit higher up. 

 Ty on the summit - what a legend. Also a great  chiropractor in Vancouver ! 

Ty on the summit - what a legend. Also a great chiropractor in Vancouver

 Summit view. 

Summit view. 

 Me at the summit contemplating the gnarly hand-over-hand scramble we had to do to get here. I was pretty much terrified, but Ty's mountain confidence got me through it. Thanks, buddy! 

Me at the summit contemplating the gnarly hand-over-hand scramble we had to do to get here. I was pretty much terrified, but Ty's mountain confidence got me through it. Thanks, buddy! 

 Climbing down...this section wasn't actually that steep compared to some of the sections. 

Climbing down...this section wasn't actually that steep compared to some of the sections. 

It was a long day, but definitely worth it. 

Going Beyond Blade Runner

I read, watch and otherwise consume a lot of science-fiction. It’s both my guilty pleasure and a way for me understand the future (to "reframe my perspective").  

And I'm beyond excited for Blade Runner 2049 (the only reason I haven’t seen it yet is because I’ve committed to going with a group of friends and the first time everyone is available isn’t for another few days).* 

The original Blade Runner was always one of my favourite movies, and seeing it again on a beautiful HD TV screen last week reminded me of how groundbreaking and beautiful it was. And it also reminded me of how influential it was. It was one of the first examples of the cyberpunk genre being truly brought to life, and the pieces of art that came after it or at the same time were hugely influential on how we view and use computers and technology today.  

So I put together this (non-definitive) list of books, movies and more that owe at least a bit to the original Blade Runner. I’ve probably missed your favourite book, and there are probably some that you’ll argue shouldn’t be included. 

Note that I also say "Blade Runner" rather than "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?," the book upon which it was based. That's because as good of an author as Phillip K. Dick was, and as ground-breaking as ""Do Androids..." was I don't think either the author or the original story would have had nearly as much fame as they do today if it hadn't been for the film becoming such a cultural hit. Up until that point, cyberpunk was a relatively obscure (though growing) genre of science-fiction literature that was dealing with the creeping intrusion of technology into our lives and resulting isolation. Worlds, concepts and stories had been fleshed out by authors like Dick, John Shirley (City Come A Walkin', 1981), Alfred Bester and George Alec Effinger (see below), but it took the Blade Runner film to really give us the visual texture and iconic "high-tech, low-life"  look of and feel of the  cyberpunk genre. 

So what defines the genre? For me, the core component is a world where technology can possibly replace part or all of everything a human is, from body parts to thinking processes, ultimately asking the question what it means to human. Well that could describe a lot of sci-fi, it's that "low-life" aspect of it that puts it in it's own genre: isolated, marginalised or countercultural characters are at the forefront. Hackers don't necessarily reign supreme, but the symbolize independence and anti-authority sentiment. There's "dirt in the corners," as William Gibson puts it and, many of his contemporaries were heavily influenced by the punk rock of the 70s and 80s. Rudy Rucker, considered one of the founders of the literary movement, compared it to punk music in that both were informationally dense, cared more about being interesting than in conventions. 

So, back to my list: 

Neuromancer by William Gibson is the obvious choice for inclusion - the 1982 book was a defining piece of the "cyberpunk" genre. Case's Chiba City could have been Deckard's Los Angeles without almost a single change, and it captured a combination of the gritty, marginalised characters on the edges of society with bigger questions about what it meant to be human, artificial or otherwise. While it probably wasn't directly "inspired" by Blade Runner (author William Gibson famously avoided watching the film while he was writing Neuromancer because he was worried it was too close to what he was writing), the fact that the two came out at almost the same time is in itself significant. The way that Case, the main character (I wouldn’t necessarily call him a “hero”) accessed the internet in the book (diving in, jacking in) heavily influenced the way it was portrayed in countless other movies and shows afterwards, particularly Ghost in the Shell (which I go into further down) and The Matrix, both of which were hugely influential in their own right. With Neuromancer and some of his other early books, Gibson gave us the vocabulary of the near-future. 

The Maurid Audrain books by George Alec Effinger (AKA: "The Budyadeen Cycle: When Gravity Fails, A Fire In The Sun, and The Exile Kiss") is one of my favourite series, and one that will stay with you long after reading it. It follows titular character Maurid Audrain in a futuristic middle-east, and has familiar cyberpunk themes of altered personalities due to invasive technology along with characters and settings at the edge of society. The books are an acknowledgement that some of the most interesting impacts and use-cases of technology won’t happen in established cities or in North America, but will more likely happen in developing nations and on the fringes. 

But if it's the guns and action side of cyberpunk you like, you're probably better off reading the Takeshi Kovacs books by Richard Morgan. 

(I know i should probably at least mention Snow Crash on here, but I don't think I really enjoyed it as much as other people. The fact that the main character's name is "Hiro Protagonist" really annoyed me). 

(And if you really went to get deeper into the layers of literary influence, the term “Blade Runner” itself comes from an earlier science-fiction book about the future of health care in America. )

if you want to see what Blade Runner would have looked like as a video game, Hideo Kojima’s SNATCHER is your best bet. The plot follows Gillian Seed, doing his best Harrison Ford impersonation with brown trench coat, oversized handgun and lonely life as a JUNKER, whose job is to hunt down and destroy SNATCHERS, aka robots who are able to look like humans. 

