Kristi Charish: Canadian Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Book Cover Owl and the Japanese CIrcus

Kristi Charish's debut novel is Owl and the Japanese Circus, about the kick-ass world of Owl, a modern-day "Indiana Jane" who reluctantly navigates the hidden supernatural world. The book draws on Charish's own background in science and archeology, and joins a fine tradition of Canadian Sci-Fi/Fantasy writing. In this recommended reading list, Charish tells us more about that tradition, and how she has been inspired by it. 

*****

As I’m an urban fantasy author, I thought it’d be appropriate to come up with a mix of Canadian authors I consider essential reads. I’ll be the first to admit it’s an eclectic list—a couple speculative fiction literary greats alongside adventure and urban fantasy authors, and a few who toe the line somewhere in between. That said, they all do have one thing in common. They’ve heavily influenced the Canadian Sci-Fi/Fantasy landscape and this (very) new author’s own writing.

Book Cover Flash Forward

Robert J Sawyer

With 21 novels, a Nebula Award, Hugo Award, John W. Campbell Memorial Award, (one of only 7 sci-fi authors in the world to win all three) and multiple Aurora Awards to his name, putting together a Canadian speculative fiction list without including Robert J Sawyer at the top would be remiss... and I would probably get an onslaught of hate mail from his army of fans.

Not only is he one of Canada’s best known and most successful science fiction writers, his work frequently explores the relationships between science, religion, and rationalism, and a recurring theme in almost all his novels involves a protagonist facing imminent mortality. With accessible prose that’s been compared to that of Orson Scott Card, Robert J Sawyer is an easy recommendation for those who perhaps have shied away from Sci-Fi in the past—but make no mistake, these novels are high concept Sci-Fi all the way.

If you are new to Robert J Sawyer, I would suggest starting with Flashforward (best known as it was turned into a TV series), and Mindscan (John W. Campbell Memorial Award). If those don’t pique your interest, Calculating God and Hominids are also great places to start.

Book Cover Bitten

Kelley Armstrong

Where fantasy typically deal with stories that exist in an entirely fantastical world, urban fantasy has the fantastical elements but they’re superimposed over our world. Kelley Armstrong and Tanya Huff (next on this list) are probably Canada’s best known and critically acclaimed urban fantasy authors, and Kelley Armstrong is one of my all time favorites.

I just finished listening to the audio version of Angelic, a novella about a black witch named Eve who ends up on the wrong side of the living. Working as an angel—not the personal-help angel so often portrayed in TV fantasyland, but an honest-to-goodness rain-the-fates’-wrath-down-on-those-who-break-the-supernatural-laws kind of angel. Eve is their biggest delinquent: smart mouthed, impatient, and not above consorting with the odd demon or two to get the job done. Normally I have a hard time stomaching anything that hints at religion, but Armstrong deftly brings out larger themes of life-after-death and greater powers in the universe.

Kelley Armstrong’s entire "Women of the Otherworld" series manages to do something new with urban fantasy—venture away from the standard genre plot line and deliver something thicker and more substantial. Instead of using the supernatural as a crutch or gimmick, she uses supernatural elements as a tool to illustrate truths about human nature and the human condition.

It’s urban fantasy done right, and if you want to see what this often maligned genre can really do with a story I highly recommend you start with Bitten.  

Book Cover Blood Prie

Tanya Huff

A fantasy and science fiction author, Huff is best known for her "Blood Books" urban fantasy series, about a detective named Vicki Nelson who solves supernatural crimes with the help of a vampire moonlighting as a historical romance writer. If the plot sounds familiar, it’s likely because the Blood Books were adapted into the TV series, Blood Ties for good reason.

Tanya’s work stands out as urban fantasy that doesn’t fall back on supernatural romance to carry the plot. The books are interesting for the mystery itself. The books also take place in Toronto and highlight Tanya’s familiarity with the setting. Though Huff is prolific and has a number of series out, I recommend trying the Blood Books as another example of world class urban fantasy.

Book Cover King of Shang Hai

Ian Hamilton

All right. So Ian Hamilton is not a Canadian speculative fiction author. He’s a Canadian mystery author. That’s OK though, I’m big on exceptions to the rule, and this one of my favorite series at the moment. Ava Lee is a Chinese-Canadian forensic accountant who chases after money that goes awry in shady international business dealings, often involving a south East Asia component. Not only is she an expert at solving complex international finance mysteries, in my opinion Ava is the epitome of modern feminism: intelligent, independent, competent, and unafraid to throw herself into world dominated by men and, more often then not, organized crime. This is also one of the first instances where I’ve seen a lesbian protagonist featured in a commercial series. That the novels and novella have been optioned for both film and television will hopefully see the books on both the small and big screen soon.

The series begins with The Water Rat of Wanchai and now spans 7 novels and a prequel novella: The Disciples of Las Vegas, The Wild Beasts of Wuhan, The Red Pole of Macau, The Scottish Banker of Surabaya, The Two Sisters of Borneo, the recently released King of Shanghai, and the prequel, Dragon Head of Hong Kong.

