CLUBHOUSE: Review: Futuristic Canada Anthology

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OBIR: Occasional Biased and Ignorant Reviews reflecting this reader’s opinion.

Futuristic Canada

Published by Dark Helix Books, an imprint of Dark Helix Press, Toronto, Canada, in July 2019.

Edited by JF Garrard and Sarah WaterRaven.

Most of the stories in this anthology take place in the future. What will Canada be like then?

Sell Off – by Matthias Jansson

Premise: 

A poem too short to describe.

Review:  

The cynic in me thinks “political wishful thinking.” There are some interesting implications regarding Canada’s potential in a changing world but the overall approach, I think, is a light-hearted spoof turning some old cliché’s into new cliché’s. Canadians may find this poem amusing. In fact a couple of the concepts presented made me smile. However, any Americans who lack a sense of humour when it comes to politics may feel less enthusiastic.

Here Comes Santa Claus – by Andrew Jensen

Premise:

Young David Stewart rides his horse into New Jericho, a typical Ontario town that is barely self sufficient and extremely poor. He asks the Town Elders if he can stay for a week or two to study their way of life. Reluctantly, they grant his wish, but admonish him not to say, do, or display anything in contradiction to their teachings.

Review:  

Contains some choice bits of paranoia probably reflective of most closed societies. At first I found the ending a bit far-fetched, but then, remembering how often religious dogma adapts in weird ways to traumatic historical events, I realise the resolution is in fact perfectly credible. First published in 1992, I believe this story has even greater relevance today.

Carnaval Stream – by Christine Rains

Premise:

The two-week winter festival Carnaval is underway in Quebec City. Once again, the sponsoring corporations have allowed the weather to produce a snowfall. Anseline is pleased her older sister Karelle has been chosen to be one of the seven Carnaval Duchesses. She is even more pleased to learn Henri is available again.

Review:

This story explores the jagged path of true love as dictated by the social habits and conditioning of a future quite different from what we currently expect and anticipate. Many small but telling details add up to a coherent vision. Quite refreshingly original. Doesn’t mean life will be any easier, though. Human nature always to the fore regardless of underlying culture.

Making Waves by Frederick Charles Melancon

Premise:

Emily is a French Canadian political campaign worker renowned for the beauty of her purple aura. For political reasons her boss sends her to Louisiana to find out if the historical environment of that State will effect her aura. However, her personal historical baggage may prevent her from accomplishing her task.

Review:

I’m a science-minded guy so tend to discount anything to do with auras. Certainly I am quite ignorant on the subject. So, a bit difficult for me to wrap my head around the science fantasy premise. I think the underlying theme has to do with the difficulty of coping with betrayal and freeing oneself from the manipulations of others. Even so, I am unable to buy into the story. A matter of personal taste, perhaps, or an inability to think outside the box. Not quite my cup of tea.

The Night Librarian – by Helen Power

Premise:

Charlotte Babineaux is the Night Librarian in the National Library in Ottawa. Oh, not that Ottawa. The one within the giant dome preserving the last bit of habitable environment on the planet. Not only is where she works the National Library, it is the only library on Earth. Every book, every microfiche, every computer file is unique. No wonder her training includes courses in martial arts. Like the contents of the dome itself, everything preserved in the library is under threat.

Review:

New Ottawa functions as an ark for what’s left of humanity, namely a bunch of Canadians. Naturally they keep up appearances in a very Canadian way which makes for a semi-satirical set-up for the story. However, the story also presents a serious, thought-provoking point. Saving humanity by constructing an ark is not an end in itself, or rather, it might be. Be it a domed refuge, a generation star ship, or a terraformed planet, it contains the seeds of its own destruction, namely the refuges themselves. Creating a safe refuge is merely the first step. Keeping it safe is the ongoing problem. Thus it is no surprise a rare and unexpected event implies difficulties may arise during her shift. Charlotte may have to put down the book she is reading and take action. As a book lover, I felt genuine empathy for her and her task. Definitely drawn into the story.

Carbon Concerns – by Ryan Toxopeus

Premise:

Christi Favreau-Smith is the lesbian scientist who invented a force-field to keep Canada safe from Trump’s nuclear war and resulting climate catastrophe. Naturally a nation known for its tolerance and peace-keeping is more than willing to support a restorative next step invented by Christi’s lover Monique.

Review:

Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize for inspiring the United Nation’s peacekeeping missions, but nowadays such efforts tend to be less successful than they used to be and Canada isn’t often involved anymore. Nevertheless, for the purposes of the story the lingering Pollyanna aspect of Canada’s reputation is necessary to contrast against the grimmer aspects of reality that often crop up despite people’s pious good wishes. Does the story offer a moral lesson? No, unless it be “expect the unexpected.”

Christi and Monique’s relationship is relevant only in terms of explaining Monique’s maturing of character and the consequences thereof. Integral to the plot, in other words.

By the way, I think it was Asimov who said writers are allowed one impossible thing per story. This one has two, but as both are logical extrapolations of technology, or, at least, the idea of technology, I conclude they offer sufficient scientific bafflegab to justify the premise.