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The plot and images might sound derivative, but the game was instrumental in launching Kojima’s career. His later Metal Gear games, though with the tagline "Tactical Espionage Action," had deep and convoluted plots about implanted memories, cloned humans and cybernetic implants. The games are famous for breaking the fourth wall, drawing attention to the fact that you’re playing a game yet at the same time blurring the lines between the virtual game world and reality. Examples of this are when the game forces you to unplug your control and plug it into the second port so that you can defeat an enemy with psychic/mind-reading powers, and again when an artificial intelligence within the game attempts to stop you from defeating another boss by telling you that you’ve been playing for too long, and should put down the controller.  

Shadowrun, though, is probably a closer stylistic relative to Blade Runner. Everything from the rainy streets, neon signs and seedy, gritty city seems almost like it was pulled directly from Deckard’s Los Angeles. The game was released on Steam a few years ago, and is based off of the pen and paper RPGof the same name from the 80s. The basic premise is that you’re the leader of a crew of mercenaries who take on jobs ranging from corporate security to hacking, except there are also demons,  elves and trolls. And magic. It’s a bit of a leap, but it actually works. 

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However stylistically perfect the game is, it stops short of asking the bigger thematic questions that cyberpunk does well, about the nature of humanity or the role technology plays in our live. It’s fun and visually interesting, but ultimately shallow. 

(Yes, I know that Cyberpunk 2077 is probably a better example of a game in the genre but considering it’s been in development for years and doesn’t have a confirmed release date means it’s probably vapourware at this point. And there was also a Blade Runner game, but I haven’t heard anything good about it. )

Ghost in the Shell remains one of my favourite movies, and recent viewings of both it and Blade Runner remind me of just how much the former owes to the latter. At the surface, it’s the same 21st century cyberpunk city with it's katakana and kanji neon signs shining brightly through rain-soaked streets. 

But the similarities go further than that: Section 9, the quasi-governmental agency for which the main characters in Ghost in the Shell work, is also a good stand-in for Blade Runners. Both are tasked with reigning in or otherwise dealing with rogue intelligences. Ghost in the Shell's Kusanagi and Blade Runner's Deckard both live solitary, isolated lives.  They've got hobbies, sort of. But nothing beyond that. And at the end we’re left not really being sure how much of them was truly human, and what that means to the bit of soul (or “ghost”) we saw in each of them. 

The parallel scenes of characters coming to grips with implanted memories (Leon in Blade Runner, the garbage man in GitS) make you realize this is something more - and that even the main characters might not be exactly as they seem. 

The live-action remake of Ghost in the Shell is worth watching, also. The plot is a bit different, and it doesn’t get quite as deep but it’s visually almost perfect. Watch the original anime, then watch the remake just for the shot-by-shot comparisons. 

Likewise, Chappie takes us on a familiar journey: escaped Artificial Intelligence living on the fringes of society is hunted down by the megacorporation that created it. Where Chappie works is by giving heart and soul to a much more machine-like "shell" than the replicants that live on the other side of the uncanny valley. The garish colours and “gangster” aesthetic that Die Antwoord bring to Chappie’s life and their role as his caretakers are a perfect evolution of the punk-inspired cyberpunk of the 80s. 

If you’re still with me on this list, it’s worth exploring the world of Archillect for two reasons. The first is that the imagery posted on Archillect’s social channels is, at times, heavily cyberpunk inspired. The second is that Architect itself is almost almost an intelligent artefact. Is Archillect an art object itself? An artist? Or a semi-autonomous curator? I think that all three can be true, but your opinion will likely vary. 

You might notice that most of the examples I’ve provided above are older. I don’t think any are from ideas that came anytime after the mid-90s (Chappie might be the exception, but it can be excused because it so perfectly captures then evolves upon its predecessors). And that’s because cyberpunk is essentially a dead genre. At best, it’s mired in nostalgia.  We’re too far past the initial exploratory period of how technology will infiltrate society. The technology of cyberpunk, though based on code, was always physically invasive: jacking into the net via wires in Ghost in the Shell and Neuromancer. The mechanical clicking of Deckard's equipment as he runs another Voight-Kampf test. It all seems old-fashioned in an age of ubiquitous wifi, wireless charging and the sea of information at everyone's fingertips via mobile phones. 

Instead, cyberpunk been replaced by a cleaner, more polished vision of the future. Ex Machina is a perfect example of this, as are the more modern William Gibson stories. Even The Avengers films, with Jarvis, the Vision and Ultron as various sides of the Artificial Intelligence coin. They're still asking those same questions about what defines a human or intelligence, but without some of the dirt, grime and noir of cyberpunk. 

It’s still worth reading science-fiction, even the older cyberpunk stuff. The “present” is becoming “the future” at a rate far faster than ever before. Science-fiction doesn’t give us answers. But it provides frameworks for understanding the way technology will change, how it will impact society, and how it will affect what it means to be human. 

If you stuck with this post all the way to the end, you might also a list of my favourite science-fiction books. 

*I've since watched Blade Runner 2049. Twice. It was amazing both times, and deserves a post itself. 

Summer Of Sun and Snow

It was a pretty amazing summer here on the West (best?) Coast. Below is a mostly-chronological recap of May-September. Yes, there was a lot of snow (and some ski-touring!).  

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Working With Remote Teams

I’ve spent the latter half of my career working extensively with colleagues, teams and clients across the country or around the world. Recently, it’s mostly just been myself working from Vancouver with a team based in Toronto. In other positions, I’ve worked on everything from projects with multiple teams (clients, developers, designers, sales) around the world to situations where I was part of a team collaborating with a single remote worker. 

