Heterogeneous, undisciplined, collaborative, thriving. These are just a few of the adjectives that authors, artists, critics, historians, journalists, fans, and more have used to describe Quebec’s science fiction and fantasy scene. Collectively known by the acronym SFFQ (la science-fiction et le fantastique québécois), the community as we know it today first took shape in the 1970s, although science fiction and fantasy were present in the province as early as the nineteenth century.
Let’s start with heterogeneous. Though the acronym might suggest an emphasis on science fiction and fantasy, SFFQ is actually an umbrella term for all of the popular genres that appeared and intermingled starting in the ’70s, including crime, horror, thriller, and adventure. From day one, writers refused to stick to a single genre, blurring boundaries and combining themes and writing practices to such an extent that Quebec novelist, essayist, and literary critic Jean-Pierre April once described them as “fundamentally undisciplined beings.”
But the hybridity doesn’t stop there. From its founding in 1974, Requiem, the first francophone science fiction magazine in North America and the catalyst of the literary movement that coalesced into SFFQ, offered information on authors, publications, and events both within and outside Quebec. Thanks to the importation and distribution of foreign creations, local writers at the time also read, watched, and engaged with the seminal works of science fiction taking cultural scenes worldwide by storm. As Canadian science fiction writer Jean Louis-Trudel notes in his Petit Guide de la science-fiction au Québec, the exposure to international production allowed authors to see themselves as participating in a global network of exchanges, borrowings, and influences while envisioning the possibility of embracing Quebec’s specificity.
That brings me to collaboration. SFFQ developed into an institution largely thanks to collective efforts. In addition to writing, authors throughout the 1970s and ensuing decades created specialized reviews and prizes, participated in anthologies and collectives, and acted in various capacities to legitimate speculative fiction as a means of expression. Indeed, many of the institutions and initiatives they worked together to create still exist to this day, from the Congrès Boréal, an annual French-language speculative fiction convention first organized by Élisabeth Vonarburg in 1979, to Solaris (formerly known as Requiem), by now the oldest French-language science fiction and fantasy magazine in the world.
Recent years have also seen the opening of Librairie Saga, the only bookstore in Quebec specifically dedicated to speculative fiction, and the creation of the Prix des Horizons Imaginaires, a literary prize awarded by students to Quebec titles of speculative fiction. Works like Valid, a dystopian autofiction by trans author Chris Bergeron (translated by Natalia Hero); Wapke, the first collection of science fiction stories by Indigenous writers in Quebec (translated by Kathyrn Gabinet-Kroo); and Mélodie Joseph’s La respiration du ciel, the first Afrofantasy novel by a Quebec author (excerpted here in Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch’s translation), are a testament to the increasing diversity and inclusivity of SFFQ.
One of the writers who has been a fixture of the scene since the late 2000s is Ariane Gélinas. Despite being recognized as one of the grande dames of science fiction in Quebec, Gélinas, like her “fundamentally undisciplined” colleagues, avoids confining herself to a single genre. The Grandes-Piles, Quebec-born author has penned more than seventy short stories spanning horror, science fiction, poetic prose, historical fiction, and crime. What sets her writing apart, regardless of its connection to speculative fiction, is a poetic approach to language and an unwavering commitment to evoking intensity. In Remy Attig’s translation of “Chlorosis,” Gélinas portrays the increasingly strained relationship between Marvin and Clément, a gay couple living in a world where people take drastic measures to cope with the feeling of existential emptiness that provides the story’s title. Against the backdrop of “Montreal’s myriad skyscrapers,” the narrative highlights the consequences of trying to conform to an ideology that doesn’t resonate with our true selves, highlighting the tension between pleasing those we love and choosing our own happiness.