Her Last Walk – by Paul Williams

Premise:  

You’re a 79 year-old woman who hasn’t been outside your apartment in twenty years. You receive a government notice you will be terminated the day after your 80th birthday. What the heck. You’ve got nothing to lose by going for one last walk in the real world outside your apartment.

Review:  

As a senior who spends most of his time in his apartment writing reviews like this one, it would be easy to visualize living as a shut-in to be nothing more than a hellish wait for the grim reaper, were it not for the fact I am actually quite content reading and writing and making plastic model kits. Plus I occasionally go out and meet people. Truth is I think of my apartment as both a refuge and a fun place. Always happy to return home. So, my main point of empathy with the character is not her abode but my curiosity about the world she lives in. I’ll just say the lack of social behaviour in her society is quite striking.

Pretty much a metaphor for the modern epidemic of loneliness and the prospect of a wasted life. But only if you sit around moping. If you choose to live your life while you’re still alive (which, incredibly, many people fail to do), life is worth living. That be the message here. Sometimes going for a walk is good for you no matter what the morrow brings.

Mother of the Caribou – by Christine Rains

Premise:  

Qaaynak questions the need for wolves in the artificial Tundra underneath the Earth. Why not just raise the Caribou humanely? Machines tend to all of humanity’s needs. Why not treat the Caribou the same way? Her Grandfather resorts to recounting legends to explain.

Review:  

This raises interesting questions. If the human race can only survive in an artificial environment, does it make sense to insist on replicating a long-vanished world? Why be hindered by past modes of failed reality? And has the generational disconnect become so pronounced that it’s obvious elders are no longer worth listening to? Christine packs a lot into this very short story, all of it relevant to our immediate future.

Space and Time Books – by Melissa Yuan-Innes

Premise:  

Space and Time Books is a very worried bookstore. It’s owner, an unsuccessful author, and an even more unsuccessful bookseller, is running out of options. He may have to shut down. Fortunately, a book of spells is traded in. The bookstore and all the other books conspire to convince the Book of Spells to save the store.

Review:  

A sentient bookstore is a wonderful concept to a bookaholic like me. That the Book of Spells is rather jaded is icing on the cake. Only the failure of its first attempts provide it with begrudged motivation. This is essentially a whimsical variation of “you have three wishes,” and I found it delightful. But then, I thoroughly identify with books and bookstores. They are the real characters in this story.

Abootasaurus! – by Timothy Carter

Premise:  

A creature of Kaiju proportions emerges off the west coast of Vancouver Island and begins a destructive trek across Canada just as a Federal election campaign gets underway. Every major political party’s paid political announcements shift focus to this crisis and in so doing honestly reflect partisan views in a bid to appeal to voters.

Review:  

While seemingly nonsensical and exaggerated, this is actually a clever and horribly accurate portrayal of how the major parties in Canada propose to deal with Canada’s problems. A better guide than most. Anyone anxious to understand Canada’s politics (virtually nobody I suspect) will find all the essentials neatly encapsulated here. This is particularly apropos because Canada is gearing up for a National election this coming October. That makes this story a “must read!” for all Canadians. Besides, it’s very entertaining. I find it hilarious.

My sole criticism is that the story fails to mention the one tried and proven Canadian method of solving problems, our traditional solution to every problem, namely to ignore it until it goes away. Works like a charm, that does. So far.

Canadian Gods – by Ira Nayman

Premise:  

The Canadian Ministry of Mythological Beasties is housed in a seven-story office building in Nepean. The good news is the staff consists entirely of representative samples of said beasties. The bad news is nobody in the general public cares anymore, and as a result the Feds feel free to impose yet more budget cuts. Worst of all, somebody has been stealing the resident Sasquatch’s lunches out of the cafeteria fridge. His name is Fred, and he’s annoyed.

Review:

This can be viewed as a satire of office life in general and government bureaucracy in particular. That the atmosphere is claustrophobic, competitive, and insanely petty and defensive should come as no surprise to anyone who has worked for the government (as I did for two different ministries many decades ago). I note that one major function of the ministry is uniquely and typically Canadian, which is a clever send-up, and that most of the eccentric cast of characters generally reflect Canadian sensibilities to humorous effect. I particularly liked the mythological Beaver named Kit, the last of the Inniscastorium. A pleasantly amusing story this.

Protecting Artifacts in Hebes Chasma – by Frederick Charles Melancon

Premise:  

Martians so object to their precious, unique artifacts from their very earliest days being sent to the University of British Columbia for the locals to gawk at that they’ve taken over the archaeological site in question and tied up the three archeologists who work there. Naturally, all three want to escape, but first they need to act out their hostility to each other. A love triangle will do that.

Review:

The Martians are the descendants of the first colonists. This lends itself to some amusing, though ultimately depressing, speculation as to the kind of culture human colonists will bring to Mars. As a fan of idea fiction in preference to character fiction the premise intrigues me but I would have liked to have seen a greater focus on the Martians and their obsessions as opposed to the preoccupations of the Earthers. Consequently I’m a bit disappointed in the story, but really it’s a matter of being disappointed that my personal expectations were not met. Other readers will undoubtedly see things differently.