Below are a few lessons I’ve learned along the way. Some of these might be basic project management skills (and thus the responsibility of a Project Manager or Producer to know and manage), but they’re applicable to anyone working remotely or with clients/team members in a different city. Not all are applicable to every project. 

Roles, Responsibilities and Resources. 

At the start of the project, ensure that everyone is clear on their roles and responsibilities, including what they are expected to deliver and how. While this might not be known at the very first kick-off meeting or project, work to quickly establish it and send out a message that outlines these roles. For larger projects, or ones with two teams working together, establish a Single Point Of Contact for each team. The SPOC will be the person through which information flows and will be responsible for scheduling and keeping their team up to date. 

At the same time, establish which tools or resources will be used for the project, and how they should be used. For example: 

  • Dictate that Google Docs should be used, and develop guidelines for naming conventions or the process by which feedback should be given (assigning issues, or via email?)
  • Provide a framework for the way the team should use another file-sharing/collaboration tool such as BaseCamp
  • Designate key people who have the authority to provide final approvals on key pieces of work or; 
  • Provide a document that defines how the team should use Slack (use of file sharing, when to use versus email)   

Operating Rhythm

As soon as possible, establish an Operating Rhythm. This will vary immensely depending on the project requirements, timelines and team members, but setting a regular schedule will help the team and project stay on track. Regular check-ins will also ensure that team members have a forum to ask questions or otherwise voice concerns that might be left to linger or which can cause problems down the road. 

In a regular office environment, it’s easier to see when colleagues are busy/overwhelmed, or when they have capacity. When working remotely, this is often difficult to see but an established operating rhythm can identify these issues. 

Some examples: 

  • While working on a Social Listening/Digital Research project for a recent client, I had a call with them every Thursday over the course of a month to highlight the work I had done, and for them to provide feedback or course correction. It was also an opportunity for me to ask any questions/request additional information from them. 
  • While working to do a major rebuild on our local client’s site, we needed to coordinate closely with their team in Europe.  Our two teams held weekly conference calls, but knew that 24 hours prior to the call, the client team would send out an agenda and identified which of our team members needed to be there, while we provided them with a list of questions we needed answered or wanted to discuss on the call. 
  • While working on the launch of an overseas project, we used timezones to our advantage: 6pm conference calls for us meant that we could provide our overseas counterparts with everything they needed to workout throughout our night (their day), and that they would then have questions/updates/etc ready for us when we woke up, which we would be able to work through during our day. 

Presentation

Conversations are great, but at some point in the process one team is going to have to present to another. My recommendation is to use a tool called Join.me - of all the screen-sharing pieces of technology, it’s the easiest and most reliable to use. The presenter just has to download the free tool, while on the other end the team viewing the presentation only has to go to the join.me website and enter a code provided by the presenter. I strongly recommend ensuring that the presenter maintains control over what is on screen using screen-sharing tools like this, rather than the "Okay, we're on page six of the PDF - is everyone on that page?" type of calls we've all been on. 

Other tips: 

  • Use the audio from phones, rather than a laptop (it often comes across broken-up/distorted).
  • Ensure that the presenters/primary speakers use a headset. The sound is often better than speakerphone, and ensures they are a consistent distance from the microphone) 
  • Send all presentation documents in PDF after the call. 

Personal Connection

As much as everything can be done electronically via email, shared documents, instant (and non-instant) messages, a personal connection can. Whenever possible, try and make time to meet your counterparts in different areas of the world. For larger projects, the cost of travel for an in-person kick-off meeting will be offset by the bonds and relations formed during these connections, and the way that this facilitates the project going forward. 

What am I missing here? What else would you add to these list of recommendations? 

Garibaldi - Black Tusk - Helm Creek

On Saturday a couple of friends and I did a pretty epic hike. 

 Ty and Parker moving quick with the Black Tusk in site. We didn't start until a little after 2pm and knew we'd have to keep up a good pace to finish before dark. 

Ty and Parker moving quick with the Black Tusk in site. We didn't start until a little after 2pm and knew we'd have to keep up a good pace to finish before dark. 

 We drank fresh, cold water from the stream. At 11.5km into the hike on a hot day, it was very welcome. That's Garibaldi Lake in the background. 

We drank fresh, cold water from the stream. At 11.5km into the hike on a hot day, it was very welcome. That's Garibaldi Lake in the background. 

 Ty and J-Dub making their way up the snow. 

Ty and J-Dub making their way up the snow. 

 Different angle/elevation. 

Different angle/elevation. 

 Looking into the crater and beyond. 

Looking into the crater and beyond. 

 Climbing this scree slope was tough. Two steps forward, sliding one back. 

Climbing this scree slope was tough. Two steps forward, sliding one back. 

 Ty on the way down. 

Ty on the way down. 

 Beautiful mountain meadows on the way down. 

Beautiful mountain meadows on the way down. 

 Some sort of high plain. 

Some sort of high plain. 

 Home stretch - the sun was starting to get a bit lower, and we still had about 10km to go. 

Home stretch - the sun was starting to get a bit lower, and we still had about 10km to go. 

All in, it was an incredible hike. Ty even made the summit (J-Dub and I hung back the last little stretch because we didn't feel like scrambling) and we completed the 27.6 km and ~1700m of elevation in about 6.5 hours, getting to the car just it was getting dark at about 9pm. 

Circles of Influence (A Workshop Idea)

According to the sidebar here on BlogCampaigning, this blog is normally about "advertising, technology, public relations, social media, video games and pretty much whatever we feel is important." 

What's been important for the last little while seems to be hiking, surfing and skiing, but that doesn't mean I've totally forgotten about advertising and all that other exciting stuff. 

