Canadian Speculative Fiction

The Lost Valley of Adanac

Guest Editorial,
On Spec Magazine,
Spring, 1997

by Robert Runté

On Spec Cover


When I was kid growing up there was this magician who'd do this fabulous trick with an elephant. He'd bring the elephant on stage and right before your eyes, he'd make the elephant disappear. It didn't occur to me until years later to wonder how the elephant felt about it.

The Lost Valley of Adanac is like that. Remember the lost worlds genre in which the intrepid explorers would stumble upon a hidden valley in the Himalayas, or a forgotten oasis in the African desert, or a uncharted island in some distant ocean, where Tibetan monks, or Roman Legions, or dinosaurs still ruled? The thing was, those stories were always told from the point of view of the adventurers, never from that of the locals. Did you ever wonder how the story might have read had the book been written by a citizen of that lost continent? I bet that any civilization isolated from the mainstream like that would have quickly developed its own long and fascinating literary tradition. (Well, except maybe for the dinosaurs whose brains, like those of Hollywood screenwriters, are just too small for proper book learning.)

And then it slowly dawned on me that no one had ever heard of the Adanac Valley; that people on the outside were almost completely ignorant of its geography or history or culture; and that for all practical purposes, I had grown up in one of those lost civilizations.

Oh sure, the occasional tourist would happen upon the valley during the summer months, but it was almost always a mistake. I worked my way through college behind the desk of a motel, and I can assure you that the skis strapped to the roofs of their TransAms and the skidoos hauled behind their RVs on July are only the most visible sign of a deep and abiding ignorance of things Adanacian. I even remember one occasion when I spent half an hour struggling with a French/English phrase book before realizing that our guest was getting his French out of his phrase book. "You speak American?!" he exclaimed when I confronted him with this odd behaviour. "But I hear 'y'all spoke nuthing but French up here!"

But who can blame them? All evidence of Adanac has been expunged from the official records. The very existence of the Adanac Valley has been completely forgotten by the outside world. You think I exaggerate? Tune into any cable channel, watch an hour of CNN, or Nightline, or Jay Leno's standup, or wherever it is most people get their news these days, and see if you can find any mention of events here in Adanac. When you watch a soap opera or situation comedy or mystery, do any of the episodes ever take place in the valley? Do any of these programs raise the issues which are of central importance to the Adanacians? A thriving civilization of nearly 30 million souls spread out across the 5,514 km of valley floor, and we've been made to disappear. The trick with the elephant pales by comparison!

The worst of it is, it's not just the world outside that's forgotten us. Even many of those in the valley itself know nothing of Adanac geography, history, or literature. Take the Tigana region, for example. I'm sure most of those reading this are well familiar with Tigana's beautiful spires, the haunting beauty of its forests, the grandeur of its mountain peaks. But ask anyone outside our tiny circle, and it's as if its memory had been erased! Half the people you talk to can't even recall it's name! It's down right spooky!

This invisibility manifests itself in many ways. Walk into your local Coles or W. H. Smith sometime and check out the sf section. I don't know about where you live, but in my neighbourhood the sf shelves are dominated by row after row of Dragon Lance, Star Trek, and Star Wars books. This processed cheese is placed at eye level, and the real sf novels are relegated to the bottom three shelves, where they huddle together defensively, their spines facing out to protect themselves from passing shopping carts. In contrast to the bright display of outward facing covers on the top six shelves of DL, ST, and SW novels, these three rows are practically invisible.

Even among the stand alone sf novels, where the author's name rather than a series is the selling point, the best work is often elbowed aside by the legions of share-croppers: writers forced to write in someone else's universe, so that publishers can splash "Isaac Asimov's Robot Series" across the cover in big fluorescent letters; while the real author's name appears in microscopic print on the inside cover where, it is hoped, it will not distract the potential buyer. But even when an author is popular enough to write under his or her own name, they still often find themselves forced to grind out endless series, because publishers need to amortize the cost of advertizing across three or more volumes. Such marketing strategies makes it nearly impossible for the best sf to see print, because the single volume story is no longer economically viable for anyone other than Stephen King, who is, in effect, his own marketing category.

But even when the miracle does happen and a talented writer gets to write a one off book -- how often is it about, by, or for Adanacians?

Three developments make Adanacian fiction more difficult to find these days, even though the number of publishable writers has quadrupled in the last decade. First, as ownership of more and more publishing houses is concentrated in the hands of a tiny number of transnational corporations, the economies of scale required to turn a profit have increased tenfold. That is, having incurred considerable debt to buy out the once independent publishing houses, these multinationals now have to sell millions of copies of each book just to break even. Mid-list authors whose novels were once considered successful if they sold 50,000 copies are now being dropped because their profit margins are too small to be worth the effort. This is a disaster for Adanacian-oriented fiction, because our entire market is a only fraction of the number these multinationals consider the absolute minimum pressrun.

Second, the similar concentration of ownership of the major bookstores into a single monsterous chain has led to a similar difficulty in distribution. Small press publishers that once might have picked up the slack have been all but excluded from pitching their books to the public, since the One Mammoth Chain's near monopoly allows it to charge publishers thousands of dollars just to speak to their store's buyers. Even the lucky few, like Tesseract Books, which manage to sneak in the back door thanks to the good offices of their kindly wholesaler, lack the resources to advertize and promote their books on an equal footing with the foreign giants.

Third, the recent decision by the World Trade Organization against Canadian protection of its magazine market is the thin edge of a wedge driven through the heart of Canada's cultural industries. The precedent is clear: any attempt to subsidize, support or protect a nation's culture is now going to be interpreted as unwarranted interference in the market, even though these measures were intended merely to provide Canadians with a level playing field in their own marketplace. If Canada can no longer maintain its culture industries under pressure from NAFTA, what chance do we Adanacians stand?

It is hardly surprising, then, that most students in the Adanac valley grow up both ignorant of our literature and convinced that everything interesting and important happens someplace else. It's as if the Adanac Valley didn't exist, even for the people who live there!

It is therefore with some relief that I agreed to introduce this "Canadian Geographic" theme issue of On Spec magazine. As long as publications like On Spec continue to exist and thrive, all is not lost! I mean, at least all of you reading this know where the Adanac Valley is, right? You're all familiar with Tigana and The Little Country; The Red-Rose City near The Ultimate Jungle? You've Journeyed to Apriloth and listened to the Songs from the Drowned Land? You've celebrated supper as part of a Courtship Rite, attended a Perfect Circus, seen a Passion Play? Been a Fossil Hunter or searched for the Golden Fleece? Slept under the Summer Tree or crawled into A Hidden Place? Planning to go North by 2000? I mean, if this isn't the stuff of our geography, our culture, our literature, I don't know what is. How can we know who we are, become visible to ourselves again, if we haven't experienced these things?

I mean, it's either this or another episode of Voyager. Better Nobody's Son than part of the Star Trek generation . . . .

© 1997 by Robert Runté,

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