As a reader and a writer, I’m always curious about how other writers conjure new or expanded worlds from the mundane, often terrible details of our current realities. I initially wanted to assemble a list of speculative fiction—and yes, most of these titles could be categorized that way, but I’m also aware that some Indigenous writers, like Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, don’t view their work in those terms. In her book As We Have Always Done, Simpson writes: “I like writing multidimensionality into my work not because I’m trying to write speculative fiction but because that’s how Indigenous worlds work.” Instead, this is a list of work I love that expands readers’ understandings of the world, or worlds we live in, beyond what is usually accepted and perceived as reality. Many of these books interrupt and disturb colonial structures and ideas about how this world is to be understood. Whether they were written this year, or decades ago, they all speak, in their own ways, to the urgency, uncertainty, distortions, and possibilities of the current moment.
As a writer, I’m relatively new to speculative fiction. But as a reader and a lightly superstitious human, I can’t deny the pull of the unusual, the not-quite-real. I love books featuring elements that seem unimaginable, but are portrayed so lucidly that after I finish reading I have to re-orient myself back into our world.
These are some of my favourite Canadian books featuring speculative elements. Whether it’s fantasy, sci-fi, post-apocalyptic, dystopian, or generally not-quite-real, Canadian speculative fiction is vast and thrilling.
The Amateurs, by Liz Harmer
A haunting and all-too-human story about the limits of our nostalgia, what we’re willing to sacrifice for possibility. Time travel is commonplace thanks to Port, a time-travel portal that’ll transport you anywhen you want to go. The catch is, you don’t—or can’t—come back. People have become so consumed …
Last spring—as launches, festivals and other events were cancelled across the country—49th Shelf helped Canadian authors launch more than 50 new books with LAUNCHPAD. And now we're back this fall, but with a twist.
LAUNCHPAD 2.0 features new releases selected by great Canadian writers who've chosen books that absolutely deserve to find their way into the hands of readers.
Today we're launching David A. Robertson's The Barren Grounds, the first instalment in an an epic middle grade fantasy series where Narnia meets traditional Indigenous stories of the sky and constellations.
The book is being championed by Susin Nielsen, who tells us, "David A. Robertson has written such a fine, beautiful novel. He manages to combine hard truths about our history with a Narnia-like fantasy, sweeping us into the world of the story while opening our hearts as well."
49th Shelf: What particular something have you managed to achieve with this book that you’re especially proud of?
David A. Robertson: It was a difficult task to draw inspiration from a classic bo …
This spring we've made it our mission (even more than usual) to celebrate new releases in the wake of cancelled launch parties, book festivals, and reading series. With 49th Shelf Launchpad, we're holding virtual launch parties here on our platform complete with witty banter and great insight to give you a taste of the books on offer. You can request these books from your local library, get them as e-books or audio books, order them from your local indie bookseller if they're delivering, buy them direct from the publisher or from online retailers.
Today we're launching new novel In Veritas, by C.J. Lavigne, which Tanya Huff has called “The perfect mix of incandescent writing and enthralling storytelling. C.J. Lavigne has given us something we can believe in. Learn to see the dragons.”
The Elevator Pitch. Tell us about your book in a sentence.
It’s a literary urban fantasy about an Ottawa woman whose synaesthetic senses allow her to perceive multiple worlds, and maybe save a dying reality.
Describe your ideal reader.
Someone who loves fantastic …
The Changeling of Fenlen Forest is the debut novel by Katherine Magyarody, the story of a girl who tracks her lost unicorn fawn into a strange land where people thing she is a changeling who too closely resembles a missing girl. Can Elizabeth find her fawn and solve the mystery of her doppelgänger?
In this list, Magyarody shares other titles in which misfits find adventure.
Adventures don’t just happen to princesses and Chosen Ones…they also happen to lone wanderers and misfits at the edges of villages. These books take readers into gripping, taut stories where the heroes navigate strange worlds and tight-knit communities, often discovering strange animals along the way (and not just the human kind).
The Dollmage, by Martine Leavitt
The old Dollmage ("wise woman") of Seekvalley needs an heir. To protect her village, she watches over a set of dolls who must be carved and cared for and interpreted…but her power is weakening. Although she predicts the day her heir is born, she does not know if the destined child is Annakey or Renoa. The Do …
We wanted to talk to Canadian writers who delve into the weird and wonderful worlds of science fiction and fantasy about how those worlds get made, the logistics that go into creating fictional universes with laws onto themselves. Writer and editor Charlotte Ashley moderated the virtual panel with a list of excellent questions, and the resulting conversation was inspiring, illuminating and chock full of insights. Enjoy!
49th Shelf: What is “world-building” above and beyond the usual task of establishing your setting?
Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Detail and consistency, the stage on which your play is performed. You should be able to believe this world could exist and want to explore it.
Kate Blair: We are all products of our environment. A teenager who grows up in New York is going to be completely different to a teenager who grows up in Mongolia, so world-building is central to character. But it's more than that. It's also an opportunity to show what characters choose to surround themselves with, and what they seek out.
Often a story throws a character into a new environment, and how they view and interact with that world tells you so much about them. It's also an opportunity to take the reader somewhere new, even within their own city—a subculture, a hidden s …
Karina Sumner-Smith is a Canadian fantasy writer, and author of the Towers Trilogy from Talos Press: Radiant, Defiant, and Towers Fall. Her short fiction has been nominated for the Nebula Award, translated into Spanish and Czech, and appeared in several Year’s Best anthologies. Make sure to check below Karina's post for an excerpt from Radiant and a chance to win the book!
What’s the last great fantasy novel you read?
