Reading Canada with SFF Legends (eh?)

This year, in honour of our nation's 148th birthday (and the 50th anniversary of the Maple Leaf), I decided to invite some legends from the Canadian science-fiction/fantasy/horror community to stop by and share their thoughts on fiction north of the 49th parallel. We may not be as vocal or demonstrative as our neighbours to the south, but based on the overwhelming response to my request, it's clear that we are indeed a patriotic bunch - and proud of our unique literary niche!

Ed Greenwood - Creator of the Forgotten Realms® fantasy world, Ed has published over 200 articles in magazines like Dragon & Polyhedron, and over 170 books that have sold millions of copies worldwide. He currently resides in an old farmhouse in Ontario with more than 80,000 books.

"Canada is rife with great fantasy and sf writers, but I'd like to highlight one sf stalwart, Julie Czerneda, for her new fantasy series: TURN OF LIGHT and its sequel A PLAY OF SHADOW and thankfully more to come! And of course a giant among Canadian writers of the fantastic: Guy Gavriel Kay, who writes masterpieces; TIGANA and A SONG FOR ARBONNE are deserved classics!"

Nancy Kilpatrick - Nancy is a writer and editor of dark fantasy, horror (sometimes erotic),and mysteries. She has published 18 novels, 1 non-fiction book, 200 short stories, and 5 collections of stories, and has edited 12 anthologies. She lives with her calico cat Fedex in lovely Montreal. 

"Two of my favorite Canadian authors are Tanya Huff and Nancy Baker.  Nancy's beautifully-written novels are set in Toronto, and Tanya's BLOOD series is set in Toronto and London, Ontario (and the TV series Blood Ties was based on her books).  I think both of them, Ontario raised, provide a realistic view of the cities where their books are set and that in my view goes a long way towards showing the world what Canada looks like from the view of insiders, and gives insight into the mainstream and subcultures.  Also, in the case of these two authors and the books I'm thinking about, they show clearly that, yes indeed, vampires dwell in Canada the Good!"

[I had the great pleasure of being a part of Nancy's Editing Horror Fiction Workshop back in 2007, at the World Horror Convention in Toronto, and my signed copy of her Goth Bible is a cornerstone of my library.]

Sebastien de Castell - Four hours into his career as an archaeologist, Sebastien realized how much he actually hated it, propelling him into a career as a musician, ombudsman, interaction designer, fight choreographer, teacher, project manager, actor, product strategist, and author. He currently lives in Vancouver with his lovely wife and two belligerent cats.

"Charles de Lint is, for me, the quintessential Canadian fantasist. Novels like Moonheart, Trader, and Someplace To Be Flying take us by the hand onto urban streets, whether those of Ottawa or of de Lint’s own invented Newford, where beings both mundane and magical move around each other in a tenuous dance that never sets one side as truly good nor the other evil. There’s something very Canadian about that!"

Robert J. Sawyer - One of only eight writers in history (and the only Canadian) to win all three of the world's top Science Fiction awards for best novel of the year, Robert has published 23 novels, all of them top-ten national mainstream bestsellers in Canada. Born in Ottawa, he currently lives in Mississauga.

"I’m known for the flagrant and frequent Canadian settings in my own fiction, and there are those who say I was a pioneer in doing that, especially in the speculative-fiction arena. Well, I may indeed have been an early adopter, but I had at least a glimmering that it might be successful, despite all the naysayers who proclaimed you could never sell a book to an American publisher if it was set in Canada.

See, in 1988, the year I was writing my first novel, Toronto schoolteacher Terence M. Green had his own first book come out: Barking Dogs, a gritty science-fiction drama about a near-future Toronto in which perfect portable lie detectors let a rogue cop play judge, jury, and executioner to the perps who were slipping through the cracks in the legal system. Green reveled in his Canadian setting, and his book, published by the major New York house St. Martin's Press, was warmly embraced on both sides of the border.

