SOL Rising
Number 8, February 1992

Science Fiction in Francophone Canada (1839-1989)
Northern Lights: Canadian Achievements in SF
Space Age Humour
A Short Sharp Shock
Letter to the Editor
Library News
Building News
“Captain” George Henderson

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Science Fiction in Francophone Canada (1839-1989)

By Jean‑Louis Trudel


Any discussion of science fiction in francophone Canada should start with definitions. As Jean-Marc Gouanvic has pointed out,1 the usefulness of listing works as science fiction before the concept was even fully developed is dubious. The term science fiction refers nowadays to a wide range of themes, stories, and treatments, many of which hardly existed in the past.


The term most widely used in Québec's milieu of writers and critics is SFQ: Science-Fiction Québécoise. It will not be used here. Many writers of science fiction in francophone Canada were not natives of the province of Québec or did not reside there when they wrote. Even today, its descriptive value remains doubtful, though it has a powerful prescriptive one.


Though anachronistic, at least for half of the period considered, the term science fiction (abbreviated as SF) will be used and will designate here stories which present situations and plot devices well-known to modem SF: future societies, fantastic voyages, superhuman characters, etc. This criterion will be time-dependent: the closer to the present the story, the more rigorous it will have to be to avoid being set aside as fantasy.


This report is mainly a brief survey of Québec science fiction from the beginnings. It is as complete as its sources for the period predating 1945, but only summarizes the situation after 1945. Therefore, it is clearly unbalanced since almost half of it examines the dozen books predating 1945, while the other half only glances at the close to 200 books and at the active community of the post-war decades.


The Precursors


The earliest known SF story in francophone Canada dates back to 1839. A Swiss immigrant, Aimé-Nicolas Aubin, published it under the name of Napoléon Aubin as an unfinished serial. The first six episodes appeared in the newspaper Le Fantasque, edited and published by Aubin himself in Québec City. The serial Mon Voyage à la lune appeared irregularly, on July 9 and 21, August 3, September 2 and 17, and October 1 of 1839.


Aimé-Nicolas Aubin himself is a fascinating study. Born on November 9, 1812, in Chêne-Bougeries, Switzerland, he emigrated to the United States at the age of seventeen. After a stay of six years, he moved to Montréal and then to Québec City, where he founded in August 1837 Le Fantasque. The irreverent tone of his articles once netted him two months in jail. After Le Fantasque died, Aubin became a chemistry teacher, published the first two volumes of the Histoire du Canada of François-Xavier Garneau, and invented a gas-lighting device. Before dying in Montréal on June 12, 1890, he also helped to establish the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste, the Société canadienne d'études littéraires et scientifiques as well as the Institut canadien.2


The science fiction element of the serial, the title of which can be translated as My Trip to the Moon, is most evident in the first episode. The hero's means of travel to the Moon is more whimsical than ingenious, somewhat reminiscent of Cyrano de Bergerac's. Though humbler in scope than Voltaire's Micromégas (1752), this serial does offer a broad critique of Earthly prejudices. After the first episode, Mon Voyage à la lune veers from social criticism to a Swiftian satire of the more and customs of Québec's society in particular. Despite the closeness in dates and subject, as well as Aubin's links with the United States, there seems to be no connection between Edgar Allan Poe's The UnparalleledAdventure of One Hans Pfall (1835)—which in fact offers much more interesting SF speculations—and Aubin's serial. However, the serial does describe green-skinned "Lunatics", which is a rather early occurrence of the green-skinned alien motif in SF.3


Some other characteristics of this first work of franco-Canadian science fiction can be noted. First of all, Napoléon Aubin was still a newcomer to Québec when he wrote it: Canadian francophone SF has continued to be influenced by immigrants from abroad—and one might argue that this is also true for Canadian anglophone SF. Also, Mon Voyage à la lune was an artefact of a small press manned by Aubin himself: again, small presses seem to have been a natural haven for native SF in Québec over its history. Finally, the story's content itself is typical of an enduring trend in franco-Canadian SF. After Aubin, science fiction was used again and again as a literary device that allowed a present society to be criticized, either by pointing out its shortcomings through future improvements or by proposing a different and better society.


Two nineteenth-century short stories unequivocally belong to the genre of science fiction: "Le Carnaval à Québec en 1996 (Écrit à distance d'un siècle, en février 1896)" (1896), by Nazaire Levasseur, and "La tête de saint Jean-Baptiste ou Légende pour nos arrières-petits-neveux, en 1980" (1880), by Wenceslas-Eugène Dick. The first of these can be translated as "The Carnival in Québec in 1996 (Written at a Remove of a Century, in February 1896)", and the second as "The Head of Saint John the Baptist or Legend for our Great-Grand-Nephews, in 1980". Both stories reveal "decimal futurism": the tendency to look ahead by a decade, a century, or a millennium.


The stories' themes are not vastly different. In both cases, the twentieth century is Québec's century. Québec's newfound prosperity is symbolized by new railways and bridges, a greater population, the culti­vation of new lands, an unshaken Catholic faith... Independence is at most alluded to however. In "La tête de saint Jean-Baptiste ou Légende pour nos arrières-petits-neveux, en 1980", Lake St-Jean has been drained, and the Province of Saguenay has a population of three million out of seven million French Canadians. Québec owes its new wealth to a gift from Saint John the Baptist, who came down to Earth in order to reward the province's piety. In "Le Carnaval à Québec en 1996 (Écrit à distance d'un siècle, en février 1896)", a railway circles the Île d'Orléans and a new bridge crosses the Saint-Lawrence upstream from Québec City.4


In these texts, it is of course not so much the stories that are interesting as the speculation about the future, which reflects the religious society of that era. This is even more evident in the last known franco-Canadian SF work of the nineteenth-century.


