My passion for speculative fiction takes a variety of forms, one of which is my Xbox. Last month I finally started playing Mass Effect 3, and I was surprised to find that the game’s prologue takes place in 22nd-century Vancouver. The time spent there was brief, but it was nice to see some action set in good old Canada.
Afterward, I thought: why was I surprised to see the game start out in Vancouver? I realized that it’s because of how rare it is for speculative fiction to be set in Canada. I can’t think of a sci-fi or fantasy game that takes place in Canada. The only novels involving Canada in either genre that I’m aware of are The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood), The Night Eternal (Del Toro/Hogan), and the WWW series (Robert J. Sawyer). And while a number of TV shows and movies of a fantastic nature are filmed or produced in “Hollywood North” (aka Vancouver or Toronto), there is very little that’s actually set in these cities.
So why is this? There are amazing Canadian actors that have lit up speculative fiction on the screen. Some of the best speculative fiction authors around are Canadian – Steven Erikson, S.M. Stirling, and Guy Gavriel Kay, just to name a few. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and the comic series it’s based on, takes place in Toronto. So why aren’t more stories set here?
I think it’s for the same reason why most popular fiction in any genre (beyond literary) isn’t set in Canada. And our status on the world stage of late. People don’t take Canada seriously. As far as most people are concerned, nothing exciting really happens here. The excitement is in the United States, Britain, Japan, and elsewhere. To the world, and even to most of our own people, we’re all a bunch of generally nice people that live ordinary lives, and it’s nothing compared to what’s going on beyond our borders.
But the big issue is that there is excitement here – just read the news. And writers are a huge component to helping people realize this. Writers make New York, Los Angeles, Paris, and Tokyo look like these thrilling locales full of car chases, terrorist attacks, and alien invasions, when in fact these places are basically no different than Toronto or Vancouver. So why not set the next great horror novel in Ottawa? Or have the next Harry Potter raised in Edmonton? Why can’t Canada be another setting for the fantastic?
As much as I hate to use him as an example (for several reasons), we need more speculative fiction writers to do what Robert J. Sawyer did in his latest trilogy, where the protagonist lives in Waterloo. If this Ontario city that a lot of people have probably never heard of can be a setting for a science fiction trilogy, then why not the rest of the country?