Ursula Pflug's Reviews > Tesseracts Nine: New Canadian Speculative Fiction

Tesseracts Nine by Nalo Hopkinson
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The following review appeared in The Peterbrough Examiner in December, 2005. It was reprinted in The New York Revioew of Science Fiction in January, 2006. One of the things I like about GoodReads is it provides a second or third home for my reviews. They're quite time consuming to enter, though, and I have a feeling I might not get to them all.

Tesseracts Nine, edited by Nalo Hopkinson and Geoff Ryman
Calgary: Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy, 2005; C$20.95 tpb; 390 pages
reviewed by Ursula Pflug

957 words

Tesseracts is the more or less biannual Canadian anthology of speculative fiction. The first Tesseracts anthology was edited in 1985 by Judith Merril, the iconoclastic American expat writer and editor who took up residence in Toronto in the late ’60s, along with her enormous collection of sf books, and now has a library named after her.

Which brings us to Tesseracts Nine. The publisher, Tesseract Books has recently been purchased by Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy. Each volume, two Canadian editors perform the task of selection from hundreds of submitted stories, and, as editorial taste is subjective and personal, each Tesseracts volume has a slightly different flavour. I looked forward to this volume, as Nalo Hopkinson and Geoff Ryman are two of my favourite writers of Canadian sf, if indeed such a thing exists; they set out to prove it does not.

Are Canadians still struggling with an inferiority complex, due to the behemoth south of us? Are we still trying to prove we’re just as good? Hopkinson, author of Midnight Robber and the IMPAC/Dublin nominated The Salt Roads, and Ryman, author of Air and The Unconquered Country, are themselves proof that no such fears need exist. As is this entire volume.

This is a hefty Tesseracts: there are 23 stories and poems, some translated from the French. It’s a little-recognized fact that we have a healthy community of speculative writers publishing in French, many of whom see publication in France as well as Quebec long before their work is translated for Anglo-Canadian and American audiences. A selection from these: space colonization hasn’t been among my favourite sub genres since I was eleven, yet René Beaulieu’s “Mirrors” is a fresh (and squeamish-making) take on hard choices made in the name of survival. Élisabeth Vonarburg’s “See Kathryn Run” (reminiscent in both theme and title to the German film Run Lola Run) is as challenging, enigmatic, and multi-layered as Vonarburg’s novels, a toothsome combo to this reviewer. Yves Meynard’s “Principles of Animal Eugenetics” is skilfully written, hilarious and sickening by turns.

Which brings us back to subjectivity: the reviewer has personal predilections as much as the editor. My favourites beyond the three mentioned above include Nancy Kilpatrick’s acutely empathetic and insightful Montreal story, “Our Lady Of The Snows,” about a poverty-bound, solitary pensioner and her discovery of transformative magic by way of a Madonna statue; Peter Watts and Derryl Murphy’s “Mayfly,” about a little girl whose artificially enhanced mind won’t fit into her body and the grief that ensues; Candas Jane Dorsey’s “Mom and Mother Theresa,” a humorous tale about the perils and rewards of opening one’s doors to the less fortunate; and Alette J. Willis’s “Thought and Memory,” about two crows who help an ex-urbanite move on from the death of her lover. Pat Forde’s “Omphalos” is a long, complicated, ambitious and ultimately successful tale about the power of media in shaping current global conflicts, and is spooky in its astute analysis of how television news audiences are being manipulated at every turn.
A second read could compel me to choose different favourites. Tim Anderson’s “Newbie Wrangler” takes on not just the nature of the afterlife but the struggles of relief workers via a dreamlike weave between many states. Sarah Totton’s “Jimmy Away to Me” is satisfyingly creepy, about two college students who access another realm they love more than this one, and the beauties and dangers inherent in such an exploration. Its mood of Yeatsian Celtic twilight took me right back to the childhood summer my sister and I fought over Alan Garner’s The Owl Service. And the difficulty of teaching the scientific method to talking lemmings is irresistibly told, in Jerome Stueart’s “Lemmings In The Third Year.”

The volume is about evenly divided between fantasy or magic realism and science fiction, There are several stories taking place on the human/divine interface. Some of the divinities who appear or are mentioned or whose interjection in human affairs is felt are Trismegistus, Mary, God, Odin, Anubis (Anpu) and La Sirene. And of the SF tales, only three take place partially off-world. We’ve turned from space exploration to the exploration of metaphysical spaces, it seems.

As to the poetry: even those who haven’t walked British Columbia ocean beaches will feel as if they had after reading Rhea Rose Fleming’s lyric “Mermaid,” which begins with the delicious line: today I walked on the roof of the mouth of the sea. Sandra Kasturi’s “Carnaval Perpetuel,” is an allusion filled poem you could set to music, perhaps by the Dresden Dolls. Jason Mehmel’s tripartite “The Fugue Phantasmagorical” isn’t wholly successful; yet its insistence on staying with me tells me something more. It begs revision, a more finely tuned language bolstering content; just now this appears in some lines but not others. The thrice-blessed author of the alchemical Emerald Tablet was deity of both writing and magic for a reason: they are linked.

Hopkinson in “Final Thoughts” does, for those who might have missed it before, list the tropes that...make us us: stories that privilege community over individual heroics; stories about open space(s), alienation, isolation, and so forth. But what she found, reading for this volume, was something we are not known for as writers, but are famous for nonetheless, that being humour. Canada exports comedians as everyone knows; “Humour,” Hopkinson says, “can humanize like nothing else, except perhaps death.” And humour is indeed the predominant mood of Tess 9.

