Year in Review: What is Canadian Speculative Fiction – from the authors

People are often asking if there is such a thing as “Canadian identity”, something that differentiates Canada from other nations. I thought I would ask authors if theyfuture spec can thought that there was something distinctly Canadian about Canadian Speculative Fiction or how much they felt that their Canadian identity influenced their writing.

I have provided links to the full interviews below each author’s comments so you can re-read them or, if you haven’t had a chance to read them yet, to read them for the first time.

Claude Lalumiere:

“I know that [my Canadian identity] does [influence my writing], but I am not sure if I’m equipped to know how, aside from the fact that Montreal is often an important setting in my stories. On the subject of my being a Canadian writer, Paul Di Filippo, in his introduction to The Door to Lost Pages, wrote, ‘Claude Lalumière is not only a universal author but a regional writer. His native Canada, specifically the city of Montreal, is as much a player in these stories as the people, even when not specifically named. There’s some numinous element of these tales that acts as a counterbalance to the hegemony of US fantasy trilogies. We are hearing a voice literally from beyond the lands we (we American readers) know.’”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/interview-with-claude-lalumiere/

 

Steve Vernon:

“We Canadians are champion diehard storytellers. I mean take a look at our winters. Take a look at our television network. Take a look at our mosquitoes. What else have we got to do but to tell stories to each other?

“In some ways my Canadian identity limits me – in that it is harder to find my place in the international market. But my Canadian identity helps make me the writer that I am today. Remember – I have a half dozen regional books out at this moment from Nimbus Publishing – Nova Scotia’s largest publishing network. I am also close to signing a contract with another new Canadian publisher for a series of YA horror novels. My regional books have sold in the thousands – which makes me a bestselling author in Canada.”

“Nova Scotians are the true storytellers of Canada. We have an even worse selection in television, bigger mosquitos, and less opportunity for honest work. Again I ask you what else can we do but sit around and spin out yarns?”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/08/06/interview-with-steve-vernon/

 

Ian Rogers:

“Is there something that makes our stories inherently Canadian? Possibly, but it would probably take someone who isn’t from here to determine that. They say you should write what you know. I agree with that, but I would add a corollary: you should also write where you know. I know Canada, specifically Toronto and the GTA, so that’s where I typically set my stories.”

“I like to think that Canadian authors are reclaiming the “horror” word in much the same way David Cronenberg reclaimed it for Canadian film.”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/08/23/interview-with-ian-rogers/

 

Nancy Kilpatrick:

“I think my work is multi-national, multi-cultural and encompasses a lot of attitudes and values that Canadians hold to like gender equality and equal pay for equal work.  For example, I’ll use fairness.  Canadians like to be fair and that leads to that stereotyping of people from this country always apologizing.  But really, it’s not so much apologizing out of guilt–as the Americans imagine–as Canadians being polite, acknowledging the other person’s existence and that they, too, have rights.  I think my writing incorporates that even in the conflicts of the story, even when a character is obnoxious.  I try to give the characters the chance to do the right thing.  If they do, they are holding to my values and the values I see around me, despite how much the current climate tends to try to erode those values.”

“I’d say that in general, Canadians write with intelligence, and that includes the darker genres.  They are educated and that becomes clear when you read the stories and novels.  Nothing here is slapped together and I suspect that’s because in the past we didn’t have a horror publishing industry so writers have had to work harder, knowing their English-language markets were in the U.S. and Britain, and the French markets in France.”

“Besides being thoughtful and intelligent, Canadians write from their experience.  Cities here are different than cities in the U.S.  For example, our citizens don’t carry guns.  Our landscape involves a lot of nature, which is important to Canadians, and that allows for a certain type of horror that can be both visceral and psychological.  Characters in the stories and novels produced in this country — and I’ve read a lot of short fiction for the four anthologies I’ve edited for Edge (two were all Canadian authors and the other two have a goodly chunk of Canucks) and the eight before those for the U.S. market — read like real people, well-constructed, with depth and lives and thought-processes which aren’t stereotyped.  Because the characters are intelligent, even if a tad whimsical, readers can respect them.  There’s nothing worse in a horror novel or story than the clichés, for example:  “Let’s split up!” Stories by Canadians strike me as having characters who are loners, not necessarily out of some twisted or evil past but more because of the way we live here, a kind of self-sufficiency that isn’t bitter.  What I mean is, you get characters who just get on with it and deal with things to the best of their ability.  And most of the time they don’t have arsenals at their disposal so they have to use brain-power while coping with the emotions evoked by the horrific situation.

“Don Hutchison, who was the editor of the wonderful anthology series Northern Frights, used to say he thought Canadians wrote with a sense of place, and that might be what I’m getting at.  But I think it’s more.  I think the place shapes the person and their world view and how they cope with everything.  What I like about what I’m reading by Canadians — besides  the fact that they like to slide between genres, which I find fun — is that they bring themselves to the fore and that Canadianism is recognizable.  In my view, we don’t need the government shoving Canadian content down our throats as if it has to be protected or die out, or shoving language down our throats, ditto the reasons.  These things already exist and can stand on their own.  It’s who we are and it shines through in the writing.  When travelling, one can usually spot travelers who are English or French or German because they are distinctive.  But you can also spot Canadians because we are distinctive in our way.  Canadians are nice, fair, friendly without being in your face, and honest.  Why Canadians don’t see and appreciate these rare qualities in themselves, I don’t know, but it’s also in the writing and in the books we’re now producing that are in the horror/dark fantasy genre and that’s one of the reasons Canadian fiction stands out.”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/09/15/interview-with-nancy-kilpatrick/

 

Paul Marlowe:

“If I can depart from the standards of civil debate for a moment, I would suggest that in a country where anti-intellectualism is on the rise – where anyone interested in technology or SF is branded a geek, and where a political leader such as Stéphane Dion can be discredited amongst the public by being called “professor” by that weird gang of mediocrities, cranks, embarrassing amateurs, control-freaks, spin-doctors, and corporate sock-puppets comprising the Government – the question facing Canadian SF is: how many of us want to think?”

“It’s probably premature to begin identifying what, if anything, differentiates Canadian from international steampunk. If its popularity survives for more years, then a comparison might be worthwhile. In some ways, the real history of Canada is kind of like an alternate history of the United States – we were the part of British North America that chose to stay British. Those who didn’t want to become republican Americans came here as Loyalists.

“Once you get past the superficial bric-a-brac of steampunk that is common in books from various countries, the Canadian angle has interesting opportunities, since it places the reader in North America, and yet also in the greatest multinational empire that has ever been.

“For a writer of fiction, the fluid, evolving nature of the empire that Canada was a member of provides plenty of opportunities to imagine what it might have become, for better or worse, had its evolution proceeded differently.”

“Not being a scholar of Canadian SF, I don’t know if my forecast would be any better than those of Environment Canada since their budget cuts. It looks like SF will continue to be sidelined, culturally, for the foreseeable future, since there’s a sort of literary apartheid in Canada (as in other countries), which places SF down in the lowest class where it can be disenfranchised by excluding it from the grants, prizes, reviews,  media attention, and the rest of the grease and hot air that lets the literary machine chug along, hoisting books out of the shadows and into the public eye.

“Some countries, perhaps, do a bit better than Canada. In the US, where every stage of the Lit Cycle from writing to reviewing to award-giving isn’t subsidized by a federal or provincial ministry of official culture, there seems to be an acknowledgement that literature consists of something beyond self-conscious nation building, lyrical tales of suicide on the prairies during the Great Depression, and other dismally “realistic” but morally uplifting fare. Coincidentally, the US also has a huge SF publishing industry, attracting writers from, among other countries, Canada. And there’s probably a reason why writers like Sir Terry Pratchett appear in the UK, and not in Canada. Despite there being the same tendency to pretentious literary cliques in the UK as we have here, Pratchett was knighted (the equivalent of a Companion of the Order of Canada), his works have been performed as stage plays, as TV programmes, and on the BBC, and he won this year’s Wodehouse Prize (equivalent of the Leacock Medal, but with more pigs and champagne). Writing SF requires imagination, but I’m not sure that I have enough to imagine a Canadian fantasy writer being similarly celebrated by his or her country.

“Government assistance was certainly necessary here to kindle a national book industry and literary institutions. Unfortunately for many “genre” writers, it’s now simply supporting an industry that does little for them but denigrate and ignore their work. Canadian literature won’t be as rich and varied as it might be until the bigotry of the industry abates. I suppose the best way for that to happen might be for more people involved in Canadian SF to sit on grant & prize juries, write reviews, and speak out when they’re discriminated against, not on their literary merit, but on their choice of subject matter (or choice of friends).”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/09/18/an-interview-with-paul-marlowe-about-the-wellborn-conspiracy-series/

 

Douglas Smith:

“Well, beyond the Canadian and Toronto settings in many of my stories, now that I think of it, one of the [Canadian] themes that recurs in my work, especially the Heroka shapeshifter stories, is that of the conflict between our civilization and the natural wilderness, as our resource-based industries, which feed our cities’ growing hunger for timber, water, power, minerals, and land, consumes more and more of the natural world and habitats of our wildlife. Our country has always been defined by its vast wilderness areas, and yet the huge majority of our population lives in only a few highly urbanized pockets of that vastness.  So there’s this destructive dichotomy between us and the land we live in–we live off of the land but we don’t really live in it. But for those who do live there and for the wildlife species that live there, we’re destroying more of that wilderness every year to feed the hunger of the cities. This is the central theme in The Wolf at the End of the World and in most of my other Heroka stories. The Heroka are a race of shape shifters whose vitality as a race is tied directly to the vitality of their totem animal species, species that are dwindling as their natural habitats are destroyed by logging or mining concerns, or flooded for hydro-electric projects.

“Other Canadian themes in my work include a suspicion of both corporate and political power, a suspicion that I think is greater here in Canada than, for example, in the US.”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/10/06/interview-with-douglas-smith/

 

Kelley Armstrong:

“I don’t think [Canadian supernatural fiction] is heading anywhere different than supernatural fiction in general, which is beginning a downswing. It will never go away completely, but the market will be smaller.”

“There are differences in the [Canadian versus other nations’]markets. What is a bestseller in the US will not necessarily be a bestseller in Britain. That’s the same for all geographic areas—Canada also has differences from both. The literature produced in our country reflects the differences in regional taste. I’m not sure it affects the supernatural aspects of the story as much as the general ones—the tone, the themes etc.”