Barking Dogs and its sequel, Blue Limbo, are available again in both print and ebook editions from Arc Manor, an innovative new American publisher, under their Phoenix Pick imprint. They’re still cracking good reads, and they paved the way for myself, Nalo Hopkinson, Hayden Trenholm, and every other Canadian writer setting our SF in this country; indeed, Toronto’s proven such a terrific setting for SF that even American writers, such as Daryl Gregory in last year’s Afterparty (Tor Books), are setting works here."

[Although I haven't had the pleasure of meeting Robert, I feel like I know him very well, having watched him wax eloquently about all things sci-fi on the long-running Canadian series  Prisoners of Gravity with (Commander) Rick Green.]

Julie Czerneda - Julie is a best-selling, award-winning author/editor, with more than 15 novels in print, including A Turn of Light and A Play of Shadow, and just as many anthologies edited. She currently lives  in central Ontario with her husband, Roger.

"I’m particularly proud, this Canada Day, of the work done by Lesley Livingston and Jonathan Llyr. They’ve been part of the sf/f scene in this country for a long time, creating, supporting, doing what they do best be it as actors or writers. Most recently, they’ve been inspiring the next generation with their fabulous series for younger readers: The Wiggins Weird, a celebration of all we love about our genre delivered with flare and whimsy and, if I may say so, a very Canadian dose of smart."

[I've had the opportunity to chat with Julie several times over the past few years, and finally got to meet her in person at a book signing for A Play of Shadow last summer. She's just wonderful person, in addition to being a wonderful writer.]

Steff - Better known as Mogsy, Steff is a frequent visitor to the ruins and one of my favorite voices over at The BiblioSanctum blog. Although she currently lives in the US with her husband and two beautiful daughters, you can't take the Canadian out of her any more than you can the geek.

"I may be a transplanted Canadian living in the US, but to borrow Bob's phrase, I still have plenty of maple leaf in my heart! I'm proud to be from Canada, a beautiful country home to so much talent in my favorite genre of SFF, including names like Steven Erikson, Guy Gavriel Kay, Michelle Sagara, Robert J. Sawyer, and so many more. And of course, I would be totally remiss if I didn't highlight Margaret Atwood, a Canadian author I admire for her incredible work as a novelist and poet. An interesting bit of trivia: Atwood wrote ALIAS GRACE, a book partially set in the town of Richmond Hill, a suburb of Toronto where I spent a large part of my childhood. I always thought that was so cool, and I guess I wasn't the only one, judging by the long holds list that book always had at our local library!"

J.M. Frey - J.M. is an actor, voice actor, and SF/F author, fanthropologist and professional geek. She’s appeared in podcasts, documentaries, and on television to discuss all things geeky through the lens of academia. She also has an addiction to scarves, Doctor Who, and tea, which may or may not all be related. Born in Guelph, she currently resides in Toronto.

Favorite Fiction: "The Autobiography of Red" by Anne Carson.
"Anne's a Canadian poet and eassayist, and a Classicist, who captures the wonderful sense of questioning identity and being intesly facinated with roots and histories that we Canadians all share; her protagonist Geryon is a creature, but not, a monster, but not, and knows everything about himself and nothing at all. It's a very thoughtful, clever work with some of the most gorgeous language ever written."

Favorite Non-Fiction: "Hitching Rides with Buddha" by Will Ferguson.
"I read Ferguson's book while I was living in Japan and it is true that Canadians become nationalistic only when we step outside of our borders. "Hitching Rides" is a wonderful tale of a Canaadian hitchhiking across Japan, but more than that it's a book about what it means to do that, to step outside and reflect back, and is a wonderful exploration of national stereotypes - our own, and those we assume about other nations and cultures."

Favorite YA/MG: "My Side of the Mountain" by Jean Craighead George.
"In grade six my teacher did a unit on "My Side of the Mountain," and after that I absolutely devoured everything Jean Craighead George. I recall being on a family camping trip the summer after grade six and just sobbing through the end of "Julie of the Wolves". George was American, but Julie was set in the Canadian Arctic, and since then I've been quite interseted in wildlife conservation and global environmental change. George's book sparked a great love in me of the beautiful nature we share with the wildlife of Canada."

