Speculative fiction, or “SpecFic”—a term that encompasses many imaginative genres of art, such as science fiction, fantasy, magic realism, and horror—is often marginalized from the larger creative writing community in genre. While literary realism tends to be perceived as “serious,” SpecFic is often dismissed as juvenile, escapist, or simply not as substantial as other kinds of writing.
The quality of the writing produced by Canadian creators of SpecFic, however, has consistently flown in the face of such misconceptions—and alongside Toronto’s traditional literary community, a rich and diverse creative ecosystem of speculative fiction writers and publishers has flourished. It is this community and the work that has come out of it that will be celebrated on March 1, 2014, at the fourth annual Toronto SpecFic Colloquium.
Sponsored by the Chiaroscuro reading series, which favours the strange, and local publishers ChiZine Publications, whose telling tagline is “embrace the odd,” the SpecFic Colloquium is a day-long celebration of the genre that includes readings, lectures, and talks from authors and industry professionals. While many SpecFic genres are often dismissed for being formulaic or predictable, local authors write wildly original material that defies conventional constraints, and the SpecFic Colloquium believes that “Canadian authors may well prove to be the kind of rejuvenating force necessary to revitalize the ‘pulp’ genres of fantasy, science fiction, and horror writing.”
Toronto-based author Madeline Ashby, one of the speakers at this year’s Toronto SpecFic Colloquium, states that she suspects the tendency to dismiss these genres is a result of “Canadian literature still trying to so hard to keep up appearances. Most of the industry is still caught up in defining a Canadian identity, instead of realizing that ‘national identities’ are about as meaningful as a whiteboard branding exercise at any given ad agency. We’d get better art in general if we just allowed people to tell the stories they want to tell, without having to contort themselves into some sort of national brand identity.”
Ashby notes that “most of the SpecFic people I know in Toronto are profoundly, deeply literate,” and Michael Kelly, publisher of Undertow Publications, ChiZine’s new horror imprint, observes that the SpecFic community in Toronto is “vibrant and thriving.” The Toronto SpecFic community, he adds, “has always been active and prominent, but there’s been a resurgence the last few years as a number of terrific writers and publishers have come on to the scene. It’s an exciting time.” The sheer imaginative possibilities of these genres, as well as how fun they are to read and write, have attracted many of Toronto’s greatest talents (including Margaret Atwood).
The range of imaginative possibilities inherent in SpecFic will be on display in the events scheduled for the colloquium, which this year focuses on the theme of unnatural histories: author and editor Silvia Moreno-Garcia will discuss the parallels between H.P. Lovecraft and V.C. Andrews; Toronto science fiction author Peter Watts will explore the relationship between faith and the fitness landscape; and writer, producer, and television personality Liana Kerzner will give a talk entitled “Digital Romanticism: Speculative History as Modern Social Commentary in Video Games.” Guest of honour Christopher Golden (who is perhaps best known for his Ghosts of Albion books and animated series, and has written comics, video games, multiple novels, and many book adaptations) will be interviewed by writer and producer Mark Askwith. A full list of events scheduled for the colloquium can be found here.
Elaine Chen, a Toronto author who recently signed to ChiZine and will be attending this event, notes that the Toronto SpecFic Colloquium offers an unusual opportunity for anyone interested in working within these diverse genres. “It’s a forum for showcasing not just writers, but academics, editors, and other culture creators and critics in the SpecFic community, and in a format that is slightly more structured and intimate than your typical sci-fi convention panel.” If that kind of intimacy, and a great deal of wonderful strangeness, sounds like your cup of tea, then the Toronto SpecFic Colloquium is a not-to-be-missed event.