Francophone Canada's first science fiction novel, Pour la patrie (1895), by Jules-Paul Tardivel, builds on the same patriotic and religious themes, and also starts its narrative in the twentieth century. It was published in English as For My Country (1975). The founding of a reborn New France, with the mission of extending in North America a French and Catholic civilization, is advocated. It is ironic that this first SF novel of francophone Canada was actually written by a Franco-American, for Tardivel was born in Covington, Kentucky,5 which could go a long way towards explaining the radicalism of his vision, considering the role of the church in the survival—and later the assimilation—of the Franco-American diaspora. The novel bears the imprint of Tardivel's ardent Catholic faith and ultramontane beliefs and might be classified as fantasy, despite the political speculation, if the author did not evidently believe as firmly in the reality of his religion as any modern hard SF writer believes in the truth of science. Nevertheless, it makes for a bizarre contemporary of H. G. Wells' novels.


Another work partially intended as propaganda is Similia Similibus ou La Guerre au Canada (1916), by Ulric Barthe, with the French portion of the title translating as The War in Canada. In it, Québec City is conquered by the Prussian army. This may actually be the first alternative history novel of Québec, though it is finally revealed to be a mere dream. The author defends the pro-British cause and Canada's participation in the war that is going on in Europe.


Much lighter in tone, Les Aventures extraordinaires de deux Canayens (1918), by Jules Jéhin, has no polemical intent; it can be translated as The Extraordinary Adventures of Two Canucks. It tells of the use of a superior flying machine by two French-Canadians to set up briefly an Empire of Space (not of Outer Space, but actually of the Airs). Two elements lighter than hydrogen are introduced to justify the flying machine, which harks back to Jules Verne's Robur le Conquérant and Maître du monde, but it's all a simple excuse for a humorous jaunt.


However, La Cité dans le fers (1926) (The City in Chains), by Ubald Paquin, is a grim anticipation of Québec independence, featuring a full-scale revolt bankrolled by a Franco-American multimillionaire, defeated by British might and treason from within. Strictly speaking, it has no science fictional elements and could be more properly termed a political thriller.


In the same vein of popular entertainment, L'Impératrice de l'Ungava (1927) (The Empress of Ungava), by Alexandre Huot, tells of an undiscovered city in the Ungava. The tincture of SF is extremely dilute and it is much more in the line of the traditional adventure stories of the time. It does offer the amusing twist that in this tale Québec nationalism is answered by Amer-indian pride and self-determination.


In 1931, La Fin de la Terre (The End of the Earth), by Emmanuel Desrosiers, is more modern in its conception. Earth's agony, caused by overpopulation, famine, lack of fertile soil, natural catastrophes, and exhaustion of non-renewable resources, is described, but the ending is optimistic about the technological progress of mankind: with the consent of the Martians, the survivors remove themselves to the Red Planet. The grandeur of the ideas is noteworthy and franco-Canadian SF did not venture so boldly into the future again for a few more years. Somehow, the author also managed to write a full-length novel without the appearance of a single female character...


Siraf, Étranges révélations, ce qu'on pense de noun par-delà la lune (1934) (Siraf, Strange Revelations, What They Think of Us beyond the Moon) was written by a Frenchman who had emigrated to Alberta, Georges Bugnet. Here, science fiction is a literary device that allows an astral entity to converse with a human about various philosophical problems of interest to the author. Unlike a rare but hardy strain of modern Québec pseudo-SF novels, the author was not half-postulating that this astral entity really existed, he was simply using it as a mouthpiece.


Armand Grenier's novels, on the other hand, try to uphold Québec's "race", religion, and language. Erres boréales (1944) (Northern Impetus) was published by the Édifons Laurin under Grenier's first pseudonym of Florent Laurin. It takes place in 1968. A new invention has warmed the sea off the coasts of Labrador and the Eastern Arctic, and the French-Canadian race has colonized and exploited the northern territories chock-full of precious ore deposits. Nationalist feeling is exalted, the courage and spirit of the pioneers is glorified. A map of the new lands with their French names is glued inside the book's cover and drawings are included.


Défricheur de hammada (1953) (Hammada Pioneer) was published under Grenier's pseudonym of Guy René de Plour, a pseudonym which combines the author's surname, Grenier, and the maiden name of his mother, Plourde. The ideal Québec society is transplanted in the middle of the Sahara, under domes where Christian and family values are fully adhered to. Grenier announced that he was preparing to write, presumably in English, something called The Future laid out in the Unknown, but it never seems to have materialized.


In the same tradition of proof by science fiction, Eutopia (1944), written under the pseudonym Jean Berthos, and improbably attributed to Thomas-Alfred Bernier (1844-1908) instead of the more obscure Thomas Bernier, combines technological inventions and a strange socialism that protects order, justice, and Christian virtue. Some have seen "fascism" in this strange mix .6


Other books are sometimes added to exhaustive lists for this period: L'Íle du savoir(1947), a possible juvenile by Victor Boisson and Jean Conterno—who is mistakenly called Canteno by Daniel Sernine,7 Lipha: Ses étapes (1931), by J.-O. Léger, and Marcel Faure (1922), by Jean-Charles Harvey.


The title of the first can be translated as The Island of Knowledge and that of the second as Lipha: His Stages. Printed in Canada soon after the end of the war but written in Lyons, France, between 1941 and 1942, the first of the three is not mentioned in the Dictionnaire des uvres littéraires du Québec, which is not very significant since the Dictionnaire does not include other juvenile novels; also, it was never acquired by the National Library and it is among the first of several books published by Victor A. Boisson, with his later ones being released in France, some in the Lyons area. Conterno's only claim to literary fame is the part-authorship of this book, while all evidence points to Victor A. Boisson being French and probably from Southern France. It has been suggested, and it sounds plausible, that the book was printed in Canada, because the Second World War temporarily cast the authors on our shores. All in all, it seems that it cannot be included as a genuine franco-Canadian science fiction novel.


