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Discussing Gruesome over Dinner

We had dinner at our favorite Japanese restaurant yesterday –– Yummyaki in Waterloo. Yummyaki is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month, and we’ve been enjoying their outstanding atmosphere, service and food from the very beginning. Indeed, in addition to Iceberg’s annual New Year’s Eve planning sessions, we’ve held many an Iceberg meeting there.

Most of those meetings have been pretty low key –– we talk about sales trends, event schedules and planning, release dates, printer issues, ebook rollouts… stuff most normal people wouldn’t get too excited about. But every so often, things get somewhat lively.

Take a dinner meeting in 2007, where one of the topics of discussion centered around the early readings of the manuscript for the ninth Defense Command novel, The Canary Wars (spoilers ahead).

It’s the beginning of 2233, and a DC frigate has been lost at Pion Rock. Ken Barron, Karen McMaster and the crew of Wolf have to step away from the main action of the Martian War and travel to this horrifying place, to try to rescue the survivors. This involves dealing with the Pions and the Canaries, two ‘tribes’ of people descended from the original miners that colonized the asteroid… but who were then abandoned by Earth, and whose society broke down during generations of isolation, resulting in a horrific mess that turns my stomach.

The leader of the Pions, the entirely despicable and disgusting (my opinion) Josie, was among the most brutal –– loved butchery, and was willing to massacre all her prisoners if she wasn’t stopped. Wolf’s crew had to fight, and fortunately, Karen McMaster was leading them.

Karen was formidable in hand-to-hand combat, but unlike Josie, she rarely used those skills to survive. When she and the Pion leader clashed, Josie therefore managed to drive a spike through her hand. This unleashed Karen’s angrier instincts, and… well, to quote Ken Barron himself:

Wasting no time, she pulled the spike out of her hand, and just as I raised my mag and lined up a shot on Josie’s still-writhing head, Karen inserted the spike into Josie’s left ear with such force that the tip of the crude weapon emerged from Josie’s right ear.

Yes, it was exactly as gruesome as it sounds…

I’ll be the first to admit that gruesome doesn’t come naturally to me, so when I read scenes like that, I don’t really get caught up wondering whether there might have been more effective ways for the spike to used. I shudder, think about whether or not gruesome does indeed fit the context of the story (in this case, it absolutely hinted about Karen’s darker past), and I move on.

However, at this particular Yummyaki dinner, Kenneth and Peter were discussing the merits of this fight… and they were getting animated –– very animated –– as they talked about the chapter in general, and the spike in particular.

Fortunately, our side of the restaurant wasn’t too full, but there were two men sitting at one of the tables quite close to us, entirely engrossed in their own conversation until Peter helpfully (and enthusiastically… by which I mean loudly) offered the following alternative:

What about putting the spike through Josie’s eye, and pinning her head to the floor?

The conversation at the other table stopped. Abruptly. The man facing our table stared. The man with his back to us turned. Horror on their faces. I’m not kidding: horror.

At which point I start kicking people under the table and telling them to be quiet so I could convince the other diners that the violent act being discussed was fictional (these days, unfortunately, that might not be the natural assumption):

Sorry… sorry… they’re talking about a book… a science fiction book… we’re publishers. Really. They’re discussing a scene. Sorry…


The two men turned back to their meal after casting semi-skeptical looks first at us, then at each other. No police were summoned, no book drafts produced to prove our innocence –– thank God.

But yes, this happened. And yes, we’ve learned our lesson and manage enthusiasm (volume levels) a little better when plot discussions happen in public places. Well, we try to anyway –– and mostly we’re successful!

So happy 10th Anniversary to all our friends at Yummyaki. Thanks for the many great meals and memories, and all the best for the next 10. We’ll see you again in a few days… and we’ll continue to do our very best not to scare your customers away.