I'm in the midst of putting together a workshop for some clients based on the Google Ventures 3 Hour Brand Sprint, but felt that it didn't go into quite enough detail for some of the components.

In the process of adapting it, I came across a "Circles of Influence" exercise (in the Hyper Island Toolbox). This felt like a good start for understanding audiences, but I also wanted to extend it for the particular brand workshop I'm planning and wanted to go deeper into some details and so added on to it. (The Circles of Influence exercise itself is based on a more personal/leadership exercise by Stephen Covey)

__________________________________________________________________

Objective: To uncover insights about target audience influences, concerns and the role a brand/organisation/product/service may have in their life. 

Time: 20-40 minutes (depending on number of people, complexity.

Note: Although this can be conducted as a stand-alone session, I think it ideally works alongside other workshop activities to help define key audiences and even (re)define what the brand/organisation/product/service actually does and why. 

How It Works: 

1.) The room is divided up into smaller groups (2-3), and each group is assigned a key audience (ideally, these audiences are identified and agreed upon during a previous part of the workshop). 

For our example, let's pretend that the brand we're working on is a residential real estate agency, and that one of their audiences is Home Buyer in a large North American city. 

2.) First, each group is asked to take out the Circles of Concern page (Worksheet I) in the PDF below. The Moderator gives them about 5 minutes to write down all the things that they think this audience might be concerned about, particularly as they relate to the brand/target and their mindset. 

In the example below, I've worked with a friend of mine who is a Real Estate agent to identify some of the concerns his clients might have. 

 

3.) Next, each group takes out the Circles of Influence page (Worksheet II) and discusses which of the items from the first worksheet ("Circle of Concern") are things that the target would have control over. These go in the inner circle of the diagram. Those that don't fit in there go in the outer circle. Again, the Moderator gives the groups about 5 minutes for this. 

You can see what it looks like in our Home Buyer/Real Estate example below: 

 

4.) Each group now takes out the Brand Influence page (Worksheet III). Once again, they transfer all the words/phrases from one sheet to another, this time from the Circle of Influence page (Worksheet II) to the Circle of Brand Influence page (Worksheet III). As they do it, they put all the issues/concerns that the brand can help with in the middle circle. The ones outside both the brand and audience's concern go in the outer circle, and the ones that the audience can influence but not the brand go in the inner circle. Again, take about 5 minutes for this. You can see our example again below: 

 

5.) Lastly, the different groups (working on different audiences) should share their final worksheet with the rest of the group. The Moderator should guide them through the conversation, and note down any key points/insights from this, particularly where there is solid alignment from the different groups. Some questions to ask at this point: 

Can we group any of these items in Brand Influence together? 

Is there anything in the Circle of Concern or Circle of Influence that the brand isn't addressing? Or that competitors are? 

Are there any similarities between the different audiences? 

Are the items in the circle of Brand Influence truly the most important to the audience? Does this matter, based on our brand and audience? 

In our hypothetical example of a First-Time Home Buyer, we might realize that although the Real Estate Agent/Agency have done a lot of work around communicating market conditions and other homes in the area, they have't done nay communicating around the actual process of buying a home or why their agents are trusted. This might lead to some interesting territories for communication that can set them apart. 

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Could small groups, or even a single person, arrive at a similar conclusion without this workshop, and without even the worksheets?  Probably. But I also think there is value in getting a key group of people to think through some of the decisions. Hopefully, the discussion will lead to alignment between different teams and the actual role that the brand/organization/service/produce can play in the role of the lives of particular audiences. It might not lead to any new insights, but it can help fine-tune existing ones.  

This is also only one component of a greater workshop/series of activities. 

As I mentioned above, all parties at the workshop should come to this meeting reasonably well-prepared. In the case of client stakeholders, they probably already have a very good idea of who their audience is and some of their concerns. 

In the case of agency partners attending the meeting, they should do some pre-thinking to put themselves in the mind of the different audiences and their needs/concerns. 

Circles of Concern/Influence/Brand Worksheets - PDF DOWNLOAD (if you end up using these printouts, print them on large size paper. You're gonna run out of space if you only print them on 8x11).

By way of disclosure: I'm not a home buyer. I don't work with any real estate agencies as clients. And I didn't full explain the purpose of this exercise to my friend, so the answers in the example aren't super deep.  

Mt Baker On Skis

One of the reasons I moved to Vancouver was because of what surrounded the city: mountains. 

Since moving here, my friend Ty has taken me under his wing and is showing me the best peaks in the area. He's also gotten me into back-country skiing (or ski-touring), and over the May long weekend we summited Mt. Baker in Washington state. 

(For those that are unfamiliar with the sport of ski-touring, as I was until November last year, it's a combination of cross-country skiing and downhill skiing. To go up the hill, you put something called a "skin" on the bottom of your ski that provides you with traction (they're synthetic now, but I'm sure that back in the day they used to be actual seal skins). When you get to the top, you adjust the bindings, take off the skin and its downhill skiing.)

 A view of the peak from the logging road, after about 20 minutes into the trip - we drove to within about 2 miles of the trailhead, and then hit snow so strapped the skis on and started going up. 

A view of the peak from the logging road, after about 20 minutes into the trip - we drove to within about 2 miles of the trailhead, and then hit snow so strapped the skis on and started going up. 

 Not sure who took this photo, but it's a beautiful one, and not even the steepest part. 

Not sure who took this photo, but it's a beautiful one, and not even the steepest part. 

 This was our camp for the night, after about 4 hours of traversing through the forest, and going uphill. 

