Article

Not To Be Confused With Fflewddur Fflam

(Originally published on my old LiveJournal.)

I’m filling out a lot of immigration paperwork this month in hopes of not getting booted out of this country when I graduate. (“Check all that apply: Tired. Poor. Huddled. Difficulty Breathing Free.”) One form asks for the birthplaces of my parents. I joked to my mother that the Department of Homeland Security was never going to believe Flin Flon—the remote Manitoba mining town where she was born—is a real town. Her reply:

Subject: The Secret Origins of Parental Units
Brace yourself, my dear, it is in fact Flin Flon. You can explain, if you dare, that it was named for the deathless fictional hero Flintabadias Flonaton, protagonist of a paperback novel discovered on the wilderness site by prospectors who in the next day or so discovered the fabulously wealthy mineral deposits also there, although they were never able to find out how the book had actually gotten there, 500 miles from the nearest bookstore, in the first place. When you’re in the wilderness, you seize on any reading material you can find and don’t worry an awful lot about provenance. The Bureau of Vaterland Security cannot be any less dubious about the name than the Swiss were when I was a student there. I had to carry an identity card with me at all times listing my place of birth, which they pronounced with a double nasal (Fla Flo) and the tightly pursed lips of the deeply offended.

Point one: My Mom is cool.

Assuming she was making this up, I decided to post Mom’s email to show off how goofy (“the deathless hero Flintabadias Flonaton,” indeed) and droll (“in the wilderness you don’t worry an awful lot about provenance”) she is. But a little Googling revealed that, while Mom may be exceedingly clever (“the tightly pursed lips of the deeply offended,” hee hee), the goofiness lies in her forebears, not her. Because other than a forgivable spelling error in the name, the story is entirely true.

The town’s fictional founder is in fact “Professor Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin,” hero of a turn-of-the-century dime novel by J.E. Preston-Muddock called The Sunless City. In the novel, Professor Flonatin, aka Ol’ Flinty, aka Flin Flon, builds a home-made submarine to explore a bottomless lake, and ends up discovering a golden city at the center of the earth.

Then, back in real life (more or less), when prospectors were exploring northern Manitoba in the 1910s, they mysteriously found a tattered copy of Preston-Muddock’s novel out in the wilderness. Keep in mind we are talking about a region seriously north of civilization. When they also found deposits of gold and copper there, the prospectors named their camp “Flin Flon,” after the prospecting hero of the book, which they read around the campfire each night. Then in 1929, the Canadian National Railway telegraphed the mining camp established there to say that, unless they heard differently, the dumbass name those original prospectors had given them was going onto the official maps. Nobody bothered to reply, and in this stirring fashion, the town of Flin Flon was born.

I can’t believe Mom never told me this story before. She says she did, but I know I would have remembered. I don’t know which part of the story I like best—that Mom was born in a remote mining town named after a dime novel science hero, that the prospectors just found the book out there on the tundra, or that the name stuck because nobody bothered to come up with anything different. (“The CNR wants a name for this place. ‘Flin Flon’ okay with everyone?” “Eh.”) I guess the part I really like best is that I am half Flin Flonian. (And if I end up immigrating, will that make me a Flin Flonian-American?)

More Flin Flon Flun Flacts to come!

Article

The Northern Magus

(Originally published on my old LiveJournal.)

Let’s see, we’ve riffed on Canada being cold, on Canada being peaceful and nice, and on Canadians being indistinguishable from Americans. This final alternate takes off from Canada’s newly emerging image as a pot-smoking, gay-marrying, wife-swapping Babylon North. It’s also a tribute to Pierre Trudeau, Canada’s Prime Minister and Philosopher King from 1968 to 1984. Some of the Canadiana in this one is going to be pretty obscure for our American friends, I fear. But everyone mentioned by name here is in fact Canadian.

The Northern Magus
“If this little sub-arctic, self-obsessed country can put on this kind of show, then it can do almost anything.”
—Peter Newman, on Expo ’67

“The state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation.”
“The Pope is not the menace he used to be…”
“How far will I go? Just watch me.”
“Fuck off.”
—Pierre Trudeau, on various occasions

Expo ’67, held in Montreal to mark the 100th anniversary of Confederation, was a flower-power birthday bash—a party in Canada’s mouth with everyone invited. But only one man knew the real purpose of Expo’s signature landmark, the iridescent sphere at the dark heart of the fair. There, on July 1st, 1967, Pierre Elliot Trudeau broke through the bonds of space and time and made contact with Les Choses Qu’On N’est Pas Censé Pour Savoir.

There Trudeau learned the sorcerous words “fuddle duddle” and the forbidden hand gesture known as the Voorish sign. His subsequent rise to power was swift. Brilliant, arrogant, mesmerizing-Canadians had never known anyone like Trudeau. Women swooned; men fell to their knees under his hypnotic gaze. By 1968 the entire country had fallen under his spell.

With a twirl of his cape and his floppy hat, the man they came to call “the Northern Magus” tore down Canada’s fussy notions of propriety and morality. From his famous dictum, “The state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation,” it was merely a skip and a jump to, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” The True Age of Aquarius dawned in late 1960s Canada as draft dodgers, hippies, yippies, and freaks flocked to Trudeau and his Summer of Dark Love.

