The 2015 Sunburst Award, Shortlist Edition

It was a spec­tac­u­lar­ly hard list to whit­tle down, but we hap­less jurors have final­ly released our short­list for the 2015  Sun­burst Award for Cana­di­an Lit­er­a­ture of the Fan­tas­tic. Hav­ing to bal­ance many gen­res under one umbrel­la, we were entrust­ed with bal­anc­ing the pros and cons of sub­mis­sions that ranged from fan­ta­sy to sci­ence fic­tion to hor­ror to com­bi­na­tions of some or all gen­res to books that I’ll deem “unclas­si­fi­able.”

The offi­cial press release for the 2015 Sun­burst Award may be found here. Should you dare not deign to click a link, below are our choic­es, with accom­pa­ny­ing rea­son­ing, for the Adult and Young Adult awards, plus three hon­ourable men­tions each.

I’d like to thank every author and pub­lish­er who sub­mit­ted. It was, by all accounts, a tru­ly spec­tac­u­lar year for sub­mis­sions, and my only regret is that couldn’t declare a ten-way tie. Damn you, rules of com­pe­ti­tion!

Adult Shortlist
The Troop, by Nick Cutter (Simon & Schuster)

The Troop is a sus­pense­ful hor­ror tale of the old-fash­ioned vari­ety, writ­ten in elo­quent prose that is the equal of any great fic­tion writer. Nick Cut­ter (a pseu­do­nym) makes the hor­rif­ic seem plau­si­ble by set­ting his nov­el on an island off the coast of Prince Edward Island and pop­u­lat­ing the sto­ry with believ­able char­ac­ters in sit­u­a­tions that feel so famil­iar we sym­pa­thize with, and fear for, them. Cut­ter cross­es gen­res with mas­ter­ful con­fi­dence, cre­at­ing a pas­tiche of William Conrad’s Lord of the Flies, Robert McCammon’s A Boy’s Life, and Stephen King’s “The Body,” among oth­ers, and arriv­ing at some­thing whol­ly orig­i­nal unto itself. The Troop is a fast-paced, fan­tas­ti­cal nov­el that will sat­is­fy most lit­er­ary tastes. It’s like one of those tales we tell each oth­er when we are twelve, in a tent on the longest night of sum­mer, with flash­lights beam­ing beneath our chins — if only to scare the day­lights out of each oth­er and then try to sleep, pre­tend­ing the worst couldn’t real­ly hap­pen.

The Back Of The Turtle, by Thomas King (HarperCollins)

A com­pelling tale of our ongo­ing eco­log­i­cal and eco­nom­ic cri­sis, The Back Of The Tur­tle is also a com­ic myth which reminds us that, in First Nations tra­di­tions, there is still hope for the future. A mix of near-future nar­ra­tive and time­less fable, the nov­el tells the sto­ry of a cor­po­rate malfea­sance result­ing in envi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ter and pro­tag­o­nist Gabriel Quinn’s search for redemp­tion for his role in this dis­as­ter as a sci­en­tist work­ing for the respon­si­ble cor­po­ra­tion. Mov­ing adroit­ly between past and present, the lega­cies of colo­nial his­to­ry and the promise of a world beyond cor­po­rate greed, The Back of the Tur­tle explores how our actions are entwined with the sto­ries we tell our­selves about our ori­gins and urges us to think about fam­i­ly and futu­ri­ty in expan­sive ways.

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel (HarperCollins)

With crisp, spare and love­ly prose, Emi­ly St. John Mandel’s Sta­tion Eleven explores a world of dichotomies and coin­ci­dences, and makes us privy to a place we yearn to belong to while, alter­nate­ly, mak­ing us glad we do not. Through the author’s deft swirl of past and present, the foun­da­tion of the nov­el vac­il­lates between the under­ly­ing sad­ness and over­whelm­ing beau­ty inher­ent in the famil­iar world before it changes and the incom­pre­hen­si­ble loss and ter­ri­ble free­dom that accom­pa­nies the post-apoc­a­lyp­tic real­i­ty. Like the novel’s few sur­vivors of the pan­dem­ic that wipes out most of the earth’s pop­u­la­tion, the read­er seeks sol­id foot­ing and finds it only fleet­ing­ly, for it dis­ap­pears with our very next step onto the next page. As with the best post-apoc­a­lyp­tic fic­tion, such as Cor­mac McCarthy’s The Road and Stephen King’s The Stand, this is a skill­ful­ly ren­dered, empa­thet­ic and truth­ful look at who we are and like­ly will become — a work of art that stands in praise of art and as an inci­sive assess­ment of what it means to be human.

