Tag Archives: speculative fiction

Faeries and Wendigos and Witches, Oh My!

I love reading short story collections featuring many different authors, especially the horror collections edited by Ellen Datlow. Short stories allow us to get a taste for an author’s writing style and if we enjoy their story we can look further for other books of theirs. Or if we aren’t enjoying a particular story, we can skip to the next one. Short stories are also great for delivering quick hits of suspense in just a short amount of time (you can usually finish one on a coffee break and not have to wait until your lunch break to find out what happens next). Needless to say I was very excited to hear that a collection of speculative fiction short stories was coming out, all stories written by Manitoba authors and all take place in Manitoba or are partly set in Manitoba as travelling to other realms/worlds/planes is inevitable in speculative fiction.


Image courtesy of Great Plains Publications Ltd.


The collection is titled Parallel Prairies: Stories of Manitoba Speculative Fiction and it is edited by Darren Ridgley and Adam Petrash who also contribute a story each. The 17 other authors who contributed to the collection are Chris Allinotte, Wayne Arthurson, Jonathan Ball, S.M. Beiko, Sheldon Birnie, Keith Cadieux, Jennifer Collerone, Gilles DeCruyenaere, Will J. Fawley, Chadwick Ginther, Kate Heartfield, Patrick Johanneson, Lindsay Kitson, J.M. Sinclair, David Jón Fuller, Craig Russell, and Christine Steendam. The best part of this collection is that it is has something for everyone and as each story uses the local landscape and landmarks, Manitobans are sure to be able to picture the setting perfectly and be in the know regarding certain Manitoba customs. Lest I bungle up a nice synopsis of the collection, I’ll let the book explain itself to you: “Get acquainted with baby dragons, killer insects, faery kings, infernal entities, and more; as 19 authors let the Manitoban landscape inspire weird and wondrous tales. You thought the prairies were flat, plain, and boring. You were wrong.” Does that not sound intriguing to you? As mentioned these stories feature faeries, wendigos, witches, dragons, folklore and everything in between so there should be something for everyone. Some of my personal favourites were The Comments Gaze Also Into You by David Jón Fuller which discusses cyberbullying in online message boards on news websites in a very unique way, Seven Long Years by Jennifer Collerone which follows a young woman and Wisp, a coyote, as they set out to complete a task that must be undertaken every seven years, and finally Eating of the Tree by Chadwick Ginther which explores Norse mythology in present-day Winnipeg. The other stories in this compilation are of course very good as well, but these three especially stood out for me.

If you are craving more Canadian short stories that are speculative fiction, we have a couple of collections available titled Imaginarium which may be right up your alley.

In other Canadian speculative fiction news, Margaret Atwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, Testaments, is now available to request from Winnipeg Public Library so be sure to get your requests in, as it is sure to be a popular and talked-about read!

Happy Reading!


Which way the wind is blowing

India is drowning, western Canada is burning… it’s starting to feel a little bit like a disaster movie out here.

Climate change and its effects have been on my mind this summer and not just because of the heat here in Winnipeg. On a family vacation earlier this year, we visited New Orleans for the first time and also stayed in a small beachfront Mississippi town that had been devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. I always like to read about places I travel, so I’ve been seeking out books about New Orleans; unsurprisingly, several of them cover the storm and its aftermath.

Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink is a gripping, harrowing read that takes you inside Memorial Hospital in New Orleans as the floodwaters rose, the power failed, and its exhausted staff desperately tried to keep things under control. Fink discusses just how ill-prepared we are for large-scale disasters, and writes revealingly about human nature in crisis.

The Great Deluge by Douglas Brinkley (a New Orleans resident and professor of history at Tulane University) tells the story of Katrina from every angle. He covers how and why both the local and federal infrastructure was so ill-prepared for the storm everyone knew was coming, and shows how hard it struck not only the city, but the surrounding Gulf Coast.

If fiction is more your style, check out the titles below. Some of them are speculative fiction that extrapolates what a world riven by more destructive climate forces might look like; others are literary works that show the impact of this slow-moving disaster on ordinary people today.

New York 2140
The waters rose, submerging New York City–every street became a canal, every skyscraper an island–but the residents adapted and it remained the bustling, vibrant metropolis it had always been, though changed forever.


