On April 5, 2063, mankind made contact with alien life for the first time when an experimental space flight led to the first meeting between humans and Vulcans. Or so it went in the universe of American sci-fi super franchise Star Trek.

On this day, Trekkies – I’m sorry, Trekkers – celebrate the optimism and infinite possibilities offered by their favourite sci-fi series. Even if you aren’t a Star Trek enthusiast yourself, you can still celebrate First Contact Day 2021 by checking out some of the best Canadian sci-fi authors of all time. 

William Gibson

Though born in South Carolina, Neuromancer writer and father of cyberpunk William Gibson fled to Canada in 1967 to avoid being drafted into the Vietnam War in his late teens. Based in Vancouver since the 70s, Gibson is one of the most prolific Canadian sci-fi authors, and winner of some of the genre’s greatest accolades. 

His 1984 debut novel, Neuromancer, is one of the few novels to win the Nebula, Hugo, and Philip K. Dick Awards at the same time. But more than that, it has left an indelible mark on science fiction and our own relationship with technology and computers. 

Influenced by crime noir, punk rock and the 60s counterculture, Neuromancer upended the genre with its anarchic sensibilities, subversive take on capitalism, and themes around the dehumanizing influence of information technology. These themes and the novel’s grimy aesthetic would pioneer the cyberpunk subgenre and influence descendants like Snow Crash, Altered Carbon and 1999 hit film The Matrix.

In fact, the term matrix” itself was used as the name for the internet-analogue Neuromancers hacker protagonist explored in the novel. Much of the creative slang Gibson invented in the novel and his early works would go on to define the discourse of the early Internet age, including the term cyberspace.” However, much of the creative language he invented had their roots in real-world subcultures, including what he called 1969 Toronto dope dealer’s slang, or biker talk.” 

Margaret Atwood

Though Atwood famously avoids labelling her work as science fiction,” much of her catalogue includes sci-fi elements. Specifically, the dystopian societies found in her MadAddam trilogy, The Heart Goes Last and her most famous novel, 1985’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

One of the most important works of Canadian speculative fiction ever created, The Handmaid’s Tale uses its futuristic setting to explore contemporary themes like reproductive rights, religious fundamentalism and patriarchy. Taking place in a near-future dystopia where the United States has been taken over by a theocracy, the novel follows a Handmaid named Offred as she attempts to navigate and escape the oppressive system. 

This seminal piece of feminist literature has been adapted into stage plays, a graphic novel, a film and a hit television series starring Elizabeth Moss. The novel’s themes have remained relevant well into the present day, and protestors around the world have donned the Handmaid’s signature red cloak and white veil to agitate in support of women’s rights. 

Cory Doctorow

Born in Toronto, Cory Doctorow is the Canadian sci-fi author of the social media age. A dedicated digital rights activist and internet privacy maven, much of his fiction deals with subjects like state control of information, authoritarianism, class, and corporatism. A strong critic of copyright law, his 2003 debut novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom made waves when it was released under a Creative Commons license, allowing it to be read and distributed for free. 

The novel itself was also ahead of its time, taking place in a far-future Disneyland where death is outlawed, and money has been replaced by a social currency called Whuffie.” However, his most well-known novel might be 2008’s Little Brother. Winner of several awards and a New York Time’s best-seller, the young adult cyberpunk novel follows a group of teen hackers who strike back against an invasive surveillance state following a terror attack in San Francisco. 

Charles R. Saunders

A pioneering Black writer in the swords & sorcery genre dominated by white authors and heroes like Conan and Elric, his 1981 short story collection Imaro reimagined many of the genre’s tropes. Spanning over 35 years, the series followed the titular hero Imaro as he adventured across the land of Nyumbani fighting monsters, sorcerers and other evils. Imaro would go on to inspire the sword and soul” subgenre, drawing on African cultures and mythology to tell truly unique fantasy stories. 

Like Gibson, Saunders moved to Canada from his native Pennsylvania in 1969 to avoid the draft. After living in Ottawa for 14 years, he moved to Nova Scotia in 1985 where he became a copy editor and journalist, frequently writing about the province’s Black community and history. He died in May 2020 at the age of 69

A.E. Van Vogt

Active during the 40s and 50s, Alfred Elton van Vogt’s unique brand of frenetic, stream-of-consciousness fiction would go on to influence later sci-fi writers, including Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Author, Philip K. Dick. 

Born in Manitoba in 1912 in a small Mennonite community, Vogt initially wrote short, pulp-style fiction before discovering the rich underground world of experimental sci-fi magazines in 1938. Throughout the 40s, Vogt became one of the driving forces of the Golden Age of Sci-Fi with dozens of short stories published in various pulp magazines and journals. 

Though primarily writing popular fiction, Vogt’s work was defined by a complexity and dream-like logic that was wholly unique among the hard sci-fi stories popular in the period. Vogt attributed this factor of his work to the fact that he was directly inspired by his dreams, even waking up throughout the night to jot down their events. 

Though his later work did not reach the level of acclaim of his early catalogue of mind-bending space operas, his unique style did provide a touchpoint for the later sci-writers of the 60s and 70s. In particular, Philip K. Dick credited him as a major influence for his own chaotic, non-linear brand of storytelling. 

Reality really is a mess, and yet it’s exciting,” Dick said in 1974 interview. The basic thing is, how frightened are you of chaos? And how happy are you with order? Van Vogt influenced me so much because he made me appreciate a mysterious chaotic quality in the universe which is not to be feared.” 

William Shatner

Though known primarily as an actor (and sometimes singer) Canadian television star William Shatner is also a prolific sci-fi writer in his own right. Originally published in 1989, his TekWar series of novels co-written with Ron Goulart spawned not just numerous sequels throughout the 90s, but also a comic book, video game, and a 1994 TV show. 

He even co-wrote several Star Trek novels along with Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens that explored the further adventures of his most famous character, Captain James Tiberius Kirk. He’s also written several memoirs and autobiography, including 1999’s Get a Life! Detailing his sometimes-contentious relationship with the Star Trek fandom. 

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