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Entry updated 6 February 2023. Tagged: International.

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1. Sf in English

The first serious Canadian sf work was James de Mille's posthumously published A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder (1888). In this Utopian satire, set in a Lost World, Western values are inverted (criminals are regarded as diseased, the ill are imprisoned, dying is deemed more desirable than living). Successors of De Mille were Grant Allen and Robert Barr (the latter Scottish-born), expatriate Canadian writers who published early sf in London and New York rather than in Montreal or Toronto.

Many major Canadian literary figures have written some fantasy or sf. Sir Charles G D Roberts was the author of In the Morning of Time (1919), a well-presented prehistoric romance. In "The Great Feud", assembled in Titans, and Other Epics of the Pliocene (coll 1926), E J Pratt (1882-1964) created a long narrative poem set in prehistoric Australasia. The popular humorist Stephen Leacock included short sf Satires in The Iron Man and the Tin Woman, with Other Such Futurities (coll 1929) and Afternoons in Utopia (coll 1932). A curious and powerful critique of modern society by Prairie novelist Frederick Philip Grove is Consider Her Ways (written 1913-1923; 1947), which describes the march of 10,000 worker ants across the North American continent, including how they spend their last winter in the poetry section of the New York Public Library.

Among Canadian contributors to US Pulp magazines were H Bedford-Jones, John L Chapman, Leslie A Croutch (1915-1969), Chester D Cuthbert, Francis Flagg, Thomas P Kelley and Cyril G Wates. Import restrictions during World War Two created a climate for the so-called CanPulps – original and reprint pulp magazines with idiosyncratic editorial features. A E van Vogt, the Manitoba-born mainstay of the Golden Age of SF, wrote 600,000 words of sf (notably "Black Destroyer", the Weapon Shops stories and Slan) in Canada before moving to Los Angeles in 1944. Other notable expatriates are Laurence Manning and Gordon R Dickson.

Contemporary Mainstream authors have contributed fantastic literature. Irish-born Brian Moore published sf in Catholics (1972), fantasy in The Great Victorian Collection (1975) and supernatural horror in The Mangan Inheritance (1979). William Weintraub dramatized the plight of Montreal's Anglophone minority in a sovereign Francophone Quebec in his biting satire The Underdogs (1979). Hugh MacLennan's Voices in Time (1980) is an ambitious, impressive, multi-levelled study of social breakdown in Post-Holocaust Montreal. Disaster remains the sole theme of Richard Rohmer, lawyer, commissioner, general and author of fast-moving novels about near-future threats to national sovereignty, ecology, etc.

Gwendolyn MacEwen (1941-1987), Margaret Atwood and Phyllis Gotlieb, in addition to writing memorable prose, have composed vivid sf poems (see Poetry) tinged with fantasy and horror; in particular, MacEwen's poetry collection The Armies of the Moon (coll 1972) deserves an international readership, as do her stories assembled in Noman (coll 1972) and Noman's Land (coll 1985). Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale (1985), diffidently filmed by director Volker Schlöndorff in 1990 (see The Handmaid's Tale), is the most influential and internationally known sf novel written by a Canadian. But "Canada's premier sf novelist" during the 1960-1980 formative period in the genre's growth, according to critic David Ketterer, was Phyllis Gotlieb. Her first novel, Sunburst (1964), appears on high-school curricula, and mainstream anthologists have reprinted her short fictions, notably those in Son of the Morning and Other Stories (coll 1983); yet she remains better known at home as a poet. One reason is that her prose is demanding, intricate and psychologically probing; it frequently focuses on the problems of telepathic beings and intelligent animals.

High artistic and professional standards were set in the 1970s by immigrants to Canada: Michael G Coney, Monica Hughes and Edward Llewellyn from the UK, and William Gibson, Crawford Kilian, Donald Kingsbury, Judith Merril, Spider Robinson and Robert Charles Wilson from the USA. Merril, the country's leading "sf personality", has been active in promoting Feminism (a sense of gender) and sf (a Sense of Wonder) among mainstream writers and educators (see also Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy).

