Speculative fiction – that wonderful branch of literature that encompasses the genres of science fiction, fantasy, horror and all their cross-bred permutations – is often the maligned sibling of the much grander fiction, celebrated across Canada every fall with insert-the-name prizes and black-tie galas.
Unlike erotica, the creepy uncle-you-don’t-leave-the-kids-with, speculative fiction is often treated as the outcast sibling – she’s at the Sunday dinners, but most of the family think she’s just too weird to have a conversation with.
In the spirit of giving that branch of literature a little more time in the light, local dark fantasy publisher ChiZine took over Toronto’s Underground Cinema for the second annual Toronto Specfic Colloquium on Saturday, October 15th.
While genre conventions like Ad Astra, Polaris and Fan Expo are popular events for bringing Toronto’s fan community together, the Colloquium sought a different approach from the realm of the academic.
“The idea of colloquiums or colloquia is a lot more common there; kind of a smaller discussion group to be able to get a conversation that spreads across multiple talks,” explained Helen Marshall, ChiZine’s managing editor, event co-organizer and a medieval studies PhD student at the University of Toronto.
“We found conventions didn’t have that kind of conversation. There’re a lot of people there but nobody talks to each other, everybody does their own separate thing. We wanted to raise the level of discussion.”
Part of raising that discussion was inviting numerous local authors to give a series of talks, including young adult author Leslie Livingston (Wondrous Strange, Darklight), Caitlin Sweet (A Telling of Stars, The Pattern Scars) and Peter Watts, a biologist and author of sci-fi novels like Starfish and Blindsight. Watts focused on humanity’s perception of the world with a fully-developed lecture called “Reality: The Ultimate Mythology.”
“We’ve all run into the premise that reality is an illusion,” said Peter. “The Matrix managed to popularize that particular hypothesis.
“There’ve also been some actual papers written to the effect that if Matrix-style simulations are possible, then chances are overwhelming that we are living in one right now. It’s called the simulation argument. It’s fronted primarily by an Oxford philosopher, Nick Bostrom, and the logic is actually pretty simple: If it is in fact possible for us to create a simulated world that’s good enough to fake out the simulated inhabitants therein, then by definition, all those simulated worlds are going to contain people that are capable of creating simulations of theirs, and in turn, so on and so on, all the way down. If this is in fact the case, then you’ve got one mute-space reality and a whole shitload of virtual ones. Basic probability dictates that the odds of being in (the real) one…are really pretty low.”
Whoa. If the Wachowskis took that route, The Matrix might have been a better trilogy.
In addition to ChiZine‘s own promotional table, local genre book stores The Beguiling and Bakka Phoenix Books were also on hand to offer attendees titles by speaking authors, including this year’s guest of honour, Mike Carey.
Known primarily for his work as a writer on Lucifer, Hellblazer and The Unwritten from Vertigo Comics, Carey delivered the most poignant and thoughtful speech of the event, titled “Speak of the Dazzling Wings: Myth, Language and Modern Fantasy.”
“Modern mythologies are the same as ancient mythologies in that they give us this sense of being restored to ourselves; having our emptiness filled, having our poverty annulled. It may be illusion, but who cares? Everything else is illusion too,” said Carey.
“We read because we are people made of out of words, and all stories in the end are costumes, dazzling or dark, that we choose to wear.”