The second book seems to have been mistaken for SF because of its weird title.8 It actually is a collection of reprints of articles on political and agricultural matters, written under the nom de plume of Lipha. It simply has nothing to do with SF.


The third is a mix of the utopian novel and of the future tense political thriller, with a dash of star-crossed love. It is less dramatic in its extrapolation than Ubald Paquin's work, but can still be considered borderline SF like Alexandre Huot's Amer-indian utopia.


Thus, at the end of this first period, franco-Canadian SF can be divided between the broadly utopian (from Tardivel to Grenier), the philosophical (Aubin, Bugnet, Desrosiers), the propaganda (Barthe, most others to some degree), and the adventure (Jéhin, Huot, Paquin).


What can also be noted in several of these books is a considerable timidity to get to the speculative part of the story. Tardivel's novel does start right away forty years into the future, but Jéhin, Huot, Harvey, and Paquin incorporate long build-ups that stay on the safe side of the unknown. In Huot's case especially, the payoff is only the very last few chapters.




An era ended with Défricheur de hammada. Exhaustiveness becomes chimerical in the ensuing years. The new popular serials of post-war Québec used science fiction to entertain. In Les Aventures futuristes de deux savants canadiens-français (1949), or The Futuristic Adventures of Two French-Canadian Scientists, by Louis Champagne, the pseudonym of a series of forgotten hacks, the adventures of the heroes are reminiscent of the early pulp science fiction in the United States.


In the sixties, the first blooms of a renewed science fiction were probably not unrelated to the Révolution tranquille that had begun to modify the old rules. SF has always been the literature of change... Between 1960 and 1973, several writers were the first to publish more than one or two SF stories, most of these because they shared in the surge of SF in juvenile literature.


In 1960, Guy Bouchard was among the first, publishing Vénus via Atlantide. Suzanne Martel followed, with her juvenile classic Surréal 3000 (Quatre Montréalais en l'an 3000) (1963), translated as The Underground City (1964), with its still very readable account of life underground centuries after a nuclear war. From 1965 to 1968, Maurice Gagnon then published the Unipax series of novels dealing with a worldwide secret organization devoted to peace and equipped with fabulous machines. Even Yves Thériault tried his hand at SF, between 1966 and 1967, with the Volpek series, starring a Canadian secret agent in the James Bond mold who tangles a few times with extra-terrestrials.


While these short novels had aimed for a young public, Monique Corriveau's Les Compagnons du Soleil (1976) (The Companions of the Sun) was a trilogy meant for a more mature public of adolescents. It dealt with themes of repression and revolt, totalitarianism, and freedom. It still stood in 1989 as the only franco-Canadian science fiction trilogy.


During the seventies, the "Jeunesse-Pop" collection of the Éditions Paulines started to include regular science fiction offerings for its young readers. Normand Côté, writing under the pseudonym of Louis Sutal, and Jean-Pierre Charland, were among the more prominent names. The decade also saw the first work by Charles Montpetit—winner of the 1989 CASPER for best book in French—and later by Daniel Sernine.


On the adult side, Ronald Després pubished in 1962 Le scalpel ininterrompu (The Uninterrupted Scalpel), where the whole of humanity is vivisected within a twenty year span. In spirit, it's closer to some surrealists and their precursors, Lautréamont or Forneret.


Yves Thériault also wrote science fiction for adults: a collection of nuclear war short stories Si la bombe m'était contée (1962) (If the Bomb was Told to Me), and a novel Le Haut Pays (1973), or The High Country. This last one occupies the borderlands of SF, with its talk of parallel worlds, and esoterism, with its mentions of Knowledge, Initiates, and Great Ones. Classification can be hard .9


Jacques Benoit specialized in a more flamboyant style, sometimes funny, sometimes cruel, producing a kind of skewed SF. His first novel, Jos Carbone (1967), has occasionally been classified as speculative fiction: it is certainly not science fiction, and it is hard even to justify the label of "speculative fiction". The story does take place in an imaginary wood and the mood is surreal, but the place-names and the general atmosphere are not really distinct from Québec's old storytelling tradition and saint-laden toponymy. The setting is as real and as imaginary as Mariposa, Manawaka or Yoknapatawpha County, only differing from them in degree: it is a conceivable extension of Québec geography. Benoit's next novel, Patience et Firlipon (1970), was definitely SF: it tells a wonderful love story spiced with futuristic gadgets in a future Montréal. Finally, Les Princes (1973), which can be translated as The Princes, describes a city that cannot fit on the known globe or in the known past, but where intervenes no overt magic. It can be called science fiction. More somber, it deals with repression and discrimination, maybe echoing the October Crisis.


Emmanuel Cocke was born in France, moved to Québec, and died in India in 1973, but his novels Va voir au ciel si j'y suis (1971) (Go to Heaven to See If I'm There) and L'Emmanuscrit de la mère morte (1972), which can only approximately be translated as The Emmanuscript of the Dead Mother, portray the Montréal of the twenty-first century.10 His hero presents himself as the saviour of humanity, who will avoid Earth's end. References to Québec's self-determination underscore the political nature of the hero's project. The rediscovery of human dignity and the transformation of society lead to a new Québec..11 Cocke's writing is deliriously pedantic, characterized by acidic puns and an often boring psychedelic self-centredness. As in the novels of Tardivel, Grenier, and Berthos, science fiction is used to invent tomorrow's Québec.