By the 1970s, the bad trip had set in. Trudeau’s Canada is now a culture of drugged, swaying decadence, where all is permitted and nothing is valued. Ottawa has become a Canadian Interzone, a kind of Gomorra-on-the-Rideau. (In real life, you have to go to Hull for that! Thank you, try the veal!) Trudeau’s very Liberal Cabinet swills nephilitic cocktails and riots in mindbending orgies. In his aerie at 24 Sussex, the Northern Magus conducts loathsome experiments with the abominable Doctor Frightenstein, and feasts with the vampire Count Floyd on pigtailed urchins from PEI. By the 1980s, Parliament has decriminalized the Liao Drug, defied the American embargo on trade with R’lyeh, and made Tcho-Tcho the country’s third official language. (Fitting nutritional information on cereal boxes in all three languages is made easier by the adoption of a non-Euclidean metric system.)

Few Canadians have the magical potency to stand against him. The Amazing Randi seeks to debunk Trudeau’s claims of occult power; a psychic counterattack drives the famous skeptic mad. The young Maharishi Doug Henning tries to banish the Dark Magus with the vedic energy of 7,000 yogic flyers. They are torn to bits by a flight of byakhee; their blood rains down on Parliament Hill.

As the century draws to a close, the time is ripe for the Magus to produce an heir. Using ghastly Cronenberg-tech, a team of doctor-priests (government subsidized, bien sur) implant parasitic alien seeds into Pamela Anderson—born on Vancouver Island on July 1st, 1967, and thus fated from birth to be Trudeau’s sacrificial bride.

Iä, Canada! What rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Ottawa to be born?

They really did call Trudeau “the Northern Magus” in real life. It’s hard to explain to non-Canucks the emotional significance Trudeaumania, or Expo ’67, or “fuddle duddle,” for that matter, used to have. Dearly loved and bitterly hated, the real life Trudeau already seems to me like he came from an alternate Canada. He wore a cape, for God’s sake! He dated (and I should think almost certainly nailed) Kim Cattrall, back when she was the hot teacher from Porky’s. While he was in office! He can’t possibly have come from the same country as the doughy mediocrities we have been electing ever since.

Article

Things Americans Don’t Know

(Originally published on my old LiveJournal.)

It’s pretty cool, symbolically speaking, that the 1947 Roswell Crash, the seminal event in UFO mythology, happened on America’s birthday, the 4th of July. (OK, there’s actually disagreement about exactly when the crash happened, but that’s kind of to be expected since really it didn’t happen at all.) But what if them little green butt-probers crashed their saucer a few days earlier… and a little farther north?

Canadians are generally indistinguishable from Americans. The only way of telling the two apart is to make this observation to a Canadian.
—Richard Staines

I guess it’s the whole invasion of the body snatchers syndrome. They look like us, but they’re not us…They’re a little off in some way that you can’t understand and you can’t pin it down. That makes it all the more unsettling… and disturbing. … If William Shatner is Canadian, I might as well be Canadian.
—an American, in the Who’s Canadian? episode of NPR’s This American Life (which I highly recommend to any Canadians who aren’t hip to it)

July 1st, 1947. High in the Canadian Rockies, an eerie light streaks across the sky and crashes into the crystal blue waters of Kootenay Lake, just outside the sleepy town of Boswell, British Columbia. A few days later, an army press release insists: it was un ballon de temps, nothing more. But why is the eccentric undertaker who witnessed the Boswell Crash now building a glass palace entirely out of embalming fluid bottles? (That part is for real – check it out.) And why does everyone who visits the crash site come back somehow… different?

But not that different. The alien replicants are quiet, placid, emotionless, with a pale gray pallor to their skin. In other words, they fit into Canadian society perfectly. Prime Minister Mackenzie King ignores the warnings of his dog and his dead mother and meets with a delegation of “citizens” from Boswell. He emerges changed. The pod people spread across the land.

Naturally, nobody outside Canada even notices.

When whistleblower Igor Gouzenko escapes to tell the unbelievable truth—The Great White North is Grey!—it gets one column inch on page 28 of the Buffalo News. (And bumped from the TV news by a fire in Tonawanda.)

Thus the infiltration of the United States begins. Mysterious “brain drainers” slip across the border and disappear in the American melting pot. It’s easy; they’re so unremarkable! A little dull, maybe, and lousy tippers, and the occasional vowel dipthong (tip: it’s not “aboot”, it’s “ab-[schwa]-oot”) might give one away. But usually they can get by claiming to be from Minnesota. Many rise to positions of influence or fame. And even though they look just like Americans, their alien eh-dar (rhymes with gaydar) lets them instantly recognize fellow members of the hive mind.

And so America is changing as the alien tendrils spread. Vinegar cruets have appeared in diners across the U.S.; nobody can remember putting them there. Callers on talk radio shows now ramble on and on about their mint gardens and butter tart recipes instead of ranting about liberals like they used to. And all the drivers at intersections with 4-way stops are stuck, waiting for every one else to go. Will America wake up to this silent invasion? Could the amputation of Florida stop the cancer’s implacable spread? Keep watching the skis!!!

