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2019 Sunburst Award Shortlists

By 49thShelf
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On July 29, 2019, the Sunburst Award Committee announced the shortlists for the 2019 Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic. Congratulations to all the finalists.
Trickster Drift

Trickster Drift

edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover

Following the Scotiabank Giller Prize-shortlisted Son of a Trickster comes Trickster Drift, the second book in Eden Robinson's captivating Trickster trilogy.

In an effort to keep all forms of magic at bay, Jared, 17, has quit drugs and drinking. But his troubles are not over: now he's being stalked by David, his mom's ex--a preppy, khaki-wearing psycho with a proclivity for rib-breaking. And his mother, Maggie, a living, breathing badass as well as a witch, can't protect him like she used to bec …

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Excerpt

The clouds finally broke into a sullen drizzle after a muggy, overcast day. Jared Martin flipped up his hood as he turned the corner onto his street. His mom’s truck was in the driveway. The house he’d grown up in was two storeys high, white with green trim. The large porch was littered with work gear. His mom rented out two of the rooms and the basement to pay the bills. Most of her tenants were sub-subcontractors, in Kitimat for a few weeks and unwilling to shell out for a pricey furnished one-bedroom or a motel room. Or they were hard-core smokers who wanted to be able to light up in their rooms and found a kindred spirit in his mom, a dedicated two-packer who hated being forced outside.

He paused on the sidewalk, listening. Things seemed quiet. Which didn’t mean it was safe to go in, but Jared went up the steps and opened the front door. Not visiting his mom before he took off for Vancouver would save him a lot of grief, but it would be such a douche move. She’d never let him forget it.

“Mom?” Jared said.

“In here,” she said, her voice coming from the kitchen.
 
The kitchen windows were all open and moths fluttered against the screens. She was frying a pan of meatballs, her cigarette tucked into the corner of her mouth.

Her hair was in a ponytail. She wore her favourite ripped Metallica T-shirt over jeans and flip-flops. He could see all the little muscles working in her face as she inhaled. She was losing weight again. He hoped it was just coke.

Jared put his backpack down by the table and then hopped up to sit on the counter. His mom salted a pot of boiling water and cracked in some spaghetti.

“Nice of you to show up,” she said.

Jared swung his feet, staring down at them. “Where’s Richie?”

“He is where he is.”

Her boyfriend sold the lighter recreational drugs. They used to get along, but Richie seemed suspicious of Jared now that Jared was sober, like he had suddenly turned into a narc. When they were forced together by his mom, Richie wouldn’t talk to him for fear of incriminating himself.

Jared watched her resentfully making him dinner. She hated cooking. He wished she’d just ordered a pizza. He tried to think of a safe topic of conversation. His Monday night shift at Dairy Queen was normally dull, but his new co-worker had kept stopping to sob into her headset. “Work was nuts. I had to train my replacement. She does not handle stress well.”

“Not many people survive the soft-serve ice-cream racket.”

Ball-buster, his dad called her when he was being charitable. His adoptive dad? His dad. Philip Martin, the guy who had raised him when his biological dad turned out to be a complete dick.

She stirred the pasta. “What? No snappy comeback?”
 
“I’m tired.”

“Yeah, looking down on all us alkies and addicts must be exhaust­ing.”

“Are we going to do this all night?”

“Get the colander.”

Jared hopped down and grabbed the colander from the cupboard above the fridge.

When he handed it to her, she stared at him a moment. Then her lips went thin, the lines around her mouth deepening. “I don’t want you staying with Death Threat,” she said.

Death Threat was the nickname of one of her exes, Charles Redhill, a low-level pot grower who said it would be okay if Jared bunked in his basement while he was going to school in Vancouver, if he didn’t mind working a little security detail in exchange.

“People aren’t exactly lining up to let me sleep on their couches,” Jared said.

“He’s a fuckboy with delusions he’s Brando.”

“Stel-la!” Jared said, trying to make her laugh.

She ignored him as if he wasn’t standing beside her. She took the cigarette out of the corner of her mouth and let the pasta drain in the colander in the sink and then dumped it back in the pot. She poured in a jar of Ragú spaghetti sauce and stirred and then added the meatballs. She crushed the last bit of her cigarette out on the burner and tossed the butt in a sand-filled coffee can near the sink. He carried the pot to the table. She pulled some garlic bread out of the oven.

They ate in silence. Or, more accurately, Jared ate in silence. His mom smoked and picked at a meatball with her fork, slowly mashing it into bits.
 
“Where’s Death Threat’s place?” she said.