In 1972, Maurice Gagnon returned to SF with a somewhat traditional novel, Les Tours de Babylone, or The Towers of Babylon, about war-making and political infighting in a monolithic world wide empire, a few centuries hence. Simplistic in some ways, it did not lack for action and drama.


At the end of this second age of franco-Canadian SF, what common traits link the stories listed here? John Robert Colombo found polar lands, catastrophe scenarios, alienation, and more fantasy than hard SF in his survey of anglo-Canadian speculative fiction. The last does not apply to this SF overview, though it is noticeable that most of the stories included here are stronger on political or social speculation than hard science. Alienation is of course a central theme of these SF stories. Catastrophe scenarios are actually rare, apart from the novels of Paquin, Desrosiers or Després. However, Colombo included in the anglo-Canadian catastrophe scenarios the separation of Québec. In franco-Canadian SF, a disaster only occurs if Québec fails to separate successfully, as in Paquin's novel. Several stories and novels deal with a more powerful, if not fully independent, Québec. They are the obverse of Colombo's catastrophe scenarios: the national redemption scenarios. As for Colombo's polar lands, Huot's work and Erres boréales would be the two main examples.




The year 1974 can be said to mark the beginning of a phase of franco-Canadian science fiction that has not yet ended. Authors like Jacques Benoit, Yves Thériault, and Maurice Gagnon abandoned the field. Jacques Brossard's pre-1974 incursion into modern fantasy was only followed by a science fiction work in 1989. Cocke was dead.


A new generation of writers that are still active today started its rise. In 1974, Esther Rochon published En hommage aux araignées, which can be translated as In Homage to Spiders: its revised version as a juvenile novel, L'Étranger sous la ville (1986) (The Stranger Under the City), was translated into Dutch.


Also in 1974, Requiem, a small science fiction and fantastique magazine, was launched in Longueuil. Apart from one lonely attempt to produce a high school fanzine in the late sixties, Requiem, under Frenchman Norbert Spehner, was the first periodical to focus on science fiction, fantasy, and fantastique in francophone Canada. The reason for the choice of the name remains obscure. It may or may not be a reference to Heinlein's famous short story. Legend has it that the name was the suggestion of the original staff's sole woman. In 1975, Requiem published Daniel Sernine's first short story, as well as Jean-Pierre April's in 1977 and those of Rend Beaulieu, Denis Côté, and French-born Élisabeth Vonarburg in 1978.


After 1974, books with a more audacious outlook and a more mature style appeared, such as La manufacture de machines (1976) (The Machine Factory), by Louis-Phillippe Hébert, and Un ete de Jessica (1978) (A Jessica Summer), by Alain Bergeron.


In 1979, several events combined to launch the most remarkable decade yet of francophone SF in Canada.


The second lasting SF magazine, imagine..., was born in the fall, with Jean-Marc Gouanvic, another Frenchman, as literary director: it eventually published the first works of Jean Pettigrew and Agnès Guitard, among others. Also in 1979, Requiem changed its name to Solaris, as an homage to Stanislaw Lem. The first Boréal convention of francophone science fiction and fantastique took place in Chicoutimi, adding impetus to the nascent SF community. In following years, the convention launched the literary career of young writers like Francine Pelletier, in 1981, and Yves Meynard, in 1986. (Since 1979, four Boréals have been held in Québec City, two more in Chicoutimi, two in Montréal, one in Longueuil, and one in Ottawa.) Daniel Semine also published his first novel, a juvenile, in 1979.


In 1980, the publications of L'il de la nuit, or The Eye of the Night, by Élisabeth Vonarburg, and La Machine d explorer la fiction, or The Machine for Exploring Fiction, by Jean-Pierre April, served to launch the first serious SF collection, Chroniques du futur, or The Chronicles of the Future, by the Éditions le Préambule. In 1983, the first three SF anthologies in francophone Canada were published. Aurores boreales 1, or Northern Lights 1, was edited by Norbert Spehner, also in charge of the Chroniques du futur collection. Espaces imaginaires 1, or roughly Imaginary Spaces 1, was edited by Jean-Marc Gouanvic and Stéphane Nicot from France: it included stories by authors from both Canada and France. Finally, Les Années-lumière, or The Light-Years, was also the work of Jean-Marc Gouanvic, who reserved the book to franco-Canadian stories. Since then, most years have seen anthologies of one kind or another.


The decade of the eighties also saw new signs of recognition of franco-Canadian SF in France, anglophone Canada, and elsewhere. In 1982, the Grand Prix de la Science-Fiction Française was awarded to an Élisabeth Vonarburg novel, Le Silence de la Cité, published in English as The Silent City (1988), in Canada and then England, due to come out soon in the United States. In 1983, the same award was won by a Swiss residing in Ottawa, Pierre Billon, for his novel L'Enfant du cinquième nord, which can be translated as The Child from the Fifth North. In 1988, Les Visiteurs du Pôle Nord, or The North Pole Visitors, by a Paris-born Ottawa writer, Jean-François Somcynsky, who now writes under the name of Somain, won the 1987 Prix Louis-Hémon from the Académie du Languedoc, in France.


As the decade ends, franco-Canadian SF seems healthy. An annual review of the science fiction and fantastique published during the previous year in francophone Canada started appearing in 1985. In fact, using the numbers given by L'Annee de la Science-Fiction et du Fantastique Québécois for the years from 1984 to 1988, it is possible to estimate by a corrected linear extrapolation that about 90 SF novels and 700 SF short stories were published between 1980 and 1989. The actual number of stories published has been fluctuating in recent years, reaching 15 novels and 73 short stories in 1988. Thus, the number of SF novels published in the eighties is roughly double that published in the seventies, and maybe triple that of the sixties.


