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Finding Creatures and Other Stories, C. June Wolf, Wattle and Daub Books, 2008, 236 pp.

The Storyteller and Other Tales, K.V. Johansen, Sybertooth, 2008, 106 pp.

I’d like to take a look at two recent short story collections, Finding Creatures and Other Stories and The Storyteller and Other Tales. Both are by Canadian authors, and are published by small Canadian presses (see more detail below). I feel like it’s been a while since I’ve checked in with the work being done by Canadian author and publishing outfits, so this was an interesting return for me. The short version: the work looks very good indeed.

Finding Creatures is a collection of 15 stories by Wolf and has an insightful introduction by Charles de Lint. The 15 stories make for a mix of the artsy with some respectable hard SF that I wasn’t expecting from a collection like this. No offence meant to small press short stories, but I don’t see a lot of hardcore science-fictional speculation from them.

The artsy side of the collection is represented by stories like “Claude and the Henry Moores,” the opening story (I’ll talk about this story in more detail in just a moment), and the title story which is about imaginary creatures and loneliness.

I liked these stories a great deal. In particular, Wolf does a good job with endings. Since we get a lot of detail about the internal life of the characters, the structure that leads to the ending is most often an epiphany, a moment where all those internal musings or developments come together in a rush, like a plateau before the next ascent begins. Not an “I feel ripped off” artsy ending, but an artsy ending that the story is nicely tailored for.

I’ll use the Henry Moore story that opens the collection as an example. Claude works as a security guard at the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto), and he becomes fascinated with the Henry Moore sculptures on display in the gallery. Then entranced, then possessed with an incredible connection with the personality of each sculpture, then convinced that there is an entity trapped within each sculpture. The writing is very moving, and the “freeing” of the AGO sculptures is a memorable sequence. That could be the ending, but in the last few paragraphs, Claude realizes there are Henry Moores across the whole world. It’s both closure and grand reveal of new vistas for the protagonist. Neatly played.

I don’t want to give away the endings of any of the other stories in the collection; rest assured that they are just as craftily constructed.

Of the stories with a more science-fictional nature, I’ll mention “Thunderbirds” and “Equals.” The first is an unusual first contact story, between Norman the human, living by himself in the woods, and Chitta the alien, who crashes nearby. Again, the story works toward an epiphany, but the alien details along the way are suitably convincing. The second story is about a research mission on an alien world named Lorin4. I was reminded of Robert Charles Wilson’s Bios in Wolf’s careful attention to biological details.

The longer stories in the collection – “Thunderbirds,” “Finding Creatures,” “Miss Lonelygenes,” “The MagniCharisma Machine,” “Equals,” and “Kouzen Zaka” – are generally better than the shorter ones, but all told, the reading is very rewarding.

On to The Storyteller and Other Tales. I didn’t get as much of a grasp of Johansen’s style, since The Storyteller only has four stories in it. All are based on historical moments (or our stories of those moments, appropriately enough considering the title), but the styles vary. Each story has a motif illustration by Johansen herself.

The title story is about a character named Ulfleif, a royal girl in a remote kingdom, and two visitors, Moth and Mikki, storyteller and warrior respectively. The storyteller begins a familiar tale about seven demons who were bound into earthly prisons a long time ago, but the story takes a turn that brings the events right into the building with them. It feels like a piece of a longer story, but it works very well.

The next story, "He-Redeems," is about 3 slaves living in the palace of the Lady, and reminded me a great deal of Eileen Kernaghan's Winter on the Plain of Ghosts. One of the slaves is accused of heresy, and the title character, who is impossibly naive, gets his eyes opened in a painful way. A journey into apostasy, but rather baldly stated.

"The Inexorable Tide" is a serviceable bit of Arthuriana, told through the eyes of Nimiane, daughter of Merlin. The emphasis is on how Arthur's wanderings and distant battles are a form of desertion for those back home. Nimiane and Mordred and Guenevere get up to all the familiar troubles, but there's a reason for their actions in the absence of the king. Nimiane manages a happy ending for herself, but the moment of Arthurian glory is brief, as it always is.

“a.d. cmxci” (AD 991 for those of us who have trouble deciphering Roman numerals) is a short piece, riffing off of an old epic poem. It feels like a bit of academia, rather than a finished story.

Both books are published by small presses here in Canada. Wattle and Daub is a west coast outfit, putting out a handful of books each year. Finding Creatures and Other Stories is a nice edition, so they’ve done good work so far. Sybertooth is a little harder to figure out: they’re on the east coast, and have published a lot of Canadian humour. I hadn’t run across Donald Jack’s Bandy books in years and years, so I’m glad to see that someone is keeping that series in print. They’ve also published a number of genre works by Johansen and other writers.

Wolf was recently interviewed over at Strange Horizons and talked about Canadian SF and fantasy (among other interesting topics).

I feel a bit like this is a sequel to my earlier piece, The Latest in Canadian SF, from 2007. The venerable Tesseracts series, collecting Canadian fantasy and science fiction short stories since 1985, is now at number 13, with a fourteenth volume set for release in 2010. Canadian authors have been doing very well for themselves – Robert J. Sawyer’s Flashforward is now a TV series on ABC, Karl Schroeder’s Virga series is now at 4 volumes, and much, much more. I’m looking forward to something new from Nalo Hopkinson, and of the books on my shelf, Robert Charles Wilson’s latest, Julian Comstock, is the one I’d most like to read. And I’m glad to see that small presses like Wattle and Daub, Sybertooth, and Edge are fighting the good fight.

Last modified: February 20, 2010

Copyright © 2010 by James Schellenberg

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