For many readers that I’ve spoken to, fantasy was often a genre read and enjoyed in younger years, then left behind as one aged into adulthood. Some might admit to reading some of the Harry Potter books, or perhaps sneaking a look to see what Twilight was all about; others mention The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit—though many skipped the books in favour of the movie versions.
Others, even book-a-day reading addicts, have never tried a fantasy novel. “My son likes that stuff,” one woman told me, “but it’s all a little weird for me.”
Another seemed surprised that I’d asked about fantasy at all. “Isn’t fantasy just for kids?”
Instead of taking offense, I see such responses as a great opportunity. As a lifelong fantasy reader and new fantasy author, I’ve seen what more mainstream readers may not have noticed: the huge range of work that falls under the fantasy umbrella.
Yes, the genre has its adventure stories and quests, tales of magic and wizards and strange creatures—but such novels are not the whole of the genre. Despite what is of …
Jeff Norton has just concluded his MetaWars quartet (YA fantasy) and here, he talks about how his hero's adventures in London finally ran their course: Canada exerted a strong pull, and Jeff's own memories of growing up in this country made his way into the adventure.
An author’s raw materials are memories and observations. These inputs, synthesized by the magic of imagination and the discipline of sitting at the desk, produce fiction.
Before becoming a writer, I’d always wondered how much fiction was pulled from fact. Do authors simply dress up their autobiographies as either more glamorous or more dysfunctional (depending on the genre) and force their inner lives onto the page?
For me, I found the experience of creating characters, building their worlds, and telling their stories to be a largely out-of-body experience. I projected elements of myself into the lives of fictional strangers until they became their own people with their own voices, outlooks, hopes, and fears. The characters took on lives of their own; like teenagers growing up and leaving home to explore the world on their own.
The MetaWars novels chart the global adventures of a reluctant teenage hero named Jonah Delacroix. He grows up in a futuristic London (well, mostly online), but his moth …
In Quick Hits, we look through our stacks to bring you books that, when they were published, elicited a lot of reaction and praise. Our selections will include books published this year, last year, or any year. They will be from any genre. The best books are timeless, and they deserve to find readers whenever and wherever.
The Fionavar Tapestry Omnibus, by Guy Gavriel Kay
In the three novels that make up the Fionavar Tapestry trilogy (The Summer Tree, The Wandering Fire, and The Darkest Road), five University of Toronto students find themselves transported to a magical land to do battle with the forces of evil. At a Celtic conference, Kimberley, Kevin, Jennifer, Dave, and Paul meet wizard Loren Silvercloak. Returning with him to the magical kingdom of Fionavar to attend a festival, they soon discover that they are being drawn into the conflict between the dark and the light as Unraveller Rakoth Maugrim breaks free of his mountain prison and threatens the continued existence of Fionavar. They join mages, elves, dwarves, and the forces of the High King of Brennin to do battle with Maugrim, where Kay's imaginative powers as a world-builder come to the fore. He stunningly weaves Arthurian legends into the fluid mix of Celtic, …
Kristi Charish's debut novel is Owl and the Japanese Circus, about the kick-ass world of Owl, a modern-day "Indiana Jane" who reluctantly navigates the hidden supernatural world. The book draws on Charish's own background in science and archeology, and joins a fine tradition of Canadian Sci-Fi/Fantasy writing. In this recommended reading list, Charish tells us more about that tradition, and how she has been inspired by it.
As I’m an urban fantasy author, I thought it’d be appropriate to come up with a mix of Canadian authors I consider essential reads. I’ll be the first to admit it’s an eclectic list—a couple speculative fiction literary greats alongside adventure and urban fantasy authors, and a few who toe the line somewhere in between. That said, they all do have one thing in common. They’ve heavily influenced the Canadian Sci-Fi/Fantasy landscape and this (very) new author’s own writing.
Robert J Sawyer
With 21 novels, a Nebula Award, Hugo Award, John W. Campbell Memorial Award, (one of only 7 sci-fi authors in the world to win a …
“Each ... is a perfect little puzzle-box: one marvels at their perfect geometries while anticipating that dazzling moment where every piece slots flush. These finely-crafted, emotionally resonant tales will stay with me a long, long time.”
The collection is both speculative and lit fiction, and its stories "push boundaries—into the surreal, into the playful, into the irresistible energy of uncertainty."
We are pleased to present an excerpt from the collection's story, "The Concept of a Photon." Boundary Problems will be published in March.
“. . . it is better to regard a particle not as a permanent entity but as an instantaneous event. Sometimes these events form chains that give the illusion of permanent beings — but only in particular circumstances and only for an extremely short period of time in every single case.”
— Erwin Schrödinger
The Rabbit shudders and the grinding of steel on steel competes with the rising engine roar as I hit the brakes — too late or unnecessarily, I’ll never know. In accordance with some obscure law of inverse proportionality, I have discovered that the engine volume rises as the RPM drops. …
Kristene Perron, a science fiction author and contributor to Warpworld SF adventure series, breaks down a few myths about the genre and explains why it's both accessible and important. She also provides a list of five authors to try out for readers new to the genre.
“I don’t usually read science fiction but I loved this book!” I am not the only genre author who has heard a version of this statement about their work. I stumble across it often while scanning reader reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. It is a sentiment that delights and puzzles me. Delights me for what, as an author of science fiction, should be obvious reasons. Puzzles me because why, if you are a reader, a reader of fiction, would you not read science fiction?
In my hunt for an answer, a handful of themes appear consistently. Foremost, perhaps, is the “science fiction is not literature” argument. To which I say, twaddle. If you have read George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, or more recently, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, you have read great literature that also happens to be science fiction. If that surprises you, the fault lies in the shelving of such works in General, Literary, or Classic Fiction and not in the genre from which they we …