On the other hand, the Chroniques du futur collection died in 1988, publishing an eleventh book, a short story collection by Francine Pelletier: Le Temps des migrations, or The Time of Migrations. The Éditions Les Imaginoïdes, specializing in SF, have also stopped publishing SF books, after their fourth SF anthology. Still, several publishing houses remain receptive to SF, including the Éditions Logiques, the Éditions Le Passeur, and the Éditions Pierre Tisseyre, on the adult side, as well as the Éditions Paulines and La Courte Échelle, on the juvenile side. In 1989, an anthology of Québec SF and fantastique was reportedly among the three favourite books of a certain publisher in Québec high schools.


As the nineties begin, franco-Canadian SF can be clearly divided in two currents sharing the same stream. One current consists of the milieu, consisting of the faithful readers of imagine... and Solaris, of the regular attendees of the Boréal conventions, of the fanzine publishers, of the survivors of the Requiem era, and of the writers of the juvenile market like Daniel Sernine, Denis Côté, or Francine Pelletier. This current is distinguished not only by a common approach to its subject matter but also by the fact that many of the people involved, and especially the writers, are, if not friends, more than casual acquaintances. It is characterized by publications within the specialized markets and seems to comprise people who actually read SF, from here and elsewhere, before trying to write it or review it. It is also dominated by writers who have made SF their preferred genre of writing. Most of the names quoted here after 1974 belong to this current.


The second current is dominated by novelists. It consists of writers who visit SF once or twice and then pass on. Their novels are published outside the specialized small presses or collections. Their science fictional culture often appears to be limited to a few SF blockbuster movies12 or to juvenile adventure novels. The novels can be satirical in intent, like early Québec works, simply derivative, or messianic, starring Atlantis or wise extraterrestrials. However, in many ways, this is the pure Québec current, while the milieu could be viewed as a transplanted European or American product, beating strongly inside the Québec breast. Will the transplant take? Has the milieu's SF attained the critical publication mass necessary to sustain it? Considering the milieu's privileged access to the juvenile markets, turning out 3 to 5 SF books each year for those markets, it does seem that rejection will not occur. Young writers weaned on a diet of Jeunesse-Pop have already started joining the milieu.


The future seems bright.



1Jean-Marc Gouanvic, "La SFQ dans son histoire: quelques remarques rétrospectives et prospectives", imagine... 49, pp. 52-53.

2Jean-Paul Tremblay, Napoléon Aubin (Montréal: Éditions Fides, 1972), pp. 7-14.

3Napoléon Aubin, "Mon Voyage à la lune", imagine ...8-9, pp. 26-45.

4Michel Bélil, "La science‑fiction canadienne française", imagine... 19, p. 8.

5The hundreds of thousands of Quebecers who emigrated to the United States are known as Franco-Americans. The most notable of them may be another Franco-American writer, Jack Kerouac.

6Monique Genuist, "Eutopia", Dictionnaire des uvres littéraires du Québec, Tome 3, 1978, p. 35.

7Daniel Semine, "Historique de la SFQ", Solaris 79, p. 41.

8Claude Janelle, "La Science-fiction au Québec", Solaris 50, p. 6.

9The novel La Cite dans l' uf (1969), by Michel Tremblay, is sometimes called SF, but it is much closer to traditional fantasy, though pleasantly original in its fusion of folklore, Greek myths, and original ideas.

10While Québec City dominated the future of Québec in the science fiction of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century, at least till Ubald Paquin's work, where Montréal and Québec City share equal billing, Montréal has come to be the center of Québec's future in its science fiction. If Ubald Paquin marked a turning point, then Suzanne Martel probably marked the beginning of Montréal's ascendancy.

11Claude Janelle, "La Science-fiction au Québec", Solaris 50, p.6.

12I interviewed one writer, Carol Boily, who actually said this in so many words.



L'Année de la Science-Fiction et du Fantastique Québécois 1984, 1985,1986, 1987,1988. Beauport: Éditions Le Passeur.

Aubin, Napoléon. "Mon Voyage à la Lune", imagine... 8-9, pp. 25-45.

Bélil, Michel. "La science-fiction canadienne française", imagine... 19, pp. 8‑9.

Dick, Wenceslas-Eugène. "La tête de saint Jean-Baptiste ou Légende pour nos arrières petits-neveux, en 1980", imagine... 19, pp. 9-12.

Dictionnaire des uvres littéraires du Québec. Montréal: Éditions Fides, 1978.

Gouanvic, Jean-Marc. "La tête de saint Jean-Baptiste entre la science-fiction et le mythe", imagine... 19, pp. 12-14.

Gouanvic, Jean-Marc. "Rational Speculations in French Canada 1839-1974", Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 15, No 44 (March 1988), pp. 71-81.

Gouanvic, Jean-Marc. "La SFQ dans son histoire: quellques remarques rétrospectives et prospectives", imagine... 49, pp. 51-56.

Janelle, Claude. "La Science-fiction au Québec", Solaris 50, pp. 6-10.

Sernine, Daniel. "Historique de la SFQ", Solaris 79, pp. 41-47.

Tremblay, Jean-Paul. Napoléon Aubin. Montréal: Éditions Fides, 1972.


Jean‑Louis Trudel is both apart‑time writer and an astronomer in training, presently based in Toronto. He has been involved with the francophone science fiction community since 1984, has published several stories, translations, reviews, and serials, and is a dedicated collector of old science fiction works from French-speaking Canada. This review of francophone science fiction's history in Canada was originally written for a new edition of the NCF Guide. It drew on the many notes compiled for an exhibit of many of the actual books cited herein, which was held at the University of Ottawa's Morisset Library in 1989, in conjunction with the Boréal 11 convention. This is its first publication.

