Editorial by Derek Newman-Stille
When I was younger, and particularly when I was an adolescent, I remember searching for fiction that really spoke to me. I had an intense love of science fiction and read as much of it as I could. But there was something distinctly lacking in the science fiction I was reading. All of the utopian and dystopian futures I encountered were distinctly either British or American. They spoke to a sensibility that I could somewhat identify with (after all, most Canadian media comes from either the U.S. or U.K.), but there was something lacking, an essential something that spoke to me as an individual. I could sort of find myself in some American and British SF, but always felt that there was something lacking, that I was still an outsider, suspended between genres that I could almost but not entirely relate to. I found that I wasn’t in these novels, that Canadians were not really represented in the genre I enjoyed.
I remember searching as a young adult for Canadian authors of science fiction to see if there was an even better fit, to see if they wrote me and my experience into their pages, but I was consistently met with the assertion of my educators that Canadians didn’t write science fiction, and certainly wouldn’t be any good at it if they tried. I was taught that Canadians wrote realist fiction. They captured life on the prairies. They captured life on an island. They struggled with everyday issues and the realities of Canadian life. They struggled with monotony.
Rocks and trees and lakes and rocks and trees and lakes and rocks and trees and lakes – that was Canadian fiction as it was explained to me. And, if I didn’t like it, I could read American literature, but, just so I knew, it was all pop culture stuff (read, portrayed as a lesser genre). So I snuck away with my American and British SF and read about utopian futures imagining to myself, ‘hey, this alien is kind of Canadian…. well, if I really stretch my imagination’ and ‘I guess I can see London as being sort of like life in any city… just with different sayings… and different ways of doing things’.
I was told that Canadian fiction was about survival. It was about testing yourself against nature. It was about the struggle between family and the desire to leave for some place better. It was about things that didn’t really speak to me. So, I only read it when I had to, and mostly postulated questions as I was reading like ‘wouldn’t it be interesting if this red head on an island actually turned out to be a werewolf?’ and ‘wouldn’t it be great if these prairies opened up and swallowed all of these boring characters, forcing them to finally get out of their boring, monotonous lives?’ I could see myself finding these characters interesting if the struggle for survival they endured was against an apocalyptic danger, or if the struggle against nature was actually a struggle with the nature of the beast lurking within, the monstrous at the heart of the human, or if the desire to find a better place led to a quick voyage into space that required diplomacy and creative engagements with diverse peoples of the universe….
I should point out, before it sounds like I am writing a bash on realist fiction, that I have since come to really appreciate and enjoy realist fiction, but it still doesn’t hold the pull, the draw on my soul that Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror does.
It wasn’t until university that I started to encounter some Canadian authors of Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy and I still feel like I am just approaching the start of reading the Canadian Fantastic. There is something to be said for finding oneself finally in the pages of a book after a long quest; of finally discovering one’s own cities from a fantastic angle and seeing the speculative and the strange that lives on one’s own block.
I am still not sure what exactly was so Canadian about Canadian Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, or what spoke to me about it… but something was different about the way those authors wrote, something was unique about them and spoke to my experience and where I was at in a different way than authors from other nations wrote.
I am curious about how others began their journey to discover Canadian Science Fiction, Fantasy, or Horror (or the many genres of the fantastic that broach the boundaries between these areas or find new niches), and would love people to share their stories with me and other readers.