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Northern Suns
Edited by David Hartwell & Glenn Grant
Tor Books, 384 pages

Northern Suns
David G. Hartwell
David G. Hartwell is an editor at Tor Books, as well as being a highly-respected author in his own right. He wrote Age of Wonders (1984), and has been editor/anthologizer of such works as The Dark Descent, Masterpieces of Fantasy and Enchantment, and the new annual volume, Year's Best SF.

David Hartwell Website
ISFDB Bibliography
The New York Review of Science Fiction
The Golden Age of Best SF Collections: A Chronicle
SF Site Review: Northern Stars
SF Site Review: Year's Best SF 3
SF Site Review: The Ascent of Wonder: The Evolution of Hard SF

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver


"Perhaps the most striking thing about Canada is that it is not part of the United States."
Michael Skeet opens his short story, "Near Enough to Home" with this quote, which captures the tone for the entire anthology. It is one of editors Glenn Grant and David Hartwell's contentions that Canadian science fiction is different from the science fiction published throughout the rest of the world. Their other contention is that science fiction is alive and thriving north of the US border. This latter argument is readily proven. Northern Suns is the second anthology of Canadian science fiction Grant and Hartwell have published. None of the 22 authors who appear in these pages appeared in the precursor volume, Northern Stars. The first contention is more difficult to prove, since it must be demonstrated that Canadian science fiction is different from other science fiction in a manner which permeates Canadian authors' concerns.

One of the things which sets Canadian authors apart is the country's bilingualism. French and English are both official languages of the country and Grant and Hartwell have taken care to include fiction from both sides of the language divide. Interestingly, the three stories translated from the French all show signs of either language divisions, such as Charles Montpetit's absurd "Beyond the Barriers" or Jean Pierre April's "RÍve Canadien," or other types of division, such as the historiosophy debate central to Alain Bergeron's "The Eighth Register," one of the strongest stories in the anthology. Of the English language stories, only Eric Choi's "Diversions," an alternate history story about the negotiated secession of the province of Québec, examines the duality of Canadian society.

Many of the stories are set in less than affluent circumstances. Nalo Hopkinson looks at Canada's welfare recipients in "A Waste of Time" while Ursula Pflug's "Bugtown" is set in a seedy neighbourhood. Robert Boyczuk mixes despair with codependency in "Doing Time," set in a Canadian prison. A few of the stories, most notably Derryl Murphy's "The History of Photography," mix this sense of desolation with light-hearted moments. Murphy's tale is of a photographer who must come to terms with the fact that photographic film is no longer being manufactured. This event is balanced by Murphy giving explanations of the history of photography in a concise and interesting manner.

Completely humorous moments are relatively rare in Northern Suns. Aside from the light-hearted parts of Murphy's story, humour only really shows up in Robertson Davies's "Offer of Immortality" and W.P. Kinsella's "Things Invisible to See," about the first Japanese imports into Canada. Nancy Kilpatrick's "Farm Wife" seems to be meant as horror, but the horror is dulled by a strange humour as she describes the farmer's horrific disease.

Two of the stories look at the same phenomenon: using robots to ensure human safety. The first of these is Jan Lars Jensen's "Domestic Slash and Thrust" about an attempt to create an idiot-proof knife. The other is David Nickle's "The Dummy Ward" about using more and more complex dummies to test auto crashes... and the resulting damage to the automatons.

The two strongest stories in Northern Suns are Bergeron's "The Eighth Register," which uses alternate history to examine not only how history works, but also the theories behind how history is studied, and Scott Mackay's "The Sages of Cassiopeia." Mackay postulates a world in which the supernova of 1572 heightens the understanding and intelligence of all the idiots in Denmark in a plot reminiscent of Daniel Keyes's Flowers for Algernon. By setting his story at a time when science was only making the most tentative steps towards breaking out from under the glare of the Church, Mackay is able to examine the role of the Church in research.

While Hartwell and Glenn don't necessarily demonstrate that Canadian science fiction is different from science fiction elsewhere, a claim which seems to apply more to Francophone Canadian science fiction than to the Anglophone, they do show that Canadian science fiction is alive and well and living north of the border.

Table of Contents
Jan Lars Jensen "Domestic Slash and Thrust"
Karl Schroeder "Halo"
Nalo Hopkinson "A Waste of Time"
W.P. Kinsella "Things Invisible to See"
David Nickle "The Dummy Ward"
Michael Skeet "Near Enough to Home"
Nancy Kilpatrick "Farm Wife"
Charles Montpetit "Beyond the Barriers"
Ursula Pflug "Bugtown"
Derryl Murphy "The History of Photography"
Cory Doctorow "Craphound"
Wesley Herbert "Twilight of the Real"
Robertson Davies "Offer of Immortality"
Jean Pierre April "RÍve Canadien"
Geoff Ryman "Fan"
John Clute "Fables of Transcendence" (essay)

Copyright © 1999 by Steven H Silver

Steven H. Silver is one of the founders and judges for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. He sits on concoms for Windycon, Chicon 2000, and Clavius in 2001, and is co-chair of Picnicon 1998. Steven will be serving as the Programming Chairman for Chicon 2000. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is trying to get his short stories published and has recently finished his first novel. He lives at home with his wife and 3200 books. He is available for convention panels.

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