Cli-fi: Canadian tales of climate change
These stories of climate fiction (“cli-fi”) feature perspectives by diverse Canadian writers of short fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and futurist works.

Loosed upon the world
An anthology of twenty-six short stories exploring the future of climate change and its effects on life on Earth that includes contributions from Margaret Atwood, Paolo Bacigalupi, and Kim Stanley Robinson.

South Pole station
Cooper Gosling is adrift at thirty, unmoored by a family tragedy and floundering in her career as a painter. So she applies to the National Science Foundation Artists & Writers Program and flees to Antarctica — the bottom of the Earth — where she encounters a group of misfits motivated by desires as ambiguous as her own.

The floating world
When a fragile young woman refuses to leave New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina approaches, her parents are forced to go without her, setting off a chain of events that leaves their marriage in shambles and their daughter catatonic, the victim or perpetrator of some unknown violent act.


Time to Read Speculative Fiction!

Recently the library started a podcast called Time To Read. In the first episode they chose the book Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. This book is among my top five all-time favorite books. The podcast made me laugh, it made me cry, and it made me think about why this is my favorite trilogy.

Speculative fiction is a subgenre in science fiction, and of course Margaret Atwood says it best! “I like to make a distinction between science fiction proper and speculative fiction. For me, the science fiction label belongs on books with things in them that we can’t yet do, such as going through a wormhole in space to another universe; and speculative fiction means a work that employs the means already to hand, such as DNA identification and credit cards, and that takes place on Planet Earth.” (source)

Speculative fiction makes use of dystopian, near future, and fairytales to tell their tales. Here are some of my favorites:

Oryx and Crake book coverAt the top of the list is (of course) The Maddaddam Trilogy, sometimes romance, sometimes adventure. The trilogy starts with the book Oryx and Crake. The book follows Jimmy the Snowman and a group of Crakers. We learn of Jimmy’s past through flashbacks. We learn about who he is, what the Crakers are, and what happens to Oryx and Crake. Do yourself a favor and read this book, then check out the podcast.

Never Let Me Go book coverI discovered Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro as the 2010 movie adaptation, and I fell in love. I then read the book, and while both are very well done, the book was better! They tell the story of Kathy, a caregiver and clone. Living in a boarding school, she and friends Ruth and Tommy are prepped to be donors. This is a fantastic book about the ethics and questions cloning.

The Martian book coverI read The Martian when it had just been published as an eBook on Kindle for 99 cents. This book is so scientifically accurate it is almost hard to call it speculative fiction, but I am going to include it. Mark, the unluckiest of all astronauts, encounters problem after problem after being stranded on Mars. With no real chance for escape, Mark has to find a way to stay alive and return to Earth.

Ready Player One book coverReady Player One is a dystopian novel that uses pop culture in the nerdiest of ways, and I loved every minute. I borrowed the audiobook from Overdrive, and my nerdy little heart melted just a bit more, because it was read by none other than (no shame) my high school crush, Will Wheaton! Everything is better when read by Will Wheaton.

Walkaway book coverWalkaway by Cory Doctorow is another fantastic book. Speaking of Will Wheaton, he, Amber Benson, and Amanda Palmer narrate this book. A boy meets girl story where Hubert Etc. and Natalie choose to walk away. Want to know what that means? Want to know why he is called Hubert Etc.? Read this book!

– Andrea

Canadian SF & fantasy

This weekend is not only Victoria Day, traditionally the first long weekend of the summer, but also the 34th Keycon–Manitoba’s annual science fiction & fantasy convention.

This year their Guest of Honour is Canadian author Kelley Armstrong. She’s written more than forty books: fantasy, thrillers, and horror for teen and adult readers. WPL is pleased to host her at an author talk at 2 pm today (Friday, May 19) in the Carol Shields Auditorium on the 2nd floor of Millennium Library. Come say hello to  Kelley and discover more about her fictional worlds!

If you’re interested in checking out Keycon, it takes place at the Radisson Hotel May 19 to 21. For more information on special guests, programming, and more, check out their website.

Thinking about Keycon reminded me how many great science fiction and fantasy authors are Canadian, or have strong ties to this country. Here are just a few of them:

 William Gibson–although he was born in the U.S., he’s lived in Canada since 1967– envisioned the concept of cyberspace before it even existed, in his classic debut novel Neuromancer. His work has gradually evolved into near-future stories about the influence of technology and social media on society, which are often eerily accurate. As he pointed out in 2003, “The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.”

