hayden trenholm

Book review: Stealing Home by Hayden Trenholm

It took me a long time to get around to reading this book. It's been on my to read pile for about a year. As I've mentioned recently, I've started doing most of my reading electronically. In fact, I actually read an ebook version of this, even though I have a paper copy on my desk. Stealing Home book coverStealing Home (Kindle, Kobo) is the third book in the Steele Chronicles, published by Bundoran Press. The series started with Defining Diana, and following Steel Whispers, both of which I've previously reviewed. Through each of these books, I've found that the story becomes tighter, and more focused. While the stories can be read independently, the emotional punch of the third book is diminished if you haven't read the earlier books.

I read this book immediately after reading Robert J Sawyer's novel Red Planet Blues, another science fiction novel with a detective story. It's hard not to draw some comparisons. Stealing Home is much darker and grittier than Red Planet Blues. It draws on somewhat of a post-cyberpunk vibe. It feels much more like Blade Runner. The noir point of view wasn't as obvious reading Stealing Home as it was when I first read Defining Diana, and has been scaled back.

It was easier getting into Red Planet Blues. It has a much wider appeal. Once Trenholm gets your attention though, you get sucked into the story. Stealing Home seems to have higher, more personal stakes. Frank Steele seems more human, more relatable. Steele is far from a perfect person. His scars, both emotional and physical, are front and centre. This is part of what makes the story so very interesting.

Stealing Home is a complex story. There are several subplots that weave together, wrapping up several threads from the earlier novels. Like some of Sawyer's novels, one of the themes Trenholm explores is that of uploaded consciousness, something sought after as the ultimate goal of many of the Borg: the Hard Upload into the cloud. It's a kind of cultural myth, a promised homeland for those seeking to cut all ties to the biological body.

The world is a dark place, with large corporations fighting proxy wars across the planet, controlling governments, playing their pawns to gain advantage over others. It's a world full of prejudice, not altogether unlike our own.

Trenholm uses several other themes as well, namely politics and ecological scarcity. Hayden has edited an anthology of short fiction exploring conflict based in ecology, Blood and Water, and is working on editing Strange Bedfellows, a science fiction anthology of future politics, which was a successful Indiegogo crowd funded project.


Aurora Award Finalists

The finalists for the Prix Aurora Awards has now been announced. While I've only read two of the nominated works for Best English Novel so far, (Under Heaven, by Guy Gavriel Kay, and Watch, by Robert J. Sawyer), I've read the previous two novels in the series by Hayden Trenholm (nominated for Stealing Home, previous novels reviewed are Defining Diana and Steel Whispers.), and have attended readings by Sawyer, Trenholm and Marie Bilodeau for their nominated works.

I'm also pleased that Suzanne Church (a writer here in the Waterloo Region),  Matt Moore, and Hayden Trenholm are finalists for Best English Short Story. Sawyer is also a finalist for Best English Poem, as are Carolyn Clink, and Helen Marshall.

Douglas Smith (of whom I've mentioned the story Radio Nowhere from the Campus Chills anthology) has a nomination for Best English Related work for his collection of stories (Chimerascope), and John Robert Columbo and Brett Alexander Savory are finalists for the Tesseracts Fourteen anthology.

There's a good article in the Metro News about an Ottawa based group of writers named the East Block Irregulars which includes Trenholm, Moore and Bilodeau which shows how a great group can challenge writers to excel. All of the members of the group have reason to be proud of these accomplishments.

Matt Moore holding Steel Whispers

A photo of SF writer Matt Moore holding his colleague Hayden Trenholm's novel Steel Whispers. Both Moore and Trenholm are nominated for Best English Short Story.

Book Review: Steel Whispers

I would like to recommend Steel Whispers, by Hayden Trenholm for the Aurora Award this year. This is an exciting sequel to Defining Diana, which was nominated last year. This novel once again follows Frank Steele in a brilliantly imagined future Calgary. The pacing of this novel started off strong, and kept me reading at a frenetic pace. In particular, the opening hook has a great deal of emotional impact, and as the mystery draws itself out, layers of character development are revealed. Within the first pages, Frank Steele begins investigating the murder of his estranged son, as part of an ongoing case of Borg (cyborg) murders. Frank protests his emotional investment in the case, and the novel focuses on how Frank comes to understand his son. Hayden builds on this initial level of emotional tension throughout the novel, in a remarkable novel.

The revelation that his son had Borg implants is particularly interesting, and handled in a manner consistent with gender identity studies. When Frank asks his ex-wife about their son's implants, she replies that he was "like all kids - enamoured with what was new and different. He hung with that dress-up crowd at college" but she also admits that she didn't "pay much attention. I thought it was a fad" (14). She seems genuinely confused as to what actually defines a Borg.

This point is highlighted by one of the viewpoint characters, Buzz Wannamaker, who in addition to being a Borg, is also Native American. Frank notes that "his parents had enough trouble accepting he was Borg without him talking to voices in his head" (26). This dual concept of identity explores the problem of how we see ourselves, and how others see us. When Frank later asks him to define what defines a Borg, Wannamaker suggests that it is not the implants, or at least not just the implants but that "something inside us makes us Borg" (98). This way in which this argument is handled is well done, and quite evocative of some of the LGBT issues in contemporary society.

As a culture inherently different from the social norm, there are other comparisons to gender studies. While "some of the Borg didn't look much different than regular humans with all of the modifications and augmentation hidden under their skin", others "liked to flaunt their changes" (10). Due in part to their refusal to submit to the social norms, the Borg are social outcasts. With regards to the Borg murder case, Frank notes that the "press was having a field day with the idea of a Borg serial killer, alternating between a sick fascination with the grisly details and vicious speculation on whether the culprit should be hunted down or given a medal" (16). As seen throughout history, those who are different suffer persecution from cultural orthodoxy.

The investigation into his son's death is linked together with this sense of identity, and Frank comes to finally learn about his son, and to accept who he became. The action and tension in the story is well maintained, building up towards an exciting confrontation near the end. Hayden's characters are much more fully developed in this story, as they evolve from detective-noir style caricatures and confront their inner demons. This is a great strength of the novel, as Hayden can effectively characterize with a few sentences, later to build very complex characters whose struggles, failures and successes are meaningful.

This focus on identity has brought an interesting Canadian perspective into the novel.