I have a list of books I'm planning on reviewing. In order. But sometimes I can't help myself and I spontaneously reach for something else. This time it was a book that was part of my swag from Ottawa's Can-Con (The Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature). The Aurora Awards – Thirty Years of Canadian Science Fiction is a 2010 anthology of short fiction that had won Canada's national award for speculative fiction in the short form category. (One year an epic poem won the award. It unfortunately was not part of the anthology.) When I let myself get sidetracked like that, it is always worth it. I enjoyed myself immensely.
Science fiction, when done well, is incredibly imaginative and tends to set my brain fizzing in sheer delight. And most of the stories in this collection were well done, by my lights. The title is a bit misleading, as the collection also included alternate history, horror, and even a werewolf story I actually enjoyed. This is exceptional, so hats off to Douglas Smith.
For sheer originality, it is hard to beat Julie Czerneda's “Left Foot on a Blind Man” which opens with the sentence: “For the record, I became self-aware as the left foot on a blind man.” The tone is cheeky and entertaining right up to the end, but we become increasingly and uncomfortably aware of an underlying darkness. A masterful piece of work.
Both of the first two stories “Three Hearings on the Existence of Snakes in the Human Blood Stream” by James Alan Gardner, and “When the Morning Stars Sing Together” by Isaac Szpindel, dealt with the relationship between science and religion, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that they both put a much more nuanced and complex spin on the idea than I am accustomed to finding in science fiction.
“Readers of the Lost Art, a Love Story” by Elisabeth Vonarburg, although beautifully written, was too brutal for me and was the only story I chose not to read through to the end.
“Hockey's Night in Canada” was a little piece of alternate history I found disappointing, holding little else than a cute idea. “The Toy Mill” also left me indifferent, partly because it was horror, which is a genre I am allergic to. It has to be exceptionally well written to overcome that prejudice, and this one didn't cut it there.
“Light Remembered” by Daniel Sernine, squeaks in as fantasy, although it seems to me to be more of a meditation on life and immortality. It is haunting, and even in translation, the writing shines.
Hayden Trenholm's “Like Water in the Desert” deals with a Depression-era hobo who is clearly much more than he first seems to be. We are given hints as to his identity, but never more than that. I think this one would make a fantastic Twilight Zone episode or something of the sort.
There were some strange type-setting issues with a couple of the older stories, presumably because the original texts were scanned in with text-recognition software that wasn't quite up to the job. Human eyes really should have taken a second look at these.
Still and all, I was left feeling satisfied, my brain buzzing with possibilities.
I have not been able to find the book for sale anywhere online, but Derek Künsken, the chair of Can-Con 2014, informs me that they still have some copies available. Contact http://can-con.org/ to request a copy. I didn't negotiate prices. ;o)