“[My Canadian identity] makes it easier to do Canadian characters and settings 🙂 On the other hand, it makes it harder to do American ones, and that’s where a lot of my stories are set, for the simple fact that I can have a larger cast of supernaturals that way—it’s easier to speculate that so many supernatural beings go unnoticed if the population is much larger. Beyond that, I don’t feel it’s had much impact on my opportunities as an author or how I’m treated.”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/10/17/interview-with-kelley-armstrong/

 

Chadwick Ginther:

“I quite enjoyed blending Canadian folklore with other myth cycles. It’s a sandbox I could see myself playing in for a long time. It’s easy to think that Canada doesn’t have a folklore unique to our borders. But I don’t think that’s the case. I would love to see our own folk stories and tall tales take centre stage. I would also love to see Indigenous writers bringing modern takes on their myths and folklore to the fantasy genre. Something I’ve so far only really seen from Daniel Heath Justice.”

“Because I so enjoyed mixing myth and Manitoba, I also hope that Thunder Road can inspire readers to look more closely at their homes to find those ties to the mythological past.”

“I have to be honest, I’ve never thought about my work in [the] context [of its Canadian identity]. I certainly didn’t set out to write the Great Canadian Fantasy novel and am woefully unfamiliar with the Canadian literary canon (perhaps if it included more dragons and robots…). I suppose one could say there is an element of the immigrant’s tale to Thunder Road, not a uniquely Canadian experience, but we are a nation built by immigrants. It’s one of the reasons I decided not to make Manitoba Ted [the main character from Thunder Road]’s home. Having him trying to start a new mundane life in an unfamiliar place echoed his becoming a part of the Nine Worlds, and the new fantastical life that awaited him.”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/10/22/chadwick-ginther-interview/

 

Karen Dudley:

“I do believe that Canadians (myself included) have a distinctive sense of humour – part bawdy British, part self-deprecating Canadian. I’m not sure an American, for example, could have written a book like Food for the Gods. Canadians also have a reputation for being nice. I’m not sure if I’m nice or not (I like to think I am!), but as a Canadian, I can’t relate to the more extreme or paranoid political cultures. This can’t help but inform my work, and my characters tend to display a certain tolerance and trust in their world which matches my own.”

“Apart from the same way it speaks to any modern reader, I think here in Canada, we have a unique perspective on mythologies simply because so many of us come from different cultures and traditions. That’s a lot of stories, a lot of different perspectives on how we live our lives. With such an incredibly rich diversity, these myths have something to say to just about anybody regardless of which cultural tradition they come from.”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/10/26/interview-with-karen-dudley-about-food-for-the-gods/

 

Liz Strange:

“I try to set a majority of my works in Canada, or at least have a Canadian character represented.  Our recognition in the world as peace keepers, progressive thinkers and top providers to our citizens is very important to me. I am proud of my nationality and our country’s history, and come from a long line of writers, historians, politicians and educators.”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/11/06/interview-with-liz-strange/

 

Helen Marhsall:

“Canada has always seemed to me to be a place struggling with memory. Both of my parents emigrated to Canada just before I was born, my mom from South Africa and my dad from England via Zimbabwe. I didn’t feel a strong connection to Canadian history. I grew up reading books about European history, reading children’s literature that was grounded in mythologies that seemed very distant. Stories were things that happened in other places. As a medievalist in Canada, I find I always have to explain why I do what I do. When I go to England, they get it. Because it’s a part of their history and it matters to them. I’ve learned to live with that dissonance.”

“I think the macabre in Canadian fiction accomplishes what the macabre accomplishes in all fiction: it gives us a sense of our own mortality, of the body as something that will inevitably die. It reacquaints us with fear, and at the same time it enlivens us. Does Canada have its own unique brand of the macabre? Most definitely. Canadian literature has been traditionally considered to have a strong vein of realism to it, but the macabre, the Weird—the kind of books that ChiZine Publications has championed–are doing something to open that up. That’s good. I don’t believe in straitjacketing literature.”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/11/15/interview-with-helen-marshall/

 

Nina Munteanu:

“Canada is a truly multi-cultural country and serves an excellent fractal microcosm for writing about mixed civilizations in the universe.”

“[Canadian Speculative Fiction] tends to be darker and more reflective. With fewer happy endings… LOL! Who else but a Canadian would write a science fiction romance with a tragic ending? When I wrote The Cypol (Extasy Books) I discounted the protocol of the romance genre for happy endings. The Canadian publisher accepted the novelette, which says a lot. Even though the critics liked it, romance fans hated the book. LOL! I think that Canadian SF authors bring a dark edge to the genre that slides a bit into literary fiction. Again, perhaps why Booker prize-winner in literary fiction Margaret Atwood finds herself writing speculative fiction. Her works are a good example of what Canadian SF writers do best: infuse meaningful reflection and deep allegory in speculation. I think much of Canadian speculative fiction springs from our multi-cultural and northern setting.”

“I feel a strong Canadian identity and I’m certain it imbues my main characters and the cultures I portray. Firstly, I make a point of using Canadian places as settings for my fiction (if set on Earth, that is).

“I like that Robert J. Sawyer, back in the 1980s, either set part of his novels in Canada or made at least one of his main characters a Canadian. This was in a time when it wasn’t vogue for a large American publisher to set your novel outside the USA unless it was some place globally recognized, like Paris. Sawyer wasn’t the only one; other notable Canadian SF authors who set their stories in Canada include Charles De Lint, Cory Doctorow and Guy Gavriel Kay.”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/11/27/interview-with-nina-munteanu/

 

Nancy Baker:

“One reviewer called my characters “kinder, gentler vampires”, which strikes me as very Canadian.  I certainly felt that you could not have the kind of violent, predatory vampires in Toronto that seemed common in U.S. vampire fiction – though one New York writer I shared a radio panel with seemed appalled at the idea that I assumed you could leave dead bodies all over Manhattan and no one would care.  However, I don’t think there’s any particular type of Canadian vampire.  Mine might be “kinder and gentler” but those are the last words you’d use to describe the vampire in Michael Rowe’s Enter, Night. One of the interesting things about that book is that the demons that must be confronted are deeply rooted in the book’s Northern Ontario setting and in a part of Canadian history we’re conditioned to think of as something boring to study in public school.  The evocation of nature as a shaping, often inimical,  force is one of the things that is considered traditionally “Canadian” and it works brilliantly in that book.”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/12/05/interview-with-nancy-baker/

 

Gemma Files:

“In her book Survival, Margaret Atwood once advanced the idea that all CanLit centres around a massive, indifferent, rejecting physical landscape and our place, or lack of one, within it. And while I initially found that idea hard to go by, mainly because I was raised in one of North America’s cities. One thing I’ve learned from teaching Canadian film history is that Canadian “culture” is mainly defined negatively, like in the old Molson’s “I am Canadian” beer commercial: We don’t eat blubber, we don’t have a President, etc.

“Nine times out of ten, particularly in English-speaking Canada, what we’re defining ourselves against is the spectre of America—if I had a dollar for every time a student of mine from somewhere else in the world asked me to admit there’s basically no difference between us and the U.S., I’d eat free for at least a week. Before that, however, it was about wanting to still be part of the British Empire even after they didn’t have any use for us, and these days it’s about how our vaunted multiculturalism mainly provides a way for us to stay in insular little groups and only interact when forced to. Which does, in the end, actually stem from geography: We’re a country the size of the former Soviet Union with a population the size of California spread out across a very disparate series of environments, most of whom still maintain they were tricked into becoming part of one country united by a railway and a radio-television network.

“When you get down to it, our national self-image is entirely imposed from the outside, a generalization cobbled together from dreams and guilt, then historically distributed through a Film Board put together by a socialist Scots expatriate who hated Hollywood and a Broadcast Corporation run from Ottawa. No wonder we’re so unable to explain what sets us apart. I always think about the title of one of Alice Munro’s early short story collections, Who Do You Think You Are?, because it perfectly encapsulates the sort of crushing self-doubt and left-over British class system resentment of the individual’s capacity for change in the face of static stagnation that defines the heart of the non-indigenous Canadian experience. And while it’s slightly different when set within an urban context, it’s not even vaguely as different as most of us would like to think.

“Which is all a very roundabout way of saying that there’s a big empty place in the Canadian psyche that takes extremely well to fantasy. Hell, even our “non-genre” literature tends to have a massive streak of surrealism and magic realism in it—think about the work of Michael Ondaatje (a poet turned prose writer, which happens a lot up here), Wayson Choy, Paul Quarrington, Derek McCormack, Michael Helm, Anne-Marie McDonald, Barbara Gowdy, Margaret Laurence, Anne Hébert, Atwood herself. But whether you’re talking about Charles de Lint and Guy Gavriel Kay or Susie Moloney, Andrew Pyper and Michael Rowe, our fantasy tends to be rooted in the uncomfortable, the self-reflective, the place where power and freedom come with a price, one that must be paid knowingly, and in blood. We accept coincidence and synchronicity, but also understand hubris, and karma. We expect doom at best, failure at worst. It’s bleak, but it’s familiar, especially to somebody who likes horror.”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/12/13/interview-with-gemma-files/

 

Jerome Stueart:

“I think Canadian SF is darker and more experimental than mainstream American SF.  I think the publishing industry allows for more kinds of individual author development—we have smaller publishers with greater weight in Canada.  In the States, where every microgenre gets codified and calcified, I see a lot more of the same stuff coming out for consumers.  I see a lot more undefinable genre in Canadian SF.  A freedom because, partly, there’s not a lot of fame on the table, but also because there’s a desire to create a Canadian SF.  It looks like we’re nowhere near nailing a specific kind of SF, though, more inviting people to play.  Look at Evolve from Edge—the SF future of vampires; look at anything Chizine is doing, which is so out there!  It massacres genre-expectations.  It also gives authors so much freedom.

“Canada has the opportunity to show what the future of Canada will be through SF, and use our regional identities as a way to forge a truly unique version of Canadian SF.”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/12/18/interview-with-jerome-stueart/

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Year in Review: Speculative Fiction Versus Realist Fiction – from the authors

Alien mountieWell, we have had an amazing year in 2012 on Speculating Canada…. one could even describe it as a fantastic year. Although Speculating Canada has only been around since July, it has been an incredible opportunity to explore Canadian Speculative Fiction and explore the incredible amounts of knowledge that authors bring into the world and lens that they place on exploring social issues.

Re-reading all of the interview posts, I am reminded of how incredible these interviews were and the gems of information and insight that writers have provided. I hope you enjoy being re-enlightened by our authors. Every interview I have done has been an incredible learning experience for me.

claudegeo

Author photo courtesy of Claude Lalumiere

Claude Lalumiere:

”So many authors who work within realism do not realize that they are operating within the confines of a genre with very specific rules and tropes. I’m not a fan of realism’s hegemonic stature in literature and culture in general. There’s nothing inferior about romance (in the classical sense) or escapism. All fiction is literature, all fiction is art. That doesn’t mean that all of it is good, but there’s good stuff and bad stuff in all genres, including realism.