Jared shrugged. He was hoping against hope that Death lived near his school, the British Columbia Institute of Technology. Didn’t matter, though. Nothing beat free.

“Nice. I’m your mother and you don’t trust me enough to know where you’re fucking staying.”

“He’s away in Washington State right now. I’m booked at a hos­tel for the first week. Just text my cell.”

“He told you where he lives, right?”

“He’ll show.”

“He’s a fucking pothead. He’ll forget you exist. He forgets where his ass is until someone hands it to him.”

“I can handle myself.”

His mom sucked in a great impatient breath.

“Can we just have a nice supper?” Jared said.

“Can you not live with the spazzy fucktard who calls himself Death Threat?”

“Chill, okay? I just need a free place until my student loan comes in, then I’ll find a room or something.”

“Buttfucking Jesus on goddamn crutches.”

“Mom.”

“Don’t Mom me, genius. This is a crap plan.”

“It’s my life,” Jared said, pushing the plate away.

“Jared, you can barely manage warding. What’re you going to do if you run into something really fucking dangerous?”

His mom was a witch. For real. As he had found out definitively, just before he swore off the booze and the drugs. He’d always thought she was being melodramatic when she told him witch stuff. Then he was kidnapped by some angry otters and his shape-shifting father/
sperm donor stepped in to save him, along with his mother. He only lost a toe. Her particular talent was hexes, though she preferred giv­ing her enemies a good old-fashioned shit-kicking. Curses tended to bite you in the ass, she’d told him, and weren’t nearly as satisfying as physically throttling someone.

“Who’s going to bother me?” Jared said. “I got nothing anyone wants.”

“You’re the son of a Trickster,” she hissed.

“There’s a billion of us.” On one website he’d found 532 people claiming to be the children of Wee’git. Either Wee’git couldn’t keep it in his pants or a lot of people wanted to appear more exotic.

“You think you’re so fucking smart,” his mom said.

Jared recited the Serenity Prayer in his head. She shook another cigarette out of the pack and lit it off her butt before crushing it out on the full ashtray in the middle of the table. The TV went on in the living room. The recliner squealed.

“I’ll be out of your hair tomorrow,” Jared said. “You can forget you ever had me and party yourself to death.”

“You are testing my patience.”

It was always a bad sign when his mom stopped swearing. Jared focused on the tick of the kitchen clock to stay calm.

“You think I don’t love you,” she said. “Is that it?”

“I don’t think I’m high on your priority list.”

She got up and stood over him. She took her cigarette out of her mouth and he half-expected to get it in his face. He must have flinched, because her eyes narrowed dangerously.

She grabbed his chin. “You shoulda been a girl. Wah. Mommy doesn’t fucking love me. My feelings. My feeeeeelings.”

He shoved her hand away. “Get off me.”
 
“Are we done emoting?”

“I am.”

She backed up a step. “So I asked my sister if you could stay with her.”

Holy crap. Jared was stunned. His mom hadn’t spoken to her sis­ter since . . . forever. God. She really didn’t want him to stay with Death Threat.

“I dunno,” Jared said.

“Mave’s willing to put you up,” his mom said. “But be careful. She’s deaf to magic. Don’t bring it up around her. She’ll think you’re nuts and try to get you on antipsychotics.”

“I thought you hated her.”

“I do.”

She took a piece of paper out of her jean pocket and handed it to him. His throat tightened when he saw the name and number. His aunt, Mavis Moody, had tried to get custody of him when he was a baby, figuring her sister would be bad for any baby. His mom had married Philip Martin to avoid losing Jared. He couldn’t meet his mom’s eyes knowing how much of her pride she’d sacrificed to find him a safer place to crash. He dropped his head.

“Don’t say I never did anything for you,” she said.

Jared reached down, rifled through his backpack and gave her his grad picture.

She frowned. “Are you throwing it in my face? I only have grade eight and you’re a fucking high school graduate? You think that makes you special?”

“It’s just a picture,” Jared said. “Toss it if you don’t like it.”

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Plum Rains

Plum Rains

edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback

In a tour-de-force tapestry of science fiction and historical fiction, Andromeda Romano-Lax presents a story set in Japan and Taiwan that spans a century of empire, conquest, progress, and destruction.
 
