- Worlds of Wonder: Readings in Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature
This is the twenty-sixth volume in the University of Ottawa's 'Reappraisals: Canadian Writers.' Following the most familiar type of reappraisal, many of the sixteen essays in this volume focus on the work of specific Canadian writers. The studies of individual authors include an essay on Canada's most overlooked SF writer, Phyllis Gottlieb (by Dominick Grace); and an especially valuable essay by David Ketterer on Atwood's Blind Assassin - rewarding not only as a reading per se, but because it deals with the vexed question of Atwood's relationship to science fiction and because the six pages of footnotes are made up almost entirely of Atwood's own written comments on an earlier draft of Ketterer's essay. Other Canadian writers whose works are considered include William Gibson, Douglas Coupland, Barbara Gowdy, Sean Stewart, Robert Sawyer, Guy Gavriel Kay, Randy Bradshaw, and Denys Chabot - an impressive cross-section of contemporary Canadian writing, although in most cases these are readings of one or two individual works.
In the same vein, there are also some overviews, including Allan Weiss's consideration of the theme of the end of the world in Canadian SF ('The Canadian Apocalypse'), Judith Saltman's overview of Canadian fantasy literature for children, and Amy Ransom's very useful 'Ideology and Identity in Québec's Science Fiction by Women.'
In his introduction, Jean-François Leroux points out that defining by opposition exactly what the Canadian ethos is has become a major pre-occupation [End Page 444] of scholars in the field: 'to their credit all of the contributors to this volume … valiantly strive to describe just such an ethos - and so, by extension, to answer the question [originally posed by Northrop Frye] "Where is here?"' This is something of an overstatement, for while there are some references to Atwood's survival thematic in Canadian literature, or to the place of the North in Canadian science fiction and fantasy, only one of the essays in this collection develops at length the possibility of a specifically Canadian dimension to this writing. Indeed, the longest piece in the collection is Laurence Stevens's study of the 'New Fantasy' of Welwyn Wilton Katz and Charles de Lint as a 'Canadian Post-colonial Genre.' From the perspective of the fantasy genre, he writes, what characterizes Canadian writing is 'the fundamental reality … that a non-Native Canadian repository of traditional (mythopoeic/spiritual) cultural lore out of which our writers of fantasy can fashion their worlds simply doesn't exist.' One solution is to use European material. But is it possible to use Canadian material? Or rather the question becomes, then, how to use First Nations material while avoiding the Scylla and Charybdis of exoticism (Mike Resnick's African Adventures come to mind) and appropriation? Stevens's study of the work of these two writers - following another comment of Frye's - is grounded in the acknowledgment that Canada is 'not only a nation but a colony in an empire': 'Unlike the clear Primary world/Secondary world split of traditional fantasy, or the fusion of the impossible fantastic with prosaic realism, new fantasy offers Katz and de Lint an opportunity to enact this "third thing," to shape a new relationship beyond the dyad of colonizer/colonized, which does not simply reinscribe the traditional values thereof. By creating threshold scenes in whose spaces the characters experience an ethical "placing," new fantasy participates in the "post-colonial search for a way out of the impasse of the endless play of post-modernist difference that mirrors liberalism's cultural pluralism."'
In the above I have only given a taste of the many directions taken in this anthology. With sixteen essays on a variety of topics (essays which were developed from papers given at the Grove Symposium and which seem to have been unevenly edited, since some remain conference papers while others have been substantially rewritten and enlarged) there are of...