CLUBHOUSE: Review: “Year’s Best Canadian Fantasy and Science Fiction” Vol 1.

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

Year’s Best Canadian Fantasy & Science Fiction Vol 1 – edited by Stephan Kotowych

Published by Ansible Press, 2023.

Cover art by Tithi Luadthong

Apologies: There are 37 stories and poems in this anthology. I reviewed 5 of them on their first publication so apologies to Kate Hartfield, Millie Ho, Peter G. Reynolds, Liz Westbrook-Trenholm and Melissa Yuan-Innes for not reviewing their works a second time.

That leaves 32 stories and poems. Circumstances grant me 7 hours to write this review. Apologies to the writers I leave out for lack of space and/or time.

And apologies to the readers, I’m going to attempt to review as many works as possible, which implies short reviews in contrast to my usual meanderings so I might not do them justice. What I will attempt to do is state the basic premise, suggest what the writer is up to, and why I think you should read what they’ve accomplished. Call it speed-critiquing. And away we go….

Give Me English – by Ai Jang


Life in New York City is hell when the only currency you can use is the words you know.


Essentially the story of a new immigrant in a hostile country, but startlingly original in that, instead of money, words are the medium of exploitation and humiliation. Implants allow you to trade words you know for goods and services. There are ways of earning words, but too many ways to spend them. The catch is the meaning of a word, once traded or spent, is no longer known to you. Becoming silent is a terrifying prospect. The premise brilliantly amplifies the stress and worry of financial uncertainty common to new immigrants and brings their struggle vividly to life. Powerful. As a writer I take relative poverty for granted, but to not be able to use words? Scary.

The Voice of a Thousand Years – by Fawaz Al-Matrouk


An alien spirit trapped in a musical instrument seeks a new home.


Haider, an elderly shop-keeper and clock mechanic, is willing to build the alien a clockwork automaton it can move into. Both Haider and his son are veterans of the Mongol sack of Baghdad. The father remains proud of his memory of the ancient wisdom once preserved in  Baghdad’s universities, but the son belongs to the new generation rejecting all knowledge outside the Koran as worthless. The son would be horrified were the automaton to come to life, would view it as satanic. Haider must work in secret.

This is a fable illustrating the consequences of the Mongol destruction of Baghdad. Viewed as a punishment of God, it led to the rise of a puritanical branch of Islam bent on restoring the purity of its original beliefs, a movement which still influences the world today. A surprisingly gentle fable exploring the relationship between faith in dogma and faith in knowledge. Are they or are they not compatible? Me, I’m smug and complacent. I automatically reject dogma and prefer the spirit of scientific inquiry. But what if I’m wrong? Objectively, when judging Haider and his son, who can say which is the hero and which is the villain? Fortunately for me, I’ll go on being subjective. But I’d feel awfully silly if the alien turned out to be evil.

Bottom’s Dream – by Glenn Clifton


What would happen if AI holographic entities performed Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream?


Answer: an incredibly boring play up to the moment Puck runs amok and escapes into the larger world. Basically, Puck turns into the social media influencer from Hell and all human relations outside direct physical face-to-face contact become automatically suspect. The protagonist, a university professor specializing in Shakespearean studies, is one of the few remaining non-AI professors. She notes that her students are finding “the humanities” increasingly irrelevant and take her courses only because they have to. Puck is destroying humanity’s faith in itself. What, if anything, can she do about it?

This is a playful yet sophisticated exploration of the consequences of future human and AI attempts to understand one another. Is there a lesson to be learned? Used to be you had to live a lifespan to experience radical societal change. Now it can happen overnight. As always, regardless of the time frame, the individual is the victim of circumstances beyond their control. But, at least in this vision of the future, you can sometimes communicate with the source of your troubles. I like this story. It confirms all my fears around the advent of AI and my belief that my personal ignorance is what will save me. Rather upbeat read, in a sense. In an odd, perhaps perverse way, this story is amusing, intriguing, and rather charming. I suppose there’s a bit of Puck in all of us. Who doesn’t like Puck?

The Secret Lives of Shellwomen – by Geneviève Blouin


If women grow their own shells to protect and nurture their families, do they become a burden on society?


