• Arctic Smoke

Arctic Smoke


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978-1-988732-70-1 | 2019 September | 304 Pages


On the eve of his thirtieth birthday, ageing punk Lor Kowalski is unsure of his sanity. He is haunted by hallucinogens and harbingers, strung out on broken stories that he cannot piece together into a lucid whole. Forced to join his old band from a life he’d rather forget, he is dragged north under the spell of a mysterious ad for an Arctic festival tour. As the band members unspool across the surreal snowscapes and frozen wastelands, rogue CSIS agents are hot on their increasingly iced-over heels. But what are ageing punks to rogue agents? Subversive and irredeemable, spectres from a past that must be erased with extreme prejudice. Randy Nikkel Schroeder combines coked-up magic realism with wound-up cyberpunk style.

  • Shortlisted for Best Cover Design at the 2020 Alberta Book Publishing Awards
  • Mike Thorn's Top 100 Favourite Books of All Time in Ink Heist
  • Check out the soundtrack for the book, by The Tarsands
  • Interview with NeWest Press Audio

“A wintry and psychedelic elegy to that special Albertan brand of despair. An absurdist punk-rock adventure through counter-counterculture’s most otherworldly spaces. Schroeder writes with urgency and grace, vividly describing a zombie capitalist wasteland where the strange becomes familiar and the familiar strange. Read this book.”
— Mike Thorn, author of Darkest Hours

“Unlike anything else out there. Nouns push against verbs in ways we've never seen.”
— Mike Resnick, Hugo Award-winning author of Kirinyaga and Santiago

Arctic Smoke is a punk rock fever dream. Like Bruce McDonald channelling Anna Kavan, Schroeder’s prose hotwires your brain and takes you on a surreal joyride through arcane Canadiana.”
— Greg Rhyno, author of To Me You Seem Giant

“One: Schroeder has authored a novel that is undeniably Albertan. Two: Schroeder has authored a novel that is undeniably punk.”
— Vincent Potter, FreeFall Magazine


Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. The late 1990s—
Black Metal. Death Metal. Nü-metal. Hardcore.
Lance Armstrong in, Wayne Gretzky out.
Economic psychosis. Terrorism.
Grunge out, rave in.
Hoodies, chinos, bombers.
Quiffs and buzz cuts.
Paul Bernardo.
White people.

A freak autumn blizzard blowing off a frozen moon. North winds rattling streetlights, howling glassy streets, air cold enough to crack its own molecules.
Kenneth “Lor” Kowalski sat wreathed with chill in an otherwise warm Marquis Hotel room, head tilted forward, eyes wide and unblinking, breath delicate. Snow crystals wove up the window at his elbow, ice knitting itself against glass, collecting shadow and spinning out twinkling patterns of light.

He shivered.

His guitar began to ring with overtones, light strumming its harmonics. Lor sat, salt stinging tonsils, tears on his lip and tongue. He let them sting. Just sat by the window in the darkened room, a universe pocked with a thousand stars.

“Damn freezing out there,” a whisper from the shadows in the corner, the clink of ice cubes in a glass. “Supposed to be El Niño this year. Get you a drink, sir, something to chase the cold?”

“No.” Lor wiped a tear. “Thank you.”

“Just clear away the dishes then?”

Lor paused a moment. He scraped a fingernail across the window, shaving off curls of frost, squinted at the shapes melting on his knuckle.
“Something troubling you, sir? Maybe a woman, lost love, lost time? An unwanted birthday, perhaps?”

Lor started, but ignored the question.

“Birthdays are the time for communion and community. Family, sir.”

Lor touched the frosted glass. “Did you hear that?”

“Hear what?”

“The overtones. The music. Do you see the stars?”

A sniff from the shadows. “I don’t hear anything. And I can’t see the stars from here.”
“Not . . . those stars. The ones in this room.”

“No, sir. Sure about that drink?”

Lor sighed.

From the shadows a man emerged, cloaked in baggy black uniform and brimmed hat, like a priest or cunning witch hunter. He stopped his cart near the window and bent forward, eyes hidden beneath the brim, remaining features speckled with moonlight.
“Sometimes a birthday is a dangerous thing,” he said.