Tesseracts^6, Ed. Robert J. Sawyer & Carolyn Clink

Tesseracts, 1997, 297 pages, C$8.95 mmpb, ISBN 1-895836-32-8

Next step in my Aurora-nominee reading program this year: The sixth Tesseracts anthology of Canadian Speculative Fiction. A tradition has been established that each successive Tesseracts volume has a different set of co-editors. This year, the husband-and-wife team of Robert J. Sawyer and Carolyn Clink are serving their tour of duty at the forefront of what has become Canada’s most celebrated SF anthology series.

They say that an anthology is well-served by great stories in the opening and closing slots. In this regard, Tesseracts^6 succeeds admirably well. The opening fiction is by Eric Choi, a promising hard-SF author. “Divisions” tackles a very-hard-SF story upon an alternate history where Quebec secedes in 1981. The result is very satisfying. At the other end of the book, Robert Charles Wilson delivers the kind of fiction that has made his reputation with Protocols of Consumption, a character-based tale with adequate scientific content and a surprising amount of paranoia.

For the most part, you get what you expect from Tesseracts^6: The top authors keep their level of quality. I have yet to read a boring story from Andrew Weiner, as he proves with “Bootlegger”. James Alan Gardner is also a reliable author, and his “Love-in-Idleness” is one of the best stories of the volume. “What Goes Around” (Derryl Murphy) doesn’t quite lives up to its premise but remains a fun read. Yves Meynard enhances his reputation as a fantasy author with the curiously pleasing “Souvenirs”.

But there’s also some good material from newer names (at least to me): Catherine McLeod’s “Skulling Medusa” is an excellent hard-boiled action featuring a futuristic Private Eye. Douglas Smith’s “Spirit Dance” does interesting things with a love triangle, were-animals and the CSIS. (!) Additionally, Tesseracts^6 might make you realize that some of the latest novels seen in libraries are in fact from Canadian authors, like Scott Mackay (Outpost) and Nalo Hopkinson (Brown Girl in the Ring).

Four of the stories are from French-Canadian authors, although it seems like two of them (Yves Meynard’s “Souvenirs” and Jean-Louis Trudel’s “Where Angels Fall”) were written directly in English. Annoyingly, like the previous Tesseracts anthologies, there is no mention of where the two translated stories (Sylvie Bérard’s “The Wall” and Élisabeth Vonarburg’s “The Sleeper in the Crystal”) originally appeared.

Due to poet Carolyn Clink’s co-editorship, this Tesseracts volume contains a fair amount of poetry. As a reader, I have seldom been attracted to this genre, and have to report that I have not been convinced by what I have seen here. Readers with different background can feel free to disagree.

On another register, I am happy to report that the interior typesetting is greatly improved over the past few Tesseract publications: The font is crisper (though still not heavy enough) and the margins are adequate. It’s a shame that the page header doesn’t indicate each story, though. The curiously unfamiliar paperback format (halfway between mass-market and trade paperbacks) takes a while to get used to. Unfortunately, the cover illustration is one of the worst I have seen in recent memory. It’s probable that the awful colour balance and the amateurish collage of elements will keep this book away from a few prospective readers. An unfortunate change from the beautiful cover of the previous volume.

Tesseracts^6 proves, if it was still left to be proven, that Canadian SF is strong enough not only to be fill a volume of good stories, but to do so at a yearly rate of publication and with different sets of editors. It also provides good reading… so what more is there to say? Bring on the next volume!

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