A Mosaic of Stories

A review of Steve Vernon and Colleen Anderson’s Tesseracts Seventeen: Speculating Canada from Coast to Coast to Coast (Edge 2013)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo for Tesseracts Seventeen courtesy of Edge

Cover photo for Tesseracts Seventeen courtesy of Edge

It is very exciting to see one of the prestigious Tesseracts books sharing a name with this website. I was quite honoured to see that they had chosen a name that matched the name I created for my website. Tesseracts has been a Canadian SF institution since Judith Merril edited the first collection in 1985, recognising that there was a need for a Canadian collection of SF and that there was something distinct about Canadian spec fic that could only come out by bringing works of Canadian SF together in a collection instead of the random inclusions of Canadian SF in American and British anthologies.

Tesseracts Seventeen: Speculating Canada from Coast to Coast to Coast is an exciting addition to this historic institution and rather than focusing on a single theme or idea, this collection sought to bring together Canadians from around Canada in order to capture some of the distinct flavours of Canadian SF from our diverse regions. Canada is a huge country and this collection was a huge endeavor. While reading this collection, I found myself flipping back to the author descriptions to constantly find out where authors were from to get a sense of that regional flavour, an idea of whether Canadian SF ‘tastes’ differently in different parts of our country. Tesseracts Seventeen provided a chance to travel across this country, but also into the minds of Canadians: their visions of the future, their travels across the universe, and their ventures into the unknown. Steve Vernon and Colleen Anderson were able to capture a tiny bit of Canadian diversity, a few wondrous tiles of the mosaic of thoughts and perspectives that creates the overall picture of Canada.

The tales in this collection bring together ideas about family, memory, privacy, religious fanaticism, dreams, isolation, the history of residential schools, aging, stigma and identity, issues of conformity, poverty and the exploitation of workers, … namely, issues relevant to Canada today and our constant pondering of Northrop Frye’s question “where is here?”, speculating about what Canada is and how to define our identity. Despite most stories being set in the future, on other worlds, in other realities, Speculating Canada from Coast to Coast to Coast speaks very much to Canadian realities, questions of today, and issues relevant to this world.

From a church devoted to Star Trek’s Spock to imaginary friends to ageing ghosts to sacred kitchen recipes to a galactic civilization that forces conformity to living graffeti … this is a book of Canadian magic, a passport to the Canadian beyond.

You can read reviews of individual short stories on this site at:

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2014/05/19/life-drained-by-residential-schools/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2014/05/15/haunting-disability/

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2014/12/29/chilly-renewal/

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2015/01/01/cityscapes/

You can explore Tesseracts Seventeen: Speculating Canada from Coast to Coast to Coast at Edge’s website at http://www.edgewebsite.com/books/tess0/about-tesseracts.html

Upcoming Interview with James Alan Gardner on Thursday, May 9

On Thursday May 9, Speculating Canada will be interviewing James Alan Gardner. Gardner is the author of The League of People’s Universe novels Expendable, ExpendableCommitment Hour, Vigilant, Hunted, Ascending, Trapped, and Radiant. I first encountered James Alan Gardner through the recommendation of Alissa Paxton (who has co-hosted several Speculating Canada programmed on Trent Radio). She had recommended Mr. Gardner as an author who would interest me because of my research on portrayals of disability in Canadian SF.

I was very lucky that Mr. Gardner was willing to do an interview and share his thoughts with readers. Check out our interview on May 9 and read about James Alan Gardner’s insights on the power of SF to open things to questions, trying to do SF that hasn’t been done before, the development of character voices, relationships between characters and power relationships, the difference in Canadian SF, and the figure of the alien.

Here are a few teasers from the upcoming interview:

James Alan Gardner: “Science Fiction is always based on the question, ‘What would happen if things were different?’”

James Alan Gardner: “The whole premise of SF is that the status quo is impermanent: it hasn’t always been what it is today, and it won’t be the same in future.”

James Alan Gardner: “The whole idea of the League of Peoples comes out of a desire not to do warring interstellar societies. War in space is so old hat. How could I do space adventure stories without war? So I invented a universe where interstellar war was absolutely impossible. Then I followed all the implications to see what would happen.”

James Alan Gardner: “Recently, John Scalzi has come up with a great way of expressing something I was talking about in Expendable. Scalzi said that being a straight white (non-disabled) male is like playing video games on the easiest setting. It’s not that life is problem-free, but that the bar you have to clear is lower. An ongoing issue in the League of Peoples stories is that Explorers are better prepared to deal with the unknown because they’ve faced more adversity than most of the other people in their time.”

James Alan Gardner: “Every character is a collection of blind-spots, and that stops them from being able to tell certain types of stories.”

James Alan Gardner: “I went into Vigilant wanting to write about a democracy. Too often, SF shows future societies that are monarchies or oligarchies; I wanted to write about a real democracy with institutions designed to keep it working well. This led to an interest in the relationship of individuals to groups…so it was a short step to making group marriage the standard family form. It’s more social, less claustrophobic.”

James Alan Gardner: “I hope my readers enjoy spending time with the characters. I also hope I’ve given people things to think about that they haven’t seen before.”

James Alan Gardner: “Science fiction and fantasy can deal with the world being changed to an extent that doesn’t happen in other branches of literature.”

I hope that you enjoy this conversation with Mr. Gardner as much as I did. The questions and ideas he brought up stimulate excellent discussion. Check out the full interview on May 9th.

If you have not yet had a chance to explore James Alan Gardner’s books, they are available in ebook format from his website at http://www.thinkage.ca/~jim/english/index.shtml