“Fantastic fiction (as I like to call it) does have the quality of seeming to have no restrictions whatsoever. And that journey into the unknown can be thrilling, dangerous, intoxicating, wondrous – or, best of all, all of that at once.”

“My fiction tends to ask questions, not provide answers.”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/interview-with-claude-lalumiere/

Steve Vernon:

Steve Vernon with a beaver... so Canadian!!

Author photo courtesy of Steve Vernon

“Monster stories help instill the belief that the human spirit can will out and triumph over the power of evil.”

“I’ve long been fascinated with seeing how ordinary people deal with the face of evil. That’s who my favorite characters are – just regular downhome kind of people. I like to imagine them brave and wild and romantic and full of life – because we all have that potential buried deep inside ourselves. So – when I sat down to write Sudden Death Overtime I just took the toughest people I had ever dreamed of and threw them up against the forces of darkness.”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/08/06/interview-with-steve-vernon/

Ian Rogers:

Ian Rogers Author Photo, courtesy of the author.

Author photo courtesy of Ian Rogers

“I’ve always said that if people are only interested in my work purely as entertainment, then I’m cool with that. I think every story needs to keep the reader amused as the first goal. If your story is full of theme and depth, but it’s boring as all hell, then who cares how deep your work is, or how much inner meaning there is, because no one’s going to bother to read it anyway! And quite frankly, if you are consciously trying to pound a message or meaning into your story, I assure you it’s going to come across that way to the reader and they will be turned off. Guaranteed. The best stories with meaning or theme or depth are the ones that allow the readers to come to those conclusions naturally and on their own terms.”

“When I write a story I’m trying to come up with something that, while entertaining, also makes some sort of sense. It doesn’t mean I believe in ghosts or monsters, but it’s important that my characters do. Part of building a world where these things exist is to cement them in the world I know.”

“I’ve always felt that it’s the little things, and the little “real” things, that truly make a story. Sometimes it’s realistic dialogue, sometimes it’s a strange habit of one of the characters. Whatever it is, it’s usually a small touch, but it goes a long way toward making the reader feel more at home in the story, and consequently more accepting of the fantasy you’re trying to give them.”

“I think most people have an inherent attraction to the fantastical. Ironically, the spec fic stories I like best are the ones that are rooted in some semblance of reality. The ones that seem like they could actually happen. In terms of horror fiction, I find that sense of realism adds to the feeling of terror and dread.”

“I think there’s more to horror fiction that a monster or a supernatural element. Lots of things that may not seem horrific on the surface can be turned into a horror story. That’s one of the great things about horror. It’s insidious in the way it can sneak into a story — a story that might not be neatly slotted in the Horror section at the local bookstore.”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/08/23/interview-with-ian-rogers/

Nancy Kilpatrick:

Photo courtesy of Nancy Kilpatrick

Author photo courtesy of Nancy Kilpatrick

“We’ve become politically correct, which isn’t always repression.  Sometimes it entails a true acceptance of ‘other’, the ‘other’ being someone or something that is not us and previously was suspect and/or frightening.  Because we no longer see strangers as monstrous, we no longer see monsters as strangers.”

“I’m focused on readers first.  My readers are not run-of-the-mill people.  They are smart and like my dark take on material.”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/09/15/interview-with-nancy-kilpatrick/

Paul Marlowe:

Author Photo courtesy of Paul Marlowe

Author Photo courtesy of Paul Marlowe

“There was a time when it was considered normal to imagine the future of Canada, and to work towards building that future. Now, with it more important than ever to imagine alternative futures, we avoid it, because taking the future seriously would require making drastic changes right now in the lifestyle of affluence and luxury we enjoy, and would require terrible sacrifices – like driving our cars less, or not taking that flight to Florida. We’ve grown used to thinking of sacrifice as someone else’s job.

“Speculative fiction has as one of its goals the imagination of alternative futures. It also reconsiders the past. Not infrequently it raises big questions. By sidelining it, and focusing exclusively on fiction dealing either with the present and the narrowly personal, or resuscitating yesterday’s controversies, we’re avoiding some of the major problems – like global warming, population, distribution of wealth, mass extinction, the ethics of technology, the role of government in pursuing the common good, the increasing alienation of people from their own governments, the individual vs the group, and threats to individual privacy – that will dominate history in the coming generations. While speculative fiction doesn’t exist simply to prophesy or to provide political stimulus, it offers the opportunity for those kinds of explorations.”

“By looking past immediate present experience at possible worlds, good SF can offer what is so needed but so little found: intelligent thought about the world beyond our own little rut. The problem it faces is whether anyone is interested in hearing what SF writers have to say, and whether – in the welter of distraction that we’re immersed in – stories make any real difference.”

“If SF is to have an influence not only on where Canada is heading, but on where humanity is heading, it will have to do something other than shock us will apocalyptic visions, since those have become entertainment. It will have to make us think.”

“If the books contain thought-provoking ideas, too, so much the better. In that environment, SF is not at such a disadvantage.”

“The criticism often levelled at SF by Lit types and by more literal-minded readers – that it is “mere escapism” – has less sting when directed at YA books because adults sometimes condescend to allow children the opportunity to indulge in frivolous pass-times, such as imagination.”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/09/18/an-interview-with-paul-marlowe-about-the-wellborn-conspiracy-series/

IMG_2426

Author photo courtesy of Douglas Smith

Douglas Smith:

“I don’t really differentiate between the human and non-human characters. Writing a story for me means understanding my characters and telling the story via their journeys through it. An alien may be completely different from us in physiology, intelligence, culture, spiritual beliefs, and moral code, but all sentient creatures will be motivated by something, both as a race and as individuals. It’s just a matter of understanding what is important to a character.”

“If there is a social issue that a writer wishes to explore and bring attention to, speculative fiction provides the freedom through its “distorted mirror” to let a writer bring whatever focus they desire to that issue. I really see no limits. Rather, I think that SF&F offer more options for doing so than within the restrictions of mainstream mimetic fiction.”

“Fantasy or SF can use other worlds–future or alternate–to focus on aspects of our real world, our shared beliefs, our conflicting beliefs, our humanity, our inhumanity, our potential, our failings, to let us view ourselves through a different lens, at a slightly different angle. Speculative fiction, by the very nature of its unreality, can make us see our reality in ways that mimetic fiction cannot. How we relate to those views, which messages resonate with us as individual readers, can then tell us something about ourselves.”

“I think that the [Speculative Fiction] genre’s greatest power as a literature is, to paraphrase the great SF anthologist Damon Knight, to hold up a distorted mirror to our current reality, to focus on some aspect of our world which needs to change (in the writer’s opinion). It’s that “if this goes on…” type of story that allows SF to provide a social commentary in a way that mimetic fiction cannot.

“That’s the power of SF and fantasy (and I’d put SF as a specific subset of fantasy)–there are fewer (no?) limitations to the types of stories that I can tell. The stories still need an internal logic and consistency, but I’m not bound by any concerns of matching current reality. That is wonderfully freeing for a writer.”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/10/06/interview-with-douglas-smith/

Kelley Armstrong:

Photo of Derek Newman-Stille and Kelley Armstrong at Trent University's Alumni House

Photo of Derek Newman-Stille and Kelley Armstrong at Trent University’s Alumni House

“The supernatural can be a way of showing people dealing with issues in a larger-than-life fashion. I often have issues of identity in mine—finding one’s true self, accepting the self, finding one’s place in society. Having a character deal with being, for example, a werewolf lets me do that in a fun and entertaining way.”

“Speculative fiction helps expand the world of possibilities. Readers—and students—see new possibilities for new ways of thinking and living. The fact that it takes place in a fantastical world often makes it easier to consider those challenges and issues, divorced from the emotional baggage of a reader’s own world or experience. For example, science fiction novels often include elements of racism—how does one alien race treat another—and that allows readers to consider the issues in an abstract way and then transfer those ideas over to the realm of their own world and experience.”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/10/17/interview-with-kelley-armstrong/

Chadwick Ginther:

Author photo courtesy of Chadwick Ginther

Author photo courtesy of Chadwick Ginther

“People call speculative fiction “escapist,” as if that is a bad thing. I live a realistic life. Why would I want to spend my time writing about only the drudgery of everyday. I want things to happen. Things that couldn’t happen to me. But that doesn’t mean good prose has to be sacrificed for plot. With mythic fiction, and really all of speculative fiction, I can have my cake and eat it too. I can have an exploration of deep philosophical issues or the nature of humanity side by side with big, bold ideas and an action-packed read. I can’t think of another art form that blends the two sensibilities better than speculative fiction does. Besides which, all fiction is fantasy. Even if a writer is basing a story on real events or real people, they are inventing thoughts and feelings and the little details. Fiction by definition isn’t true, but it can hold truth—even when you’re writing about the god of lies.”

“I don’t think Mythology will ever stop being relevant. It was our ancestors’ way of trying to explain what they couldn’t understand. At their core, people have the same basic desires, faults and virtues as we ever have, some of us are kind, some jealous; we’ll always be able to see something of ourselves in these stories from the past. Otherwise the myths would have faded with their original tellers.”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/10/22/chadwick-ginther-interview/

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Author photo courtesy of Karen Dudley

Karen Dudley:

“[Writing Speculative Fiction] can liberate you! I’ve written four contemporary mystery novels, and when I started to write Food for the Gods, it took me a while to realize that I didn’t have to be limited by reality. Gods crashing dinner parties? No problem. Furies attacking the Athenian marketplace? Why not? It was incredibly freeing. As a writer, speculative fiction allows you to take your characters that much further. They’re still human, of course (well, most of them are), but you’re taking them beyond the normal human experience and seeing how they deal with it. It’s a lot of fun!

“At the same time, of course, speculative fiction has always been used to reflect or comment on contemporary issues and society through the creation of worlds that are different from our own, but still recognizable. While Food for the Gods isn’t intended to be political in any way, it still allowed me to address some timeless themes—including the trials of being an outsider in a foreign land; the need to escape the “sins of the father”; and the complex and sometimes treacherous relationship between people and their gods.”

“The truth is that mythology spells out all the things we want, fear, hope, and dream in pretty basic imagery and themes. These are not timeworn tales with nothing to say to us, because our fears and desires really haven’t changed since these stories were born. They illuminate us, they transform us. That’s why ‘old’ myths still resonate.”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/10/26/interview-with-karen-dudley-about-food-for-the-gods/

Liz Strange:

Photo of Liz Strange (Courtesy of Liz Strange)

Author photo courtesy of Liz Strange

“The monster is romantic and sympathetic, because it lives in all of us. Human beings are complicated, challenging, frustrating, wondrous beings, capable of many things both inspiring and horrifying.”

