Yves Meynard

The Book of Knights, Yves Meynard

Tor, 1998, 222 pages, C$29.95 hc, ISBN 0-312-86482-6

I will freely confess that I do not read much fantasy at the moment. I used to be a fan a few years ago, but dropped out sometime since then.

I’m not sure of my reasons. Maybe it’s the implicit rejection of technology and the unrealistic glorification of the European medieval era. Maybe it’s the casual acceptance of destiny as a way of life and the triviality of merit, or free-will. Maybe it’s the constant use of the monarchic system, with its rigid classes of royalty and commoners. Maybe it’s that my cartesian mind can’t deal with different causalities.

Whatever the reason(s), I now usually end up bored stiff by fantasy. Even given that I’m a fairly fast reader, I won’t touch fantasy novels and much less fat fantasy trilogies.

But (conflict-of-interest disclosure time) since I’ve met Yves Meynard a few times and since I like to do my part for Canadian SF&F&H, I decided to try The Book of Knights. Given its relatively thin 222 pages, at least I was assured of a fairly quick read.

The novel begins as a young boy named Adelrune discovers a tattered volume in his parent’s attic. This volume is, of course, The Book of Knights. In a small town where official doctrine is rigidly followed, the book represents evasion for Adelrune and soon, he’s running away to become a knight.

He eventually enters the service of a mage that will teach him, barring a hefty price. Then it’s off in the vast land, for Adelrune must prove his worth. Adventures ensue.

From the plot synopsis, it might appear as if Meynard didn’t take any chances, combining a familiar premise with a surefire way to maintain interest. I found myself constantly reaching for my copy of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

But it must be said that however classical The Book of Knights‘s premise is, Meynard does a pretty good job with it. Furthermore, the details themselves are original: We seldom feel as if we’re reading recycled Tolkien outtakes. Sagacious readers will experience a delicious thrill from time to time, as things suddenly go quite unlike how they could be expected to go.

Better yet, The Book of Knights manages to be satisfying and morally ambiguous in a genre where whiter-than-white victories are usually the norm. Adelrune’s quest might tangentially resemble other quests, but the resolution of it is certainly different. The quest itself was probably not the point of the book.

The Book of Knights is also unusually readable, something that may surprise readers of Meynard’s other stories. Despite a few longish passages (after the Inn passage, after the Ship passage), this novel can be read in almost a single sitting. Dialogues are written in a literate pseudo-medieval way (“I am very much older than I appear. All those whom I grew up with are dead; the country I dwelled in has been parcelled out into five duchies and patched back up several times.”) that somehow seems neither ridiculous, over-polished or intrusive.

While my basic opinion of fantasy remains unchanged, even I have to admit that The Book of Knights is a pretty good book. Although the hardcover might still be a bit overpriced at this moment (borrow it at the library), the paperback should be a worthwhile investment for a large segment of the SF&F readership. A strong contender for next year’s Aurora awards, The Book of Knights also heralds the arrival of a major new talent on the Fantasy scene. I can’t wait to see what Meynard writes next.

Tesseracts^5, Ed. Robert Runte & Yves Meynard

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.