Solaris in 2000: no gifts from the CC

Joël Champetier
Solaris editorial staff
(translated by Jean-Louis Trudel)

The Canada Council cuts off the only French-language genre magazine in Canada

(This article originally appeared in French in Solaris #132 An update on what has happened since is provided at the end of the article.) Last October, the Canada Council announced it was cutting off all financial aid to Solaris. The Canada Council grant, which had once been $11,000, though it had dwindled over the years to no more than $4,000, was reduced to zilch. The magazine's current budget is now less than $20,000; this revenue loss is a bitter blow, endangering the very survival of Solaris. This announcement, alas, did not take us completely by surprise. For the last three years (we've existed for 25 years...), the juries put together by the Canada Council have been more and more demanding. Last year, half our grant was cut while we were asked in the same breath to carry out improvements to the magazine on just about all fronts, thereby imposing unrealistic requirements that have allowed this year's jury to blame the editorial staff for having ignored the "numerous warnings" of other juries.

What sort of jury are we talking about?

Solaris doesn't claim to be a flawless magazine. We are open to criticism, but at the very least such criticisms should be articulated by people who know whereof they speak. Let us admit it is disconcerting to be told that Solaris "does not examine the issues of the genre in depth," that it "does not reflect the involvement of internationally recognized authors." The latter comment is extremely curious. Our Review section is crammed with reviews of novels by French and Anglo-American authors. We regularly devote features to famous authors. And, as it happens, four members of the Solaris editorial staff have been published internationally!

According to the Canada Council, jury members are "professionals of periodical publishing." All well and good, but, meanwhile, on the 1997 jury, there was not one novelist or short story writer, playwright or comic book creator. It is surely healthy that a committee of specialists recruit one or two members from outside the field, to avoid corporate hardening of the arteries. But a jury entirely composed of non-specialists must be considered to be incompetent, failing proof to the contrary. Good faith is not enough. There is something worse than the ignoramus: it's the ignoramus unaware of their ignorance, who will tell you loudly that they "rather like sf" even though they will admit they don't know who Philip K. Dick is or what fantasy might be. Anybody who's come to know the literary and artistic communities has met such people.


This year's jury included two members already present in 1997, out of five members. Such a lapse should be denounced. This jury repeated that "the stories submitted did not match the usual quality in the genres of the fantastic, science fiction, and other paraliteratures."

An astonishing -- and revealing -- comment. Whatever could this "usual quality" be, in the eyes of the jury? Since Solaris is now the only genre magazine in Quebec, what was it compared to? There is no Quebec magazine devoted to crime writing, spy stories or historical fiction. Is Solaris truly inferior to On Spec, the most important science fiction magazine in English-speaking Canada? Was it compared with its -- excellent -- rivals in Europe: Galaxies, Phénix, etc.? Frankly, we are skeptical the jury members know and read such magazines. In fact, we are dealing with a true literary cleansing. There was only one genre magazine -- "paraliterature," omigod! -- in French in Canada? Well, that was one too many! No matter that it's the oldest genre magazine in French in the world, that it's contributed to the artistic development of just about every author who publishes science fiction and fantasy in Quebec currently: Vonarburg, Sernine, Pelletier, Meynard, Champetier, Trudel, Bergeron, Péan, Lamontagne, etc., and that it continues to do so with new and promising talents such as Eric Gauthier and Richard Blanchette.