The first national sf anthology was Other Canadas (anth 1979) edited by John Robert Colombo; it gives historical representation to stories, novel excerpts, poems, film scripts and criticism. John Bell and Lesley Choyce anthologized past and present fiction from the Atlantic region in Visions from the Edge (anth 1981). Merril edited Tesseracts (anth 1985), the first collection of current Canadian sf writing in English with some translations from French; Phyllis Gotlieb and Douglas Barbour compiled Tesseracts2 (anth 1987), and Candas Jane Dorsey and Gerry Truscott Tesseracts3 (anth 1990). In the main, Canadian sf in English is more literary, concerned with Communication, and less high-tech than most US sf. Characters and settings specifically identified as Canadian began to appear in genre fiction in the 1980s, a development notable in the novels of fantasists like Charles de Lint, Guy Gavriel Kay and Tanya Huff. The Bunch of Seven, a Toronto-based group including Huff and expanded to nine writers in all, is most notable for the fiction, including Shared-Worlds fiction, of Shirley Meier, Karen Wehrstein and S M Stirling. Among the Toronto (and Ontario) sf writers of achievement are Wayland Drew, Terence M Green, Robert J Sawyer and Andrew Weiner. Especially active in Alberta are Candas Jane Dorsey and J Brian Clarke. Among the critics in Montreal who contribute to Science Fiction Studies are Darko Suvin, David Ketterer, Robert M Philmus and Marc Angenot. Other influential critics include Douglas Barbour of Edmonton, the late Susan Wood of Vancouver and the expatriate John Clute.

Toronto has hosted three Worldcons, in 1948, 1973 and 2003. Each year the designated national convention hosts the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Achievement Awards, known as Caspers 1980-1990 but then retitled the Auroras to avoid further association with Casper the Friendly Ghost, a US cartoon character. The first Casper – nicknamed the Coeurl because of its Cat-like appearance – was awarded to A E van Vogt, in whose "Black Destroyer" (July 1939 Astounding) the original cat-Monster Coeurl appeared. The Speculative Writers Association of Canada, founded by Dorsey and others in Edmonton in 1989, issues a bimonthly newsletter called SWACCESS. Ketterer's Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy (1992) surveys the field as a whole, covering both French- and English-language literatures. In it he estimated that there were in all about 1200 works of Canadian sf and fantasy. [JRC]

further reading

2. Sf in French

The great majority of Francophone sf authors live in Quebec; there are very few in other provinces. Quebec sf can be divided into two periods. Before 1974 there was no sf published under that label, although Jules-Paul Tardivel's Pour la Patrie (1895; trans as For My Country 1975) was a Utopia set in a 1945 Quebec. Some established Mainstream authors – like Yves Thériault (1915-1983) and Michel Tremblay – occasionally touched on the themes of Genre SF and Fantasy. Such works ranged from nineteenth-century voyages extraordinaires in the Jules Verne tradition to adventure novels with sf trappings; some juvenile sf was also published in the 1950s and 1960s. Despite these, no true sf tradition existed and no lasting sf Fandom had been established.

In 1974 Norbert Spehner began publishing the Fanzine Requiem, which rapidly grew into a literary magazine centred on sf and fantasy, publishing fiction as well as essays and reviews and becoming the focus for a nascent sf milieu. In 1979 Requiem became Solaris, while another important magazine, imagine ..., was created by Jean-Marc Gouanvic, followed as editor by Catherine Saouter, Gouanvic again and, in 1990, Marc Lemaire. Meanwhile, in 1983, Spehner had passed Solaris on to a collective led by Élisabeth Vonarburg as editor until Luc Pomerleau took over in 1986. However, fanzines and fandom are not as central a tradition in Quebec sf as in Anglophone North America – although some fanzines created towards the end of the 1980s (Samizdat, CSF and Temps Tôt) are doing good work in discovering new authors. Original Anthologies were a driving force of Quebec sf in the 1980s, but in 1991 only one specialist line remains.

In addition to the usual prejudices against sf, Quebec authors have to cope with the circumstances of the Quebec publishing industry, a small boat adrift between the Anglophone and Francophone oceans. Despite this, many authors have made their mark, largely through the efforts of imagine ... and Solaris. Some, like Esther Rochon, Élisabeth Vonarburg, Jean-Pierre April and Daniel Sernine, have published a substantial body of work. They have all written novels, including Rochon's Coquillage (1986; trans David Lobdell as The Shell 1990), a strangely erotic story of the union between a sea-creature and a human; Sernine's Les méandres du temps ["The Meanders of Time"] (1983), about Time Travel and changing history; and April's Berlin-Bangkok (1990), set in a Drug-infested world dominated and corrupted by multinationals.

Although Quebec sf is young, already a second generation of authors is making itself known, including Joël Champetier, Claude-Michel Prévost, Yves Meynard and Francine Pelletier; the latter's forcefulness and sensitivity are shown in her collection Le temps des migrations ["The Time of the Migrations"] (coll 1987). Children's SF continues to account for many of the books published. One such is Champetier's La mer au fond du monde ["The Sea at the Bottom of the World"] (1990), which deals with interspecies contact in a refreshingly unromantic way.

Thematically, Quebec sf has tended towards Soft SF, although some (Champetier, Vonarburg and Meynard, for example) are more rigorous in creating a scientific background. The relative absence of the landscape of Quebec in Quebec sf – which often adopts a neutral US or international setting – is surprising; with the notable exception of April, Quebec settings have been used mostly by immigrant authors like Prévost and Vonarburg. [LP]

see also: Starmania.

further reading


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