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Northern Lights: Canadian Achievements in SF

Robert J. Sawyer's column, "Northern Lights", will no longer be appearing in SOL RISING. Northern Lights, a summary of Canadian achievements in SF, is now published as a pamphlet by Who's That Coeurl? Press and is distributed as a supplement to The Bakka Bookie Sheet, the catalogue of upcoming and available books from Bakka: The Science Fiction Bookstore, where it will reach a much wider audience. One issue has been published to date. If you have not already received a copy of this important newsletter, please contact Bakka at 282 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario, M5V 2A1, (416) 596-8161, or Robert J. Sawyer at 300 Finch West, Suite 301, Willowdale, Ontario, M2R 1N1.


To ensure that you receive future issues of Northern Lights, please ask Bakka to put you on their mailing list for the Bookie Sheet.


We are currently discussing other projects with Robert and hope to present them to you in the near future.

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Space Age Humour

By John Robert Columbo


Marshall Mcluhan once said that humour is no laughing matter. His theory was that humour is serious business because behind every joke there lurks a grievance.


Whether McLuhan is right or wrong is beside the point. Indeed, the media theorist once said, "I'd rather be wrong" He regarded all his formulations as "probes," not "propositions."


Anyway, here are some jokes and anecdotes from the Space Age that should amuse science fiction fans. They would have delighted McLuhan.



Sir John Herschel and William Randolph Hearst


An amusing story is told about Sir John Herschel, the distinguished astronomer, who during the latter half of the 19th century was recognized to be the world's leading authority on the planets and the stars. He operated out of his private observatory at the Cape of Good Hope where he had a clear view of the heavens.


One day Sir John was surprised to receive a cable from the American newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst. The message read: "Sir John Herschel, Astronomical Observatory, Cape of Good Hope, South Africa: Interested in the Red Planet Mars. Will pay ten dollars per word for answer to following question: "What is known about life on Mars?" Cable collect immediately 900 words. Hearst Features Syndicate, New York City."


Sir John was delighted. After all, $9,000 was a lot of money for 900 words. He could devote the windfall to further the cause of his scientific research.


Forthwith the astronomer drafted his reply. He instructed the cable operator to send the following message, collect: "Nothing is known. Nothing is known..." The message was repeated 300 times.


William Randolph Hearst's reaction is not recorded, but Sir John had made his point. At that time nothing was known with scientific certainty about life on the Red Planet Mars.



Leo Szilard and Enrico Fermi


The following story is told about Leo Szilard, the Hungarian-born U.S. physicist. Szilard was one of the atomic scientists who persuaded Albert Einstein to sign the famous letter to U.S. President Roosevelt that urged all-out action on the development of the atomic bomb.


On one occasion Szilard was discussing with his Italian colleague Enrico Fermi the possibility of the existence of intelligent life in the cosmos. Fermi held forth on the vastness of the universe, the likelihood that stars other than the sun would have planetary systems, the aeons of time that would enable life to emerge on some of these planets and the probability that intelligent beings not only would exist elsewhere in the universe but would also be capable of travelling to our own earth.


"If all this has been happening," concluded Fermi, "how is it that they have not arrived? Where are they?"


"They are already among us," replied Szilard, "but they call themselves Hangarians. "


John Robert Colombo, a science fiction fan since reading Judith Merril's Shot in the Dark (1950), is the editor of The Dictionary of Canadian Quotations (Stoddart).

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A Short Sharp Shock

Review by Candas Jane Dorsey


A Short Sharp Shock

Kim Stanley Robinson

Mark V. Ziesing 1990

hc 147 pp, trade $18.00, limited edition $45.00


I have awakened in the early morning, which is not my wont, from a dream I hardly remember, to lie in the darkness until the soft question of a cat convinced me that I would not sleep again. There is something about the texture of being awake at such a strange time that reminded me of the grainy, vivid, astonishing images of A Short, Sharp Shock, Kim Stanley Robinson's short novel of dreams.


I have a strange relationship to the word "astonished". When I was quite young, I read a novel in the first person about a child of about my age who, studying French in Scotland, was given Daudet's "Letters From My Windmill" to read. The first line, "The rabbits were astonished", opened a door for her to the dizzying possibilities of writing about what was real. Everything before had been about myths, history, or important people. Here were astonished rabbits. I did, years later, look at a copy of Daudet in translation. The rabbits sat in a semicircle around the door, it is true, but they were not her magic rabbits. Someone else had translated them. By then, however, their astonishment had defined the word in my mind.


Astonishment is the word I find to describe the state of mind with which I always emerge from A Short, Sharp Shock. It is a feeling like sandpapering my fingertips, only in the mind. The strange events and visions of the book are like dreams, with their internal logic intact, though that logic might unravel scrutinised against the waking world. Yet behind the dreams there is still another consistency, one of mood and temperament and a layer of meaning which transcends logic.


Consider this one excerpt:


"He said to the swimmer, 'Were you ever the queen of an ancient kingdom?'


"'Yes,' she muttered sleepily. 'And l still am.'