“I like my readers to be entertained, first and foremost, but I also like to spark some interest in things they may never have thought of before. I like to intrigue, incite curiosity and challenge people to think outside their comfort zone. The world is a big place, full of wonder, mystery, beauty and misery.”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/11/06/interview-with-liz-strange/

Helen Marshall:

Author Photo Courtesy of Helen Marshall

Author Photo Courtesy of Helen Marshall

“Weird fiction, at its best, unsettles us. Realist fiction can also do that, but that isn’t necessarily its goal. I love the idea of a kind of writing designed deliberately to shock, to surprise, to unbalance and unnerve. It has a kind of intensity to it, and it makes us consider ourselves from oblique angles rather than head-on.”

“For me ghosts are terrifying because they are us. What I see when I look at a ghost is myself. And so if the ghost is really just an image of your own future—that is, you when you are dead, the you that you can’t comprehend or imagine—then in some way you are also the ghost of your own future self. We leave things behind, and mostly those things are former versions of ourselves. It seems natural, then, that ghosts are also a figure for something that wants to be remembered, even if we want desperately to forget it.”

“What I try to do is find a bizarre premise and use it as a way into something that is deeply emotional: every new oddity ought to feel like a natural extension of the rules of the world. It feels like it fits. For me, the process of writing strange fiction is falling into a world where each new revelation comes with a shock—but also with a sense of recognition.”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/11/15/interview-with-helen-marshall/

nina-fireplace-crop01-close2-web

Author photo courtesy of Nina Munteanu

Nina Munteanu:

“The literature of the fantastic: speculative literature, science fiction, fantasy… explore—nay—celebrate and bridge the gap between logic and imagination, the mundane and the extraordinary, the known and the strange, order and infinite possibility.”

“Curiosity is a wonderful trait to cultivate. When you’re curious you step outside of yourself into a wonderful world. One of the things I re-learned from my son was how to stop and look. Really look, as in bend down on hands and knees and peer close, get dirty. Curiosity feeds our souls. It slows us down so we can pay attention. It teaches us to be interested in our world, to observe and feel. It helps us crawl outside the box, peer around corners into dark alleys where thrilling adventure lurks.”

“The science fiction genre is the pre-eminent literature of allegory and metaphor. By describing “the other” (what does not yet exist, what might never exist) science fiction writers describe “us”. Through our POV characters and their world’s reactions to the unknown.

“Speculative fiction predicts consequence to current conditions. It projects into the future or alternate reality from current paradigms in science, technology and society. Speculative fiction uses the premise, “What if?”:  “What if this continued?” “What if we used that this way?”; “What if this caused that?”. It provides the proverbial “canary in the mine” on society. Where realist fiction makes commentary on our current society, speculative fiction takes that commentary into the realm of consequence by showing it to us in living colour. It is the ghost of future, present and past to our Scrooge. The arm of speculative fiction reaches far. This is its power over realist fiction and why, I think, mainstream realist authors like Margaret Atwood have discovered and embraced this genre (her latest three books are all speculative fiction). Speculative fiction doesn’t just “tell us”; it can “show us”.”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/11/27/interview-with-nina-munteanu/

Nancy Baker:

Author photo courtesy of Nancy Baker

Author photo courtesy of Nancy Baker

“At its best, horror and fantastic literature can show us the darkness that humans are capable of and to reveal that the reader shares that potential.  It can also show us that the “other” is sometimes as deserving of compassion as we hope that we are.”

“Vampire fiction has been used to look at issues of addiction, oppression, disease, predation, and sexuality.  It’s also been used just to scare the hell out of us.  Every new generation of readers and writers has the advantage of looking at what came before (from the classics such as Carmilla and Dracula to Salem’s Lot and Interview with the Vampire to Twilight and The Passage) and reacting to it, either by emulating it or turning it on its head.

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/12/05/interview-with-nancy-baker/

Gemma Files:

Author photo courtesy of Gemma Files

Author photo courtesy of Gemma Files

“Because I work primarily in the field of horror, the idea of the Alien—the Other—is a really integral one, one which underlies an amazing amount of human psychology. You see it all through history, and it’s not like it’s gone away: This impulse to say some people are different and therefore lesser, undeserving of sympathy, actively malign—people we can call animals, monsters, and feel perfectly fine about routinely trying to contain, police, punish or even exterminate. But the flip-side of this impulse is the realization that “monsters”, Others, Aliens are almost never as different from you as they seem. That you, in fact, are most often a monster’s “monster”.

“This is a hard lesson, but a useful one, and Speculative Fiction explores it constantly, over and over. And it does that, I believe, because people both know in their gut that it’s true yet hope against hope that it’s not. This tension drives almost everything, and it’s testing this tension which is Speculative Fiction’s most useful quality, potentially: Our ability to tell and re-tell ourselves metaphorical fables about the things that are happening all around us, set in some pleasantly distant future, past or alternative universe, which may possibly help us to make good decisions about the here and now.”

“Magic is a fantasy of ultimate power in a mainly-powerless world, but our own self-knowledge quotient means that we know the shadow lurks underneath everything—that whatever good we do by magic means is bound to sour, especially if improperly paid for. We’ve all read most of the same fairytales, so the principles always seem familiar: Horror is fluid, and just like in folklore, the general principle of horror is not only that things can always change, but that if—when—they do, it’ll probably be something that you did which is the cause of that change. Which is sort of positive, in a way…therapeutic, almost. Monstrosity is not a permanent state, or doesn’t have to be, so long as one understands but doesn’t excuse one’s own nature and takes responsibility for one’s own actions.”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/12/13/interview-with-gemma-files/

Jerome Stueart:

Author photo courtesy of Jerome Stueart

Author photo courtesy of Jerome Stueart

“Speculation is about seeing natural consequences, about thinking about choices and figuring out where they will lead, and about large-scale societal consequences.  I think speculative fiction is the reason we don’t condone cloning, or have nuclear war—science fiction showed us that there are no good ways of having those, and we believed them.  Silent Spring is a “speculative novel” written as nonfiction by Rachel Carson with such an apocalyptic vision of the dangers of DDT and other chemicals we were putting on crops and in the air—with real evidence– that it scared people into regulation.  Carson used speculative tools to give reason to turn the boat around.

“Unfortunately, speculation in the wrong hands can just be fear-mongering.  Recent commercials against Obama speculated a world four years from now full of apocalypse!  Without any evidence.  It was cheap scare tactics, but they worked on some people who couldn’t extrapolate from evidence, or who couldn’t question the premises or the evidence.  I saw that in both political parties.  If we don’t “produce” thinking minds—in every place in society—fear mongering will work, evidence won’t count.  That scares me.

“Climate Change has to find a way to alert people to change without becoming alarmist—but we have a society less-inclined to think for themselves now, and less-inclined to value knowledge and preventative measures.  We’re all about reacting now.  We’re all about consuming.  We’re living like it’s the last days on Earth and we want our feast.  Anyone who says we have to “cut back” which is the message of climate change—restraint—is taking away “our fun.”  We are such a Mine Culture, not a Mind Culture.  We may live together, but we don’t think together.

“I would put MORE speculative literature in the classroom starting with Kim Stanley Robinson’s climate change series, Science in the Capital—or his Three Californias. I would teach kids to imagine their own futures—what will they be doing 20 years from now, and what will society be like.  What do they WANT society to be like?  And where do they see the forces in control trying to lead us?  Kids can be taught to think speculatively and use it wisely. “

“I think SF can help us get ready for change, and see change as positive and desirable.  We get in our ruts.  If we want the Star Trek universe—we’re gonna have to work for it.  LOL.  But I think it can examine multiple paths for us—examining all possible scenarios and showing us a positive path.

“The danger of SF, though, is that it inherently likes NOT so positive paths.  They present more of what readers desire: conflict, danger, suspense.  So we get much more apocalyptic SF which shows us what NOT to do, but rarely shows us HOW to get to the change.

“The challenge for SF writers is to imagine us a path to get to the change and show it as a positive one.  And that I think is the most fun.  Star Trek cheated a bit by shooting so far in the future that all those things like poverty, greed, violence, were all gone by the 24th century.  We’ve been spending the last 45 years trying to figure out how Gene thought that might happen!  But at least it modeled diversity for us.  I recall Nichelle Nichols’ wonderful story of her encounter with Martin Luther King, Jr. just before she was about to quit the show.  He encourages her to stay on because he too believes that SF is the literature of change.  He saw her presence on the bridge as a model for behavior and hope for a positive future beyond Race.  So in this way, SF is a model for change—it models good behavior, even if it doesn’t have all the answers.”

“Maybe that’s the greatest strength of SF—it has a wide angled lens.  SF is about commenting on societal problems more than character problems.  Maybe that’s why the characters can be more universal, and sometimes flatter, because SF is interested in the “what if” of the story—the what if of the society.  It can handle a universal character because the society is what we want to examine in SF, and the choices a society makes.

“But again, it also has a chance to be more society-scaled prescriptive—and model societal behavior and model change that realistic fiction can’t.  SF is the quantum reality of realistic fiction.  While realistic fiction might concentrate on individuals and their changes, SF goes wide to take the choices and changes of a large group.“

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/12/18/interview-with-jerome-stueart/

Noah Chinn:

Author photo courtesy of Noah Chinn

Author photo courtesy of Noah Chinn

“You’re not constrained by reality to get your message across. You could write a story about banning books in a realistic fiction story set in modern day, sure.  But what if you wanted to take it further to get your point across? It would be of hard to write something with the impact of Fahrenheit 451 without creating a society in which all books are banned.  You need to think not only of why, but what form that world would take, how people live their lives, the consequences of that culture on people’s behavior, and so on.  You need to create a world that doesn’t exist, but you can believe could – even if only for the duration of the story.”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/12/26/interview-with-noah-chinn/

An Interview with Paul Marlowe About The Wellborn Conspiracy Series

Interview With Paul Marlowe About The Wellborn Conspiracy Series

Author Photo courtesy of Paul Marlowe

By Derek Newman-Stille

Native New Brunswick author Paul Marlowe shares some of his insights on SteamPunk, Canadian speculative fiction, his Wellborn Conspiracy Series, the werewolf, and the role of research in Canadian Speculative Fiction. I want to thank Mr. Marlowe for taking the time to do this interview and share his thoughts with us.

Spec Can: Could you take a few moments to tell the readers a little bit about yourself?

Paul Marlowe: Oh, I don’t know. There’s not that much to tell, really. Hmm. Perhaps a quote? According to Socrates, “the unexamined life is not worth living”. Oh dear… That’s a depressing way to start, isn’t it? Well, if heredity is anything to go by in personality, I could point to my 9th-great-grandmother, who chose to be hanged in the Salem witch trials rather than save herself by “confessing”. She was no doubt unfamiliar with Plato, the Puritans not going in much for a classical education, but Plato recorded Socrates expressing a sentiment that she could sympathise with: “I much prefer to die after such a defence than to live after a defence of the other sort… it is not hard to escape death; it is much harder to escape wickedness, for that runs faster than death.” Words to live by. Or, er, die by, perhaps. Next question?