Progressive minded male administrators think so. Sure, the shellwomen are great for looking after the kids, who love to snuggle down in the folds of their flesh within the shell, but aren’t the mutant women who lack shells and able to move about on legs doing useful work better for the economy? Time to reprioritize resources. Besides, sex with mutants is more… versatile.

Being literal-minded, I tend to view this story as an extension of the old house-mother vs. working-woman debate exploring multiple viewpoints in the fictional context of which is preferable, shellwomen or slugwomen? Room for both in my view, but society tends to prefer simple solutions to complex conundrums and what should be individual choice is always a battle of competing social norms. One thing’s for sure, this story presents the feminist cause in uniquely innovative terms which injects a freshness and liveliness to the debate beyond the stereotypes and accumulated cliches. Suddenly social progress is “new” again. About time. May this story be as influential as it deserves  to be.

In Stock Images of the Future, Everything is White – (poem) by Terese Mason Pierre


Is the future worth what brought it about?


What price nostalgia?

Michif Man – by Chelsea Vowel


 The Métis are used to being ignored. But… invisible?


Franky grew up used to making himself stand out to avoid being ignored by white folk, even if it meant frequent fisticuffs. But ever since he got gored by that radioactive Bison (another CIA experiment—don’t ask), white folks’ memory of him was erased the moment they were distracted. This caused no end of difficulty, especially when ordering dinner or applying for a job. On the other hand, gaining superhuman strength was something of a bonus.

The story bounces back and forth between a future researcher trying to prove that the Métis legend of the “Mischif Man” was based on a real person, and accounts of Franky’s dawning awareness of his powers and how to use them. This makes the story both a wish-fulfilment fantasy and a sharp satire on Métis/Government relations. Franky is able to wreak no end of physical sabotage knowing that none of the witnesses will remember seeing him. He finds destroying arrest records and debt files very satisfying. Certainly it benefits his relatives. The confusion on the part of officialdom desperately naval-gazing to find out why normal bureaucratic procedure has gone haywire is a hoot.

This is probably the best story exploring race relations in Canada I have ever read, in that it is both educational, revealing attitudes I had not previously been aware of, and highly amusing. As a “message” story, it’s like taking a spoonful of castor oil wrapped in a ton of icing sugar. Important points are laid out, but in a subtle yet effective manner which entertains. I quite like it.

BY the way, I admit I’m biased. My mother’s side of the family, Scottish/Irish in origin, hails from the Prairies. My great-grandfather Charles Thomas Lewis was a Stationmaster for the Canadian Pacific Railway when he attended the trial of Louis Riel, the leader of the Métis rebellion, “as a press representative for eastern papers. ‘A Prayer and Confession of Faith,’ written and signed by Louis Riel, owned by Mr. Lewis, was left some years ago with an officer of the R.C.M.P. museum in Regina.” No wonder that Louis Riel has always been a hero in our family tradition.

Sunday in the Park with Hank – by Leah Bobet


Most living veterans are tethered to a dead veteran.


Not just veterans. Almost every living person is tethered to the ghost of someone they loved. In Lil’s case, no one, but she has access to multiple dead rabbits who love her dearly. This is a source of great comfort for her. In the case of her boyfriend Hank, not so much, as she has yet to get used to the agonized ghost of his “Double,” Horatio, who keeps reliving the agony of his death in battle.

This story is really about the conflicting emotions centred on memories of the loved ones whose loss “haunts us” as long as we live. Veteran’s memories of the “buddies” they lost are particularly painful, as their sudden, violent death is traumatic in the extreme to witness. Hank doesn’t want to acknowledge Horatio’s presence and can’t understand why Lil is so sensitive about the “elephant in the room.” This encapsulates the difficulty couples often have when one is a traumatized veteran.

Still, sooner or later everyone accumulates plenty of such “ghosts,” and that’s if they’re lucky. Either you die, or you outlive your friends and loved ones… and then you die. Just like Hank, we generally live by ignoring either prospect. But the visceral imagery of this story is truly “haunting” and encourages the reader to feel empathy for those who suffer the burden of memory more than most.

A Brave New World – by Eric Choi


Humanity’s first interstellar colony was designed as a place of exile.