"But this, he supposed, was another of their misunderstandings. Thel had first noticed this phenomenon when he had seen a windhover, hunting over the meadows inland. 'Look,' he had said, 'a kestrel.' But the swimmer had thought him crazy for pointing into the sky, for that to her was the name of a kind of fish. And later he found that when he said loyalty she understood it to mean stubbornness, and when she said arbitrary she meant beautiful, and that when she said melancholy she did not mean that sadness we enjoy feeling, but rather mendacity; and when she said actually she meant currently; and when he said `I love you", she thought he was saying "I will leave you." They had worked up quite a list of these false cognates, Thel could recite scores and scores of them, and he had come to understand that they did not share a language so much as the illusion of a language; they spoke strong idiolects, and lived in worlds of meaning distinct and isolated from each other. So that she no doubt understood queen of an ancient kingdom to mean something like a swimmer in the deep sea; and the mystery of the ancient alloy coin was never explained, and, he realized, never would be. It gave him a shiver of fear, thinking about it — it seemed to him that nothing would ever be explained, and that all of a sudden each day was slipping away, that time was flying by and they were getting old and nothing would ever come clear. He sat on the beach watching the clouds tumble overhead and letting handfuls of sand run through his fingers, the little clear grains of quartz, flecks of black mica, pieces of coral, shell fragments like small bits of hard ceramic, and he saw that a substantial portion of the sand was made of shells, that living things had laboured all their lives to create ceramic shelters, homes, the most permanent parts of themselves; which had then been pummelled into shards just big enough to see, millions upon millions of lives ground up and strewn under him, the beach made out of the wreckage of generations. And before long he and the swimmer too would become no more than sand on a beach; and they would never really have understood anything."


I read the whole chapter of which that passage is half to every writing class I teach, these days, and I never tire of it. To read it as I type it, as predawn light is beginning to alleviate night, is to shiver again with the layers of meaning, the irony, the brilliance and the mystery.


The "plot" of the book is simple: two people, the swimmer and the nameless man who is later called Thel, are washed up amnesiac on a beach in a strange world. The world is all water but a narrow ring of land, "the peninsula", which circles its middle like finger and thumb might join around the equator of an orange (the simile in the text: I say a plum because my hands are smaller and the girdling digits must almost meet). She is abducted by one group of people and he follows them along the narrow high spine of the land, rescues her, and they continue circumnavigating. There is only one path, it does not deviate because it cannot, and they follow it until they come to a beginning, perhaps the same beginning that we read.


On the way they have adventures, discover each other, change, transform ... you know. A journey.


But it is a journey through a dream world: strange; sometimes beautiful, sometimes ugly, sometimes both; layered with narrative, insight and confusion. The effusive end papers of the Mark V. Ziesing edition dust jacket call it "surreal" and I suppose it is that too, if "surreal" really means "on top of the real". Because there are continual glimpses through the veil, and each reveals something so familiar it aches, yet so tantalisingly distant that the heart aches to have lost it.


Thel and the swimmer have lost their memories, their worlds; and the world they are in is different than the ones they came from. Then to find they are in different worlds because they speak different identical languages is a further separation. Through it they love each other, a loyalty which transcends memory. Through it they seek the same kind of understanding though it may have different cognates. And through it all their struggles and rewards (and there are rewards) are rendered in a language so rich, so multiplex, that it frightens my writing students and astonishes me. Every time I read it.


I am not afraid to frighten them. I am reminded of what my father said when he taught me to use carpenter's tools, each one of which was introduced with a horror story about the dire possibilities inherent in misuse. I complained that he was frightening me. "I want you to be scared," he said. "I want you to remember every time you pick them up what using them carelessly can do." As writers, we use powerful and dangerous tools; metaphor, allegory, irony, paradox. We have a responsibility to know how deep they can cut.


And I am not shy of admitting that Kim Stanley Robinson astonishes me: with his diversity as a writer, his depth, and all that, but specifically and most certainly with this book, which represents for me the fictive dream into which each writer must have the courage to plunge, amnesiac but brave, looking for meaning and memory and insight, even if the process is dangerous and the result mysterious and strange.

Candas Jane Dorsey is a Canadian writer, currently living in Edmonton. She is a member of SF Canada and has published a collection of short stories, Machine Sex, co-edited Tesseracts3, co-authored a novel, Hardwired Angels. She is currently working on a novel.

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Letter to the Editor

I was fascinated by John Robert Colombo's article "UFOs Over Canada" in the May 1991 issue of SOL RISING. As I read Kamala Bhatia's description of what she saw in the Hamilton sky in September 1989, I felt a shock of recognition. I realized that I had seen what she saw.


In 1989, I was living in Burlington and taking the GO train to and from my job at TPL. I remember clearly the September evening in question, although I did not record the date. The train pulled into the Burlington station at 7 pm. The rain had just stopped. It was twilight, almost dark. As I stepped off the train I saw an amazing sight in the northwest sky against the escarpment. It was just as Ms. Bhatia described: "a large platter of light" with a "steady bright glow" making no noise at all. It was low in the sky, perhaps a kilometre away.


On first glance, it did look like a UFO. It quickly became apparent, however, that it was a blimp!

Everyone who got off that train saw it. It literally took one's breath away. People who had sat on the train, side by side, day after day, without speaking to each other were moved to comment on it. I went straight home and told my husband about this unusual spectacle.


I would love to see a UFO - but I'm still looking!


Nancy Krygsman

Assistant Chief Librarian Resource Support

Toronto Public Library

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Library News

By Lorna Toolis, Head of Collection


Good-Bye to All of That ‑ Joan Flavell Retires From the Merril Collection


The major event taking place at the Merril Collection this winter is the retirement of Joan Flavell in December. Joan has worked for the Collection as a Senior Library Assistant twice, once in 1987, while her regularly assigned branch was closed for renovations, and then again in 1990-1991.


It is necessary to understand that Joan was not born to fandom; her interests run more to gardening and baking. For the last 18 months Joan has heroically dealt with materials whose editors felt that any numbering system would be mundane (fanzines), materials that had inconsistent numbering (pulps), and materials that have disappeared, never to be seen again, from the circulating collection.


When Joan first came to the Merril Collection, there was an urgent need to interfile the card catalogue, which at that time was filed separately by entry point. In effect, there were six card catalogues that needed to be interfiled.


This was a thankless task, requiring a comprehensive knowledge of an extremely complicated filing system and inhuman patience. However, Joan filed and interfiled and did the entire unlovely job in less time than seemed possible, leaving the Collection only when her newly renovated branch re-opened.


