Top Speculative Fiction Picks

The Affinities: Using the intimacy of first-person narrative, award-winning Canadian author Robert Charles Wilson takes readers into the world of Adam Fisk, a young man who leaves a dysfunctional family in upstate New York to attend art college in Toronto, where he undergoes rigorous psycho-social testing and qualifies for the Tau Affinity, one of the largest of twenty-two social profiles that are redefining humanity. Each Affinity is a mix between a fraternity, a religious cult and an extended family—a communal group that sweeps across class, culture and all aspects of business. As the testing technology spreads and the social networks expand globally, the exclusive Affinities begin to usurp the traditional roles of government and financial corporations. Power struggles arise and war seems inevitable, and Adam Fisk finds himself caught in a dangerous new world where allegiance has been reduced to brain-mapping and genetics. Robert Charles Wilson has a gift for delicate characterization, bringing technology down to earth by using believable people in familiar situations—love and sex, drugs and alcohol, abuse and betrayal. He writes with great insight into humanity and a sense of hope for a better future, that mankind might overcome natural adversity to build a beautiful world. The Affinities is about belonging to something bigger than yourself, about serving sacrificially and fighting for your friends.

The Stone Boatmen. This debut fantasy novel by accomplished Canadian poet and medievalist Sarah Tolmie is a lyrical and literary masterwork of imagination. With precision of language and a sophisticated, introspective voice, Tolmie links together four novellas from the viewpoints of four central characters—a prince, a poet, an adventurer and a mystical seer—generation by generation through decades of epic family history in privileged royal courts. In their primitive, non-technological world, they live under the enigmatic shadow of lost ancestral wisdom preserved only by elaborate ceremonies, forgotten religion and the mysterious stone boatmen left behind as relics in the harbours. Three colonies separated by sea have evolved vastly different cultures, which mesh together with wonder as they are reunited by the rediscovery of shipbuilding. This philosophical novel invites careful reading and contemplation.

The Wolf at the End of the World. This is an excellent debut novel by Canadian author Douglas Smith, a fantasy about shapeshifters and sentient animals in an Ontario native community. Modern controversy over aboriginal land claims is mixed with a romantic embellishment of ancient stories transmitted orally through the ages by a culture with no written language. The author, noted as a short-story specialist, uses staccato pacing and multiple POV with a hook at the end of each short segment to keep the energy level perpetually high. The author freely admits in a lengthy afterword that his recreation of native spirituality is not meant to be definitive. The ancient oral myths were never codified into anything resembling religious doctrine in the absence of literary documentation. The recurring characters (trickster, wise guardian, creator spirit, etc.) were given different roles according to the context of the tale and the needs of the storyteller, but most embody a pervading sentiment of love for tribe and family and respect for the natural order. In this sense, Douglas Smith continues a proud tradition.

The Tattooed Witch. This debut fantasy novel by accomplished Canadian editor Susan MacGregor delivers heart-rending poignancy during the historical period of the Spanish Inquisition when women lived without basic civil rights and were treated as chattel. The author has a gift for engaging empathy from the reader with a simple narrative style, as the story begins with a young seer falsely accused of murder and destined for torture and death at the hands of corrupt papist minions. After a powerful opening replete with dramatic action, the novel settles into a sustainable pace and begins to conjure a thematic ballet of primitive European spirituality and unrequited love, a dance of life revolving around a gypsy tribe known as the Diaphani who have magical powers of divination in their bloodline, worship the goddess Lys and believe in an afterlife of ghosts and demons. Hounded by the orthodox Church, they make an annual pilgrimage by caravan to a secret sanctuary in the hills for ceremonies of prophetic appointment and cultural restoration. The Tattooed Witch explores and satisfies the innate human longing for arcane knowledge and forbidden revelation with strong elements of romance, revenge and reconciliation.

Elements: A Collection of Speculative Fiction. This debut collection of short speculative fiction shows the incredible versatility of an emerging Canadian author. Suzanne Church uses a sparse, conversational style to engage empathy from the reader, and delivers a wide range of innovation across the speculative genres—from zany, ridiculous romps of fantasy to dark, Kafkaesque science fiction. Many of the stories deal with broken relationships, lost possibilities and interpersonal pain, and some tales are gritty and poignant. Suzanne Church is an award-winning author in her specialty, and offers up a smorgasbord of twenty-one stories spanning over a decade of literary experimentation.