Winnipeg-based writers Darren Ridgley and Adam Petrash put out a call to authors of short speculative fiction “with deep ties to the province.”
What they’ve ended up with is a kaleidoscope of style and subject matter. Echoes of iconic storylines pulled from the annals of cult sci-fi, fantasy and suspense ring through Manitoba’s landscape.
The overwhelming vastness of the plains cut deep by unrelenting rivers through the villainy of violent floods and bitter winters likely seems like an alternate dimension, even to those familiar with it.
Those watery arteries are a spiritual and commercial crossroads through the heart of Turtle Island. Keith Cadieux takes us on a journey to that trade centre in his compelling period piece All that Cold, All that Dark. A girl crossing the threshold of womanhood is forced to join her uncle on an unexpectedly long trek through Upper Canada into Rupert’s Land one bleak and bitter winter sometime in the early 19th century. The images are stark, grotesque, and the ending hits like a brick.
In one instance, the Manitoba ties are woven in the province’s literary history. Sheldon Birnie’s They Just Want to Play the Game is set in Manawaka, a place first invented by 20th century bastion of Canadian short fiction Margaret Laurence.
Birnie paints a caddy’s portrait of a competitive small town golfer as his facilities are hijacked by curious aliens during the final round of the Manawaka golf tournament. Casual and quick -witted, the work bubbles with quirk worthy of a good chortle.
Another rural close encounter of note in the collection is Brandon-based Patrick Johanneson’s Vincent and Charlie. The story explores the concept of alien telepathy and memory manipulation from inside a mind descending into dementia. Johanneson finds an artful balance between suspense and sentimentality and adds a soupçon of Men in Black for good measure.
From alien technology to human, The Comments Gaze Also Into You by David Jón Fuller could easily be an episode of Black Mirror. An Obi Wan of online saviours discovers their ability to unmask virtual armies of trolls before facing retaliation in real life.
For some lighter fare, author Jonathan Ball imagines a machine at Polo Park Shopping Centre that reveals to its user their future cause of death in Judith. A couple about to be married get an unexpected response, and the battle between determinism and chaos begins.
There are some stark contrasts in directness and efficacy of language – a few stories in the collection take some rereading to grasp, a few ramble, and others read like storyboards. That being said, each story has its distinct Manitoban aroma and is, for the most part, intriguing in one way or another. With swaths of demons, aliens, zombies, snake oil salesmen, fortune tellers, old magics and new, there is something in these Parallel Prairies for everyone.
McNally Robinson Booksellers (1120 Grant Ave.) hosts the Parallel Prairies: Stories of Manitoba Speculative Fictions launch on Oct. 11 at 7 p.m. with editors/contributors Adam Petrash and Darren Ridgley.