2029: In Japan, a historically mono-cultural nation, childbirth rates are at an all-time low and the elderly are living increasingly longer lives. This population crisis has precipitated the mass immigration of foreign medical workers from all over Asia, as well as the development of finely tu …

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Excerpt

1 Angelica
 
Angelica was hurrying toward the crowded crosswalk, determined to get back to her elderly client Sayoko-san before the deliveryman arrived, when the view of buildings and business suits in front of her dissolved.
     The heart of Tokyo at 4:07 p.m., improbably on pause. A sharp whine and then static; a muffled white-noise pulse.
     Three throbbing beats. Then silence.
     Jellied knees.
     Shifting sidewalk.
     Going down.
     Someone else might have thought: terrorism. But Angelica’s mind reeled back only to what she’d known personally, growing up in the rural Philippines: the chaos of nature itself.
     Not again—the first thought of anyone who has lived through tremors, tsunamis and typhoons. Her fingers went to the tiny gold cross at her throat.
     Angelica did not stagger so much as melt. The concrete smacked her cheekbone just as the light seemed to leak out of the world. She took the biggest breath she could, like a diver preparing to go under, filling her lungs with the last clean air she might ever have, while behind closed eyelids, images from her childhood formed: looking up through the rubble to the gray Cebu sky, one arm protecting her head, one hand trapped, the other free, dusty fingers struggling to flex above the ruin. Tabang! Help!
     Papa! Mama!
     But then: veins relaxed. Oxygen flowed. The past burrowed back under its dirty blankets, its broken pipes and dust. The Philippine island of Cebu on that day over thirty years ago was only a memory.
     The light returned, soft and spotty at first, and then too bright. She squinted toward the curb, two meters away, and the street beyond, where whisper-quiet cars eased through the busy intersection.
     Get up. Get up. But she couldn’t. Her head was too heavy. The hiss in her ears was fading, but only slowly. Her leg was abraded from the fall, only a little, but it stung. A moan escaped from her lips, equal parts pain and simple embarrassment.
     Without lifting her face, Angelica could see businessmen’s loafers and women’s low-heeled pumps moving steadily past, pausing, moving again as the light changed. When she rolled to one side to look up, a woman wearing a germ-blocking face mask met her glance with an apologetic bow and then kept going.
     A whisper of wind against thigh warned that her skirt was up, her panties exposed. She’d meant to buy new underwear this spring and never had. Too broke and too busy studying for the next Japanese language proficiency exam. Last night, she had stayed up two extra hours and nodded off with her phone in her hand, kanji quiz app open, unfamiliar characters swimming through her dreams.
     She wasn’t the only one struggling. Ask the other Filipino nurses, the West African physical therapists, the Indonesian caregivers. Ask anyone in her position: trying to learn fast enough to pass the latest JLPT, trying to avoid unsafe jobs and the loan sharks back home, trying to avoid being sent back at the wrong time, always keeping the door open to returning at the right time.
     But still, it could have been worse. Instead of dull gray hip huggers with a worn-out elastic band, she could have been wearing the weirdly juvenile underwear her sometimes-lover Junichi had bought her. A forty-three-year-old Filipina should not be caught wearing a Hello Kitty thong.
     The blood was returning to Angelica’s head now. She needed only to lie on her back and let the spinning stop. She had been hurrying and worrying about something—and not only kanji.
     The deliveryman. That was why she had been rushing, why she had ignored the mounting headache, the prickly flush behind her knees, the feeling of unmanaged anxiety—an army of tiny ants creeping across her scalp. Her body had been trying to tell her: Eat something. Breathe. Put your head between your knees.
     But there’d been no time. Minutes earlier, while waiting in a noodle shop for Junichi (late as usual; probably not even coming) she’d received a text from the agency relief nurse, Phuong Pham: Leaving early. Sayoko is fine. I have emergency.
     When Angelica had texted back, You can’t. Wait until I get there, she’d received no further reply. She had set off toward the Itou family’s luxury condo at a worried trot, throat constricting, scalp crawling.
     At any moment, the deliveryman would be ringing the buzzer, having been assured that someone reliable would be there to greet him. Sayoko would be confused. Unless the old woman had thrown a tea towel over every eldercam eyespot in the house, Angelica’s phone would automatically fill up with images of an agitated lady, rolling back and forth toward the door in her outmoded wheelchair. If Sayoko’s blood pressure plunged or her heartrate increased past a certain point, programmed alarms would sound on her son’s phone, even as he sat in an important business meeting in Kuala Lumpur. Ryo Itou might think it was a serious emergency. Worst of all, Sayoko herself would be afraid and alone. Angelica knew how time could change in that kind of situation: how anxiety opened the door to a lonely eternity.
     Angelica closed her eyes.
     Then opened them, a moment later, to see a white, concave disk as wide as her shoulders, hovering just above her face.
      “I’m fine,” she said as she tried to turn away from the public health device. “I have to get up.”
      “Please, remain still,” the machine responded.
     The disk’s white wings angled down toward either side of her head, granting some small measure of privacy, a comfort more for bystanders who could hurry by with less guilt, even if their questions remained. Had they been standing close to her at the last crosswalk” Would there be some new outbreak announced on the evening news?
      “There’s nothing wrong with me,” she said.
     A cuff tightened automatically around Angelica’s arm. A black weight, no larger than a change purse but hard and heavy, vibrated threateningly against her sternum. Thrusting her chin down into her neck, she just managed to see the unit’s flickering red light, but only until the next instrument moved into place.
      “I have low blood pressure,” she said, before a rubber ring lowered around her mouth and sealed tight.
     The kenkobot was just doing its job. There was no way out—only through. For one claustrophobia-inducing minute as she waited for the test to finish, Angelica tried to distract herself—tried, even, to see the value in the situation.