I’d go so far as to say it’s because of the big open spaces, the alienation, the isolation, the cold, the nagging fear of being swallowed by a pachyderm to the south. We’re funny because we have to be. Humour requires humility and lack of self-importance; humour humanizes, and it heals.






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Ursula Pflug This review appeared previously in The Peterborough Examiner and The New York Review of Science Fiction.




Tesseracts Nine, edited by Nalo Hopkinson and Geoff Ryman
Calgary: Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy, 2005; C$20.95 tpb; 390 pages
reviewed by Ursula Pflug

957 words

Tesseracts is the more or less biannual Canadian anthology of speculative fiction. The first Tesseracts anthology was edited in 1985 by Judith Merril, the iconoclastic American expat writer and editor who took up residence in Toronto in the late ’60s, along with her enormous collection of sf books, and now has a library named after her.

Which brings us to Tesseracts Nine. The publisher, Tesseract Books has recently been purchased by Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy. Each volume, two Canadian editors perform the task of selection from hundreds of submitted stories, and, as editorial taste is subjective and personal, each Tesseracts volume has a slightly different flavour. I looked forward to this volume, as Nalo Hopkinson and Geoff Ryman are two of my favourite writers of Canadian sf, if indeed such a thing exists; they set out to prove it does not.

Are Canadians still struggling with an inferiority complex, due to the behemoth south of us? Are we still trying to prove we’re just as good? Hopkinson, author of Midnight Robber and the IMPAC/Dublin nominated The Salt Roads, and Ryman, author of Air and The Unconquered Country, are themselves proof that no such fears need exist. As is this entire volume.

This is a hefty Tesseracts: there are 23 stories and poems, some translated from the French. It’s a little-recognized fact that we have a healthy community of speculative writers publishing in French, many of whom see publication in France as well as Quebec long before their work is translated for Anglo-Canadian and American audiences. A selection from these: space colonization hasn’t been among my favourite sub genres since I was eleven, yet René Beaulieu’s “Mirrors” is a fresh (and squeamish-making) take on hard choices made in the name of survival. Élisabeth Vonarburg’s “See Kathryn Run” (reminiscent in both theme and title to the German film Run Lola Run) is as challenging, enigmatic, and multi-layered as Vonarburg’s novels, a toothsome combo to this reviewer. Yves Meynard’s “Principles of Animal Eugenetics” is skilfully written, hilarious and sickening by turns.

Which brings us back to subjectivity: the reviewer has personal predilections as much as the editor. My favourites beyond the three mentioned above include Nancy Kilpatrick’s acutely empathetic and insightful Montreal story, “Our Lady Of The Snows,” about a poverty-bound, solitary pensioner and her discovery of transformative magic by way of a Madonna statue; Peter Watts and Derryl Murphy’s “Mayfly,” about a little girl whose artificially enhanced mind won’t fit into her body and the grief that ensues; Candas Jane Dorsey’s “Mom and Mother Theresa,” a humorous tale about the perils and rewards of opening one’s doors to the less fortunate; and Alette J. Willis’s “Thought and Memory,” about two crows who help an ex-urbanite move on from the death of her lover. Pat Forde’s “Omphalos” is a long, complicated, ambitious and ultimately successful tale about the power of media in shaping current global conflicts, and is spooky in its astute analysis of how television news audiences are being manipulated at every turn.
A second read could compel me to choose different favourites. Tim Anderson’s “Newbie Wrangler” takes on not just the nature of the afterlife but the struggles of relief workers via a dreamlike weave between many states. Sarah Totton’s “Jimmy Away to Me” is satisfyingly creepy, about two college students who access another realm they love more than this one, and the beauties and dangers inherent in such an exploration. Its mood of Yeatsian Celtic twilight took me right back to the childhood summer my sister and I fought over Alan Garner’s The Owl Service. And the difficulty of teaching the scientific method to talking lemmings is irresistibly told, in Jerome Stueart’s “Lemmings In The Third Year.”

The volume is about evenly divided between fantasy or magic realism and science fiction, There are several stories taking place on the human/divine interface. Some of the divinities who appear or are mentioned or whose interjection in human affairs is felt are Trismegistus, Mary, God, Odin, Anubis (Anpu) and La Sirene. And of the SF tales, only three take place partially off-world. We’ve turned from space exploration to the exploration of metaphysical spaces, it seems.

As to the poetry: even those who haven’t walked British Columbia ocean beaches will feel as if they had after reading Rhea Rose Fleming’s lyric “Mermaid,” which begins with the delicious line: today I walked on the roof of the mouth of the sea. Sandra Kasturi’s “Carnaval Perpetuel,” is an allusion filled poem you could set to music, perhaps by the Dresden Dolls. Jason Mehmel’s tripartite “The Fugue Phantasmagorical” isn’t wholly successful; yet its insistence on staying with me tells me something more. It begs revision, a more finely tuned language bolstering content; just now this appears in some lines but not others. The thrice-blessed author of the alchemical Emerald Tablet was deity of both writing and magic for a reason: they are linked.

Hopkinson in “Final Thoughts” does, for those who might have missed it before, list the tropes that...make us us: stories that privilege community over individual heroics; stories about open space(s), alienation, isolation, and so forth. But what she found, reading for this volume, was something we are not known for as writers, but are famous for nonetheless, that being humour. Canada exports comedians as everyone knows; “Humour,” Hopkinson says, “can humanize like nothing else, except perhaps death.” And humour is indeed the predominant mood of Tess 9.

I’d go so far as to say it’s because of the big open spaces, the alienation, the isolation, the cold, the nagging fear of being swallowed by a pachyderm to the south. We’re funny because we have to be. Humour requires humility and lack of self-importance; humour humanizes, and it heals.









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