The title of the anthology is Fractured: Tales of the Canadian Apocalypse, and it seems like a natural fit. Our wide open spaces are an obvious setting for the frontier lifestyle ascendant. Often American-written apocalypses end up in the Catskills or Appalachians, but Canada’s Rockies, Shield, and Prairies work at least as well. Which is not to say that a crumbling Toronto or submerged Winnipeg is unsuitable for a tale of urban collapse.
Truthfully, my mental image for most apocaplyses, but especially a Canadian one, was exclusively environmental. Whatever the reason, I wasn’t expecting ghosts, aliens, a “killer app” that puts most of the world into a coma, or rips in spacetime. I have to credit the diversity of themes, however. Even if they didn’t all work for me, each of them is likely to work for somebody. And in some cases, they really, really worked for me.
“Manitou-Wapow” is a sort of War of the Worlds prequel, set several decades before H.G. Wells’ tale in the Red River Colony (the future site of the city of Winnipeg). The Anashinabe describe the famous tripods as “three-legs” with the “spirit eye,” and have known them for generations as the ones who defeated the sacred thunderbirds, giving them a wide berth. The new Red River settlers, however, pass the forbidden boundary and the war begins. The story deftly interweaves elements of the classic sci-fi story with indigenous teachings and a carefully worked-out alternate history of the Red River Rebellion (which, in our own timeline, led Manitoba to be the first and only member of the Confederation to join via armed uprising). I appreciated the accurate and clever handling of my own hometown’s local history as much as the respectful and clever homage to Wells. The unusual alternate history Victorian setting further made this apocalyptic tale stand out. A true original.
There was some interesting experimentation in storytelling conventions throughout the anthology. Some stories were told through diary entries (the aforementioned “Manitou-Wapow” as well as “D-Day” and “Saying Goodbye”), others through more unusual means: transcripts of senate meetings (“Edited Hansard 116”) or one half of a CB radio conversation (“White Noise”). In another case, the story of the ghost apocalypse (“Persistence of Vision”) is narrated by a former movie critic, so he discusses everything in the context of how the film version would be shot, contrasting the heightened drama of movie pacing with the sudden losses and anti-climactic resolutions of real life. More traditional narratives, with a preponderance of first-person, also took their place alongside these experimental forms.
Several authors chose to focus on the aftermath, the loneliness of being one of the last, and the horror of truly dying alone, even peacefully. “Saying Goodbye” was probably the strongest in this vein, set off the BC coast in beautiful, isolated Haida territory. It features no conflict, just slow, sad reminiscing, and a piece by piece assembly of the key points in his life which led the narrator to this moment in time: safe from the horrors of the mainland collapse, but only to die from sheer hopelessness, in heartbreak at recognizing the ending of the species.
Others set their tale just pre-apocalypse, hinting at the coming disaster, and others told a story decades or centuries later, as the world started to rebuild, or at least to make the attempt: One such story, set in a fairly Canadianized Mad Max world, features roving tribes of Newfies, the reemergence of the Voyageur, and nuclear-powered laser weapons on the island of Quebec (“St. Macaire’s Dome”).
The ethnic, gender, and sexual diversity throughout the anthology is not only appropriate for a Canadian project, it keeps the theme, as many possibilities as it elicits, from getting stale. “City Noise” features a post-operation transsexual woman surviving with her lover in an abandoned city by a combination of looting and turning tricks. What did she miss the most about the pre-apocalyptic world and its functioning industry? Estrogen pills. Such a simple thing.
It highlights the things you take for granted, like being healthy, and how easy it is to be ableist. Another story’s protagonist (“Snow Angels”) suffers from clinical depression and loses access to medication after the end of the world. We imagine society collapsing and having to get by on deer meat and gathered berries and think maybe we can do it, often forgetting about all the people who depend on one or another aspect of a modern society, including prescription medication.
There are a lot of stories packed into one volume. Many are brief, and, if I have one complaint, it’s that a handful of them seem to end a little abruptly. By and large, I still found the characters well drawn, and the world-building effectively managed given the small space, but they still feel more like vignettes than real stories. In one case, “Ruptures,” the abrupt ending is appropriate and cleverly used. In those other (few) cases, I felt the author either didn’t have a complete story in mind to begin with, or at least didn’t know how to effectively finish one.
But on the whole, Fractured is a strong anthology with a goodly number of fresh and memorable entries.
J.J.S. Boyce is a writer, educator, and semi-pro omelette chef. He can frequently be found writing at the Winnipeg Free Press, Care2 Causes, and, naturally, AE. He maintains a meta-narrative at his blog, The Back of the Envelope.