Sunday, March 18, 2007

My Locus Article

I had thought I had put this essay up online, but a cursory search finds nothing, and so in response to this blog post, I thought I'd throw this out for you all to read.

The Stars Shine Bright North of the 49th

It may once have been possible to settle on a definition of Canadian SF and fantasy, but with the number and diversity of Canadian genre authors such generalization is no longer feasible. There was a day when people claimed they could tell a Canadian author from an American or Brit just by the style, even more by how the story ended, but this seems unlikely now. A case could be made, I suppose, for what I once called (way back at the Winnipeg WorldCon) the New Internationalization of SF. Not so New now, of course, but bear with me here. We really do live in a global village, wired and tapped in to each other in ways that the best of our field couldn’t imagine short decades ago.

I submit that there is no country, at least one not under the boot heel of military occupation, that is more susceptible to every shake and shimmy of its neighbour (note the Canadian spelling) than Canada. The neighbour is, of course, the United States, hereafter referred to as America. No nation is nearly as profligate in its spreading of political views and cultural productions as America, and since my country imports as much of this as possible via cable TV, the web, and NAFTA (all across a largely undefended border), we Canadian mice are consistently affected by the extravagance of the American elephants.

Since Canada and America also share a common language (mostly, since much of Quebec is a whole ‘nother ball of wax), it stands to reason that many around the world would view us as interchangeable, or at least not terribly dissimilar (although perhaps not politically). The thing is, though, I’ve found over the past few years that one of the key definitions Canadians give themselves is by virtue of what they are not: American.

In a delicious dose of timid Canadian irony, however, not only Canadian authors who live in Canada are defined as Canadian: Geoff Ryman, John Clute, Cory Doctorow, S.M. Stirling, even myself for a short period of time, all of us live or have lived in another country, and each one of us steadfastly remains at least partly Canadian. If we refused, of course, the Canada Council has goons they pay to come ’round and tattoo a maple leaf to the left butt cheek, so the decision remains an easy one.

Canadians also embrace as their own writers who move here from other, invariably warmer, countries: William Gibson, Spider Robinson, Nalo Hopkinson, Dave Duncan and Élisabeth Vonarburg are members of the club. Even better, authors who were born elsewhere, moved here, and then moved elsewhere again are still considered Canadian, and so Sean Stewart will forever be trapped, like a mosquito in fossilized maple syrup.

This overwhelming inclusiveness is a typical Canadian response, a reaction to the fact that our neighbour is ten times our size, money and clout and personality all equally outsized. But the Big Tent has done something to the shy little beaver, I think, reduced (not wholly removed, though) its inferiority complex and showed it a way to present its own special self to the world.

And here’s the thing: turns out, the world is interested.

By golly, we can write about things and places that at one time we would have dismissed as too jingoistic. Even better, we don’t have to. After years of angst and almost terminal timidity, we’ve discovered that a Good Writer is a Good Writer, something that I suspect many editors and readers already knew. Yes, there’s a common belief that strong, individualistic characters are American and ambiguous endings are the property of what we call CanLit, and like any myth there’s probably a grain of truth to this. I would submit, though, that Canadians suffer from our own special propensity to individualism, or perhaps that Americans have found the wonders of ambiguity in equal proportions.

The borders have opened and we cross them freely these days. Not political borders, though, and none of this New Internationalization bunk. These are borders of the mind and imagination I’m talking about. The days where we Canucks worried we’d be ignored if we wrote about what was important to us are long past, and now we find that we have much to offer an interested world.

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Hear, hear! Or, all things considered, maybe that should be "Here, here!" Well said. -Catherine
I'm a longtime fan of Canadian writers and CanLit (whatever that really is), and of CanSpec in particular. (Well, as "longtime" as one can be, given the newness of the genre as a self-defined thing in Canada.)

I second the "here, here" from Catherine, though as I am a Texan (NOT A Murrican, I hasten to say, abhorring Shrub and his evil cronies as I do), it's properly "there, there!" though that has a sort of odd ring, doesn't it?

Any road...nice essay, sir, and good luck with your write-in candidacy.
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