Mute Ghost in a World of Words

A review of S.M. Beiko’s The Lake and the Library (ECW Press, 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Photo for The Lake and the Library courtesy of ECW press

Cover Photo for The Lake and the Library courtesy of ECW press

S.M. Beiko’s The Lake and the Library is nominally a story about growing up, and the feeling of nostalgia for things lost and things changing. It is about the discovery of a library filled with books that are gateways to fantastic worlds, pages that become birds, clouds, and wings to lift her to new highs of fantasy. The library is a shifting space, becoming other worlds as walls are expanded by the great breadth of adventure and fantasy within the covers of the books it houses, literally shifting to become fantastic spaces from beloved classics. And the library holds a boy, unable to speak aloud, but able to speak volumes in the universal language of fantasy with Ash as his co-creator of worlds of adventure.

The first part of the novel evokes the highs of an escape, new experiences, exiting distortions of reality, and only in the latter half of the novel does it become clear that this is an addict’s tale. Ash begins to experience the dangers and draws of being in a continual state of escape. Reality begins to wear thin for her and she begins to distance herself from anyone who doesn’t enable her habit, anyone who pulls her back to reality. Friends, family, all begin to be sacrificed to her need, her desire to get away from herself, her world, and all that feels too mundane, too real to matter.

The world outside of the library begins to shift, become unstable for Ash, losing its substance as something grows within her, thorns that tear into her skin, holding her, consuming her from the inside and pulling her back to the library. Fantasy begins to eat into reality, making the real a pale and lifeless substitute for the highs of the fantastic. And when reality gets to be too much, a sound like rushing water surges through her, enveloping her in its wash of abstraction, removing her from a world that seems too harsh, too sharp, too real for her to touch. The water cushions her while it draws her deeper, washing away signification and everything that made her who she was.

The library is haunted by memory, nostalgia, the dreams of things lost and forgotten, and yet it has power, a deep hold like thorns in the veins of those who seek to escape, those willing to uproot themselves and lose the ground that feels like it is only holding them in place.

Libraries are beautiful places, deep places, charged with a depth made of the weight of tales, and this depth can both add to one’s story, but can also consume and obscure one’s story. Ash finds herself suspended in a depth of tales that renders her as a drop in a lake, her story washed away by the weight of other worlds more alluring to her than her own life.

To find out more about the work of S.M. Beiko, visit her website at .

To read more about The Lake and the Library, visit ECW’s website at





Report from the 2013 Academic Conference on Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy

By Derek Newman-Stille

The term “Academic Conference” often intimidates the general public. To many people “Academic” has come to be synonymous with “inaccessible language”, “boring discourse”, and “pomposity”, but the Academic Conference on Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy’s real potency is the focus of the conference on accessibility to an interested public. Organiser Allan Weiss wants the conference to be open to the pubic and the conference’s position in the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation & Fantasy means that it is in a more public space. The conference brings researchers, authors, and fans together in discussions about Canadian SF.

As you have probably noticed from my posts, I really enjoy opportunities to bridge the gap between people engaging with Canadian SF in different ways. The ACCSSF conference is all about bridging the gap between those interested in Canadian SF and inviting everyone into the discussion.

Speakers engaged in discourse about the richness complexity of Canadian SF and perspectives on Canadian SF. From genre questions to French Canadian science fiction metal music, from place and identity to mythic themes, this conference raised questions and excited attendees to incredible discussions. As often happens at academic conferences, some of the richest places for examining ideas happened between sessions around the tea pot and after sessions at dinner and the pub. It is exciting and heartening to know that there are so many people excited about Canadian SF and interested in looking beyond the surface of their favorite novels.