     This would be a story to tell her brother, Datu. She would confess about the underwear. Yes, all the businessmen were staring. Whether or not it was true, just to make him laugh. So he could moan and answer: Nena, don’t tell me that. Take care of yourself. Buy new underwear at least. You’ve always been such a miser. As if being a big spender was any better. Even when they were kids, he’d been unable to hold onto what the charity sisters gave him long enough to pay their school fees. Every coin went to candy and chips, later to beer, and then they’d sell gasoline from a plastic soda bottle to passing tricycle drivers who could only afford a splash at a time. Stand at the corner, wave them down, waggle your hips, he’d say, sitting on the dusty shoulder, in the shade. Or at least waggle the place you’ll someday have hips. He was four years older, and cool. She had always admired his fearlessness, his reckless dreams—I’ll be the first off the island, and I’ll be the first back home, rich and ready for the good life—and even when their other three siblings had been alive, they were the closest.
     Datu. She would text him this weekend and insist: not just audio. Video. Even if it couldn’t be in real time. I want to see you.
     Finally, the kenkobot finished its task and the rubber ring around her mouth lifted away, leaving its chemical smell and a feeling of pressure under her nose and over her chin. She’d have an indent above her lip for a few hours, a rash on her chin later. Small price to pay for state-of-the-art diagnostics, or so the kenkobot advocates would say.
      “I had sake on an empty stomach,” she told the unit. That part was true. At the noodle shop, she’d tossed back a single tiny cup before dashing out the door. “I’m a nurse. I know I’m fine.”
     She wasn’t quite sure. But that was her business. Later there would be time to consider the symptoms, allowing some possibilities to flit across her mind and deliberately blocking others that were too frightening or simply unlikely. Nurses did that, too. Easier to treat than to be treated.
     One thing she knew for sure: she wasn’t as resilient as she used to be. Not so long ago she’d been able to juggle more uncertainties—Junichi not showing up for a date; Datu possibly trying to hide that he was sick; a borderline exam score—with only a passing sense of worry or irritation. But now, every stressor triggered something physical: Breathlessness. Dizziness. Psoriasis at her hairline or a rash across her chest. Her body was shouting what her mind didn’t care to admit: it was too much, sometimes. She had a better situation than most, but things weren’t getting easier.
     The kenkobot recited her name, her age, her nationality, her physical address. Even the expiry date on her visa. The machine’s volume seemed to increase with that last detail.
     Was it all correct?
     Yes. Of course.
     Did she want to add additional contact information” No thank you. She wanted only to leave.
     A list of medications was reviewed, patient history rapidly taken.
     Symptoms, permission to access recent food purchase data, confirmation that she had not eaten any tainted food products purchased by others.
     Still menstruating” No—sorry, sometimes. Irregularly.
     Fertility therapy” No.
     Sexually active” Is that really necessary?
     Sexually active” Yes.
     Travel outside Japan” Not since moving here.
     When, precisely” Five years ago.
     Sixty months” Let me see . . . fifty-eight.
     Interactions with other foreigners” Only other healthcare professionals. Documented, healthy people.
     From” Vietnam, China, West Africa . . .
     And from the Philippines” The machine already had her travel records and general personal data, of course.
     When she took too long, it asked again: Interactions with citizens of the Philippines?
     She thought of her nursing friend Yanna, who had come with her, from Cebu, and then, despite threats from the moneylenders she still owed back home, had unwisely decided to return. You can go home if you’re paid up. You can risk a trip if you’ve got an envelope full of cash, ready to negotiate the moment they hear you’re back. What you can’t do is return home more broke than when you left, having flouted every payment date you were given. Yanna had known that. And still.
     Angelica answered the kenkobot, “Not many.”
      “Please,” the kenkobot said. Always polite. A flexible perimeter rose around her with a gentle hiss as air inflated the soft, low barrier, each corner marked with a winking blue caution light. “Relax and remain still. With permission granted, final diagnostics will take only three minutes.”
     A stranger had accidentally kicked her right shoe and now it rested several meters away on the street beside the curb. Good nursing shoes in her extra-small size were hard to find. Any small shoes were hard to find. In Cebu and Manila, she had often searched through children’s departments, but here in Japan, where the infertility epidemic was severe, children’s shops were becoming rare, and the clothes they carried were infantile, part of a national obsession with things cute and riotously colorful. Each passing tire missed the simple white shoe only by centimeters.
     She was asked a list of questions, seeking permission for each further invasion. A needle pinched the soft skin of her inner elbow. A chilled puff of air blew against her eye. A swab pushed stealthily into her nose and then retreated.
      “I’m a little cold,” she said, trying to reach a hand down to adjust her skirt and cover her thigh.
      “Ninety-eight point eight degrees. Normal. Estimated time for transportation—”
      “Not necessary,” she said. But it, not she, would make that determination. With any luck, the nearest clinics were overbooked and the directive would be to release her, barring any indication of communicable disease.
      “Please wait,” the kenkobot said.
     All this technology and she’d willingly trade it for a rolled-up towel placed under her neck and a simple blanket draped over her legs. All this so-called progress and what she needed was a kind word in a human voice.
      “Please wait,” the kenkobot repeated.
     Technology alone, no matter how efficient, however seemingly foolproof, could never suffice. Any good nurse knew that. And with that thought, Angelica experienced the first sense of calm she’d felt all day, the certainty providing a visceral comfort: she knew things. She was a professional. She was needed, in this day and age more than ever, when so much of life was automated and impersonal. She had value. No one could take that from her—least of all a machine.

