I pause to savour this moment behind the microphone, looking out over the buzzing conversations in The Almanac’s back room, 30 or so young writers chatting, mingling and picking the brains of our six special guests. Between them, our guests cover an impressive range, from Africentric SF to paranormal mystery and noir, from SF erotica to post- apocalyptic YA to blurry cross-genre “literary” SF. My co-organizer and I have been planning this Sci-Fi City event for weeks. Here, I see large swathes of my personal history of Edmonton SF gathered in a single space and time. Nineteen years ago, I would never have even thought to imagine this. And yet, in retrospect, it seems almost inevitable.
Winter 1999, Kitchener, ON
(3,400 km, 19 years)
Alone, fresh out of my Bachelor’s (and fresh into my shitty bachelor apartment), I reread the letter from On Spec, “The Canadian Magazine of Speculative Writing.” The first SF story I ever sent out has been accepted. My first paid publication, in a magazine from Edmonton, a city I have never seen, nor do I ever expect to. Nineteen years and thousands of kilometres away, a framed colour photocopy of my cheque from the Copper Pig Writers’ Society will hang over my desk.
2001-2005, Fredericton, NB
(4,400 km, 17-13 years)
During and after my MA in Creative Writing, I read every bit of Canadian SF I can find. Here, I encounter the work of Candas Jane Dorsey, Minister Faust, Sean Stewart and Tom Wharton. (Of Dorsey’s Black Wine, one prof says, “For beautiful literary SF, you really need to check this out.” She’s right.) I have not yet consciously noticed how many of these authors have Edmonton connections. I certainly do not imagine that one day I will meet (almost) all of them.
Summer 2003, Guelph, ON
(3,400 km, 15 years)
At the SF Research Association conference, I meet Doug Barbour and a group of his former doctoral students. Years later, I will discover that Doug is best known for his poetry. But today, I know only that all these new-minted PhDs wrote their dissertations on SF under his supervision at the University of Alberta. I hear stories, how one lived in the HUB Mall and wore shorts to class year round, even as the temperature outside dropped to 40 below, which sounds science-fictional, akin to the cold of space. Tales of patio drinks in Edmonton’s eternal summer twilight, sky still bright at 11, the horizon banded with blue even at midnight. Daydreams of pursuing my own PhD in this mythical place begin to circle.
August 2005, Leduc-Edmonton, AB
(35-0 km, 13 years)
In the airport shuttle, the extended post-apocalyptic hellscape of industrial areas alternating with strip malls fosters not apprehension but excitement. Here I can get away with studying SF. Here, I will grope towards explaining how fantasy (a subset of SF) imagines the world into being, how we story ourselves into existence. Just as this city will invent and reinvent itself in my imagination – and in its own communities and their collective imaginations. Just as it will reinvent me, first as an SF scholar, then later (and again) as an SF writer.
April 30, 2018, Edmonton, AB
(0 km, 4.5 weeks)
I wrap up my introductions, and the conversations resume. Joining in, I ask On Spec‘s managing editor if she knew that story was my first paid publication. I tell one young writer how I was hooked by that first story sale, how it took another seven years to sell another, but I did, so keep writing, and keep sending it out. I look at these young SF writers, and I wonder what new realities they will invent and create, inhabit and share.
June 1, 2018, SF City
(0 km, now)
And now, as I write this, in the living room of a writer I first knew only as the name behind one of my favourite books, and who has now become a friend, I think about the strangeness of it all. How this city has become, for me, an SF nexus, and I wonder what that’s all about. Is it something in the water, or in those cold winter nights and eternal summer days? I don’t know. But whatever you call it – whether Edmonton, E-town, Redmonton, Dirt City, Deadmonton, or E-ville – I do know that it’s also deeply surreal, fantastic, and science-fictional. SF City indeed.
Greg Bechtel is the author of Boundary Problems, a genre-bending collection of strange and often surreal stories. He also teaches writing and literature at the University of Alberta.