Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Landscape of Canadian Speculative Fiction by Helen Marshall

It is with pleasure that I welcome Helen Marshal as a guest today. Helen is the Chairman of the forthcoming Toronto SpecFic Colloquium (more on Helen in her bio at the end of the post). ChiZine Magazine is sponsoring this fabulous one day event at Hart House in Toronto on October 23 featuring a stunning lineup of 11 speculative fiction authors including Kelley Armstrong, Guy Gavriel Kaye,  Peter Watts, Karl Schroeder, Julie Czerneda, Tony Burgess, David Nickles, Gemma Files, Claude Lalumiere, Micahel Rowe and Robert Boyczuk. Helen brings us up to speed on the state of the nation regarding Canadian speculative fiction.


helen_marshall “The Landscape of Canadian Speculative Fiction” is a primer for the Toronto SpecFic Colloquium, Saturday, 23 October 2010, at the Hart House and has been written in support of the Sunburst Awards. To register for the Colloquium, visit here.  Spaces are limited!

Setting has always been one of the most important parts of speculative fiction. Imagine Lord of the Rings: the wondrous reaches of Rivendell, the cavernous, abandoned hallways of the mines of Moria. Which landscape becomes the most central to the story, providing the crux of the drama of the last book? It is, of course, quiet, sleepy, overlooked, underappreciated Hobbiton. Does any other point of the book drive home the danger of industrialization, the fear of how much the world is changing, than these words?
"It was one of the saddest hours in their lives. The great chimney rose up before them; and as they drew near the old village across the Water, through rows of new mean houses along each side of the road, they saw the new mill in all its frowning and dirty ugliness: a great brick building straddling the stream, which it fouled with a steaming and stinking overflow. All along the Bywater Road every tree had been felled."
But Hobbiton wasn’t just Hobbiton: it echoed the ravages of post-World War England, and it was most poignant because it was home.

Landscape is metaphor. We, as readers and writers, know this. So where is Canada in speculative fiction?

Five years ago, it would have been good advice to new writers to ignore it: after all, America is the real market if you want to make it big.

Lorna Toolis of the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy once said that they used to put stickers on books marking them as Canadian, but this actually proved to be a point against them. It was like telling someone to eat their vegetables. We all sort of know we should because its homegrown, local—even the metaphors are vegetative!—but we’d still rather snack on popcorn and candy.


But I think publishers, reviewers and readers alike are beginning to learn that Canada offers something unique and wholly itself: diverse, diffuse, multicultural, profuse, dissatisfied, hopeful, engaged, aware, distinct, and most importantly, bold.

Publishers have begun to recognize that speculative fiction has a history within Canada. Witness, thirty years ago, the release of John Robert Colombo’s Other Canadas; the long-running Tesseracts series, Northern Frights Publications (In the Great White North, Blood Runs Colder…), and more recently Robert J. Sawyer’s collection Distant Early Warnings. Add to this that the call has gone out for a new “Best of Canadian Speculative Fiction” anthology entitled Imaginarium to be released by Chizine Publications and Tightrope Books.

Many writers have claimed that publishing, as an industry, is facing a crisis with the introduction of eBooks, the decline of independent and chain bookstores, and the possibilities of self-publishing. To meet these challenges the genre community needs to support the institutions that promote excellence in our writing. One such institution is the Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic, Canada’s only juried award for speculative fiction.

Over the past ten years, the Sunburst Award has recognized some of the leading authors of Canadian genre fiction such as Cory Doctorow, Nalo Hopkinson, and Andrew Davidson. The Sunburst is transitioning from a privately funded venture to a publicly funded, membership-supported award, to facilitate growth as we register as a non-profit. As part of a fundraising drive to shepherd the Sunburst through this change of status and structure, we’d like to ask fans, writers, editors, and publishers from the speculative fiction community to help raise awareness of this vital institution...

We're looking for short (30 second to 2 minutes) videos that say what you think about Canadian speculative fiction. These should be interview-style videos in the vein of Speaker's Corner and can be recorded as simply as with a web camera. Prior interviews or footage can be submitted provided that you have permission to do so.  We will host these individually on a YouTube channel (sunburstaward), but will also edit them in order to create a series of short videos to promote awareness of the fundraising campaign. A longer video will be shown at the opening remarks to the Toronto SpecFic Colloquium. You can see the videos already submitted at http://www.specfic-colloquium.com/apps/videos/

Echoing the words of Gord Zajac, author of Major Karnage: If we don’t support our own, no one else will.
And Canadian speculative fiction kicks ass.

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Helen Marshall spends the majority of her time pursuing a Ph. D. in Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto where she gets to travel across England to examine fourteenth-century manuscripts. Of course, her fascination with the making and writing of books extends well into the present. Her poetry has been published in ChiZine, NFG and the Ontarion Arts Supplement. "Mist and Shadows," published originally in Star*Line, appeared in The 2006 Rhysling Anthology: The Best Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Poetry of 2005." "The Gypsy" and "Crossroads and Gateways" both received honourable mentions in the 2009 Rannu Fund Contest, while four other poems were short-listed. Helen has been involved with a number of writing enterprises, including websites, academic journals and books, chapbooks, and a CD of folk music.

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