Yes, we reach out to the universe, not to explore, but to get rid of our criminals. Ideological criminals who dared express individualism. This is not particularly far-fetched. After all, it does appear the potential for totalitarian control is increasing as fast as any other aspect of technology.

Never fear, this is delightful hard science that appeals to both the mind and the heart. Besides, I n the long term, there’s no stigma attached to penal colonies. I mean, look at modern Australia!

One of the attractions of this story is that technology is quite different from that of today. More advanced in some ways, yet different, in that ideology has dictated what is or is not permissible. For instance, attempts by colonists to supplement gifted mathematicians rely on the creation of difference engines, i.e. mechanical computers, rather than electronic ones.

As for good old human emotions, the bad ones are still present, but the colonists are the product of genetic manipulation to produce a “natural” caste system, and developing emotional skills applied to all is problematic. It takes time to realize the shackles of the past can be thrown off. Might as well, as the mother planet has no interest in the fate of its colonies.

Of course, an unexpected peril threatens the survival of the colony. All the more reason for the colonists to get their act together in new and innovative ways. Fundamentally, an optimistic story. Proof that the hard science genre is still capable of enjoyable originality, especially in the capable hands of excellent writers such as Eric Choi. I found the story exhilarating. It reminds me why I fell in love with science fiction in the first place. Stirs my sense of wonder.

Poltergeist – (poem) by Rhonda Parrish


A pleasant graveside funeral service.


There’s more to death than saying goodbye.

One Day in the Afterlife of Detective Roshni Chaddha – by Rati Mehrota


 “This close to Hell, even the ghosts keep their heads down.”


Think a female Sam Spade named Roshni Chadda in a Hindu literal-underworld setting. Sound awkward? A bad idea? Impossible to carry off?

On the contrary! This is a fantastically entertaining detective story. I enjoyed every bit of it. I’d love to see it made into a movie. I find it hilarious. Not laugh out loud hilarious but loads of fun hilarious.

Sure, the usual clichés are here: hard-nosed cook/waitress; jaded, cynical detective; even more jaded, cynical police inspector; incompetent bureaucrat; highly efficient, ruthless, corrupt bureaucrat; omnipotent, divine department head; assorted police monsters… well, granted, the last two aren’t generally found in detective fiction. Point is Mehrota seats all these characters comfortably in a Hindu mythological setting, so comfortably it all seems perfectly natural, which renders the characters fresh and original, at least in my eyes.

I had no problem accepting any of it. Smooth and very much of a whole with nothing that throws you out of the story, it’s as if detective fiction was born in Hindu literature; it’s that good. Highly, highly recommended.


In the time available I managed to review just 2 poems and 8 stories. Typical. Apologies to the remaining 22 authors I didn’t get around to.

I must say editor Stephen Kotowych has excellent taste and judgement. What I reviewed is a real powerhouse of quality fiction sparkling with originality, brilliant perception and sophisticated subtlety; the kind of reading session which leaves me feeling inspired and excited.

I frankly assume the rest of the works in this anthology are just as good.

I’ve already submitted every eligible story and poem by the authors I published in last year’s issues of Polar Borealis and Polar Starlight Magazines for possible inclusion in the second volume of this anthology series which is slated for later this year. I am confident many stand a good chance of being selected.

In my opinion this volume of The Year’s Best Canadian Fantasy and Science fiction belongs on every Canadian reader’s bookshelf. The second volume is underway. I’d like to see it become an annual tradition. As many readers of my reviews are aware, there is a lot of excellent genre fiction being written in Canada. May this series become the definitive annual sample. If all are good as this one, I can see them becoming textbooks for high schools and universities. Makes sense to me. You owe it to yourself to purchase it for your bookshelf.

Check it out at:    < Year’s Best Canadian Fantasy & Science Fiction Vol 1 >

Please take a moment to support Amazing Stories with a one-time or recurring donation via Patreon. We rely on donations to keep the site going, and we need your financial support to continue quality coverage of the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres as well as supply free stories weekly for your reading pleasure.

Previous Article

AMAZING NEWS: 2/25/24 Pre Extra Day Edition

Next Article

WSFS Mark Protection Committee Releases Statement

You might be interested in …