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Armed in Her Fashion

Armed in Her Fashion

edition:Paperback
tagged : horror

In 1328, Bruges is under siege by the Chatelaine of Hell and her army of chimeras-humans mixed with animals or armour, forged in the deep fires of the Hellbeast. At night, revenants crawl over the walls and bring plague and grief to this city of widows.
Margriet de Vos learns she's a widow herself when her good-for-nothing husband comes home dead from the war. He didn't come back for her. The revenant who was her husband pulls a secret treasure of coins and weapons from under his floorboards an …

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Sodom Road Exit

Sodom Road Exit

edition:Paperback

Lambda Literary Award and Sunburst Award finalist; a Globe and Mail Best Book of the Year

It's the summer of 1990, and Crystal Beach in Ontario has lost its beloved, long-running amusement park, leaving the lakeside village a virtual ghost town. It is back to this fallen community Starla Mia Martin must return to live with her overbearing mother after dropping out of university and racking up significant debt. But an economic downturn, mother-daughter drama, and Generation X disillusionment soon …

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Not Even Bones

Not Even Bones

edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback
tagged : dark fantasy

"Twisty, grisly, genre-bending and immersive,Not Even Bones will grab you by the throat and drag you along as it gleefully tramples all of your expectations." —Sara Holland,New York Times best-selling author of Everless
Dexter meets This Savage Song in this dark fantasy about a girl who sells magical body parts on the black market — until she’s betrayed.
 
Nita doesn’t murder supernatural beings and sell their body parts on the internet—her mother does that. Nita just dissects the bo …

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Tess of the Road

Tess of the Road

edition:Hardcover
tagged : medieval

Meet Tess, a brave new heroine from beloved epic fantasy author Rachel Hartman.

In the medieval kingdom of Goredd, women are expected to be ladies, men are their protectors, and dragons get to be whomever they want. Tess, stubbornly, is a troublemaker. You can't make a scene at your sister's wedding and break a relative's nose with one punch (no matter how pompous he is) and not suffer the consequences. As her family plans to send her to a nunnery, Tess yanks on her boots and sets out on a journe …

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Black Chuck

Black Chuck

edition:eBook
also available: Paperback

Psycho. Sick. Dangerous. Réal Dufresne's reputation precedes him. When the mangled body of his best friend, Shaun, turns up in a field just east of town, tough-as-hell Réal blames himself. But except for the nightmares, all Ré remembers is beating the living crap out of Shaun the night of his death.

Shaun's girlfriend, sixteen-year-old Evie Hawley, keeps her feelings locked up tight. But now she's pregnant, and the father of her baby is dead. And when Réal looks to her to atone for his si …

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