Since publishing her provocative, award-winning debut novel Of Vengeance (translated by Pablo Strauss) in 2017, novelist and short story writer J. D. Kurtness has garnered a reputation for her dark humor and timely commentary on technology and the environment. Born in Chicoutimi to a Québécois mother and an Innu father, Kurtness moved to Montreal to study microbes but ultimately turned to writing and computer science. The author enjoys destabilizing readers and showcasing the duality between the absurdity of our lives and the extraordinary beauty of the world we inhabit. In “Welcome, Alyson,” the mysterious disappearance of a fiftysomething woman in Alma (a town in the author’s native Saguenay) becomes a vehicle for exploring how an apocalypse weaves its way into our daily lives, starting off as an isolated incident and eventually reaching global proportions. Drawing on several tropes of apocalyptic literature, the story depicts a blissful, ironic end of the world, inviting us to reconsider the importance of humanity on Earth. Are we really the species an entity from beyond would choose as an interlocutor?
Recently hailed as one of the new faces of the Quebec novel, Ayavi Lake was born in Dakar and attended university in Paris. The author, whose immersion in Quebec culture began with a two-year stint in Saguenay, has been vocal about her feelings toward the province: “My legitimacy when I write comes from the fact that Quebec is a place I chose, that I love, where I feel good, and where I want to participate.” Informed by a deep understanding and love for Quebec and her experiences in Senegal and France, Lake’s writing offers a nuanced perspective on the province and beyond, using tools like humor and irony to be critical rather than insulting. The daughter of mixed-raced parents, Lake also draws inspiration from cultural and genetic hybridity. In H Felix Chau Bradley’s translation of “Resurgence,” we follow an albino woman forced to work for a company that experiments on migrants in hopes of creating a new “nonrace” of half-human, half-spirit beings. Set in a dystopian version of Montreal, the story explores the complicated juxtaposition between decay and renewal, resistance and oppression.
Author, researcher, and occultist Joyce Baker was born and raised in the Gaspé peninsula, whose name comes from the Mi’kmaq word for “where the land ends.” This meaning provides the subtitle for Baker’s first work of fiction, Glauque, a collection of occult tales that draw on well-known local legends and the author’s childhood to depict a dark, mysterious Gaspésie far from the postcard-perfect images usually associated with the region. In E. S. Taillon’s translation of the story “Specimen,” Baker immerses us in the mind of a troubled researcher who spends her evenings at a strip club, captivated by Ophélie, one of the dancers. The protagonist’s fascination takes a disturbing turn when a mysterious acoustic phenomenon unleashes chaos on the city, leaving Ophélie nearly unconscious. Driven by evocative prose infused with vernacular, the story offers a deeply unsettling portrait of obsession and a testament to the indisputable power of nature.
A pioneer of Afrofantasy in Quebec, Mélodie Joseph was born in Martinique, grew up in Saint Martin, and has lived in Montreal for several years. In addition to writing, the author maintains a YouTube channel where she discusses everything from writing tips and book recommendations to Afrofuturism and magical realism in franco-Caribbean literature. Joseph even has videos that demystify the process of conceiving, editing, and publishing her debut novel, La respiration du ciel, the first volume of a four-part series called La semeuse de vents. In Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch’s translation of the book’s first chapter, “Ruins,” a young girl is found in a swampland ravaged by toxic haze, with no idea who she is or how she survived. Combining a gripping origin-slash-revenge story with stunning worldbuilding and thought-provoking reflections on how and by whom history is written, the novel confirms Joseph’s place as one of the most exciting new voices in the contemporary SFFQ scene.
When I was first brainstorming ideas for this issue, my goal was to find texts that were both universal and inscribed in Quebec’s unique context. I knew I wanted to include voices from various communities but couldn’t find a specific angle or glue to hold everything together. Then it hit me: what kind of writing allows authors to simultaneously transcend and grapple with the sociocultural, biological, environmental, and spatiotemporal forces that shape them better than speculative fiction? Discovering Quebec’s scene was a gift and a revelation, an invitation to step into familiar and unknown worlds and engage with some of the most passionate, generous, and creative individuals I’ve ever met. Though the writers in this issue differ in how they situate their work with respect to Quebec and speculative fiction, I hope their voices speak to the fact that fifty years after beginning to take shape, SFFQ is now thriving more than ever.
Copyright © 2024 by Hannah Allen-Shim. All rights reserved.