I put this series at the top of my list for a reason. I can’t recommend it highly enough and, even though I write urban fantasy, it’s helped shape my own writing. 

Book Cover Starfish

Peter Watts

The first year I decided to try writing—really try, as in write an actual book—I joined a local graduate student speculative fiction club called Tech-Phu. One of the first books recommended to me was a science fiction novel called Starfish by Peter Watts, about a team of mismatched individuals sent to work on a deep sea station in the not to distant future. In my humble opinion, Starfish has more in common with a commercial urban fantasy/adventure novel than any of Watts’ other work. A little more raw, and less heady that his award-nominated Sci-Fi, this is the one I recommend new readers to his work try. I won’t lie; parts of Starfish will make your stomach churn, but it's a fantastic read that melds both adventure novel adrenaline tastes with literary technique. Watts also really knows his science. He’s another UBC alumni with a PhD in Resource Ecology...

That’s two of us spec fiction writers out of UBC’s School of Science in fifteen years... Maybe the Department of Zoology is missing out on a recruitment pitch? Enroll for your PhD, become a Sci-Fi/Fantasy novelist?

Just a thought...

Book Cover Elminster

Ed Greenwood

One name says it all: Dungeons and Dragons.

Ed Greenwood is a Canadian-born author who writes in the Dungeons and Dragons Forgotten Realms fantasy series. He is arguably one of their most famous authors and responsible for one of the most beloved characters in the Dungeons and Dragons mythos: the mage Elminster.

If you are curious what this property is about, or just interested in trying high fantasy filled with wizards, sorcerers, and an assortment of monsters, I recommend The Elminster series.

Callahan's Crosstime Saloon

Spider Robinson

Another famous and award-winning Canadian science fiction author, Robinson’s work is often compared to that of the late Robert A Heinlein (Variable Star, a more recent work, was in fact based off of an unfinished Heinlein work). Robinson’s novels and short stories take a humanistic, humorous, and optimistic approach to science fiction- something that’s become harder to find amongst all the dystopian science fiction novels that seem to be in style. If you aren’t familiar with Spider Robinson and want to try some fantastic science fiction, I highly recommend familiarizing yourself with Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon and the assortment of regulars and visitors who stop in.

Book Cover The Handmaids Tale

Margaret Atwood

Like Robert J Sawyer, I don’t think a Canadian Sci-Fi/Fantasy list could be complete without including Margaret Atwood, even though she is hesitant to call her work science fiction (in fact, the definition she has used in the past for science fiction is not one shared by all and has rankled many a science fiction and Atwood fan) and prefers the description "speculative fiction" instead. Regardless of the nomenclature, The Handmaid’s Tale (Arthur C. Clarke Award, Governor General’s Award, Booker Prize Finalist) and Oryx and Crake (Booker Prize Finalist, Governor General Award, Orange Prize for Fiction shortlist) have solidified Margaret Atwood’s position as Canada’s most internationally influential and critically acclaimed science fiction authors of all time. The Handmaid's Tale wasn’t one of the first science fiction novels I ever read—not by a long shot—but it was certainly one of the most memorable. I think to understand how genre fiction has evolved over the years, particularly from a Canadian literature perspective, Margaret Atwood is a must read.  

Book Cover Owl and the Japanese CIrcus

About Owl and the Japanese Circus: 

Ex-archaeology grad student turned international antiquities thief, Alix—better known now as Owl—has one rule. No supernatural jobs. Ever. Until she crosses paths with Mr. Kurosawa, a red dragon who owns and runs the Japanese Circus Casino in Las Vegas. He insists Owl retrieve an artifact stolen three thousand years ago, and makes her an offer she can’t refuse: he’ll get rid of a pack of vampires that want her dead. A dragon is about the only entity on the planet that can deliver on Owl’s vampire problem—and let’s face it, dragons are known to eat the odd thief. 

Kristi Charish

Kristi Charish holds an MSc and BSc from Simon Fraser University and a PhD from the University of British Columbia and a background in Archaeology, both of which she draws upon for details in the story. Kristi has worked as a scientific advisor on projects such as fantasy and sci-fi writer Diana Rowland’s series White Trash Zombie, and as an expert in community outreach programs. She has been a writing instructor in the UBC Science and Creative Literacy Symposia and a repeat panelist at the VCON Science fiction and Fantasy convention. Kristi is also a social media coordinator for the non-profit Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology (SCWIST). She is an information translation specialist, who has experience adapting complex science material for both scientific and entertainment media.

January 22, 2015
Books mentioned in this post
Mindscan

Mindscan

edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback Hardcover
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Hominids

Hominids

Volume One of The Neanderthal Parallax
edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback Hardcover
tagged :
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The Disciple of Las Vegas

The Disciple of Las Vegas

An Ava Lee Novel
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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The Wild Beasts of Wuhan

The Wild Beasts of Wuhan

edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
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The Scottish Banker of Surabaya

The Scottish Banker of Surabaya

edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
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The King of Shanghai

The King of Shanghai

The Triad Years
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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The Dragon Head King of Hong Kong

The Dragon Head King of Hong Kong

The Ava Lee Prequel
edition:eBook
tagged : women sleuths
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