Thursday, March 15, 2007

On Canadian Authors and Meaningless Labels

My review on Fast Forward 1 got a comment from A. M. Dellamonica, author of one of the stories in the book, Time of the Snake. She gave a link to the first story she had published about the squids at Strange Horizons. Read the brief bio at the bottom of the page, and was pleasantly surprised to find out she was Canadian. Not only that, but she lives in Vancouver, right next to my sister.

It's neat to find out an author that I like is Canadian (I enjoyed her story in Fast Forward 1, and found out after I wrote the review that I had also read a story of hers in one of David Hartnell's Year's Best SF anthologies, Slow Day at the Gallery, which I also enjoyed). I'm not sure why I find it to be important. I've never really been very nationalistic or patriotic.

Of course, the Canadianness of the author isn't nearly as important as the quality of the story she writes. Years ago I bought the first of the Tesseracts anthologies, a collection of speculative fiction by Canadian authors. I've learned to hate the term speculative fiction. It's an ugly phrase, and nearly meaningless. I also found out that I didn't enjoy most of what Canadian authors were publishing, and decided it was a silly and artificial classification to base a book on. Now I see that it's an important jump start for authors that might otherwise not get a chance to see print, but I've grown wiser since then.

Canada tends to lay claim to anyone who passes near the border. I've read about how Alexander Graham Bell was Canadian, when he really only passed through here on his way to the U. S. There was a time when every article about Michael J. Fox in the local newspapers kept calling him an Edmontonian, which is true in only the strictest sense. He was born here, but I'm pretty sure the family packed up and moved as soon as they could, never to return.

Because I tend to be a contrary person, I've generally bucked that trend, especially with authors. I cringed every time Spider Robinson was called Canadian. He's a New Yorker. William Gibson? Love it if he was Canadian, but he's really from the States. He's just visiting.

Of course I was wrong. Spider Robinson has been living in Canada for 30 years, although he waited until 2002 to get his Canadian citizenship. And Gibson has lived here even longer, almost 40 years. He's lived in Canada longer than I have. How long does a person have to live here before I consider them Canadian?

On the opposite side, I consider Cory Doctorow to be Canadian, even though he moved about five years ago to London, England and then to Los Angeles, California. How long does a person have to be away from Canada before they stop being Canadian.

And why does it matter? Short answer is, it doesn't. I was a fan of Robert Sawyer, Robert Charles Wilson, and Doctorow before I found out they were Canadian. The important thing was I enjoyed the stories. The fact that they're Canadian just gives me a little bit of irrational pride.


Alyx said...

I certainly find myself doing that: nobody in B.C. can mention Carrie-Anne Moss without waving the flag, and there's a little-known character actor named Gary Basaraba from Edmonton whose patrimony we mention whenever we see BOOMTOWN.

Anyway, I'd say I qualify as the real deal--born in Calgary, raised mostly around Alberta (okay, yes, with a few teeny stints in Utah and Nevada). Got the Alberta Heritage whatchamacallit scholarship for getting A's in high school and took it all the big long way to the University of Lethbridge.

As far as the Canadian Passport Office is concerned I'm a dual citizen, on account of the one USian parent, but they're the only ones who seem convinced. Sorry, I mean, convinced, eh.

Tatterededge said...

It's a funny thing about us as a people that we are so quietly patriotic. Winnipeggers (of which I am also one) are HUGELY proud of anyone who hails from the 'Peg. Famous Winnipeggers include:
-Doug Henning
-Terry Fox
-Anna Paquin
-Margaret Laurence
-Gabrielle Roy
-Fred Penner
-Tom Jackson
-The Crash Test Dummies
-Clara Hughes
-Chantel Kravizuk
-Monty Hall

I am sure there are more-after all, what motivates people to get famous and escape than Manitoban winters? :)

And Alyx rocks, both as a writer and a person!

Steve said...

alyx - A US parent, eh? Well, I've learned to be pretty open-minded, so I'll accept you as Canadian.

tatterededge - Wow, that's quite a list. I'll bet you didn't even have to look those up.

If someone were to ask me for a list of famous people from Edmonton, I'd probably resort to Michael J. Fox at first, then start making stuff up: "Umm, Prince Charles, that guy who played Enos on Dukes of Hazzard, Miss Piggy, Team Rocket..."

Alyx said...

Prince Charles is from Edmonton? WOW.

Oh. Right.

Actually, the US parent finally converted when the border got difficult; she determined it was easier to jump the citizenship hoops than to get the foreign ID card.

Derryl Murphy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Derryl Murphy said...

(Reposting) I could have sworn my essay for LOCUS on Canadians in SF was on the web, but I can't find it anywhere so instead I've put it up on my blog. I think you'll find some resonance with what you say (even if I neglect to mention Alyx, but I'm sure she's forgiven me).

Alyx said...

You forgot me? I cry and cry.

Steve said...

derryl - Interesting essay. It looks like we've come to similar conclusions, although your essay was more detailed. I swear I didn't read yours before writing mine! I just wrote mine after finding out Alyx was Canadian, and trying to figure out why it was such a big deal to me.

alyx - I'm sure he would include you if he had to write it again. Think of it this way, if every author exluded from an essay were to cry, mine would make far more authors cry than derryl's. Um, does that even make sense?

Sherry said... might say Alexander Graham Bell actually only "passed through" the US on his way to Canada--he became a Canadian citizen in 1870 and (after only about 20 years in the US) lived the last 30 years of his life here in Cape Breton, and is buried here. However, even the Wikipedia entry makes it sound like he never left the US after going there. Weird.