Spec Can: Could you tell us a little bit about your Wellborn Conspiracy Series?

Paul Marlowe: The series name itself, “Wellborn”, is a more or less literal translation of the Greek “eugenics”, which features in the stories, one of the threads running through them being the activities of a group calling themselves the Wellborn Trust, a eugenics-promotion society involved in a lot of unsavoury activities. They’re steampunk stories, perhaps in the older sense of steampunk – that is, having to do with Victorian-type stuff without strictly adhering to historical accuracy, and with some science fiction or fantasy blended in. To avoid any disappointment amongst readers, I’ll warn them ahead of time that no airships, steam automatons, or clockwork corsets appear in these books.

The first volume, Sporeville, is set in a fictional town called Spohrville (the title comes from the characters’ play on words) in Nova Scotia. In it, a member of the Wellborn Trust is controlling the town in order to exploit its labour and resources. He’s a war criminal from the US Civil War, drawn along somewhat Dr Mengele-ish lines, though perhaps with a chirpier personality when in a good mood. It follows two families – the DeLoups and the Gravens – as they discover the true nature of what is happening in  their town.

In the second book, Knights of the Sea, the heroes think that they can go back to their more or less normal lives until their old enemy tries to get revenge. At the same time they are discovering the breadth of the Wellborn Trust’s activities, coming to realize that the problem goes far beyond their local trouble in Spohrville. National and Imperial politics are involved (and they have fun at Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee, too).

Book three is still a mass of notes. Possibly it might even get written if there is sufficient clamour from my legions of fans. Or cohort of fans (I wouldn’t want to exaggerate). Well, all right – centuriae of fans. Contubernia?

Spec Can: What inspired you to write The Wellborn Conspiracy Series and what ideas contributed to the shape of the series and its characters?

Paul Marlowe: I have to admit that the setting for Sporeville was in small part inspired by how very mouldy the town is in which I live. Apart from the mouldiness, though, the rest is pure invention and, like other stories, was written mostly because I had an urge to write it, probably due to some muse or imp. I’d blame it on inspiration particles, but I’m not sure they exist outside the Discworld. It’s unfortunate for literary criticism and posterity, but I think many writers have their hands so full with juggling the bits and pieces of their stories that they rarely notice when they negligently drop their inspirations and sources into the oubliette.

As for the eugenics theme, for those unfamiliar with eugenics, it was the (pseudo) science of manipulating human heredity in order to supposedly improve the race. That is, eugenicists wanted to do things like eliminate hereditary deafness by ensuring that those with the condition didn’t marry each other. It was meant to be progressive, looking forward to a utopian future when there would be no more hereditary illnesses, but at its worst it led to sterilizing and murdering people in the name of genetic hygiene. Eugenics is (or should be) one of the great cautionary tales in the history of the social application of science, particularly now that we are developing the technology to manipulate the human germ line. Hopefully we will review the record of eugenics before some company decides to eliminate unfashionable hair colours from the gene pool, or to “give your kids the best chance of success with the TeamPlayer gene!” Eugenics seemed like something that had relevance both to the late Victorian era and our own times, and therefore a good subject for fiction.

There are some characters derived from real people in Knights of the Sea (which takes place in real Nova Scotian places rather than in a purely fictional town like Sporhville), such as future prime minister John Sparrow Thompson, Alexander Graham Bell, and Anna Leonowens. Even “Captain Rawlins” is inspired (very loosely) by the real Capt. Rawson of the Royal Engineers, as is the un-named prisoner in the Baddeck Gaol, who comes from a mention in one of Thompson’s letters of an unjustly-accused prisoner.

One of the things I hoped to do with the series was to recreate the atmosphere of the times as it pertained to literary experience. It was a time when it was as ordinary for educated teenagers to read, remember, and quote from Scott, Poe, Tennyson, and the Bible, as it is for someone today to say “d’oh!” and be understood. We’ve lost that common culture, which is a shame both because it was an enriching influence that tied generations together, making the past comprehensible, and also because nothing of greater value than television has replaced it.

Spec Can: How much did your personal role as a Maritimer influence the story and your writing overall?

Paul Marlowe: No doubt the obsession with dampness and fish can be blamed on my boggy homeland. History, too, comes naturally in the Maritimes, since recorded history in what would become Canada started here (unless you count the odd tidbit in Viking sagas about Vinland, in which case it started in Newfoundland). The place has a colourful history full of battles, rebellion, massacre, ethnic cleansing, piracy, shipbuilding, pickle-making, etc.. In its own small way, the Maritimes now shares some of the romantic, melancholy air of decay that has attracted people over the years to Egypt, to Greece, to Rome, and to post-imperial Britain, places whose time of greatness (such as it was) has come and gone. The Maritimes had their epic battles (some of them with a dozen people fighting in the dark), it had its merchant princes setting out to sea in home-built ships to trade in the Caribbean, or India, or China, and setting up companies like Red Rose Tea and the Cunard Line. The Maritimes kept the Royal Navy in masts during the Napoleonic Wars, but when the age of sail ended it sank gradually into irrelevance, right into our own age of franchises, TV, and homogeneity. You can still find traces of the past – forts, or muddy post roads, or Victorian sea-captains’ mansions – between the Walmarts and McDonaldses, wherever decay, indifference, and progress have spared a few relics from oblivion. Whether that background affects my writing, I don’t know. The place does remind one both of remarkable history, and of our remarkably short memory of it.

Spec Can: What encouraged you to blend the Steampunk genre with figures from dark fantasy like the werewolf or the ghost?

Paul Marlowe: Steampunk is – or, one of its aspects is – Victoriana with a departure from strict reality. That may be in technology, or the laws of the universe, or the historical timeline, or some other element. Ghosts and creatures of Gothic fiction seem to fit into steampunk worlds without undue incongruity chiefly because they were features of the real Victorian imagination, and so like Jules Verne’s machines we have simply to assume them to be real to incorporate them into the world without disbelief, unlike more anachronistic things one might add to fiction.

Spec Can: What inspired you to become a writer?

Paul Marlowe:  For many years I felt a growing calling towards poverty and obscurity, but since I didn’t have the vocation to be a monk, not being attracted by the chastity and obedience, I decided that being a Canadian SF writer would work just as well.

More directly, I saw a scientific journal a number of years ago that was offering 20¢ per word for science fiction short stories. And these were American cents, back when they were worth something. I wrote a story, had it accepted, and lived the high life on that cheque for several minutes, thinking “this is the life!”. Later, when the journal folded, I discovered that all the other magazines paid rather less – in fact, about the same number of pennies per word as magazines paid writers a hundred years ago, if you’re lucky. So, it’s been all downhill since then.

All that nonsense aside, I suppose it’s because I keep thinking of stories that seem a shame not to bring to life.

Spec Can: Where do you think Canadian Speculative Fiction is headed at the moment?

Paul Marlowe: Not being a scholar of Canadian SF, I don’t know if my forecast would be any better than those of Environment Canada since their budget cuts. It looks like SF will continue to be sidelined, culturally, for the foreseeable future, since there’s a sort of literary apartheid in Canada (as in other countries), which places SF down in the lowest class where it can be disenfranchised by excluding it from the grants, prizes, reviews,  media attention, and the rest of the grease and hot air that lets the literary machine chug along, hoisting books out of the shadows and into the public eye.

Some countries, perhaps, do a bit better than Canada. In the US, where every stage of the Lit Cycle from writing to reviewing to award-giving isn’t subsidized by a federal or provincial ministry of official culture, there seems to be an acknowledgement that literature consists of something beyond self-conscious nation building, lyrical tales of suicide on the prairies during the Great Depression, and other dismally “realistic” but morally uplifting fare. Coincidentally, the US also has a huge SF publishing industry, attracting writers from, among other countries, Canada. And there’s probably a reason why writers like Sir Terry Pratchett appear in the UK, and not in Canada. Despite there being the same tendency to pretentious literary cliques in the UK as we have here, Pratchett was knighted (the equivalent of a Companion of the Order of Canada), his works have been performed as stage plays, as TV programmes, and on the BBC, and he won this year’s Wodehouse Prize (equivalent of the Leacock Medal, but with more pigs and champagne). Writing SF requires imagination, but I’m not sure that I have enough to imagine a Canadian fantasy writer being similarly celebrated by his or her country.

Government assistance was certainly necessary here to kindle a national book industry and literary institutions. Unfortunately for many “genre” writers, it’s now simply supporting an industry that does little for them but denigrate and ignore their work. Canadian literature won’t be as rich and varied as it might be until the bigotry of the industry abates. I suppose the best way for that to happen might be for more people involved in Canadian SF to sit on grant & prize juries, write reviews, and speak out when they’re discriminated against, not on their literary merit, but on their choice of subject matter (or choice of friends). And in the meantime, Canadian SF writers will carry on doing what Canadians have always done when their country fails to value them: they’ll look abroad for the opportunities that don’t exist here, which is what I did when the CBC brushed off my offer of a (free, professionally acted & produced) radio play to their drama department with “it is not something that we have interest in for CBC Radio at this time”. I offered it to US stations, which broadcast it, and now the CBC drama department has been cancelled. Not that the cancellation was caused by their rejecting me… I’m sure it was simply the curse that I put on them afterwards that did it.

Young adult SF books, on the other hand, are in a better position to grow in variety, quality, and popularity, because children’s & YA books have their own publishers and institutions that are somewhat removed from Lit cliques. There is a certain amount of insistence, in books for young people, that their place in libraries and schools must be justified by educational content, or popular moral or other issues, but unlike with much adult literature there is an acknowledgement that children should be able to find things to read that are fun and entertaining (like fantasy and science fiction). If the books contain thought-provoking ideas, too, so much the better. In that environment, SF is not at such a disadvantage. Possibly this greater freedom is the reason why more and more adults are buying YA books.

