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
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
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 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 QuébecCity. 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 QuébecCity, 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,
ismost 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
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 rebornNew 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, QuébecCity 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
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. Ittells 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),byUbald 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
In 1931, La Fin de la Terre
(The End of the Earth), byEmmanuel 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,7Lipha: 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 1941and 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
An era endedwith 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
1989as 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
1989CASPER for best book in French—and later by
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 YoknapatawphaCounty, 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, describesa 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
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
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
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
After 1974, books with a more audacious outlook and a more mature
style appeared, such as La
manufacture de machines (1976) (The
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 havealready started joining the milieu.
The future seems bright.
Gouanvic, "La SFQ dans son histoire: quelques remarques rétrospectives
et prospectives", imagine... 49,
Tremblay, Napoléon Aubin (Montréal:
Éditions Fides, 1972), pp. 7-14.
"Mon Voyage à la lune", imagine
...8-9, pp. 26-45.
"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.
"Eutopia", Dictionnaire des
uvres littéraires du Québec, Tome 3, 1978, p. 35.
"Historique de la SFQ", Solaris
79, p. 41.
"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.
"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,
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.
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.
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.
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
Anyway, here are some jokes and anecdotes from the
Space Age that should amuse science fiction fans. They would have delighted
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
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
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).
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
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
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
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 ... youknow. 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
a novel, Hardwired Angels. She is
currently working on a novel.
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 .
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!
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
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.
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.
George Henderson, better known as Captain George to
all and sundry, passed away in TorontoWesternHospital 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"
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.