This was our camp for the night, after about 4 hours of traversing through the forest, and going uphill. 

 Sunset from our camp. 

Sunset from our camp. 

 Going up on the second day. 

Going up on the second day. 

 A view from the peak of Mt. Baker: about 10,700 feet/3,200 meters above sea level. I took a nap on my backpack when we got there. 

A view from the peak of Mt. Baker: about 10,700 feet/3,200 meters above sea level. I took a nap on my backpack when we got there. 

 The crew, from left to right:  Backcountry Pete, Kerry, Parker, Ty 

The crew, from left to right:  Backcountry Pete, Kerry, Parker, Ty 

 Another view from the peak - it really shows you how much higher Mt. Baker is than the surrounding mountains. 

Another view from the peak - it really shows you how much higher Mt. Baker is than the surrounding mountains. 

 Part of the descent - it was steep! I didn't ski this part, but slid down on my ass and used my ice axe as a brake. 

Part of the descent - it was steep! I didn't ski this part, but slid down on my ass and used my ice axe as a brake. 

 Ty skied down the toughest, most technical part and ripped it up. 

Ty skied down the toughest, most technical part and ripped it up. 

 Conditions at the bottom were spring-like: after we got below the tree line, we followed this glacier water runout channel. 

Conditions at the bottom were spring-like: after we got below the tree line, we followed this glacier water runout channel. 

It was probably one of the coolest trips I've ever been on. But also one of the toughest. I'm sure that for the crew I was with, this was an easy little weekend trip into the mountains, though. 

I'd like to give a HUGE thank you to Ty, Pete and Kerry for having me along on the trip. I was definitely the rookie, and there was no way I could have even considered going on the trip without them. 

If you liked these photos, you might like a few other posts about hiking that I've done in the last year or so: 

Tommyhoi Peak (visible from Mt. Baker) 

Surfing and Hiking in New Zealand

Hiking Tasmania: Quamby Bluff

Haleakala (Maui)

Waterfalls, Rainforests and Sand Dunes: New Zealand Hiking

The Pinnacles: New Zealand

Containers and Cables

Almost 20 years ago, I was lucky enough to spend my grade 11 year on a sailing ship. We travelled to 40+ countries over the course of the year, learning everything  we could about a ship, navigation and the ocean. We sometimes spent two or more weeks at sea without seeing land or another ship (It was more White Squall than Breaker High). We crossed the Atlantic ocean. We went through the Panama Canal. We visited Easter Island. The Galapagos. We traced the routes of great explorers. 

The whole trip ignited a passion for the ocean within me. It's what driven me to learn how to surf. It's why I love living so close to the water here in Vancouver now. 

Part of the my interest in the ocean was directed at the majority of the traffic we saw on that trip: the massive cargo ships and oil tankers. 

That's why I've enjoyed Alexis Madrigal's "Containers" Podcast so much. In a partnership with Flexport, the 8-episode series goes deep into history and future of the global shipping industry.

It's a deeper look into something I've always had questions about. What's it like for the crew to live on one of those ships? How was it changed over the years? What's going to happen in the next few years as new technology is implemented? 

The episode about coffee is particularly interesting, and particularly the way that the world's love of "third wave coffee" has influenced the coffee industry, and the related shipping. 

Part of what I liked about the Containers podcast was that Alex found something he was interested in, and went down a deep rabbit hole of learning more about it. 

In a way it reminded of "Mother Earth Mother Board," a now-20-year-old article originally published in Wired. It's an account of the Neil Stephenson's (yes, that Neil Stephenson's) GPS-directed journey around the world as he follows the laying of the fibre-optic cable that makes up the backbone of our communications system. 

Both will make you think a bit more deeply about the source of the coffee you're drinking and the data you're absorbing as you read/listen to them. Technology and global commerce are changing rapidly, but they're still built on legacy systems. 

Links: 

Containers Podcast

Mother Earth Mother Board (Wired) 

What's The Value Of A URL?

One of the things that I both love and hate about what I do is an inability to just look at some sort of communication from a company without absolutely picking it apart, and trying to reverse-engineer the brief or thinking that went into it. 

On a recent Westjet flight I looked out and saw that instead of a logo, the winglet had the Westjet.com URL on it (and what I don't think is in the actual Westjet font). 

 

West jet knows that their passengers like to take pictures out the window, and used to encourage it as part of the #WingletWednesday hashtag thing they had going on. At some point, they decided to change the lettering on their winglets to include the .com. 

How conscious or planned was the decision to make this a URL instead of a logo? 

How many incremental people would visit the Westjet website (and book a flight) after seeing the URL, compared to if it had only been the Westjet logo? 

Is there anyone out there who wouldn't be able to figure out or find the Westjet website if it wasn't a URL? Or does having this as a URL reinforce the idea that Westjet is a modern, technology-enabled carrier for the always-connected traveller? 

I want to say that there is probably no real way to measure this the value of adding a URL but that isn’t necessarily true. It's just that the cost would probably outweigh the benefit. 

I didn’t lose sleep over these questions (I can barely stay awake on airplanes due to the hum of the engines and the gentle rocking of mild turbulence) but they’re the kinds of things I like to think about. Or not think about, if I’m trying to relax. 

To Some Of My Mentors (And One Mentee) 

It’s been about a year since I left the comfortable confines of big agency life to move to a new city and try my hand at freelancing but I still consider myself to be in a bit of a transition period. 

In this period, I’ve been having a lot of coffees with old colleagues and friends. And it’s made me think of those who have served as mentors, officially and unofficially, to me over the course of my career. 