Favorite Drama: "Hitching Rides with Buddha" by Will Ferguson.
"I ADORE our Canadian playwrights. Anne Marie MacDonald's "Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)", Drew Hayden Taylor's "Toronto at Dreamer's Rock", Grey & Peterson's "Billy Bishop Goes To War", Daniel David Moses' "Almighty Voice and His Wife" (Daniel taught me playwriting), Michel Trembley's "Hossana" and Michael Healy's "The Drawer Boy" are my absolute favourites. I will buy tickets to see each of them time and time and time again. I wrote papers on all those plays in school, and my MA thesis was based on MacDonald's. I cannot reccomend these plays enough."

Shaun Meeks - Shaun is the author of Shutdown, The Gate at Lake Drive, and Down on the Farm. His work has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, and he'll next be seen in Midian Unmade: Tales of Clive Barker's Nightbreed. He currently lives in Toronto, Ontario with his partner, model and Burlesque performer, Mina LaFleur.

"As a writer of speculative fiction, I found early on that reading authors from Canada or stories set in this country to be one of my favorite things. It's what influenced me to set 90% of my novels and short stories here. One of the first genre books I ever read that was set in Canada was Clive Barker's Cabal, which used Alberta as a back drop and I remember thinking how awesome it was that a British writer would use Canada as a setting. As of late, I've been reading more and more Canadian authors. From Kelly Armstrong to Charles de Lint to Maggie Macdonald to Charles R. Sanders. One of my favorites though has been Simon Strantzas, a speculative fiction writer who leans towards the weird. I've yet to read a single story by him that didn't captivate me and grab me with his nearly lyrical style."

Michael R. Fletcher - Michael is a science fiction and fantasy author whose novel of dark fantasy and rampant delusion, Beyond Redemption, was published by HARPER Voyager this past month. His next two Manifest Delusions novels are currently in various stages of editing while he tries to be the best husband and dad he can be.

"Dave Duncan's THE SEVENTH SWORD series will always hold a special place in my heart. I read his books back in high-school and they helped define fantasy for me. Every few years I still go back and reread the series."

Kristi CharishKristi is a scientist with a BSc and MSc from Simon Fraser University in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry and a PhD in Zoology from the University of British Columbia. She's also the author of the  modern-day “Indiana Jane” series featuring Owl, an ex-archaeology grad student turned international antiquities thief. She currently lives in Toronto.

"My Canadian Fantasy author pick is Kelley Armstrong, author of The Women of the Underworld series. Not only is she an internationally acclaimed urban fantasy author, she's Canadian and often includes Canadian cities in her books. For a summer pick, I recommend 'Person Demon.'"

Susan MacGregor - Susan is an editor with On Spec Magazine and the anthologies 'Tesseracts Fifteen' and 'Divine Realms' who has had her short fiction published in a number of anthologies and magazines. Her Tattooed Witch Trilogy is an historical fantasy (with paranormal and romantic leanings) set in an alternate medieval Spain. She currently lives in Lives in Edmonton, Alberta.

"One of my favourite Canadian authors is Robertson Davies. A writer of opposites, he masterfully  mixes the brutal with the poignant, the simple with the complex, the outward appearance with what lurks beneath. In Davies' work, the sacred breathes alongside the profane. Here is one of his best quotes: "The great book for you is the book that has the most to say to you at the moment you are reading. I do not mean the book that is the most instructive, but the book that feeds your spirit. And that depends on your age, your experience, your psychological and spiritual need." Here is another of his quotes, a perfect opposite to the first and which illustrates my point: "Nothing is so easy to fake as the inner vision." Does Davies capture something of our Canadian spirit? That mix of seriousness and humour, of depth and flippancy? I think he does."

