Unlike the previous two Kitchener-Waterloo (KW) Science Fiction and Fantasy authors, I have not to my knowledge met Suzanne Church – yet — but I did encounter her “Synch Me, Kiss Me, Drop”, during my failed attempt to listen to every audio piece at Clarkesworld1. Church was first published almost a decade ago but she is not especially prolific and this is her first collection. Elements collects twenty-one stories by Church, which is actually eight more stories than are credited to her over at isfdb. I would like to say that the gaps in her isfdb entry are because seven of the stories in Elements are original to Elements itself — which is true — but Elements itself is mentioned in that entry.
I will say up front that anyone who forms their expectations about this collection around the fact that Church has been published at the literarily ambitious, generally gloomy Clarkesworld is going to be just as misguided as someone who prejudges the collection just because it was authored by a Canadian2. There are some grim pieces in here — “Tattoo Ink” is outright horror, “Coolies” relates a bonding exercise between father and daughter that could have gone better, “The Tear Closet” is driven by child abuse and “Mod Me Down” offers an extreme version of the lifestyle adaptations forced on the underclasses for the convenience of their masters – but there are some unexpectedly optimistic pieces (which I am not going to name because then the optimism wouldn’t unexpected), and some stories that are outright comedy; the three Couch Universe stories would not have been out of place in Galaxy during one of its upbeat phases.
I do have one criticism of her otherwise touching ghost-story “Muffy and the Belfry, which has to do with this sentence:
Every day I walk the same route home from school, seven streets down Merner, then right onto Lackner.
Merner runs from Cameron to Frederick. Merner is parallel4 to Lackner and never particularly close to it; the two cannot cross! I am as shocked as you are.
Church’s prose is polished, more precise than is the norm for speculative fiction but it’s clear she is familiar with and fond of large swaths of the field even if she eschews settling for the … what’s a nice word for dreadful? … workmanlike prose generally considered acceptable in many SpecFic venues. While it’s a shame she’s thus far stuck to short work, because short work tends to be more obscure, meaning fewer people have heard of her than should have, a collection like this provides an excellent showcase for the impressive range of her talents, one I recommend you consider.
- Which failed not due to any lack of quality but in part because I really, really prefer audio dramas with full casts to pieces read by individual readers and in part because their archive is insanely huge and growing fast.
- Canadian fiction has the unjust reputation of being entirely composed of morose examinations of troubled families in economically depressed Ukrainian-Canadian towns in the desolations of Manitoba3, the melancholy of encroaching adulthood with its inevitable mortality or zoologically implausible transgressive romances but this is unfair. CanLit has always had humorist pieces; who could ever forget Mowatt’s A Whale For the Killing?
- I have not actually read that one but I did hear it get an award on the CBC.
- Well, parallelish. The people who created Kitchener-Waterloo’s road system were not personally familiar with the concept of straight lines or grids, which is why Weber and King cross each other so often.
Waterloo added its own flourishes, like hanging “crescent” off a road that was straight – since renamed, much to my disappointment – and having maps that for a long time included an entirely hypothetical stretch of Westmount.