When I first moved to Toronto in 2006, I had a Masters in Arts & Media that had given me hands-on experience with blogging and all things social media, but I had no idea how that would really translate to a job (or even how to get a job!) and what the difference between working at an agency or client-side even meant. It was people like Martin Hoffman and Joseph Thornley who took time to invite me into their offices or have a coffee to explain the industry in more detail. They didn’t have jobs for me but by giving up some of their day to talk with a kid in an oversized shirt they gave me a bit of confidence and knowledge that helped me land my first real interviews and job. 

In a more official capacity, the Canadian Public Relations Society partnered me with Martin Waxman as part of their mentorship program. At the time, he was the President of a PR agency in Toronto, while I was a Communications Coordinator at CNW Group. I have no doubt that Martin was incredibly busy at that time of his life (as I know he continues to be!) but he still made time to meet with me for an early morning breakfast on a monthly basis. He was always asking me questions about my own career, making me think a bit more deeply about my work and helping me navigate those first few changes in roles or companies. I haven't caught up with him as much as I'd like in the past few years, but when our schedules have overlapped that we've been in the same city it has been great to reconnect with him. 

Ed Lee hired me in 2010 and has been someone I’ve always been able to turn to for advice about the office and my own career. While this was probably his literal job when I reported directly into him, he continued to be supportive of me when my path took me away from him. He’s since become someone who I still keep in touch with regularly, who is happy to answer my questions and hear my frustrations via text, who will meet me for a beer or tea when I’m in the same city as him and who I now consider a good friend.

Tim Murdoch was my lacrosse coach when I played for McGill in the early 2000s, and since that time he’s turned the team around from a Bad News Bears situation (losing games 10-0, but leading the league in penalty minutes) to multiple championships and maybe the most dominant team in the league over the past few years. This success is due to the devotion he shows his players - he’s constantly asking them to be at their absolute best. And this devotion extends to former players as well. It’s been 13 years since I graduated, but I still call him Coach and know that he’ll pick up the phone when I call whether it is to just talk about lacrosse or to get some advice on a business question. 

They all have a few traits in common.

They’re patient. None of them rushed to solutions for problems or questions I had. They understood that I probably needed to work through some of the thinking on my own, and that conversations with them were a place to sound out ideas and approaches. 

They’re giving. They all have lots going on in their lives. They have businesses to run. Clients Families. Hobbies. And yet they’ve all made extra time for me, and probably others as well. 

They’re inquisitive. They don’t simply make recommendations or suggestions. They listen. The ask questions. They want to learn. It’s probably this nature that’s helped them get where they are today. 

+++++++++++++++++++++++++

A few years ago I answered an email from the McGill Alumni Association asking graduates if they would be interested in being a mentor to a recent graduate or current student. I replied to express my interest in participating, and shortly after that I was matched with a young woman who was just starting her marketing career.  

I was overseas while she was in Toronto, but we connected on Skype or FaceTime about once a month or so. I was impressed with the fact that she always came to our calls with some questions she wanted to ask, and I hope the answers or guidance I gave her made sense. I also learned a lot from her. Hearing things from her side, the types of concerns she had, what she was looking for, gave me a great deal of insight into the thoughts going through the heads of my own young team. 

We continue to stay in touch as our careers have both moved forward and I’ve seen her grow from a dedicated but slightly cautious coordinator at a small marketing agency to a new and recent role as a Digital Planner at one of the city’s best agencies. 

I hope we continue to connect and I look forward to following what I know will be a successful career for her. 

++++++++++++

Lastly, the most important mentor to me has always been my dad. He didn’t work in advertising and I’ve never met him for coffee (except for when I’m visiting him and we’re both up at 5:30am to go about our days). But he continues to be the one I can always go to for advice. Who is always willing to listen. Who is patient with me.

Thanks for your guidance throughout the years, paps.  

 

Popularity of Select Social Networks (A Test)

Earlier this morning I got it into my head that i wanted to try and create a animated GIFs of a few charts, but wanted to run a test to see if I could do it. 

What was surprising to me was how, despite all their hype in the ad industry, Snapchat is barely making a blip. I'm also surprised that there isn't more interest in Reddit, though that could be because it's a personal favourite site of mine, and because it also bills itself the "front page of the internet." 

Process: 

1.) I utilized Google Trends, and entered the names of a few different social networks (see notes below for exclusion of Facebook). 

2.) I then exported a .csv file of the data

3.) I then opened this in Microsoft Excel (probably my favourite tool).

4.) I then cut the data, and selected Paste Special (Transpose) to re-paste into the Excel document with the the rows/columns reversed. 

5.) I then copied this data, and pasted it into the data section of a chart in Keynote 

6.) After a bit of fine-tuning with the Animate settings in Keynote and building another layer for the background, I exported the slide as a Quicktime file. 

7.) Which was then converted into a .Mov file so that I could...

8.) Utilise Giphy to convert it into an animated Gif. 

Some notes: 

  • I know that utilizing Google Trends data for search interest isn't the best way of gauging the popularity of particular social networks (active users, engagement, visits, etc are probably better) but it was an easy way to grab some data to practice my graph animate skills.
  • I purposely didn't include Facebook in this - it was so popular that the other social networks were just flat lines along the x axis. Data selection at its finest. 

What's Next? 

I'll probably refine my process for this, and look to improve the readability/visual style of these graphs. Let me know if there any interesting data sets I can look at for my next one. 