Sean Russell - Sean published his first fantasy novel, The Initiate Brother, in 1991, and went on to write 4 sagas before making the switch to historical fiction in 2007. Born in Toronto, he moved to Vancouver after university, where he currently lives on Vancouver Island with his wife and son.

“Mockingbird by Sean Stewart.  Brilliant novel!  Not set in Canada but by a Canadian author.  Almost more a literary book than an SF novel but a wonderful piece of writing!"

Nick Cutter - Nick has written several novels under a pair of different names, as well as a few story collections, and even a movie. He's written for magazines and newspapers, too. He currently lives in Toronto with his fiancee and our baby boy, Nick.

"One of my favorite Canadian books? Tough call. I'll go with Doug Coupland's GIRLFRIEND IN A COMA. It's the first Coupland I ever read, and for my money, still his best. There's a real heart to that book---you've still got all the postmodern pyrotechnics he's known for, but it's wedded to a real, beating, vibrant heart. Great book!"

K.V. JohansenK.V. writes mostly epic fantasy ... character-driven epic fantasy ... with shapeshifters, demons, gods, and ... Moth, around whom even the gods get a bit nervous. Her main scholarly interests are ancient and medieval history and languages, and the history of children's fantasy literature. She lives in Kingstn with a wicked white husky-mix dog.

"No hard choices or dithering are required to name my favourite Canadian author. I first discovered Donald Jack when I was in elementary school, and his Bandy Papers series has gone on being something I go back to all my life. That after Jack’s death I became the editor of the final, posthumously-published volume, Stalin Versus Me, remains rather awe-inspiring. The series, for those who don’t know it, follows the adventures of Canadian ace Bartholomew Wolfe Bandy from Three Cheers For Me and the trenches of the First World War, into the air (he transfers to the RFC after capturing his own colonel in a daring raid on his own lines) to the spring of 1945. Definitely not children’s books -- I read them for the humour and the adventure as a child, learnt from them how comedy and tragedy could be two sides of the same face, and only gradually, as I matured, picked up on the satire and the subtlety of Bandy’s enduring defiance of institutional and human stupidity (and learnt a lot about writing, too). Despite winning the Leacock three times, Jack never got the literary recognition he deserved for these -- the depth of the stories is too often overlooked or glossed over. In Canada it sometimes seems we can only cope with one label per book and these were labelled ‘humour’; they couldn’t possibly at the same time be Serious Canadian Literature or serious books about war, or a prose style, its irony balanced on a knife-edge, worthy of study. There are brilliant dogfights; there is biting satire; there are passages and quiet, simple scenes -- Bandy sitting on the hospital bed simply holding Katherine’s hat, wordless -- that leave you in tears. The Bandy Papers are Canada’s All Quiet on the Western Front or The Good Soldier Ċ vejk and deserve to recognized as such. Everyone should read them. "


  1. It's funny how many authors there are that you wouldn't think are Canadian. There's this general assumption that unless it's explicitly stated otherwise, authors are either American or British. It's odd. But there are some amazing people up here in the north! Thanks for shining the spotlight on some of them!

    1. No kidding, Mogsy! Not to mention its buffering my summer reading list:-) Fantastic idea Bob!

    2. Thanks - it made for a fun celebration. Glad so many people could take part!

  2. Happy Canada Day, Bob, and your Birthday too here as well :)

  3. The Canadian authors I know best, on a personal basis, are for whatever reason, Rob Sawyer and Tanya Huff, Rob because we somehow keep running into each other at various conventions, and Tanya, because we spent a lot of time together at one particular convention that didn't have too many outside distractions.

    One of Rob's books that had the most fascinating premise, at least for me, was Calculating God.

    In any case, Happy Canada Day!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, sir! Huge fan of both Recluce and Spellsong, with Imager and Corean on tap for future reads.

  4. I just picked up A Thousand Words for Stranger the other day. Really looking forward to giving Julie Czerneda's work a try.


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