Thursday, November 21, 2013

CanConned

Northern Horror: Canadian Fiction Magazine: edited by Edo van Belkom, containing the following stories: The Transaction by Scott H. Urban; Wavelength by Terence M. Green and Andrew Weiner; The Spruce Tree by David Shtogryn; Heart by Edo van Belkom; Rideau by Kathryn Ptacek; Vermiculture by Nancy Kilpatrick; Writhe, Damn You by Ed Greenwood; Warmth by Scott H. Urban; Advertising Hell by Peter Sellers; Shadow of My Father by Michael Bracken; Sewage Treatment by Stephanie Bedwell-Grime; Skin by Scott Nicholson; The Party Over There by Nancy Baker; Sitters by Del Stone, Jr.; Comes a Cool Rain by Michael Kelly; Above It All by Robert J. Sawyer; and Mrs. Thurston's Instrument of Justice by David Nickle (2000):

Apparently, there always has to be a point at which Canadian literature announces it has 'arrived' in some area -- lyric poetry, comic writing, or in this case, horror fiction. By 'Canadian literature,' I simply mean those people running literary magazines or university literature departments or reviewing books in The Globe and Mail. They're not all the same people, but the canonizing end of the CanLit pool is shallow enough to be remarkably incestuous, even now.

This 13-year-old issue of Canadian Fiction magazine, as editor Edo van Belkom notes in the introduction, told the world that Canadian horror fiction had arrived. Arrived where? I'm not sure. This is an awfully mediocre selection of stories, representing the best work of none of the writers whose names I already know. There are some traditional CanLit tropes at work throughout, including somebody having sex with either an animal or a tree ("The Spruce Tree", which is I guess the Arabesque companion to Marian Engel's Bear), people trying to survive terrible weather ("Warmth"), and people being sexually assaulted by family members (OK, that's not a Canadian trope, but it sometimes feels like one).

The collection also gives us a comic horror story that would be twice as good at half the length ("Advertising Hell", by the improbably named Peter Sellers, is mildly funny until it overstays its welcome by about 2000 words).

We also get an entry I'll leave un-named in one of my two or three least favourite horror sub-genres, one I've dubbed The Damnation of Nobody because the stories always involve dreadful things happening to a person because the person isn't Excellent enough. It's a sub-genre whose patron saint is Harlan Ellison, and it's deeply unpleasant once one pieces together what an unpunishably excellent life would be (generally, that would involve being a writer, the most Excellent type of being on the planet, and not some stupid accountant or teacher or truck-driver, all of whom lead lives not worth living). Don't punish your characters for having ordinary lives, kids. You don't want to be an insufferable prick.

So, anyway, not a very good collection. There are good Canadian horror writers, and have been for quite some time. But this collection doesn't really announce anything. Not recommended.

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