The Best Science-Fiction Books

A few years ago I wrote a post titled "The Top Ten Science Fiction Books," and it's probably worth updating. I've read quite a bit since then, and while some of my favourite books haven't changed it seemed like there were a few new ones that I've been recommending to people that need to be added to the list. 

I also think that, six years since the original post, Science-Fiction is more important than ever. Technology (and our reliance and use of it) is moving at an incredible pace. To me, sci-fi is the best possible way to start to understand the implications of this technology on ourselves, society,  and the world. It might not necessarily answer some pressing questions of the 21st century but it gives us a framework to start thinking about them more deeply: How will climate change truly affect us? What does Artificial Intelligence mean for the concept of what it means to be human? Are humans truly unique and alone in the universe (and what are the implications for either answer)? Why is science important? 

A few notes about this list

Many of the "books" listed below are actually series. I don't think it's fair to choose one book from the series, as the series will often form a full story that's worth reading. 

I've also removed any sort of ranking (the previous list was 1-10), and have added some honourable (and dishonourable) mentions at the bottom without going in to too much detail. 

Lastly, any list like this is going to be purely subjective. No two people will have the exact same taste in books, and my not liking a certain book says nothing about the quality of that book. 

 

The Best Science-Fiction

The Mars Trilogy - Kim Stanley Robinson

I think I first read this trilogy when I was about 13 years old, and it made me fall in love with the potential for science. The quick plot summary is that in the mid 21st century, humans have been able to colonize Mars. The books follow the human drama, politics, relationships and science of some of the original colonists over the span of a few hundred years. Take out the science-fiction setting, and you've still got a great story of politics and drama. The space-age setting, so close to where we are now, adds a sense of optimism to the books and just makes them that much more interesting. I also don't think that you should consider yourself having finished reading the series unless you've also tacked on The MartiansIcehenge, Galileo's Drams and The Memory of Whiteness to the original Red MarsGreen Mars and Blue Mars trilogy (I still cryevery time I finish reading Blue Mars). While they aren't officially once series, they feel like they're part of the same story, taking place thousands of years apart.

House of Suns- Alastair Reynolds

Most of Alastair Reynolds' books are hard to read: the characters are unlikeable. They're frequently in pain (or inflict exquisite pain on another character). Something terrible has happened to them, and they know something else will soon happen to them. This book is no different, but at least the two main characters have each other. Campion and Purslane are two "shatterlings," near-immortal clones of a woman named Abigal Gentian, who travel the universe, having new experiences, and meeting up with their fellow shatterlings about every 200,000 years to exchange memories. The pair fall in love (a shatterling taboo) and to atone for this they try and bringHesperus, a beautiful golden robot who is one of the machine people, to their next meet-up. Not everything goes as planned, and the book throws out some big ideas on a massive, cosmic scale. It's a beautiful story, and I know I'm not the only one that loved it.

Ilium and Olympos - Dan Simmons

While it seems that most lists of the top science-fiction books include one of Dan Simmons' books, more often than not they include Hyperion or Songs of Kali rather than this pair. I think that part of the reason is because this two-part series is just so hard to explain. The basic plot is that the Greek and Trojan armies are re-enacting the Trojan War according to the Illiad. The big thing is that the gods themselves are real here, but rather than supernatural beings, just post-humans powered by advanced nanotechnology. You're never sure what time period this takes place in, or where, but other characters include literature-loving robots that were once sent to explore the solar system, a mysterious Odysseus, naively innocent, yet technologically advanced, future humans, and Caliban. Yes, Caliban, from Shakespeare's The Tempest. Read this pair of books if you have an interest in Greek mythology and classic literature. 

Ender's Game (The Ender Quintet) - Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game is the story of one Ender Wiggin, a young boy who is recruited at an early age for 'battle school' in orbit around Earth to learn about space strategy so that Earth can defend itself from the alien 'buggers.' It is definitely a great book of a boy growing up (I think "coming of age tale" is the proper term), but also mixes a sub plot of geopolitics (previously discussed on BlogCampaigning in the post "Peter and Valentine were the original bloggers") and the morality of destroying an alien race.  One of the classics, for sure, and also one of the only books on this series that is part of a larger series, but of which I'm not recommending the rest of the series. Pick this book up for the educator or young adult in your life.

Neuromancer- William Gibson

I bet that a majority of the people reading this blog have read and been influenced by Gibson's Neuromancer - I mean, come on: he's the guy credited with inventing the word 'cyberspace.' I first read it when I was in university, and pretty much couldn't put it down. Despite the fact that it is nearly 30 years old, it still reads like it was written yesterday (though the absence of mobile phones is a bit of a problem) and is a great look at what our future could still become. I see the influences of this book in all sorts of sci-fi and popular culture (The Matrix and Ghost in the Shell, for starters). Follow it up with Count zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive, the other two books in Gibson's 'Sprawl Trilogy.' I also think it is probably for the best that no one has been able to get a Neuromancer movie off the ground (try New Rose Hotel with Christopher Walken and Willem Dafoe if you're jonesing for some Gibson on the big screen. Johnny Mnemonic is also based on one of Gibson's short stories).

Starship Troopers - Robert Heinlein

As is normally the case, the book is way better than the movie. In this case, they are also totally different. The book Starship Troopers is more about responsibility and what that means to be a man. The gist of the book is that a young Johnny Ricoleaves home after graduation to join the mobile infantry, gets shipped off to boot camp, survives it and grows into his role as the leader of his own squadron of troops. 