The criticism often levelled at SF by Lit types and by more literal-minded readers – that it is “mere escapism” – has less sting when directed at YA books because adults sometimes condescend to allow children the opportunity to indulge in frivolous pass-times, such as imagination. I was a little surprised to find a condemnation of escapism in Charlotte Otten’s A Lycanthropy Reader, which I was browsing recently. In it, she said that “Today’s obsession [she was writing in the 1980s] with the occult and werewolves is frequently an escape mechanism, not a route to sanity and healing” (my emphasis). I think this is a more common – and more harmful – attitude than we usually recognise. That is, the attitude that literature, or other cultural works, need to be educational, or therapeutic, or morally uplifting, or socially utilitarian, to justify their existence. Otherwise, they’re mere frippery at best, or socially destructive at worst. There is rarely an acknowledgement that literature can be worthwhile in itself, even without teaching a moral or other lesson – without helping us cope with X, or serving some other purpose. Ottens further elucidates the contrast that she sees between “escapist” and “realistic” literature by explaining that the “literature of lycanthropy in the Medieval and Renaissance worlds is not escapist: it is realistic. It helps to clarify the needs, hopes, aspirations, and commitments of a human being and of a society. It addresses the problems, struggles, conflicts, anxieties, triumphs, and joys of human-kind.” which is an impressive list of literary achievements, and a rather heavy burden to place on werewolf stories, if they are all expected to bear such ponderous sub-texts to avoid the charge of “escapism”.

It’s simple to offer a pragmatic defence of escapist literature, in that such works meet a human need that isn’t satisfied by a continual diet of moral allegory. Most of us need, regularly, to take a break from problems and anxieties, whether they be real or symbolic. We need to rest, and to dream, so that we can return to what passes for reality sane and rejuvenated. We need fantasy for relief from an artificial reality that society has created, and which we are often bullied into believing has no alternatives. We need in our imaginations to experience things beyond our office cubicle, because not to do so is to become a machine, or a thing not quite human. And we need, whether we are children or adults, to play, not in a world with fantasy window-dressing on top of the same dreary array of problems we face every day, but in a world that lets us simply play for the joy of it, and because play lets us grow outside the limits of artificial (or natural) reality. One might not care to go so far as Wodehouse did in saying that “the object of all good literature is to purge the soul of its petty troubles”, but he does have a point.

There is no doubt much excellent literature that addresses problems or shows individuals their place in society. What there isn’t, sadly, is enough recognition that literature is a vast field in which there are many worthy varieties. Tempting as it might be to imagine it so, literature isn’t a progression of better and higher forms with, at one end, a shambling, hirsute Edgar Rice Burroughs stooped over his stone-sharpened quill, while at the other end a well-groomed Margaret Atwood walks boldly erect, signing copies of her non-SF SF using her patented hygienic LongPen, and sparkling with twinkly (but respectable) magic realism. A healthy literary ecosystem is one where many writers explore many niches – without apology, and without pomposity –  discovering what is possible with words. It’s the antithesis of the Lit monoculture that’s cultivated in Canada by the mass of publishers, journals, reviewers, awards, and CBC coverage.

Apart from problems arising from attitudes to SF, Canadian writers of SF are also going to have to deal with the same upheavals that are, and will be, affecting all writers as the industry goes through spasms of adaptation to economic, cultural, and technological changes. Partly the problems are due to the continuing drift away from literature to other forms of entertainment (and the concomitant drift towards lower levels of literacy). As well, we still don’t know what effect the internet and e-books will have on publishing over even the next ten years. The internet has become not only a tremendous communications medium, but also a virtual kleptocracy, where books are stolen more or less with impunity – a curiously reactionary development that is shifting already hard-pressed writers back to Victorian times, when the lack of international copyright law meant that their work was exploited by pirates in other counties almost as soon as it was published. The current situation is a classic example of what laws exist for – the protection of a small group (writers) from exploitation by a large group (pirates), but so far law is failing. Probably consumerism is partly to blame for creating the environment of selfish exploitation in which piracy thrives. Also, we live in a culture that combines fear and self-righteousness into a potent cocktail of self-delusion. It’s used to justify pointless, bloody wars. It’s used to excuse the erosion of civil liberties. And in a different way it’s used by pirates to spin a self-serving Robin Hood fantasy in which they’re Fighting the Big Evil Corporations by exploiting writers, stealing their work, and profiting from it through online advertising revenue on piracy sites, or simply by getting something valuable for free – something created by long, hard, unpaid work. In this strange, retrograde return to pre-copyright days, pirates are the new capitalists living off the labour of others, and along with corporations like Google (remember the Google Books lawsuit?), they’re using the internet to strip-mine our culture for every exploitable piece of creative work.

Spec Can: Is there something distinctive about Canadian Steampunk from that of other nations?

Paul Marlowe: Theoretically, steampunk has been around as a (named) genre for twenty-five years or so. Practically, though, most publishers have only heard of it within the last few years, so it’s probably premature to begin identifying what, if anything, differentiates Canadian from international steampunk. If its popularity survives for more years, then a comparison might be worthwhile.

In some ways, the real history of Canada is kind of like an alternate history of the United States – we were the part of British North America that chose to stay British. Those who didn’t want to become republican Americans came here as Loyalists.

Once you get past the superficial bric-a-brac of steampunk that is common in books from various countries, the Canadian angle has interesting opportunities, since it places the reader in North America, and yet also in the greatest multinational empire that has ever been. Some writers may want to play with the opportunities that exist for adventure in an only semi-realistic version of that world. Some will be interested in the progress and optimism of the times. Others may wish to dwell on the obvious injustices of the Victorian era. It’s easy (and too common) to either romanticize the empire as a golden age or else to demonize it as a sort of ultimate evil, with a cackling Darth Victoria grinding the helpless proletariat beneath her diamond-studded, hook-and-eye-laced heels. The truth, I think, is far more interesting, which is that the empire was something that evolved higgledy-piggledy over generations, in the midst of a constant discussion as to what it was and what it should be. An honest appraisal of it needs to encompass things like the Opium Wars and the Amritsar massacre along with the banning of slavery and of suttee throughout the empire even before Victoria’s coronation. For a writer of fiction, the fluid, evolving nature of the empire that Canada was a member of provides plenty of opportunities to imagine what it might have become, for better or worse, had its evolution proceeded differently.

Spec Can: There are a lot of Canadian historical figures and places in your series. Was this to help get teens interested in Canadian history or from your own interest and passion for history?

Paul Marlowe: It wasn’t primarily to be educational. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t be delighted if the book stimulated interest in history, only that when a writer puts literature in harness, under the whip of a pedagogical coachman, it tends to take readers on a rather plodding journey. When the writer’s own interest in history is showing through the story, though, I think that can be more contagious for readers than when a book is consciously constructed to teach a curriculum. With Knights of the Sea, I kept finding interesting things that could appear in the story, even in a fairly short window of a few weeks in 1887. The ship railway, the Jubilee celebrations, and A.G. Bell’s locations and activities at various times are all historically accurate, some down to the time of day. There’s a considerable amount of detail that’s drawn from research, right down to the stories in newspapers that people are reading. Whether or not that will end up interesting readers in history, only the readers can say. I think there’s a certain pleasure, though, in reading a work of fiction and then discovering, perhaps later, that something you took to be backdrop or invention is real.

Spec Can:  How much research did you have to put into your book? What is the value of research for authors?

Paul Marlowe:It varies according to the needs of the story. I generally like to research, and think about the research, until I have, as it were, the mental stage dressing to know how the characters will be thinking and reacting. The place, their pasts, their interests, current affairs, social customs, and so on. Not that I necessarily have to be bound by the constraints of the real world when writing steampunk or alternate history. (Interesting, isn’t it, that while no-one would insist that all the visual arts be realistically pictorial, the moment a writer adds a non-realistic alien or airship to a story they become artistically suspect, i.e. non-Literary). And when one is writing about eccentric people, which for some reason comes naturally to me, one is not quite so confined by social customs, since eccentrics, like Harry and Kate (not the naughty scamp and his sister-in-law that you may be thinking of) can say “you and I cannot be confined within the weak list of a country’s fashion: we are the makers of manners…” Well, it probably applies to the other Harry and Kate too.

In Knights of the Sea, there was a lot of careful timing. You’ll notice, for example, that the phases of the Moon are indicated, for obvious reasons – those were the real lunar phases. Things like the position of the Milky Way when they’re at sea were the products of research as well. I found out about early submarines, light bulbs, when the Eaton’s catalogue first appeared, and what the political stories of the day were. There was no doubt a lot of discarded research, too, that had no place in the book, but it all helps to shift the writer’s mind into another time.

For anyone writing anything other than their own immediate experience, research is pretty much indispensable. Even those writing secondary-world fiction (set in a purely invented world) generally do a lot of research, since it’s only by knowing about the real world, its history and its peoples, that one can have enough understanding of the borders of human behaviour and culture to invent a plausible imaginary society.

I find research one of the great pleasures of writing. I suppose it satisfies my latent academic, as it gives me the excuse to read widely in subjects that interest me. As a result, writing a short story can be very much like taking an exam – it’s the culmination of a long period of thought and study. Bigger projects take more research. I’m often reading for projects that I don’t plan to work on for years yet.

Spec Can: What is it like as an adult author to write a book featuring young people? Is it tough to move into the headspace of a young person?

Paul Marlowe:It would be harder if I were writing stories set in the present day, because they’d be expected to contain more of the slang and pop-culture Shibboleths that are the signs of generational differentiation. In Victorian-era fiction it isn’t such a problem, since the phenomenon of generations being defined by a narrow, ephemeral collection of clothes, music, and other products is a relatively recent one. Victorian youth was more integrated into the general culture of books, music, and activities. Apart from that, I haven’t yet reached Methuselah’s years, so I still recall many of the ghastly and wonderful features of teenagerhood.

As with adult fiction (at least the kind whose authors don’t think “Eww! Heroes… that’s so, like, passé and genre…”) teen fiction often has heroes who are people not exactly like ourselves, but like the people we would wish to be if we weren’t so restrained, or self-doubting, or helpless to act.

Spec Can: Your series features children who are often ignored or whose opinions and perspectives are downplayed. Could you tell us a bit about the message being portrayed about the importance of youth voices and the tendency for adults to ignore the voices of young people?

Paul Marlowe: I think that the exclusion is a natural outcome of the social dynamics of age, and the different roles of adults and children. Adults want to (and have an obligation to) protect children from danger, and so they don’t normally involve them in anything they think is perilous or beyond a child’s abilities. Children, picking up on the fact that something is being hidden from them, want to find out what it is, and part of growing up is learning about the limits of your own abilities – knowing when you can do something yourself, or when you should get an adult to help. Especially with older children on the brink of adulthood, they will test those limits, and sometimes step over them, with disastrous results at times. If they don’t explore those limits, though, they won’t grow or develop their own judgment.

We tend to get a lot of passive heroes in fiction these days (consider Harry “Tell me what stupid thing to do next, Professor Dumbledore” Potter, for example). I like to see heroes being active, making their own decisions and mistakes. Kids were probably more capable of acting independently in the Victorian era simply because they grew up being expected to do things, rather than to be passive consumers who get heart disease at sixteen because their parents are terrified to let them walk to school or play outdoors.