 Silvia Moren0-Garcia is a Mexican-Canadian fantasy writer and editor whose books place unsettlingly strange events in down-to-earth settings. In her latest novel, Certain Dark Things, Mexico City is an oasis in a sea of vampires, heavily policed to keep the creatures of the night at bay.

Nalo Hopkinson is another international author–born in Jamaica, she splits her time between California and Canada. Her award-winning novel Brown Girl in the Ring is set in a post-apocalyptic Toronto.

And there are many other Canadian SF & fantasy writers to try. If you enjoy military SF, check out Tanya Huff‘s Confederation series about space marines. Guy Gavriel Kay is famous for his historical fantasy; Robert Charles Wilson‘s mind-bending science fiction often plays with timelines; and Robert Sawyer writes fast-paced, classic SF adventure.

Don’t forget one of the quintessential Canadian authors, Margaret Atwood, either! Several of her classic novels–The Handmaid’s Tale, the MaddAddam trilogy–draw heavily on speculative themes and tropes, even if she claims that she doesn’t write science fiction.

On Victoria Day, hopefully the weather will be perfect to sit out in your backyard, at the neighbourhood park, or on the beach, and crack open a refreshing Canadian read.


What’s new in Alternate History Fiction?

It has been a while since I blogged about alternate history novels and there have been quite a few great new additions to the library’s collection, challenging the reader to imagine our world if it taken divergent paths in its history.


Cover image for JudenstaatIn Judenstaatauthor Simone Zelitch imagines the consequences for the Jewish people and the rest of the world if a Jewish state had been created in central Europe, in the region of Saxony, instead of in Palestine in 1948. The story begins forty years later with a historian preparing a documentary celebrating the anniversary of Judenstaat given new evidence about the death of one if its founding fathers. Her investigation brings to light uncomfortable truths about the nation’s past. The change in the timeline brings a different Cold War, with Judenstaat building its own version of the Berlin Wall (to keep out potential “fascists”), and tackles national myths and their place in countries’ identities.


Cover image for Hystopia : a novel

Hystopia gives us a totally different 1960’s where John F. Kennedy not only survived multiple assassination attempts but is now in his third term as United States President. The Vietnam War is still ongoing but a new “Psych Corps” has been created by the government to take charge of traumatized veterans and clean their memories with drugs and therapy. One of these returned soldiers is an author trying to write the novel that will honour his brothers-in-arms (the story is told as a novel within the novel), even as some of the more psychologically-scarred ones are roaming the U.S. countryside and recreating the atrocities they lived through. This is a challenging read as it does not shy from scenes of strong violence, but it also tries the challenge of recreating the unease and paranoid feeling of being in the US in the troubled 1970’s.


bombs-awayThe ever-prolific Harry Turtledove is working on his newest trilogy – the Hot War trilogy. The first two volumes are already available: Bombs Away and Fallout. The first one is called Bombs Away. This is a tale told from multiple point of views (a characteristic of Turtledove’s storytelling) and tells of how the world became embroiled in nuclear warfare in 1951, after General Douglas MacArthur escalated the Korean War. In an age before missiles and jet bombers, the war between the Western and Eastern blocks slowly escalates and risks spinning out of anyone’s control to stop it before humanity faces extinction. Ordinary people from nations around the globe, both civilians and combatants, are shown trying to cope with unprecedented nuclear destruction in a chilling but all-too plausible scenario.


ink-and-boneThis next trilogy, The Great Library, written by Rachel Caine, includes elements of fantasy in addition to its alternate history setting.  In Ink and Bone we discover a world in the near-future where the great Library of Alexandria (the largest library in the ancient world, containing works by the greatest thinkers and writers of antiquity) was not destroyed. The Library has grown into the greatest depository of human knowledge in the world, becoming the all-powerful ruler of society through its control of access to knowledge.  Thanks to alchemy, the knowledge of its books can be transmitted to everyone instantaneously (like ebooks today), but private ownership of books is a capital offence, with a black market booming in illegal books. The main protagonist is from a family of book smugglers who joins the Library’s ranks as a spy but how will coming into contact with people worshipping knowledge over human life and their immense power change him?