The Demolished Man - Alfred Bester

According to Wikipedia, The Demolished Man was first published in 1952-53. The story is about an incredibly wealthy and successful businessman, Ben Reich, on a future Earth where telepaths take high-paying roles as consultants and lawyers. Reich's one-minded passion to commit the perfect crime fuels the book, and the book's frantic pace makes it hard to put down and makes it feel like it was written decades after books written by Bester's contemporaries. This is the type of old-school sci-fi that influenced the cyberpunkers of the 80s.

The Culture Series -  Iain Banks

As with some of the others on this list, I didn't think it was fair to pick just one book from Banks' culture series. To fully understand that incredible world of star-faring humans, you have to read the whole series. None of the books are connected enough that you have to read them in a particular order, but reading them all will give you much better idea of the world Banks has constructed. The basic premise is that race of pan-humans has reached almost technological perfection. Rather than subliming into the ether to become something like gods as other races do when they reach a similar level of technology, The Culture spends their time on massive spaceships or orbitals pursuing a hedonistic lifestyle. These orbitals and ships are sentient, as are drones, constant companions to the characters in the books. The action takes places on the fringes of The Culture, with newcomers or outsiders to the society being the main characters. On a side note, Banks' non-sci fibook The Business is also a pretty good read. For a bit of a background on The Culture, read this post on io9. I also recommend 'A Few Notes On The Culture' by Iain Banks himself.

Anathem- Neal Stephenson

This is definitely another one of those books that falls in the "I can't explain it, you just have to read it" category. The first section of the book tells the story of a planet where the keepers of knowledge and science live spartan, cloistered lives like I imagine the monks of today might, while the rest of their society lives freely and worships a variety of gods and religions. Read the book to see what happens next, and be prepared for a lot of thinking.

Remembrance of Earth's Past Trilogy - Cixin Liu

I went in to this book with low-expectations. Sure, it had rave reviews but it was originally written in Chinese and there's no way that language and cultural barrier would result in good sci-fi for my Western sensibilities. The first 1/3 of the first book (The Three Body Problem) in the trilogy reinforced my feelings: this was slow-paced, Communist science-fiction. By the time I was halfway through that book, I realized just how wrong I was. Remembrance of Earth's Past might be one of the best pieces of Science-Fiction that I have ever read. The basic plot is that in the mid to late 20th century a Chinese engineer manages to contact a distant planet, and they send a fleet to Earth that will take 500 years to arrive. Is it an invasion fleet, or are they bringing a message of peace? How Earth responds forms a majority of the book, and the chapters describing the "Dark Forest" concept of galactic living sent chills down my spine. Read this trilogy. 

Seveneves - Neal Stephenson

Yeah, I know - I've already got one Neal Stephenson book in this list but he's a great writer so I'm adding another. In Seveneves, the open page describes the moon being destroyed. The rest of the book is a race as humanity tries to save itself by going to space while pieces of the moon destroy the earth. It's extra-hard science-fiction, and I once heard it described as having orbital dynamics as a character. It can also be pretty dark at times, but it's a serious page-turner. 

 

Honourable Mentions

The Science In The Capital Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson

While not technically Science-Fiction (I've heard it referred to as "Climate Fiction" or "Cli-Fi"), this trilogy consisting of Forty Signs of Rain, Fifty Degrees Below Zero and Sixty Days and Counting has been hugely influential on some of the decisions about life I've made over the past few years. The story mostly follows a group of different people who are living and working in Washington, DC in the near future and amidst alarming climate change. It will (hopefully) make you look at what you can do to both improve the world around you and to live better with yourself and whatever situation you are in. 

The Marrow Series - Robert Reed

An enormous, technologically advanced and incredibly old starship has been travelling around the galaxy for millennia, until it wanders through our solar system and humans hitch a ride. What follows are the stories of the people living on this planet-sized ship as it travels, and the other alien races that also live on board. Start with Marrow. 

The Left Hand of Darkness & The Word For World Is Forest - Ursula K. LeGuin

I'm not sure why I've never read any LeGuin until the last year or so, but these two books were beautiful and very well written. They're true literary pieces of science-fiction, and I'll definitely be reading more by her in the near future.  

Luna: New Moon & Luna: Wolf Moon - Ian McDonald

I'm only half-way through the second book in this series, but its still a great read. Game of Thrones, but on the Moon and with family-led corporations. 

Eifelheim - Michael Flynn

The plot: An alien ship crash lands in Germany during the black plague. The people in the town try and determine if they are demons, angels or men with souls like them. In the modern day, a scholar tries to determine what actually happened by reviewing ancient religious texts. Very well researched and written, short enough to enjoy on a long plane ride. 

Aurora - Kim Stanley Robinson

I read Aurora at almost the same time I read Seveneves (listed above), and found them to be quite similar in the questions they raise: Can humans really survive away from Earth? If so, what are the implications? What will happen to us? Aurora mostly takes place on a generation ship on its way to a planet hundreds of years away from Earth as the ship's systems are gradually failing. While it might be a space adventure, the ship's computer is one of the best Artificial Intelligences I've encountered in fiction. 

Dishonourable Mentions 

I know that Anne Leckie and the Ancillary series are darlings of the science-fiction community, but I really just couldn't get into them. The parts that weren't almost deliberately confusing felt like a ripoff of either Star Wars or The Culture. 

I love most of what Alastair Reynolds writes, but I actually asked Amazon for a refund on Revengers it was so terrible. Some people like it, but it's so drastically different in tone from his other books that

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What are your thoughts? What have I missed, or what else should I be reading? Leave a comment here, or hit me up on Twitter where I'm @ParkerNow