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Speculative Fiction: Vast and Thrilling

Samantha Garner's debut novel is The Quiet Is Loud, out now, and up for giveaway as part of the 49th Shelf Summer Books List. Make sure you enter for your chance to win! 

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 …

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Parallel Prairies: Good Monster Stories Aren’t Really About the Monsters...

In Parallel Prairies, Editors Darren Ridgley and Adam Petrash get readers acquainted with 19 authors of speculative fiction and their weird and wondrous tales inspired by Manitoba's landscape. In this foreword from the anthology, Ridgely and Petrash write about their intentions with the book, why good monster stories are never really about the monsters, and the amazing tales that lie at the geographic centre of the continent. 


When we set out to assemble Parallel Prairies, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. 

We knew from our travels that Manitoba wasn’t without its speculative fiction writers, but we weren’t sure just how large the community was. Finding a wealth of talent with deep ties to the province, and putting all those authors between two covers, felt like a worthy endeavour—but would we find enough people for a whole book? If we put the call out, would anyone answer?

It turns out, we had nothing to worry about.

Manitoba is a province with a long history of mutual support, and we should have known better than to doubt it. The speculative fiction writers of Manitoba showed us who they are with this project, in print and in spirit. And for that, we are grateful.

Speculative fiction tends to get bogged down with labels. Yes, there’s “fantasy” …

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Liz Harmer: Books That Ask the Big Questions

The Amateurs is Liz Harmer's debut novel, set in a not-too-distant future where most of the human population has disappeared via Ports, doorways to other times and alternate universes from which travellers should theoretically be able to return—except that no one comes back. Are they unwilling to? Are they unable? Told from the perspective of a small group of people who've remained and created a community in the remains of the city of Hamilton, Ontario, and also from that of a man who has spent his career working for the massive corporate entity that built the Ports, The Amateurs grapples with questions like, "what are we here for?", "how do we know what's real and what isn't?", and "what exactly is the nature of love?". In this list, Harmer suggests other great reads that consider similar ideas.  


This offbeat list of novels and one short story collection include a few speculative works like mine, a few dystopias, an interest in the nature of God and of the human, and, especially, most of them, lovingly rendered character and place.


Salt Fish …

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Five Canadian speculative fiction titles for literary readers/ Five Canadian literary titles for speculative fiction readers (by Leah Bobet)

Five Canadian speculative fiction titles for literary readers

Book Cover Someone Comes to Town Someone Leaves town

Cory Doctorow, Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town: Alan’s father was a mountain and his mother a washing machine, and he lives in Kensington Market, blanketing the neighbourhood with free pirate WiFi, trying to protect Mimi, the winged girl next door, from her abusive boyfriend, and defending his youngest brother, who is a set of nesting dolls, from their dead, wicked sibling—who’s been resurrected and is coming for him.

And all this, which should feel chaotic and undisciplined and wild, fits seamlessly into one of the most sobering, moving, beautifully crafted books I’ve ever read, rawly, complicatedly emotional and luminous, with a million true and contradictory and conflicted things to say about protection, acceptance, and the past.

Book cover The New Moon's Arms

Nalo Hopkinson, The New Moon’s Arms: Hopkinson’s most recent adult novel — she’s branched into young adult for her latest — is kind of note-perfect. Calamity, who is almost the modern Caribbean equivalent of Hagar Shipley, is going thr …

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No Solitudes: Leah Bobet on CanLit's genre-bilingualism

book cover above

Dateline, 2008: I'm in my pajamas on a Wednesday night, wrestling with the first draft of the weirdest little novel I've ever tried to write. I tab over to the AOL chatroom where some of my best friends and workshop buddies hang out so we can write together, despite living in entirely different cities, and announce: "358 words of unsaleable book, 358 words of the boooook!"

Austin-based novelist Amanda Downum, then working on the first of a trilogy of second-world fantasy mysteries set in a world that's more Micronesia than medieval Europe, promptly chimes in with "I bet mine's more unsaleable than yours."

--and then we set up a poll on my blog and made them fight (the only rational response!), and got a hell of a laugh out of the whole thing, but that's not really the point. Both those books are now our debut novels: Amanda's The Drowning City made an award shortlist, and the sequel made a few more. My Above is coming out from Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic in March. The point is why we were so convinced, no matter that we loved them and were going to finish them anyway, that those books wouldn't sell. We were both taking some serious leaps with the genres we wrote in, and in my case, you couldn't even say what genre I was writing in. It was a novel that was sin …

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"Free fall beneath the carpet": David Rotenberg on setting The Placebo Effect in Toronto

Book Cover The Placebo Effect

I directed the first Canadian play in the People’s Republic of China in Shanghai (in Mandarin) when that country was in the massive transition from a profoundly oppressive socialist state to a basically free market economy – a thrilling time and my time there inspired me to write my first novel. I also lived in Manhattan for many years and it still forms the base for some of my work. New York knows what it is. It’s been written about, sung about and mythologized into a state of firm existence. People immigrate to New York from all over the world and become New Yorkers. You peel back the carpet and you find yesterday’s New York, you pry up the floorboards and you get yesteryear’s New York.

Toronto is different – sometimes there’s free fall beneath the carpet.

I was born and raised in Toronto, and retuned to the city in 1987 after living in the United States for the better part of sixteen years. Since I've been back, I've had nine novels published. But The Placebo Effect is the first time I’ve written about my hometown. And I didn’t find it all that easy. Toronto is a city where more than 50% of its citizens were not born in the country. Sometimes there’s “ just no there, there” – to quote Ms. Stein. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing …

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