(Tor, 382 pages, hardcover, April 1999.)
"Welcome to the Canadian invasion," proclaims Montreal-based writer
and illustrator Glenn Grant in his introduction to Northern Suns,
the second US-published anthology
of Canadian science fiction he has co-edited with David Hartwell.
Canadians, he points out, are showing up regularly in major US magazines
and picking up an increasing share of the American genre fiction awards.
And they're doing it by writing Canadian science fiction, which Grant
insists is different from its southern sibling, although he warns against
trying to define it: "If a writer's work doesn't conform to someone's
definition of 'typically Canadian SF', does that make [it] less 'Canadian'?"
He emphasizes: "I strongly object to the idea that the entire point
of publishing a Canadian SF anthology is to define such 'national characteristics.'"
However much it cannot or should not be defined, Canadian science fiction
does nevertheless exist, and Grant accentuates the importance of this
new anthology: "It's worthwhile to focus on Canadian SF because too
many people are unaware that it even exists! It's worthwhile because
we must envisage the future for ourselves, and include Canada in our
futures; if we don't, we let someone else (i.e. Americans) define our
future for us. Canadian SF is worthwhile because we address specifically
Canadian concerns which American authors almost never address--and when
they do, they get it wrong. When was the last time you read an American-authored
story about Québec independence? Especially one that bore any
resemblance to reality?" (For example, the portrayal of Québécois
in the 1989 American novel Light Raid, by Connie Willis and Cynthia
Felice, offended many readers.)
Grant and Hartwell were careful to populate this retrospective anthology
exclusively with authors who had not appeared in their earlier Northern
Stars (1994). And, of course, the stories had to be science fiction
But what is a science fiction story? In the book's closing essay, Canadian
John Clute, one of the most influential science fiction critics today
(his recent credits include being primary editor for both The Encyclopedia
of Science Fiction and The Encyclopedia of Fantasy), tackles
this question. Clute describes how, beginning with the American pulp
magazines of the 1920s, several previously disparate genres--including
(but not limited to) the "Fantastic Voyage" popularized by Jules Verne,
the "Rationalized Gothic" exemplified by Mary Shelley's Frankenstein,
and the "Scientific Romance" of H.G. Wells--were eventually brought
together under the new, all-encompassing term "science fiction."
Despite this potentially rich brew, the majority of early American
science fiction stories were lurid space adventures (and, sadly, for
the most part poorly written ones). This is a stigma that writers of
good, imaginative science fiction have striven to overcome ever since.
Grant feels that, historically, Canadian science fiction writers have
not had to struggle against this so much. He offers, in his introduction,
several possible explanations--some of which are echoed in John Clute's
essay--and opines that early Canadian SF was "often not recognized"
There is no doubt that Northern Suns is a science fiction anthology,
and a fascinating one. However, I wouldn't be surprised, were it to
fall in the hands of a reader unfamiliar with science fiction, if that
same reader enjoyed these tales... and didn't identify them as science
To illustrate: Northern Suns counts among its contributors CanLit
alumni Margaret Atwood, Robertson Davies, and W.P. Kinsella. Not science
fiction writers? And yet.... Atwood's story "Freeforall" portrays a
matriarchal dystopia that provides an interesting and pointed alternative
to the patriarchal dystopia of her famous novel The Handmaid's Tale--which
won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, a prestigious science fiction prize.
Kinsella's "Things Invisible to See" was originally published in On
Spec, a Canadian science fiction magazine.
Most of the other authors collected in Northern Suns are emerging
writers, like Eric Choi, Cory Doctorow, and Wesley Herbert. They may
find the path to US book publication eased by their participation in
this anthology. Several of the contributors to Grant and Hartwell's
previous book, Northern Stars, have since sold novels to US book
editors; Grant notes, "No doubt these talented writers would have sold
their novels in the States anyway, but I know for a fact that appearing
in the book considerably accelerated their sales to Tor."
Among the Northern Stars writers who were welcomed in the US
market, we find award-winning francophone Québécois authors
Yves Meynard and Joël Champetier. Meynard has been especially active
in the US. The Book of Knights, his first American-published
novel, was written in English and his short story "Tobacco Words" was
chosen for the 1997 compilation Year's Best SF 2. A second English-penned
Meynard novel is expected in the near future.
Now, Northern Suns introduces US readers to three other award-winning
francophone Québécois authors: Jean Pierre April, Alain
Bergeron, and Charles Montpetit. Montpetit's "Beyond the Barriers" is
especially pertinent and funny--not to mention delightfully imbued with
the spirit of Montreal.
The twenty-one short stories that comprise Northern Suns admirably
display the diversity and scope of science fiction and fantasy--regardless
of national origin--but do rather conspicuously avoid the traditional
science fiction tropes of the far-future tale, the space adventure yarn,
the time-travel story, the cosmic transcendence parable, and so forth.
For the most part, their topics are quite close to the headlines and
to the daily preoccupations of, well, Canadians.
Originally published, in slightly different form, in The Gazette,
Saturday 24 Apr 1999.
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