My Real Children, by Jo Walton (Tor Books)

Jo Walton’s beau­ti­ful med­i­ta­tion on the pos­si­bil­i­ties of the road not tak­en pro­vides us with two pro­found­ly imag­ined lives. Bifur­cat­ing at the cru­cial deci­sion of whether or not to wed her col­lege boyfriend, Patri­cia becomes house­wife Trish in one world and trav­el writer Pat in anoth­er. No sim­ple moral­i­ty tale, Wal­ton gives us two full ver­sions of a life, each with plea­sures and pains, tri­umphs and loss­es. An engross­ing and care­ful­ly craft­ed nov­el, My Real Chil­dren flick­ers between Trish and Pat’s expe­ri­ences so that read­ers feel the sad­ness and beau­ty of both lives simul­ta­ne­ous­ly. In the back­ground of Patricia’s mem­o­ries, Wal­ton also unfolds two alter­na­tive worlds with their dis­tinct polit­i­cal land­scapes, remind­ing us of con­tin­gency and pos­si­bil­i­ties in our own lives. A mag­nif­i­cent por­trait of com­pas­sion and love, My Real Chil­dren is an ele­gant por­trait of a remark­able woman.

Will Starling, by Ian Weir (Goose Lane Editions)

A mad sci­en­tist hybrid of Franken­stein, Great Expec­ta­tions, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Alan Moore’s From Hell, Ian Weir has craft­ed a glo­ri­ous­ly Goth­ic repro­duc­tion of 19th cen­tu­ry Eng­land, replete with dan­ger­ous streets, thick­ly-tongued slang, and wit as dark as the coal smog which per­me­ates every scene. The adven­tures of the “wery umble” epony­mous hero, a surgeon’s assis­tant in London’s Crip­ple­gate dis­trict, Will Star­ling is a spec­tac­u­lar Dick­en­sian trek into a world of med­ical won­ders, unanes­thetized ampu­ta­tions, actors, dooms­day men, res­ur­rec­tions, and mur­der. Weir’s peer­less gift for word­play keeps his tale irre­sistibly delight­ful even as the plot careens through the pitch-black themes of sci­en­tif­ic per­ver­sion, clas­sism, and death (or the refusal there­of). It may wear its influ­ences on its sleeve, but Will Star­ling is a bril­liant­ly orig­i­nal trek into mad­ness.

Honourable Mentions, Adult
The First Principles of Dreaming, by Beth Goobie (Second Story Press)

An unset­tling and unnerv­ing erot­ic explo­ration of a young woman’s psy­che, Beth Goobie’s mix of sex­u­al­i­ty, moral­i­ty, and reli­gious fun­da­men­tal­ism is a com­ing-of-age tale unlike any oth­er.

Gifts for the One Who Comes After, by Helen Marshall (ChiZine Publications)

Helen Marshall’s eclec­tic short sto­ry col­lec­tion is a fun­ny, orig­i­nal, and emo­tion­al jour­ney through a lit­er­ary land­scape so dark and pro­found it would make Neil Gaiman proud.

Echopraxia, by Peter Watts (Tor Books)

The lat­est nov­el of dark futur­ism by Peter Watts is more than a pol­ished, lit­er­ary sequel to his con­tro­ver­sial Blind­sight; it’s a metic­u­lous­ly-craft­ed nar­ra­tive of bio­log­i­cal deter­min­ism where para­noia and neu­rol­o­gy are the true pro­tag­o­nists.

Young Adult Shortlist
The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier (Amulet Books)

Trees have rarely seemed so laden with dread as in Jonathan Auxier’s sus­pense­ful tale of intre­pid orphans, decrepit manors, and all vari­eties of evils. After two des­ti­tute young sib­lings find work as ser­vants in a mys­te­ri­ous coun­try house, they soon dis­cov­er it to con­tain more than a weird­ly off-putting fam­i­ly, but also a sin­is­ter tree that offers wish ful­fill­ment while also drain­ing the life from any­one who hap­pens near­by. Replete with engag­ing lan­guage and lit­er­ary allu­sions, this creepy Vic­to­ri­an ghost sto­ry is a love­ly alle­go­ry on the dan­gers of greed and the innate pow­er of sto­ry­telling.