Cover image for Clash of eaglesClash of Eagles, the first volume of the Esperian trilogy by Alan Smale, tells the story of a Roman general captured by Cahokians after his legion is massacred while attempting the conquest of North America. Having been spared and gradually accepted by them, he must decide if he still fits in the empire’s plans of expansion or join his adopted people whose culture he has grown to admire. It’s a story of a clash of two cultures who never met in our history but realistically imagines how such an event might have unfolded and transformed our world. This series is recommended for action/adventure fans as well as history buffs.


clockworkFinally, closer to home, Clockwork Canada: Steampunk Fiction by Dominik Parisien is a collection of 15 stories about how steam technology might have reshaped the history of our country. You’ll read of mythical clockwork creatures that roam the landscapes of New France terrorizing the settlers in “Clochemard” and Mounties pursuing steam-powered buffalo-girl hybrids and solve a string of murders in “Buffalo Gals” (a Canadian superweapon that could change history). Many stories deal with real issues about our history like colonization, racism, and industrialisation’s impact on human society and the environment. It is quite a good read if you are in the mood for something local.


– Louis-Philippe

Top 10 fantasy & science fiction

Earlier this year, to mark Valentine’s Day, I posted a list of the most popular romance reads at Winnipeg Public Library. This month, I thought it might be interesting to discover what local readers of speculative fiction – i.e. fantasy and science fiction in all their many genres – are checking out from the Library.

Like romance, science fiction & fantasy authors tend to write sequels and series. Several of the books below are part of complicated, multi-volume series, so you may not want to jump in at those titles; where that’s the case, I’ve also linked to the first book in the series.

On the other hand, science fiction & fantasy lends itself equally well to the short story format, so this list also features some collections of short fiction – the perfect tasting menu to help you decide whether you want a big feast of “spec fic.”

1. Trigger Warning
If you know speculative fiction, you probably know Neil Gaiman. He’s written in every style & format, from quest fantasy to graphic novels to horror to books for children – and has won awards in every one of those categories too. If you don’t know him, this sampler of some of his recent short fiction is a good place to start. (Already read this? Try Kelly Link’s collection Get in Trouble, which is every bit as mind-bendingly weird, dark, and beautiful as Gaiman’s work.)

2. Forsaken
Kelley Armstrong’s “Women of the Otherworld” series of books about the hidden societies of werewolves, vampires, and other supernatural beings are hugely popular. This story features the child of one of her most popular characters, so if you’re not already up to speed on this series, start with Bitten – the adventures of Elena, lone werewolf in Toronto.


3. Dead Heat
Patricia Briggs writes two urban fantasy series; this one has been praised as the “perfect blend of action, romance, suspense and paranormal.” If that sounds up your alley, start with Cry Wolf. If you’ve already read all of Anna & Charles’ stories, Half-Resurrection Blues by Daniel José Older might satisfy your need for more supernatural adventure.


4. Empire
“Earth has been conquered and occupied… The Resistance still fights the invaders, but they are nothing more than an annoyance to the Illyri, an alien race of superior technology and military strength.” This second novel in a series (after Conquest) follows two young rebels who are captured, conscripted, and sent to fight offworld at the edges of the growing Illyri Empire.


5. The Long Mars
This intriguing collaboration between Sir Terry Pratchett (best known for his humourous Discworld fantasy series) and Stephen Baxter (best known for “hard” science fiction) started with The Long Earth, in which humanity discovers a way to access a potentially infinite series of parallel Earths. If you enjoyed this series, you might like Robert Charles Wilson‘s tales of alternate worlds too.


6. Ready Player One
This standalone book is “part quest novel, part love story, and part virtual space opera” set in a universe where most of humanity escapes their grim surroundings by spending every waking hour jacked into a sprawling virtual utopia.



7. Severed Souls
Another installment in the adventures of Richard Rahl and Kahlan Amnell (which began in Wizard’s First Rule) as they must defend themselves and their followers from a series of terrifying threats, despite a magical sickness that depletes their strength and which, if not cured, will take their lives… sooner rather than later.


8. Madness In Solidar
In Book 9 of the Imager Portfolio, Alastar finds himself in the middle of a power struggle after taking the helm of the declining Solidar’s Collegium of Imagers.

