- Cyfy Pomo?
. . . The review was the color of an electron spinning to the frequency of anti-matter . . .
“Love and Napalm: Export U.S.A.” shouts two simultaneous stories: in boldface, a three-sentence poster series of incestuous desire, erotic violence, and the military-industrial complex; intercut, five pages of media-spawned obsessive need for dripping flesh, mass mind control, mechanical sex, and orgasmic death. This is but one of the “compressed novels” in J.G. Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition (1967), a precursor text for both David Ketterer and Larry McCaffery.
In ancient China, the followers of Mozi (c. 479–381 B.C.E.) believed that all judgments should rest on the distinction between usefulness and uselessness, but Zhuangzi (c. 369–286 B.C.E.) offered the parable of “The Useless Shu Tree.” Huizi complained that the huge Shu tree was too twisted to yield planks and too mottled to yield veneer. Zhuangzi replied that from the tree’s viewpoint these were useful traits because all the other trees in the forest had long since been cut down to make planks and veneer. Better, Zhuangzi advised, to find a different use for the tree, to sit beneath it and to rest in its shade.
The books by Ketterer and McCaffery may look like they should be read, cover to cover, page by page. They should not. If it is useful to speak of readable and writable texts, perhaps it is also useful to speak of consultable and compilable texts. Telephone directories are both. Ketterer’s anthology of Canadian fiction is consultable; McCaffery’s “casebook” is compilable.
In our postmodern times the ideology of realism has come increasingly under attack, and Canadian literature, no less than British or American literature, has turned increasingly to various nonrealistic and metafictional forms—which frequently include, or approximate, SF and fantasy. The present visibility of Canadian SF and fantasy, then, is largely attributable to the dissolution of the realistic paradigm.(Ketterer 3)
Promise A: There will be a demonstration that Canadian literature has turned increasingly to F&SF. Discharge: A book-length narrative catalog—arranged in chapters by language (English and French) and historical period (e.g., before and after the 1984 publication of William Gibson’s Neuromancer!) and genre (F and SF), peppered by the occasional connected, often insightful, page or two on a single work (e.g., Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale)—showing that there is more Canadian F&SF, but no comparison is made with total Canadian literary production. Perhaps the country is simply producing more everything as means of production improve and population increases. Harlequin Books, after all, is Canadian.
Promise B: There will be a demonstration that this Canadian generic turning arises from a postmodern assault on realism. Discharge: Canadian F&SF has ever more prominent practitioners (Gibson, Elizabeth Vonarburg) and Canada’s best known authors have turned from time to time to F&SF (Atwood and occasional passages by Robertson Davies and Margaret Laurence), but Gibson is a native of the U.S., Vonarburg of France, and the three native Canadians have returned to realism.
Promise C: There will be a demonstration that Canadian literature has “present visibility.” Discharge: The heart of cyberpunk, the putative SF projection of postmodernism, is Neuromancer, but “there’s nothing here linking Gibson to any Canadian tradition” (143). Hail, Ballard!
“What makes for the very best Canadian SF and fantasy does not have anything to do with Canada at all” (166).
Whazza matter, Bucky? You say we have a non-subject? You say you want to yawn? You say you can’t imagine reading a hundred and sixty-six pages about F&SF in Canada that offer little extended argument and omit the magical Robert Kroetsch (e.g., What the Crow Said, 1978)? Well, listen up, ‘cause this book has the most helpful Bibliography around on its targets and a cleverly detailed Table of Contents and a pretty...