Let me go even further: going through the results of the third competition of New Millennium Fund for the arts should arouse worry as to the cutting back of funds for all literature at the Canada Council. Didn't you know, unfortunate readers of Solaris, that literature was dead, and that this was the era of MULTIMEDIA! (Forgive the capitals, but the word must be treated with reverence.) It was even suggested that the place of Solaris was on the Internet. We aren't against technological innovations and the astounding breakthroughs in the fields of multimedia and digital graphics. It's a good thing for the Canada Council to get involved. But it shouldn't fall for fool's gold. Apart from porn and catalogues, it's unclear that any magazine can long survive on the web. Two magazines that set out for the great adventure of electronic publishing, Stop in Quebec and Omni in the U.S., are no longer around. What is most tragic, in fact, is that the multimedia hype has become an excuse to strangle the very cultural enterprises that have been laying the cultural groundwork for growth, out of sight of the klieg lights and all the web glitter. Solaris IN 2000 The utility of Solaris has never been more obvious for those who know the real situation of imaginative literatures in Québec, which are gaining an ever growing public nationally and internationally. For instance, the magazine currently has more European subscribers than ever before. But it's clear that the Solaris editorial staff will have to take contemplate drastic cost-cutting measures in order to continue. The first step will consist in cutting, until further notice, the meagre salaries of the coordinating editor, the fiction editor, and the proofreader. Let us also salute the generosity of Maher Jahjah, our layout editor, who has accepted a 50% reduction of his already parsimonious honorarium. However, it goes without saying that we will continue to pay our authors, essayists, illustrators, and other artists. Readers and subscribers should not fear, however, that these changes will affect the quality of its contents. Please trust us, Solaris will remain as handsome and interesting a magazine as ever.


Solaris will henceforth receive only one government subsidy, a grant from the Con-seil des arts et des lettres du Québec, ever faithful and deserving of our thanks. The editorial staff will also be on the lookout for new sources of financing, public and private, but it goes without saying that our plans for a new beginning will only be successful if you the readers show your support for Solaris and its survival. The most concrete and direct way of doing so will always be by subscribing. When you subscribe, all of the money goes to the magazine, whereas half of the newsstand price goes to the distributor, who will sometimes wait for years before paying! The magazine's editorial team can do a lot, but it can't do everything. It's now up to you -- but then, that's always been the case, hasn't it? So, we'll be seeing you again in three months, when the next issue comes out. Don't hesitate to write with your comments.

To send your comments, contact:

Josiane Polidori, Writing and Publishing Section Officer
toll-free at 1-800-263-5588, ext. 5576, or (613) 566-4414, ext. 5576
The fax number is (613) 566-4410.
E-mail: josiane.polidori@canadacouncil.ca
Hearing-impaired callers with a TTY machine can contact the Canada Council for the Arts at (613) 565-5194.
Or contact Ms. Polidari's boss, Gordon Platt, the Head of Canada Council's Writing and Publishing Section, toll-free at 1-800-263-5588, ext. 5570,
or (613) 566-4414, ext. 5570. His email is gordon.platt@canadacouncil.ca


* * *

Update as of May 31, 2000

by Joël Champetier

As always, a crisis is a time of change and hard decisions. The cut from the Canada Council was a blow, exposing the magazine to an immediate danger of collapsing. We had the choice to close, or wither, or pull ourselves by our bootstrap. We choose the third option.

Everybody on the staff of Solaris accepted an immediate -- and, we hope, temporary -- suppression of their salary. Our layout artist accepted a 50% cut. But we didn't cut any author rights.

We will also change our format, starting with Solaris 134. We will become digest size and we will concentrate on fiction. We will now have more than one fiction editor. As you can see, we will start looking like ON SPEC on several aspects, except that we will continue to publish articles and reviews. No more comics -- it was often an uneasy mix anyway, especially with the Council who clearly didn't like this aspect of Solaris.

The new publisher will be Alire. An alliance of interest -- they publish our novels anyway -- and of reason -- Alire have a stronger financial backbone than us. Our print run will expand, from 750 to 1200, because we will be more agressive on the distribution level. We will pay substancially higher rates for the stories and the cover illustrations.

As you can see, we are very much alive and kicking -- a fact that the new publisher will clearly demonstrate to the Council in the hope that they will start again to support us.

The first issue of the new Solaris (September 2000), will of course begin with an extensive editorial that will delineate all these changes, with more details that this brief overview.

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This page last updated: May 30, 2000

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