Ark of Ice:
Canadian Future Fiction

by Choyce,
ISBN: 0919001734

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Canadian Specific
by Eric McCormack

WHO ISN'T aware of Margaret Atwood's famous incursion into the not very respectable realm of speculative fiction -The Handniaid's Tale? But who'd ever have suspected so many other prominent mainstream writers - Timothy Findley, W. P. Kinsella, Katherine Govier, for instance - of dabbling there? Ark of Ice, an anthology of Canadian speculative fiction, blows the whistle. That's not the only surprise: this entire collection is itself a delightful surprise, particularly for those (like myself) who've never been much in love with the genre, and never knew there was such a substantial body of "Canadian" SF around. Many of the 22 stories cot, lected here - and not just those by the big names - are very good to read; only a few of them are even the slightest bit preachy; not a single one depends on a gizmo ex machina for its effect.

Lesley Choyce (what an advantage for an editor to have that surname) tells us in the introduction that his criterion for selection was "...a simple matter of time frame and political geography. I was looking for answers to my vague question: what might happen when tomorrow swallows up this country of Canada?" Of the four categories in which he has arranged his selections, the first deals with ethical problems that may arrive with that "tomorrow." Especially noteworthy here are Andrew Weiner's "The Letter," an ironic speculation on what time travel might do to the stockmarket; and Phyllis Gotlieb's "The Newest Profession," which depicts the lot of human females serving as surrogate mothers for various alien monsters.

Another group of stories is gathered under the heading "The Art of Escape." Here, Tom Marshall's "Scenes from Successive Futures" is a metaphysical stunner. It concludes with a chilling question for its readers: "...can you be absolutely certain what kind of reality it is, which of the many many possible worlds or dreams Mind has dreamed or will dream, you yourself inhabit?" Also in this section, the suggestive transformations in Katherine Govier's much anthologized "The Immaculate Conception Photography Gallery" and Candas Jane Dorsey's "Living in Cities" are enticing. I'd like especially to mention Jean-Louis Trudel's "The Falafel Is Better in Ottawa." This is Trudel's first story in English; it reminded me, in its ingenuity and wit, of one of Stanislaw Lem's subtle parables.

Another group of stories is gathered under the heading "Eco/Logical." Douglas Fetherling's "Memoirs of the Renaissance" optimistically imagines how art might begin to develop again among Apocalypse-survivors who will no longer "prefer technology to teaming." No such optimism tempers the horrific circumstances of Eileen Kernaghan's "The Weighmaster of Flood" or Geoffrey Ursell's "Greenhouse." But the biggest surprise in this section is Timothy Findley's "What Mrs Felton Knew," from Dinner along the Amazon. I haven't read that collection since its publication in 1984, and I would have sworn there was no speculative fiction in it. But, yes, indeed there was, here it is - and it's a gem. Finally, Ark of Ice considers "Politics" -a profession that doesn't seem to have improved much in the future (note the chronological collision of verb and noun!). An excerpt from The Handmaid's Tale and two bitterly incisive stories by Spider Robinson and Choyce himself will make readers squirm. I was particularly interested in the inclusion here of W. P. Kinsella's "The Changing Times." This is, apparently, the first story he ever published. It's set in 3000 AD (baseball will probably be extinct by then, I permit myself to hope!) and shows, ironically, that in matters political, the times don't really change much at all. Kinsella's own appraisal of the story, in a footnote, is fair enough: "...amateur as it is, I still feel it is a pretty good story from a nineteen-year-old beginner." A cold shower in the form of an essay by Judith Merril concludes Ark of Ice. She implies that speculative fiction -often labelled "escapist" by those of us who have preferred mainstream fiction deserves credit for confronting squarely the horrors that lie before us. But she is skeptical about any kind of fiction:

Perhaps the fancy-dress, the masque, of fiction now seems too frivolous: we are living in truly terrifying times, where utopias become literally inconceivable and the visibility ahead is closing down to zero .... Unless we can find and move

through or around the obstacles we have set in the paths we already know, the future will no longer be on hold; it will be out of service.

It appears that mainstream fiction, much more than speculative fiction, is the truly "escapist" genre. It clings to its comforting delusions that certain things - even unpleasant things - are "perennial," "universal," "unchanging"; it insists, "thus has it been, thus will it ever be" (or words to that effect). According to Merril, there's every likelihood "it" may not be around to pat itself on the back very much longer.


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