Tin Star, by Cecil Castellucci (Roaring Brook Press)

Tin Star is a grit­ty, com­pact sci­ence-fic­tion nov­el that trav­els far beyond the usu­al orphan tropes of much young adult fic­tion. Tula is a teenaged girl over­wrought with thoughts of revenge after her par­ents are mur­dered. Left behind on a shab­by space sta­tion pop­u­lat­ed with all man­ner of alien life, Tula must learn to fend for her­self if she is to sur­vive. Castel­luc­ci han­dles notions of cul­tur­al dif­fer­ence with a deft hand, mov­ing Tin Star beyond the sort of human-cen­tered­ness typ­i­cal of tra­di­tion­al space operas. The spare prose paints a vivid pic­ture of Tula’s strug­gles between her desire for vengeance and her yearn­ing for a life beyond grief, and her refusal to view human man­ners as a default form of “nor­mal” is rem­i­nis­cent of the best of sci­ence-fic­tion such as Ursu­la Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Dark­ness. A pow­er­ful, melan­choly, and ulti­mate­ly sur­pris­ing work, Tin Star is a com­ing-of-age tale that will res­onate with any read­er with a pulse.

A Breath of Frost, by Alyxandra Harvey (Bloomsbury Press)

Alyxan­dra Harvey’s A Breath of Frost brings fem­i­nist sen­si­bil­i­ties to a mag­i­cal com­ing-of-age sto­ry in which three cousins, Emma, Gretchen and Pene­lope, dis­cov­er their mag­i­cal her­itage and learn to accept the respon­si­bil­i­ties it entails. Part Har­ry Pot­ter adven­ture and part Regency his­tor­i­cal dra­ma, A Breath of Frost gives us a lush mag­i­cal world as sen­su­ous­ly real­ized as Christi­na Rosetti’s clas­sic poem “Gob­lin Mar­ket.” Her wit­ty pro­tag­o­nists out­smart their ene­mies with the self-reliance and sharp tongues of a Jane Austen hero­ine. This rich fan­ta­sy world gives us the resilient and coura­geous female char­ac­ters who chart their own path.

Sophie, in Shadow, by Eileen Kernaghan (Thistledown Press)

As with her pre­vi­ous nov­els, Ker­naghan again sets her sto­ry in the past, in a firm­ly real­is­tic place and time, and builds upon this frame­work through mys­tic and fan­ta­sy ele­ments. When Sophie Pritchard — orphan sur­vivor of the Titan­ic — begins a new life with rel­a­tives in India, she finds her­self wel­come in their Cal­cut­ta home. But she is trou­bled with visions that go beyond her mem­o­ries of the ship­wreck to reveal to her dark moments from the past and the future. As Sophie learns to find peace of mind, Sophie, in Shad­ow proves itself a grip­ping nov­el of inter­na­tion­al spies, intrigue, kid­nap­ping, mag­ic, and ter­ror­ist con­spir­a­cies.

The Door in the Mountain, by Caitlin Sweet (ChiTeen)

Cait­lyn Sweet’s dark reimag­in­ing of Greek mythol­o­gy results in a thrilling yarn that is unafraid to chal­lenge the reader’s expec­ta­tions. Con­trast­ing the lives of an enti­tled princess and her female slave — each born lack­ing a “god­mark,” a spe­cial gift or abil­i­ty bestowed by the Gods — The Door in the Moun­tain is as much a medi­a­tion on the evils of jeal­ousy as it is an epic adven­ture. Sweet has fash­ioned a gor­geous­ly dan­ger­ous world ruled by equal parts beau­ty, mag­ic, vio­lence, and the whims of gods.

Honourable Mentions, Young Adult
Sea of Shadows, by Kelley Armstrong (Doubleday Canada)

In a year when fan­ta­sy nov­els of var­i­ous styles are abun­dant, it’s a plea­sure to dis­cov­er that Sea of Shad­ows meets all the expec­ta­tions of a read­er.

Child of a Hidden Sea, by A.M. Dellamonica (Tor Books)

With lus­cious world-build­ing and a beau­ti­ful­ly-writ­ten pro­tag­o­nist at the helm, A.M. Del­la­m­on­i­ca has craft­ed a polit­i­cal­ly intri­cate fan­ta­sy tale on the high seas that will leave read­ers crav­ing more from the world of Par­rish and the adven­tures of Sophie Hansa.

The Boundless, by Kenneth Oppel (Harper Trophy Canada)

An absorb­ing tale where set­ting is as much a char­ac­ter as the pro­tag­o­nists, The Bound­less treats the read­er to an exquis­ite­ly drawn evo­ca­tion of 19th cen­tu­ry Cana­di­an rail trav­el through the eyes of labour­ers and gen­try alike, as one boy whose fate is tied to a fan­tas­ti­cal train works his way towards the engine in a bid to save his father’s life.