With teenagers, being ignored or dismissed can be very galling, particularly when they know something is wrong but no-one is doing anything about it. It’s a scenario where taking independent action is a logical alternative, since unlike the adults – who may rely on their experience, which tells them “that can’t be happening”, or “there’s nothing that can be done” – the teens, lacking experience, may find it easier to believe anything is possible. Which, I suppose, is one reason why generals send teenagers to charge machine-gun nests.

Spec Can:What mythologies of the werewolf do you draw on in your work?

Cover Photo for Knights of The Sea courtesy of Paul Marlowe

Paul Marlowe: In these first two books the werewolfism is very much treated as something unusual, about which the werewolves don’t speak, so there isn’t a lot revealed about their origins or the explanation of how werewolfism works. I’m saving that for the third book, so… it’s a secret!

Spec Can:  How do your werewolves differ from those of other authors?

Paul Marlowe: There are a few things that make them different from some werewolf stories. Firstly, they can’t transmit their condition by biting, but can pass it to their children. Secondly, the strain of werewolfism has been very diluted over the years through outbreeding with ordinary humans. Thirdly, and perhaps anachronistically – at least from the point of view of tradition – the silver that’s so dangerous in werewolf movies isn’t deadly to my werewolves, but instead is inebriating.

Spec Can: What does the werewolf symbolise for you?

Paul Marlowe: There are a variety of possible significances to werewolves, many of them contradicting each other. In Sporeville, the werewolves are not meant to be prescriptive of a specific symbol, though they do emphasize the gulf that exists between the DeLoup family and others in their town. They’re outsiders, they’re of another class, and they’re well educated. To go back to the question of Maritimerness, these things have, perhaps, a special significance in the Maritimes, where outsiders can be called “come-from-aways” (sometimes down to the nth generation), where there are long memories of whose family used to be important long ago, and where in small towns you’re likely to get along a lot better if your goal is to become a hockey player, as opposed to say, an intellectual.

The nature of the story also makes it possible to interpret Paisley’s werewolfism as a power to take action, a power that has long been considered embarrassing or worrying; one which can become desirable – even essential – given the right circumstances. The overcoming of one’s shame, or of one’s impulse to conform to the expectations of others, frees one’s abilities. In Knights of the Sea, Paisley saves Elliott’s life a couple of times as a wolf, whereas she might have hesitated or failed had she remained human, choosing not to draw upon the other side of herself.

Often the shedding of clothes and transformation into a wolf is considered symbolic of a forsaking of civilization for the brutal savageness of a beast. Admittedly, this unleashing of animal violence is one of Paisley’s concerns. (She also, not surprisingly, is not unaware of the undeniable aesthetic drawbacks of being a canid.) In the actions of the story, though, while there’s talk of “running amok”, Paisley never harms anyone innocent. What she actually does is prevent two terrible crimes from happening, which is compatible with either the view that she is a wolf protecting her pack or mate, or that she is a good Victorian, fulfilling a duty to defend the innocent, thwart evil, and uphold the law. The latter is something not always associated with Victorian ladies, but it’s worth remembering that special ladies’ pistols had been made since the flintlock era, and Paisley’s day was a time when suffrage and other questions were in the air, questions that would have been accompanied by the issue of pairing rights with duties and responsibilities. In the case of Knights of the Sea, disrobing also divests Paisley of the silver that had been acting as a kind of werewolf Valium, dulling both her anxieties and her perspicacity. Interpret that how you will, when it’s removed she sees what needs to be done and acts without dithering about the proprieties.

Spec Can:  Is there something distinctive about the werewolves that Canadian authors create from those of other nationalities?

Paul Marlowe: You’re the werewolf specialist – I should be asking you! I haven’t surveyed the corpus of werewolfian Canadiana, but I suppose one of the most distinctive things would be the French Canadian loup garou tradition. While a lot of European supernatural elements can seem out of place in the New World, I guess the loup garou is an example of one that came with the colonists and settled in.

Spec Can: Your amazing sense of humour is clear from reading your work. How does humour help to support a good story? What can humour add to a story?

Paul Marlowe:Thanks! Usually I think of humour as anything but a prop or add-on. If it doesn’t rise naturally from the scenes and characters of the story, then it will seem forced. If it’s done well, then I think it brings a vividness and intensity to situations that would otherwise be flat. For example, a dinner might be tedious and commonplace, but if an absurd case of mistaken identity is making characters off-balance, then they can be propelled into doing things that are both entertaining and significant for the plot. Humour has a verbal side that comes from a delight in playing with words – flirting with language itself – that (to be dourly utilitarian) is more than fun. It’s a reminder that words have many shades of meaning, a lesson that leaves us in a wider mental world, one where we can communicate more effectively what we mean, where we can avoid misunderstanding others, and where we are better equipped to counter those who would paint the world in black and white, or who use language as a smokescreen, or a blunt instrument. 

Spec Can: Can humour be used to say serious things?

Paul Marlowe: In George Orwell’s phrase, “every joke is a small revolution”. The difference, perhaps, between humour and other revolutions is that while every successful revolution becomes a new establishment and orthodoxy, humour is perennially revolutionary. That’s what makes it the most subversive art form. An aristocrat like Olivia might say “there is no slander in an allowed fool”; dictators, bullies, demagogues, commissars, the self-important and the self-righteous, though, never tolerate laughter at their expense, because they rule through fear, intimidation, authority, and shame, all of which melt before a good laugh. Orwell got himself hated by right and left alike due to his unwillingness to tolerate the evils of either his political opponents or of his own political allies. Humour, too, has no fixed political allegiance. It tends to take the side of truth and common sense over ideological dogmas, since all dogmas have a morbid seriousness about them that blinds adherents to their own self-serving viciousness and hypocrisy.

By showing us familiar things in their true absurdity, satire overcomes the habit of ignoring everyday foolishness, opening up an opportunity to change the world to make it saner. How often do we listen politely to a politician, academic, broadcaster, businessperson, or some modern-day Dogberry torturing language in order to say little or nothing in the most impenetrable and grotesque manner possible? At least when things like that crop up in literature you can freely laugh yourself sick over them, unless you’re reading on a bus.

So, humour can do a lot of serious things, from pricking wind-bags, to mocking pretensions, to debunking someone who wants to scare us into a war or a police state. Literary humour is usually carefully thought out, because of the importance of timing and the selection of exactly the right words; everyday humour is by contrast often an honest, spontaneous expression of an individual who sees the world as it really is, instead of how we’re supposed to see it. And it’s also good fun. As Walpole said, “The world is a comedy to those that think.”

Spec Can: Your werewolf character Paisley DeLoup seems to experience a lot of concerns about the interaction of her gender identity and her werewolf identity. She seems to view the werewolf as the fundamental opposite of everything a girl in the Victorian era should be. Could you tell us a bit more about this and the gender identity conflict that female werewolf characters often experience in literature?

Paul Marlowe: Particularly in Victorian society, being a werewolf is a serious faux pas for a girl. Expected to be mild and polite, with poise and elegance, turning into a monster that rips out throats might make many well bred ladies of one’s acquaintance think twice about stopping by for tea. Gentlemen would begin to look elsewhere for matrimonial prospects, and Society would tut-tut. Men would experience many similar difficulties, as is demonstrated in medieval tales where a werewolf’s wife leaves him when she discovers with horror his true nature, a point that is made in Knights of the Sea when the wife of Paisley’s werewolf tutor offers advice to Elliott, saying that when they were courting she assured her future husband that “whether he was a man or beast, whatever he was he was all she wanted.” That unconditional acceptance is what those who are different usually want.

Being a werewolf is really the opposite of what not only a young Victorian lady should be, but of what a young Victorian gentleman should be, too. If we think of a gentleman as someone whose emotions are under tight control, who is the epitome of civilization, who is respected by the community, who only fights honourably, with fair play, and who dresses impeccably, we can instantly see the difficulty presented by turning into a slavering carnivore. The main difference between the sexes in this regard is in the idiom in which the characters express their discomfort with the implications of their transformations, and characters will vary in the extent to which they allow themselves to be guided by the expectations of society. They look at those expectations and see different ways in which they fall short of the ideal for their sex. Not surprisingly, Paisley looks at it from a girl’s point of view. She feels that no-one who knows her werewolf side could feel amorously attracted to her, because women are meant to be more genteel (and not as hairy), and she suffers the universal fear that as a wolf she may hurt someone innocent. In the former concern, she’s not unlike many teenagers who fall in love with someone and, because of the low self-image they have for some reason, are unable to believe that their beloved could possibly requite the love. It’s something that both sexes encounter, just for different reasons because of there being different ideal images for the sexes. Leaving aside the use by some of werewolves to symbolize “masculine violence”, etc, it’s not in any way plausible to imagine that a typical man would be any more happy at the prospect of turning into a monster than a typical woman would be. Just ask Dr Jekyll.

Spec Can:  What is it like to write about a female werewolf?

Paul Marlowe: It’s really very much like writing about any other character. Being able to empathise with another person (or animal) sufficiently to imaginatively enter their mind is one of the basic characteristics of humanity, and being able to do so with a variety of characters in a story is the sine qua non of a writer – at least, a writer of fiction – and is particularly important in SF writing, where a character may not even be human. It may be possible for someone to write television scripts, action plans, or speeches while having a total inability to imagine the mind of another – in fact, that often seems to be the case. But such a person tends to make me want to lock up the sharp objects when they’re around, because the inability to imagine another’s mind is something we associate with psychopaths.

Spec Can: A lot of your characters show an interest in their heritage and in discovering parts of their own past. What inspired this and how important is heritage and history for you?

Paul Marlowe: Our history is very significant and illuminating – the past is another dimension of reality that has to be understood if we are to truly understand the present. Particularly in a country like Canada, whose laws, institutions, and constitution are evolutionary rather than the product of a revolution that can be pinned down to a certain moment, it’s essential to learn history.

It’s important to remember, too, that we are not our heritage, and that our families’ pasts are not the same as our own pasts. Honour and culpability are attributes of individuals. We’re here because of our ancestors, but we are not better people because an ancestor did something remarkable, nor are we worse people because an ancestor committed an atrocity. Most of us are likely to have a few heroes and monsters in our family trees. To know a little about them grounds us in history, and puts our own lives in a thought-provoking perspective. It tells us that the world was not always as it is, and perhaps too is a reminder of how precarious a thread of cause and effect led to our own existence, and the existence of the world we know.

Spec Can: Your work shows an interest in political concerns and social ideologies. What role do you see Canadian Speculative Fiction having for critiquing politics and social ideologies?

Paul Marlowe: There was a time when it was considered normal to imagine the future of Canada, and to work towards building that future. Now, with it more important than ever to imagine alternative futures, we avoid it, because taking the future seriously would require making drastic changes right now in the lifestyle of affluence and luxury we enjoy, and would require terrible sacrifices – like driving our cars less, or not taking that flight to Florida. We’ve grown used to thinking of sacrifice as someone else’s job.