On her second sojourn at the Merril Collection, Joan was responsible for the circulating collection and for the periodicals, fanzines, pulps and their conservation. Without the understanding of "the pulps", that comes from having read them since childhood, responsibility for putting them into some kind of good order can be a dismaying ordeal. However, Joan tackled the project with her customary good nature, not to mention her dry sense of humour.


Originally, back when Joan started at the Merril Collection, the pulps were put in the back room to protect them. There they sat on the shelves, taking their chances with dust and any other kind of accident that could happen. Rectifying the situation had been on the project list for a good long time, but back room problems are always difficult to get to, as staff are mainly required in the Reference Room.


In the relatively brief time Joan spent with us, she put the entire periodical/pulp collection, over 5,000 issues, into acid-free, mylar bags, then placed the bagged pulps in acid-free boxes. In typically obsessive library behaviour, the boxes were then labelled with acid-free labels.


There is no comparison between the painfully neat, orderly, almost intimidated back room that had resulted from Joan's time with the Merril Collection and what was there before. Staff and patrons of the Collection owe Joan a vote of thanks.


Joan's retirement gift from the Friends was a garden fork, absolutely guaranteed against bending. Joan's retirement gift from the staff of the building was a four-month old kitten, now called Tigger. Joan brought Tigger to the farewell party TPL held in her honour. Tigger proved to be a feline of remarkable aplomb, curling into Nancy Krygsman's arms and only occasionally shifting, so that the people attending the party could admire his other side.


We will all still see Joan at functions where the Friends gather. Ask her about the pulp publisher who got his volume and issue numbers mixed up and see what she says, now that she is a free woman.

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Building News

Actually, there is no building news, and we're not sure if that is good news or bad news. After the flurry of activity a year ago, everything has quietened down while the Library Board and Toronto City Council await a date for the hearing before the Ontario Municipal Board. At this time we still have no idea as to when the hearing might take place.


In the meantime, Toronto City Council is continuing to try to find ways in which to slash its operating budget, including cutting back on increases to the budget of the Library Board. We are told that City Council is still fully behind the building project, but we continue to keep our fingers crossed that the money from the city will be available when needed.

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“Captain” George Henderson

George Henderson, better known as Captain George to all and sundry, passed away in Toronto Western Hospital on February 10 of this year. He was 62.


George has been described as the godfather of fandom in Toronto, if not all of Canada. Over the years, directly or indirectly, he was a moving force behind numerous events that made life more bearable for fans of science fiction, fantasy, comics, movies and other good things.


George was an interesting character. Part showman, part recluse, he could be irascible one day, friendly and generous the next. He talked little of his past, even to those who visited him often.


The facts of his life appear to be that he was born in Stratford, Ontario to Salvation Army parents and grew up in Montreal. A widower since 18 (both his wife and child lost in childbirth), he trained as a parachutist in the army and served for 12 years in Germany, Korea, and Indochina. When he left military service he worked as a trucker and carnival stuntman, but wound up writing softcore sex novels (at $700 per book).


Frustrated by a dead end writing career, George moved to Toronto in the mid 1960s, where he opened the Viking Books store in what was then a rundown area of Queen Street. As a bookseller George specialized in what he himself treasured: old comic books. Big Little Books, pulps, movie magazines, and other pop culture ephemera. It was here that he played founding father and host to OSFiC (the Ontario Science Fiction Club).


By the time he relocated to his famous Memory Lane store on Markham Street in 1967, George had turned his love of the fantastic and the nostalgic into a mini empire. He adopted the title Captain in homage to a famous 1920s humour magazine titled Captain Billy's Whizbang. He soon began issuing a slew of his own publications, including The New Captain George's Whizzbang, Captain George's Comic World, Captain George Presents and a long-running weekly magazine titled Captain George's Penny Dreadful. Topics ranged from old movie serials, comics, science fiction, fantasy and pulp literature, to reviews of current books, movies and television.


It was through these publications that a small group of Toronto enthusiasts (known as the Vast Whizzbang Organization) was able to communicate regularly with like-minded people in a surprising variety of places throughout the globe.


In its heyday, Memory Lane buzzed with innovation. George's high profile as pop culture commentator led to appearances in various broadcasting and print mediums. His love for the visual prompted him to host a series of vintage movies at the Poor Alex theatre. Later he established the world's first comic art gallery. The Whizzbang Gallery was located on Markham Street a few doors down from Memory Lane; it displayed and sold original comic art in a dignified professional setting. In 1968 Markham Street also hosted the first of George's Triple Fan Fairs, a multi-media street convention with guests Roger Zelazny and Stan Lee. Later Triple Fan Fairs drew such guests as Isaac Asimov, Ron Goulart, Anne McCaffrey, and Kirk "Superman" Alyn.


But Captain George's ventures were not all smooth sailing. In 1971 King Features Syndicate obtained an injunction against him for copyright infringements. It seems he thought that certain comic strips were out of copyright, and had reprinted them without permission. He was wrong. George was forced to pay damages of almost $4,000 and to cease publication of Captain George Presents. In addition, all back issues of the offending publication were destroyed. With the help of friends, George managed to overcome his financial problems and, under the editorship of Peter Harris, the Penny Dreadful continued publication for another decade. For George, however, I suspect that some of the fun and innovation had gone out of Memory Lane. In later years he seemed to bury himself behind the store counter, a solitary figure, watching an endless stream of old movies on video tape.


And now he is gone, With due respect to its new owners, a lot of us really miss the old Memory Lane ‑ Captain George's richly cluttered, mind-boggling emporium of lost treasures.


And we miss the quiet man behind the counter.


‑ Don Hutchison

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© 2000 Friends of the Merril Collection