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Tolmie, Sarah

Entry updated 7 August 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1971-    ) Canadian academic, poet and author, active from before 2000. Her first novel, The Stone Boatmen (2014), takes place in a dazzlingly oneiric trio of interconnected Cities, set like destination points of an Archipelago, on the edge of a surrounding sea; their deep history remains obscure, though a pervading sensation of some lurking Time Abyss hints at an sf reading where the tale may be understood as taking place in the Far Future of a Dying Earth, and that any true decipherment of the omnipresent rituals of knowing and unknowing and doubling central to the three interlinked cultures (see Doppelgangers; Libraries; Linguistics; Taboos) will risk uncovering some truth that, once revealed, may have pyrrhic consequences.

NoFood (coll of linked stories 2014) Satirically presents a Near Future world in which food, after patients undergo a form of sophisticated surgery known as Total Gastric Bypass (or TGB), is no longer necessary; the weave of tales, whose protagonists constantly interact with each other, focuses precisely on the sensation of living shared lives in this new world. The Little Animals (2019) traces delicately the life and scientific pursuits of the historical Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723), a scientist and maker of optical instruments, who observes through one of his microscopes what he calls "animalcules". A "goose-girl" with Telepathic powers, who claims intimacy with fairies so tiny they are invisible (see Great and Small), joins him [for the Brothers Grimm see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. The speculation that Leeuwenhoek may have known his fellow Delft resident Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) is appealing but unproven. The Fourth Island (2020), a fantasy, is set on the imaginary Island of Inis Caillte in the Irish Sea, a Zone where those in extremis – sometimes at the point of death – arrive from various eras, and speak to one another intelligibly though in various tongues, and die, or do not; and All the Horses of Iceland (2022), also fantasy, traces the Fantastic Voyage of a trader conveying twenty-five horses, one of them a supernatural being, from Khazar to Iceland via trails resembling the Silk Road; the rhythm of the telling of the tale echoes Icelandic sagas, clearly deliberately.

Though not connected to NoFood (see above), Disease (coll of linked stories 2020) continues in a similar vein Tolmie's dispassionate but not unkind Satirical anatomy of modern and post-modern life, from an angle of voice that seems almost anthropological; again, extreme conditions or solutions are treated as part of normal living. The book is a miniature encyclopedia of imaginary diseases, each definition accompanied by a short illustrative narrative; the tone of each of these Fabulations is deadpan, with the 2020 Covid Pandemic mentioned in passing. Contemporary writers whose works similarly anatomize strange worlds in terms of spoof givens include Jeff VanderMeer and Zoran Živković; she is much funnier than either of these possible models, and her use of the generic vehicles of story within the broad remit of Fantastika equally deft.

Tolmie's Poetry is various, and shares the clarity and concision of her prose. For "Ursula Le Guin in the Underworld" (April 2018 On Spec) (see Ursula K Le Guin), she won a Rhysling Award for best long poem. [JC]

Sarah Tolmie

born Ottawa, Ontario: 10 February 1971


collections and stories

  • NoFood (Seattle, Washington: Aqueduct Press, 2014) [coll of linked stories: chap: in the publisher's Conversation Pieces series: pb/Can Stock Photo Inc / Kosta 57]
  • Two Travelers (Seattle, Washington: Aqueduct Press, 2016) [coll: pb/Chris Tarling]
  • Disease (Seattle, Washington: Aqueduct Press, 2020) [coll: in the publisher's Conversation Pieces series: pb/Can Stock Photo Inc / Smitty411]
  • Sacraments for the Unfit (Seattle, Washington: Aqueduct Press, 2023) [coll: pb/]


  • Sonnet in a Blue Dress and Other Poems (London, Ontario: Baseline Press, 2014) [poetry: coll: chap: pb/]
  • Trio (Montreal, Quebec: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2015) [poetry: coll: comprising 120 sonnets: in the publisher's Hugh McClennan Poetry Series: pb/]
  • The Art of Dying (Montreal, Quebec: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2018) [poetry: coll: in the publisher's Hugh McClennan Poetry Series: pb/]
  • Check (Montreal, Quebec: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2020) [poetry: coll: in the publisher's Hugh McClennan Poetry Series: pb/]


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