If long, complex fantasy series like those written by Goodkind and Modesitt are your choice, Kate Elliott’s Crossroads series is another excellent example.


9. Shifting Shadows
A collection of short stories featuring Mercy Thompson, Patricia Briggs’ other urban fantasy heroine, and her friends.

The Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews focuses on a similar tight-knit group of characters brought together by shared danger.


10. Golden Son
Pierce Brown’s fast-paced first novel Red Rising  quickly became a best-selling sensation. In Golden Son he continues the saga of Darrow, a rebel forged by tragedy, who has infiltrated the privileged realm so that he can destroy it from within…
Book 3 (Morning Star) is set to come out in January 2016, and I know readers from 15 to 55 who are eagerly waiting for it.

Did this list whet your appetite for more? Check out the Library’s collection of Hugo Award or Prix Aurora winners too!


The Undiscovered Country


“The sun will come out, tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow, there’ll be sun” (Annie). As of late, there hasn’t been too much sun going around or nice temperatures for that matter; but there is the hope, as Annie says, that things will improve tomorrow. In and of itself, this is hardly a new concept, yet the idea of what tomorrow could bring has led to the creation of some of the finest pieces of literature, including the genre of science fiction. With the film Tomorrowland opening on May 22nd, I began to wonder, what does tomorrow/future hold? If you have the same thought, here are some books that run with this idea.

20,00020,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne is not the sort of tale that most associate with the future. A tale of high seas adventure, it more closely resembles the classic Moby Dick than sci-fi. Yet one aspect allows it to enter the sci-fi lexicon: the Nautilus. Captain Nemo’s famous submersible housed state-of-the-art technology that allowed it to become a terror of the deep. Long before submarines made an appearance, Verne predicted that one day we could travel to the depths of the ocean into a world as unknown as the stars. It is for this reason that Disney included the vessel as part of Tomorrowland’s park. And for the record, the film version with Kirk Douglas is not to be missed.

handmaidThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and vV for Vendetta by Alan Moore both take a darker look at the future. A future where a class system becomes enforced and women become trapped into roles dictated by their biology and status, Handmaid presents tomorrow as something to feared, while futuristic V’s Britain becomes so concerned with safety that its citizens give up their rights and their futures for a feeling of security that is as illusionary as the TV shows they all watch.

braveBoth have elements that Aldous Huxley touched upon in 1984Brave New World (regimented society) and George Orwell in 1984 (Big Brother is watching you). Yet for all the dread and anxiety, there is still the hope that a single individual, whether in a large dramatic fashion, or in small innocuous ways, has the power to subvert the system and create a better tomorrow.

A better world can mean different things to different people. enderTomorrowland presents the idea that a better world can only be created if the brightest minds in the world are sequestered away and given the means and the freedom to redesign the world. Take Ender’s Game, for instance. The children are taken from their homes, trained, and then let loose in a war that redefines the future. Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy has a similar notion that by planting a colony elsewhere, new innovations can lead to a better world back home. Yet Asimov has a tendency to point out that technology has a dark side like any other creation. foundationI, Robot examines the importance of connection between robots and humans, and the fear that lies therein. The film takes things a step further by implying that only technology can see the world objectively enough to make decisions regarding our future and act accordingly; the same theme also appears in Marvel’s new film, Avengers: Age of Ultron. Both films imply that technology is not the answer to the problems of tomorrow. It will be interesting to see what direction Tomorrowland chooses to take on this matter. (Though from the clip I saw, androids are the enemy, yet technology itself appears to go either way.)

According to Walt Disney, “Tomorrowland [is] a vista into a world of wondrous ideas signifying [humanity’s] achievements. A step into the future, with predictions of constructive things to come.” (Featurette) When Tomorrowland was built, Disney was presenting his idea on how the world was moving into the future. Now Disney’s view of the future has certainly changed since his time and I’m sure that our current ideas of the future will alter as time moves on. Books and film take the pulse of the current world and project its dreams, fears and goals for the future. Some ideas work out, others fail; but no matter what tomorrow we face, we can always be sure, that this undiscovered country always has something new to show us (Hamlet 3.1.79 / Star Trek VI).

– Katherine