Volume 30, Issue 7
Monstrous Affections David Nickle ChiZine Publications 296 pp $18.95
Distant Early Warnings Edited by Robert J. Sawyer Robert J. Sawyer Books 314 pp $22.95
In Distant Early Warnings, an anthology of short Canadian science fiction stories released through Red Deer Press, the vast range of Canadian voices in the field of science fiction is laid bare.
Robert J. Sawyer writes in the book’s introduction that the need to pad Canadian anthologies with fantasy, or the work of authors who once held ties to Canada, is no longer necessary.
Author Paddy Forde uses a unique iteration of time travel to place a 9/11 conspirator at the scene of the crime in order to understand fully the implications of his jihad against the western world, and James Alan Gardner writes an unconventional romance using an alien ray gun in order to explore the implications of keeping secrets from the ones we love.
The anthology concludes with a “lightning round” of six 800-word stories originally published in the scientific journal Nature—which tells you all you need to know about how “serious” these stories are about getting their science right.
Distant Early Warnings, named after the radar detection system which protected North America’s borders in Canada’s frozen north against Soviet invasion, is both a reminder of the healthy state of Canadian science fiction writing and a warning of the threats to come.
A stab in the dark that misses the mark
People love to be scared, as long as they know it won’t last long. That’s why short horror stories should have such terrifying potential. David Nickle’s Monstrous Affections falls just short of the mark.
The Toronto writer’s collection of stories is classic “Canadian gothic.” It treads the line between stark and ornate, burrowing into the black forests, rest stops and cottage country of Ontario and emerging with a rusty steak knife gripped between its teeth.
Nickle seems to delight in the drawn-out build up, but sometimes the payoff doesn’t quite satisfy. The quick bouts of murder that close stories like “The Sloan Men” and “Janie and the Wind” feel abrupt, not cathartic. Nickle’s richly descriptive writing sometimes manages to completely circumvent actually describing what the hell is going on.
The problem might be that, for all his poetic language and foggy imagery, Nickle’s stories lack the clean knife edge that short horror fiction needs. Monstrous Affections needs less mystery and more horror if it really wants to be nasty, brutish and short.