Tag Archives: Alternate History

Shapers of Worlds Volume II Edited by Edward Willett

In Shapers of Worlds Volume II, Saskatchewan-based author and publisher Edward Willett packages up 24 speculative short stories penned by writers who have been featured on his podcast, The Worldshapers. Published under the auspices of Shadowpaw Press, Willett’s own imprint, Shapers of Worlds Volume II offers stories ranging from alternate history to science fiction and fantasy. Though six of the tales have been previously published, the majority have not. Included between the pages are elves, mages, detectives, retired henchmen, ancient heroes, commoners, and athletes. Though a variety of characters and settings are employed, one thing is consistent—the stories are both engaging, and engagingly told.

Readers familiar with the Canadian speculative fiction scene will recognize a number of the included authors, including Ira Nayman, Matthew Hughes, Susan Forest, and Candas Jane Dorsey. Forest’s story, “The Only Road,” was one of the standouts. Historical fiction with a fantasy twist, “The Only Road” whisks the reader to India at the time of British occupation. Forest provides a strong description to aid the reader in making the trek. The story opens with the lines:

A tin wind-up drummer marched jerkily in its red uniform along the broad, flat surface of the Thangdu Temple balustrade as Orville waved a handful of the mechanical soldiers and cried out to buyers in the crowd. Above the restless flow of the market, the high, white cliffs of Khangchengyao sparkled in the clear morning air.

“Featuring a wide range of authors and settings, Shapers of Worlds Volume II performs the function of a speculative fiction sampler, offering a taste of different styles and themes.”

Though “The Only Road” reads like historical fiction, there is a mystical twist with references to the mystical land of Shangri, “a land of magic, a land said to perch at the top of a hanging valley, accessible only by no more than a gossamer ladder, a land that touched the realms of the Gods.” “The Only Road” is a backstory to Forest’s Addicted to Heaven series from Laska Media. The first two books in the series won Canada’s Aurora Awards for Best Young Adult novel in 2020 and 2021.

In “The Cat and the Merrythought,” decorated writer Matthew Hughes, author of the novels What the Wind Brings and A God in Chains, spins a tale of an ancient artifact that has more to it than meets the eye. The story, which features two good friends named Baldemar and Oldo, is packed with humour and makes for easy reading. In “I Remember Paris,” James Alan Gardner provides a re-imagining of the events that occurred after Eris, the Goddess of Discord, threw the ill-fated golden apple into the midst of a certain gathering. Entertaining and imaginative, the story is lent greater resonance by Gardner’s ending. In “Message Found in a Variable Temporality Appliance,” Ira Nayman shows the clever humour that is on display in his other works, including the Multiverse: Transdimensional Authority series. “Shapeshifter Finals” by Jeffrey A. Carver offers something of appeal for sports fans, describing a futuristic wrestling match between a human and a shapeshifter. At the same time, the story illustrates how the collaborative comradery of sport might transcend species boundaries. “Going to Ground” by Candas Jane Dorsey is also noteworthy.

One of the stories I found most enjoyable was S.M. Stirling’s “A Murder in Eddsford,” a detective tale set against a backdrop of an alternate-history Earth. In Stirling’s story, events occurring just prior to the year 2000 resulted in the total failure of all machinery: “under the laws of nature as they’d applied since . . . March 17 of 1998, you couldn’t get mechanical work out of heat, not in any really useful amount. Not in an engine, not in a firearm.” Set at a time just over 50 years after The Change, as it is referred to, “A Murder in Eddsford” portrays a world in which wind pumps, thatched roofs, and horse-drawn coaches are ubiquitous. Besides the intrinsic appeal of a well-rendered and familiar, yet different, world, Stirling provides an intriguing mystery as Detective Inspector Ingmar Rutherston attempts to unravel the circumstances behind the death of a much-disliked man named Jon Wooton.

Featuring a wide range of authors and settings, Shapers of Worlds Volume II performs the function of a speculative fiction sampler, offering a taste of different styles and themes. Besides being entertaining in itself, the collection might inspire further exploration of the works of authors the reader finds appealing.

About the Editor

EDWARD WILLETT is the award-winning author of more than sixty books of science fiction, fantasy, and non-fiction for readers of all ages, including the Worldshapers series and the Masks of Agyrima trilogy (as E.C. Blake) for DAW Books, the YA fantasy series The Shards of Excalibur, and most recently, the YA SF novel Star Song. Ed won Canada’s Aurora Award for Best Long-Form Work in English in 2009 for Marseguro (DAW) and for Best Fan Related Work in 2019 for The Worldshapers podcast. His humorous space opera The Tangled Stars comes out from DAW in 2022. He lives in Regina, Saskatchewan. Find him at edwardwillett.com or on Twitter @ewillett.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Shadowpaw Press (Oct. 28 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 544 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1989398286
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1989398289

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Little Animals by Sarah Tolmie

Canadian author Sarah Tolmie’s The Little Animals provides a fictional recounting of the discoveries of Antoni Van Leeuwenhoek, a Dutch draper who had a side interest in producing “fine optical instruments,” including microscopes. Van Leeuwenhoek used his microscopes to examine drops of water, blood, and other objects, observing single-celled organisms, red blood cells, and other entities visible only under magnification. He referred to the creatures he saw as “animalcules” or “little animals,” hence the book’s title.

Van Leeuwenhoek was born in 1632 in Delft, Netherlands. His discoveries were cutting-edge at the time.

With the aid of his microscopes, Van Leeuwenhoek “sees monsters: creatures more bizarre than those painted by Bosch, with many legs and no heads and bodies that make no sense.” He finds his discoveries dizzying. His thoughts “give him vertigo,” and

“They make him fear that he is living through a monstrous time, in which infinity is creeping into everything. Occasionally he has looked through the artificial eye of the microscope and has had to clutch the table for fear of falling in. Into the inexplicable, teeming world of the animalcule, in which he would not last a minute but would be torn apart by millions of chomping jaws.”

Evocative prose like the paragraph above is one of the factors that makes the book enjoyable. The Little Animals is an engaging story recounted with vivid and striking prose. The novel provides a strong sense of time and place, reflecting Tolmie’s background research.

In a short section titled “A Note on Historicity,” Tolmie notes that she has taken liberties with certain aspects of Van Leeuwenhoek’s life. One example is the time line of his discoveries. Another is the addition of a character called the goose girl, whom Van Leeuwenhoek meets in the opening paragraphs of the book. Though uneducated and socially awkward, the goose girl, too, believes in the presence of the little animals, for a different reason. She thinks she has heard them talking to her. While Van Leeuwenhoek has seen them with his eyes, she has seen them with her heart.

The goose girl is a colourful character who lends mysticism to the proceedings. Tolmie notes that the goose girl is “broadly drawn from the Brothers Grimm,” but she rings true as a character nonetheless. Tolmie’s description of the goose flock, each with their own personalities, is also striking. The novel includes other interesting characters as well, including a young artist, a painter friend of Leeuwenhoek’s, and a male sex trade worker.

The Little Animals received a Special Citation at the 2020 Philip K. Dick Awards.


Sarah Tolmie is the author of the poetry collection The Art of Dying (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2018), the 120-sonnet sequence Trio (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015), and the chapbook Sonnet in a Blue Dress and Other Poems (Baseline Press, 2014). She has published two novels with Aqueduct Press, The Little Animals (2019) and The Stone Boatmen (2014), as well as two short fiction collections, Two Travelers (2016) and NoFood (2014). She is a medievalist trained at the University of Toronto and Cambridge and is a Professor of English at the University of Waterloo.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Aqueduct Press (May 1 2019)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 384 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1619761610
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1619761612

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved