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Rewriting the canon

Let’s talk about canon but use the conversation to recommend some Sci, Fi, and even Scary books that are very much worth your time.

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I wanted to use today’s post to gather some stray thoughts (and links) and point people in the direction of some interesting books.

A couple of months ago Time Magazine published an article called The 100 Best Fantasy Books of All Time.

“In a year defined by grim reality, we look to artists to help us understand—and escape. TIME celebrates the best, most captivating and essential fantasy books of all time, dating back to the 9th century.”

Time Magazine

The Time magazine article doesn’t really mention the word “canon” but these endeavors to shape the conversation continue that tradition, while also expanding it. Canon talk is canon talk.

But here and now, in the 21st Century, what even is canon? Does the idea of canon make sense? What is the value in a canon, if any?

On their podcast Coode Street, Gary K. Wolfe and Jonathan Strahan use the Time list as an on ramp to really dig into the discussion of canon and its usefulness. Their conversation is through and may get a little into the weeds at times, but I think it is a worthwhile one.

Their discussion reminded me of film director Paul Schrader’s 2006 article called Canon Fodder. Schrader set out to do for cinema what Harold Bloom’s book, The Western Canon, did for literature. Schrader put great thought into what a canon should be and how one should be built. The more he learned about canon the more the project expanded. And the more he saw the enormity of it.

“In fact, it was only as I was approaching the end of the introduction that I comprehended the full scope of what I was arguing.”

Paul Schrader

Regardless of what you think about the value of canons, various genres are having canon or canon adjacent conversations. One of the best ways the canon is currently being expanded, right before our eyes, is globally inclusive short story anthologies.

Jeff & Ann VanderMeer have been at the forefront of this with their editorial work, which included: The New Weird, Steampunk, The Weird, The Big Book of Science Fiction: The Ultimate Collection, The Big Book of Classic Fantasy, The Big Book of Modern Fantasy.

“Perennial arguments question how long women have been writing science fiction compared to men, whether their science fiction is truly science fiction, what the definition of science fiction is — to the exclusion of sciences like biology, sociology or linguistics, or to the exclusion of non-Western narrative approaches used by women who are not white or not Western. To the exclusion, too, of a wider understanding of gender around the world. Sometimes these arguments are men yelling at clouds. Sometimes they are publishers not buying science fiction books by women, or lists of classic science fiction that are almost entirely by men.”

Introduction to The Mammoth Book of SF by Women

Other notable short story anthologies that are expanding what we know about the genre(s) (especially from around the world) include:

  • The Best of Spanish Steampunk
  • Iraq + 100: The First Anthology of Science Fiction to Have Emerged from Iraq by Hassan Blasim
  • Palestine +100 edited by Basma Ghalayini
  • Broken Stars: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation by Ken Liu
  • Sunspot Jungle: Volume One and Two: The Ever Expanding Universe of Fantasy and Science Fiction by Bill Campbell
  • Where the Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction and Fantasy by Fonda Lee
  • Readymade Bodhisattva: The Kaya Anthology of South Korean Science Fiction edited by Sunyoung Park
  • The Gollancz Book of South Asian Science Fiction edited by Tarun K Saint and Foreword by Manjula Padmanabhan
  • Invisible Planets: An Anthology of Contemporary Chinese SF in Translation edited by Ken Liu
  • The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women edited by Alex Dally Mac Farlane
  • New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color Kindle Edition by Nisi Shawl
  • Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora Kindle Edition by Zelda Knight

“The volume in your hands represents, therefore, a fresh safari into a literary dimension that has been largely overlooked in the region hat you and I call home. This time, your guides have names such as Matadeen and Mahua, your picnic basket may contain mango pickle and your kitbag surely includes a collapsible lota rather than toilet paper. “

Manjula Padmanabhan

Not wanting to be excluded, the horror genre even saw the recent publication of The Valancourt Book of World Horror Stories, volume 1 edited by James D Jenkins and Ryan Cagle.

“The Moral of the story is that if one takes the trouble to look hard enough, there’s a much larger body of world horror fiction out there than any of us would suspect.”

James D Jenkins & Ryan Cagle

My hope with all of this is to point you in the direction of some good books. Though I am happy to debate canon also. Did I miss any good anthologies that should be a part of this conversation?

For any interested, a couple of years ago, over at Toe Six Press, I wrote about crime fiction from around the world.

“…it stands to reason that a healthy society is one that respects and honors the voices of ALL of its components. For too long, the voices and visions for our future have been provided, for the most part, by and from a culturally European (if not Eurocentric) perspective.”

LeVar Burton

Published inAnthologies & Collections

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