Tesseracts, 1996, 352 pages, C$9.00 mmpb, ISBN 1-895836-25-5
As we all gather ’round the (imaginary) fire, we can ask ourselves many questions. Depending of the audience, one might chance to ask “What happened to Canadian SF?”
Usually, this kind of question is asked with sadness, or disbelief. How could X have sunk to these lows? Where is Y now? Is Z better remembered by his role in an otherwise insipid TV sitcom of the sixties?
But in the case of Canadian SF, What Happened To It is a story that can be told with a smile, a winning smile. What Happened To Canadian SF is that it’s never been better. Not only are major authors of the genre indisputably coming from Canada (Robert J. Sawyer is the best-known of them. There are/will be others.) but an increasing number of people are turning in totally enjoyable material. Case in Point: Tesseracts^5
Published by Tesseracts books, a Canadian editor, and featuring stories by Canadian authors, the Tesseracts series of anthologies is now an annual celebration of the best SF found north of The Border. Any reader, not necessarily motivated by a sense of duty toward his country, can pick up this book and have a good time.
Depending, of course, what one would consider a good time. While most stories in Tesseracts^5 are in fact excellent, nobody can argue that they’re almost uniformly gloomy. Abuse and anarchy abound. Even the most light-hearted story (Paul Stockon’s “High Pressure System”; the quintessential Canadian SF tale if there’s one!) still has a horrifying core. From accidental maiming (Jan Lars Jensen’s “Domestic Slash and Thrust”) to sexual domination games (“Laïka”, Natasha Beaulieu), the best stories are also the most uncompromising. What this says about CanSF is one truth that might not be comfortable to interpret yet.
The anthology contains stories by both French, and English-speaking Canadians. (The French stories are translated) Fans of French-Canadian SF should note, that all of the French stories here have already appeared somewhere else despite the incomplete copyright information.
Other than that, the best stories of the volume are by known and not-so-well-known names. Jean-Louis Trudel’s “The Paradigm Machine” is remarkable not really by its construction (four vignettes loosely connected) but by a representation of the Internet by someone who knows his stuff—The flame-war sequence is a gem. “Messenger” (Andrew Weiner) is an eminently readable piece about a journalist-narrator and (what else?) a “mad” scientist. Michel Martin’s “Tortoise on a sidewalk” and Sally McBride’s “There is a violence” do interesting things with the traditional clichés of, respectively, time-travel and alien contact. James Alan Gardner does a fine job at describing alien psyches, despite a slow start, in “All Good Things Come From Away”. Robert Runté’s afterword is well worth reading by itself.
A few other stories are less pleasing: There are a fair number of plain tales, of interesting stories without any memorable conclusion, of pointless meandering and of perhaps too-subtle stuff. But as anthologies go, Tesseracts^5 is better than average in this regards.
If there’s one serious complaint, it’s that the interior design of almost all Tesseracts books is not as good as it should be. It’s designed on a personal computer, and it shows: The typography is less precise than usual from professional publishers and the printing is often reminiscent of good photocopies.
The presence of such an annual collection couldn’t be a better sign for the Canadian SF industry. It is to be hoped that the next volumes of the series (Tesseracts^6 is in bookstores as of this writing) maintain the high level of this book, and that more writers, known and unknown, find their stories widely distributed by this series.