Medically Necessary – by Andrew Jensen

Premise:  

It’s illegal to attempt suicide, but there’s no penalty if you succeed. Unless, of course, medical technology has advanced to the point of rejuvenation. Given such technology, what other reasons would make rejuvenation compulsory?

Review:  

The main character has been rejuvenated twice for legal reasons beyond his control. Life isn’t bad, but his options are limited and it’s a bit of a juggling act being a living anachronism because people sometimes react oddly when they find out. Andrew has taken a classic wish-fulfillment fantasy and thought through the implications of what would actually happen were the dream to come true. Basically, relationships get very complicated as a result of what current societal trends ultimately produce. Makes me wonder if our future is more inevitable than we think it is.

Lingua Franca – by Jen Frankel

Premise:  

An American Actress performing on tour in Francanada fled the stage to seek asylum. She is now on release from Ministry of Defection housing doing a livestream interview with a Francanadian talk show host. Her future depends on how she comes across to the audience.

Review:

When I was a kid it used to bug me that the background setting of one of my favourite comic books, Magnus Robot Fighter, was set in the continent-sized megacity of North Am. I don’t care if Lenin once admitted he could never figure out why Canada was still an independent nation. “True north strong and free!” etc. etc. In this story most of the continent consists of the U.S. of N.A. apart from Quebec and the former Maritime provinces united as Francanada. Given that French Canadian political and cultural sensibilities have rather different roots it’s easy to accept the concept that Quebec is indigestible from the American point of view. So, I buy the premise, no problem.

What makes the story fascinating is the tightrope the actress has to walk while appealing to the Francanadian public. Not enough to badmouth her former country, she needs to hide her reservations regarding the culture of her new country. Given that several thousand people have recently illegally walked across the border from America seeking asylum in Canada, this is a very topical story. I know several people who came to Canada during the Vietnam war for political reasons, and one couple who fled a few years ago because of sexual prejudice, so the prospect of Americans seeking asylum in Canada is not a hypothetical abstraction for me. I have some idea what people go through psychologically to abandon a country that puts a high premium on patriotism. Not an easy thing to do. This story offers valid insights into the phenomenon. Not a trend going away any time soon, I fear.

Designing Fate – by JF Garrard

Premise:  

Ms. Chan and Ms. Ling opt for a pair of children to order. Perfectly legit, since based on their own DNA, and wonderfully programmed. Selecting extra intelligence and extra strength may have been a mistake, however.

Review:

For some reason genetically superior children, super-children if you will, have always been a desirable concept. Such fantasy thinking resulted in the growth of both family planning and eugenics, the latter with horrific consequences in the 20th century. In Canada sterilizing mentally handicapped people without their knowledge (operations disguised as minor corrections for sake of good health) was routine as late as the early 1960s. The Nazis, of course, took the concept to the extreme. Not only through the use of euthanasia but also via enforced breeding programs. Even today, these practices have their advocates.

But what if super-children become feasible courtesy of advanced technology? How do we control them? Should we control them? What are the likely consequences of their very existence? This story explores numerous possibilities to horrific effect and still manages to come up with a satisfying ending. Well done.

Poutine, Bugs and Big Bessie – by Melissa Small

Premise:

Vanessa, a human woman, is mated to Neerp, a crystal-shelled Drup. Both are bug exterminators in the mining colony of New Toronto on the planet Axzin. The bugs originally hitched a ride from Earth with the human colonists. On Axzin they grow as much as eight feet long and cause all manner of problems. Lately they’ve been up to something rather peculiar.

Review:

This is good, old-fashioned space-opera fun. Apart from the implied inter-species sex it could have been written in the 1930s. This is by no means a critical comment. It is simply a great pleasure to read. A wonderful blast from the past and a wonderful way to end the anthology. I read it with a smile on my lips. Nuts to you if you don’t like it. I enjoyed it immensely.

CONCLUSION: 

I believe it was novelist Margaret Atwood who famously said words to the effect that American writers portray animals as monstrous beasts to be conquered, British writers animals as little Englishmen, and Canadian writers animals as victims the reader needs to identify with. Many of the stories in this anthology contain the thoroughly Canadian mode of thought best described as victimhood. As a national characteristic arising out of the now fading country-wide inferiority complex we used to be notorious for, I think it lends an empathetic sensitivity to our view of the world’s problems. Generally speaking, we’re not out to conquer the world so much as to apologise for the way things are.

The majority of stories also exhibit our national tendency toward self-deprecating humour. Historically, we tend not to take ourselves too seriously. In part this is dictated by our traditional inferiority complex but mostly, I think, because of our position as a lesser player in world affairs results in a highly accurate B.S. detection meter which recognises dangerous bombast when we see it. I like to think our style of humour reflects an ability to appreciate the subtle nuances of grey areas rather than mindlessly adhere to black and white dogma. In Canada we tend to regard anyone claiming to be a saint operating on the highest principles to be either a liar or a psychopath because we know it ain’t true. Or so I believe.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that the Futuristic Canada anthology is very, very Canadian. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is up to you to decide.

Check it out at:    < Futuristic Canada >

 

 

 

 

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