Speculative fiction has as one of its goals the imagination of alternative futures. It also reconsiders the past. Not infrequently it raises big questions. By sidelining it, and focusing exclusively on fiction dealing either with the present and the narrowly personal, or resuscitating yesterday’s controversies, we’re avoiding some of the major problems – like global warming, population, distribution of wealth, mass extinction, the ethics of technology, the role of government in pursuing the common good, the increasing alienation of people from their own governments, the individual vs the group, and threats to individual privacy – that will dominate history in the coming generations. While speculative fiction doesn’t exist simply to prophesy or to provide political stimulus, it offers the opportunity for those kinds of explorations.

Because stories are about individuals, not generalities, and because only individuals experience pain, pleasure, hope, and disappointment, stories can examine and critique society in ways that statistics can’t. By looking past immediate present experience at possible worlds, good SF can offer what is so needed but so little found: intelligent thought about the world beyond our own little rut. The problem it faces is whether anyone is interested in hearing what SF writers have to say, and whether – in the welter of distraction that we’re immersed in – stories make any real difference. It’s said that by twelve the average child will have seen eight thousand murders on TV. How many times have we watched the world end (or nearly end) on Doctor Who alone? Clearly, if SF is to have an influence not only on where Canada is heading, but on where humanity is heading, it will have to do something other than shock us will apocalyptic visions, since those have become entertainment. It will have to make us think.

If I can depart from the standards of civil debate for a moment, I would suggest that in a country where anti-intellectualism is on the rise – where anyone interested in technology or SF is branded a geek, and where a political leader such as Stéphane Dion can be discredited amongst the public by being called “professor” by that weird gang of mediocrities, cranks, embarrassing amateurs, control-freaks, spin-doctors, and corporate sock-puppets comprising the Government – the question facing Canadian SF is: how many of us want to think?

Spec Can: Is there anything further you would be interested in sharing with our readers?

Paul Marlowe: As the author of Knights of the Sea: A Grim Tale of Murder, Politics, and Spoon Addiction, I would like to add the following: just say “no” to spoons, boys and girls. I know you may pick up a sterling silver teaspoon and think “I’m only stirring my tea with it. I can take it or leave it. It’s just a social thing… everyone is using teaspoons…” but then it’s two spoons, then six, and before you know it, you’ve got dozens of the things. Stop now, before it’s too late for you. Thank you. Oh, and the trick to getting the milk mixed in without a spoon is to add the milk first, then add the tea.

I want to thank Mr. Marlowe for taking the time to do an interview and for his incredible insights. You can explore more about Mr. Marlowe and read some of his notes about The Wellborn Conspiracy novels at http://www.paulmarlowe.com .

Upcoming Interview With Paul Marlowe Sept 18, 2012

After doing a review of Paul Marlowe’s Knights of the Sea, I thought I would ask him to provide some insights for readers about his work, the evolution and changes to the genre of Speculative Fiction, and the role of SF in speculating Canadian history. Mr. Marlowe was able to provide a great amount of feedback about these and several other questions, including some about the werewolf (which, for those who don’t know me well, is one of my favorite monsters, and the subject of a course I taught at Trent University).

Here are some highlights from that Interview and you can check out the full interview on September 18 and share in Mr. Marlowe’s creative wit and sense of humour.

Paul Marlowe: “I keep thinking of stories that seem a shame not to bring to life.”

Paul Marlowe: “For many years I felt a growing calling towards poverty and obscurity, but since I didn’t have the vocation to be a monk, not being attracted by the chastity and obedience, I decided that being a Canadian SF writer would work just as well.”

Paul Marlowe: “History, too, comes naturally in the Maritimes, since recorded history in what would become Canada started here.”

Paul Marlowe: “It looks like SF will continue to be sidelined, culturally, for the foreseeable future, since there’s a sort of literary apartheid in Canada (as in other countries), which places SF down in the lowest class where it can be disenfranchised by excluding it from the grants, prizes, reviews, media attention.”

Paul Marlowe: “The Maritimes kept the Royal Navy in masts during the Napoleonic Wars, but when the age of sail ended it sank gradually into irrelevance, right into our own age of franchises, TV, and homogeneity.”

Paul Marlowe: “We live in a culture that combines fear and self-righteousness into a potent cocktail of self-delusion. It’s used to justify pointless, bloody wars. It’s used to excuse the erosion of civil liberties.”

Paul Marlowe: “Ghosts and creatures of Gothic fiction seem to fit into steampunk worlds without undue incongruity chiefly because they were features of the real Victorian imagination.”

Paul Marlowe: “We need fantasy for relief from an artificial reality that society has created, and which we are often bullied into believing has no alternatives. We need in our imaginations to experience things beyond our office cubicle, because not to do so is to become a machine, or a thing not quite human.”

Paul Marlowe: “Canadian literature won’t be as rich and varied as it might be until the bigotry of the industry abates.”

Paul Marlowe: “It’s easy (and too common) to either romanticize the (Victorian British) empire as a golden age or else to demonize it as a sort of ultimate evil, with a cackling Darth Victoria grinding the helpless proletariat beneath her diamond-studded, hook-and-eye-laced heels.”

Paul Marlowe: “It’s only by knowing about the real world, its history and its peoples, that one can have enough understanding of the borders of human behaviour and culture to invent a plausible imaginary society.”

Paul Marlowe: “In a country where anti-intellectualism is on the rise – where anyone interested in technology or SF is branded a geek, and where a political leader such as Stéphane Dion can be discredited amongst the public by being called “professor” by that weird gang of mediocrities, cranks, embarrassing amateurs, control-freaks, spin-doctors, and corporate sock-puppets comprising the Government – the question facing Canadian SF is: how many of us want to think?”

Paul Marlowe: “A healthy literary ecosystem is one where many writers explore many niches – without apology, and without pomposity –  discovering what is possible with words.”

I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did. Paul Marlowe mixes his sense of humour with provocative criticism of the ghetto into which SF authors often find themselves at the fringes of Can Lit, the tendency to ignore Canadian history, and the dangers of genetic engineering for eliminating human biodiversity. This enlightening interview sparks thoughts and speculations about the dangers of bigotry.

SteaMacabre or SpectrePunk?

A Review of Paul Marlowe’s Knights of the Sea(Sybertooth Inc., 2010)

Photo courtesy of Paul Marlowe

By Derek Newman-Stille

Submarines are the maritime SteamPunk equivalent of the airship.  In his Knights of the Sea, New Brunswick author Paul Marlowe explores Victorian era Nova Scotia through the lens of a quirky cast of characters including several teens that are considered too smart for their age, a Russian sea captain, a part-time cabby / full-time reporter, several specialists in the etheric realm, a cast of spies, a fish-addicted cat, and a silver-spoon addicted werewolf. With this cast of characters, what can you do but put them into a conspiracy involving a prototype submarine, a eugenics-mad group, a sabotaged political bid, smuggling, and assassination? Canadian history has never been so deadly, or so exciting. His fictive account of Canada’s past is infused with humour, the otherworldly, and the message that it is important to question everything.

Marlowe makes the sea come alive as a character in his novel, creating a permanent presence of the salty and the liquid, and making the land and sea a slippery, in-between place where sea, land, and the supernatural mix with the ebb and flow of the tide. The use of a submarine in the plot of the novel brings the theme of submersion ‘to the surface’, illustrating the way youth (and particularly precocious young Victorian girls) often are submersed by the needs and requirements of family and society in general, losing themselves to the tide of what is proper.

Marlowe facilitates the steady interaction between Canada’s past and the fantastic, forging a bond in the reader’s mind that brings figures and places from Canadian history alive and yet gives them the aura of mystery and the magical. Directed at a teen audience, Knights of the Sea encourages a passion for Canadian  history and the desire for the reader to find out more about the events of Canada’s past through the infusion of the mythic.

The theme of heritage is strong in this novel, with characters seeking their own historical roots and some characters even affecting accents and behaviours of their ancestral places of origin. Both Scots and werewolves in this novel search for their roots and seek some understanding of themselves through their own heritage and history, encouraging the reader to similarly look at themselves as part of a tradition rather than strictly modern. The past is present in this novel both with its setting and the passion it inspires for the examination and exploration of the past (and speculations about the hidden parts of the past).

Marlowe’s work is also fundamentally political, challenging readers to reflect on the silencing of children and the general ignoring of insights by young people. Through the insights of youth and the youthful desire to question everything, plots are uncovered and things that adults have ignored are brought under speculation. Knights of the Sea uses eugenic conspiracies to question and critique neo-Darwinian notions of progress and the idea that destruction will naturally lead to more advanced economies and inventions. Readers are encouraged to question a system where social policy is kill-or-be-killed. The SteamPunk Victorian setting of the novel, where invention and progress are at a point of new acceleration, emphasises this need to question the concepts of progress itself and the social underpinnings defining progress as advancement of the few at the expense of the many.

Knights of the Sea is a fusion of the SteamPunk and the mythic, unifying the fantastic, steam-powered inventions of the Victorian era with the Victorian interest in the supernatural and what they called the “etheric”. The Victorian era was a period of interest in the supernatural and, particularly, a passion for discovering the scientific and medical underpinnings of the supernatural: so a supernatural SteamPunk is a brilliant meeting of science and the spiritual.  Even when lost at sea chasing mad inventions, the spiritual world intervenes in this novel in subtle ways, casting its spectral shadow over the scientific rationalism of the characters, and presenting itself as an ever-present question.

One of Marlowe’s protagonists, Elliott is the perfect figure for this exploration with his interest in both the medical sciences and the Etheric Explorer’s Club, and his passion both for rational explanations and equally strong passion for a woman whose werewolfism makes her behaviours at times inexplicable to the non-lycanthropically inclined. The novel opens with a mixture of Victorian voice and the written cadences of classical pulp fiction narration and this intermixing meant that the only words I could think of to describe this fusion were SteaMacabre or SpectrePunk.

You can discover more about Paul Marlowe at http://www.paulmarlowe.com/pm/ and can read his notes for the novel at http://www.paulmarlowe.com/pm/KnightsoftheSea-notes.htm . You can pick up a copy of Knights of the Sea at http://www.sybertooth.ca/publishing/knightsofthesea.htm

“If cabdrivers are found to be lacking in curiosity, it can no doubt be attributed to that faculty having been lost amid the innumerable other curiosities cabmen find themselves surrounded by every week. In fact, as a general rule, on can say that things are most easily lost amongst similar objects, which is why seamstresses avoid the society of haymakers.”

– Paul Marlowe – Knights of the Sea (Sybertooth, Inc. 2010).

 

Quote – Lost Amongst Similar Objects