*I already referenced “Dead or Canadian,” the category on the old MTV game show Remote Control. “Things Americans Don’t Know” was kind of Canada’s snarky answer, a (ridiculously easy) category on the MuchMusic game show Test Pattern.

I leave the evident differences between Remote Control‘s host Kari Wuhrer and Test Pattern‘s host (the late) Dan Gallagher as an object lesson in the differences between American and Canadian TV. Which reminds me:

They give awards for Canadian television?!? Oh, Rob, don’t you know that just encourages them?
—my buddy Joe

Article

Dominion Day

(Originally published on my old LiveJournal.)

(This is Alternate Canada #2. #1 is here.)

“Canada should have enjoyed the culture of the French, the government of the English, and the know-how of the USA. Instead, it ended up with the government of the French, the know-how of the English, and the culture of the USA.”
—John Robert Colombo, Canada’s keeper of random historical trivia and weird-ass Fortean stuff

This is probably going to be the longest of these alternates, since it doesn’t employ any fun history-benders like zombies, time travel, or nanotech—just that old chestnut of alternate history, the South winning the American Civil War. Which is not to say that what follows is at all plausible. Or desirable. Just a fever dream brought on by the heat, and by the fact that the-South-wins alternates rarely have much to say about how such a change might affect the rest of the world. In this alternate, Canada gets Colombo’s formula “right,” with a little help from the Confederacy. The moral is, be careful what you wish for Colombo, ya dodgy old kook.

“He shall have dominion from sea to sea and from the river unto the ends of the earth.”
—Psalm 72:8, the source of Canada’s official name (“The Dominion of Canada”) and national motto (“From Sea to Sea”)

When Robert E. Lee outfoxes the Union Army at Sharpsburg, he opens the way for the capture of Baltimore, and British recognition of the Confederacy. By winter, the Royal Navy is openly aiding the Southern cause. Thus provoked, radical Republicans in the U.S. Congress declare war on Britain and its possessions in the spring of 1863. British regulars join the Confederates at New Orleans and pour into the Canadian colonies to shore up the second front. Detroit falls to the red coats in 1865; Washington to the gray coats the same year. The United States are forced to grant the South its independence; Britain reclaims the Oregon Territory for its pains. But the peace is uneasy and British troops remain on the continent. When the Dominion of Canada is created on July 1, 1867, it is no bureaucratic marriage of convenience, but a formidable military union.

Licking their wounds, the Union’s remaining states close their doors to immigration; over the next fifty years millions of immigrants will pour out of Europe and into Canada instead. Blocked from trading with Britain or the states of the Confederacy, the economy of the shattered Union sputters and slows. Boosted by British capital, the mills and mines of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick take up the slack. Hamilton becomes Upper Canada’s industrial center and eventually its capital—a black fortress of iron and smoke, like Manchester-meets-Mordor on Lake Ontario. Anti-British sentiment in the defeated Union also drives men like Andrew Carnegie and Thomas Edison—both arrivals from Britain by way of the Canadian colonies—back to the Dominion, where their ingenuity stokes the furnace of Canadian industry.

The Great War erupts in 1914 and a tangle of treaties pull the beleaguered Union into war against the Canadian-Confederate Alliance. The trenches stretch from Quebec to the Pacific; the carnage is indescribable. Union President Teddy Roosevelt’s outnumbered doughboys hold the line in the East but the red brigades of the Dominion smash through on the great plains. When Canadian and Confederate troops shake hands on the shores of the Platte River, it is the final end of the United States west of the 100th meridian, and the birth of a cruel, new Canada, baptized in blood.

But the Dominion’s jingoistic victory parades are interrupted by violent labor uprisings in Hamilton and Halifax. In October 1919, Major General Sam Hughes, the ambitious and aggressive Minister of the Militia, seizes control of Parliament and extends the martial powers of the War Measures Act in perpetuity. By the 1930s, the Dominion is a fascist monstrosity. Jack-booted Mounties crush internal dissent while the weak old men in London increasingly depend on the iron-willed Canadians to maintain Britain’s fractious empire in India and the Far East.

The Second World War ends with a rain of atomic Avro-bombs on Dresden and Berlin, a show of might that makes official what has been whispered for years: the Empire no longer belongs to England but to its former colony. On July 1st, 1947, Canada’s Prime-Minister-For-Life Maurice Duplessis effectively dissolves the English Parliament in London. “A Flannel Curtain has descended across the continent,” Winston Churchill thunders; he dies in a Yukon gulag for daring to challenge “Duplessisme.” King Edward VII is re-installed as Canada’s puppet monarch; he lives out his days playing shuffleboard in Victoria’s Empress Hotel. Duplessis expires in 1967; the bench-clearing brawl for his succession is won by the blustering Field Marshall Donald Cherry.

So there you have it. The culture of the French (the insular, hidebound culture of Duplessis’ Quebec, to be precise), the know-how of the USA (particularly its death dealing military-industrial complex); and the government of the English (quite literally). From sea to shining sea, the Polite but, Who Are We Kidding, Evil Empire stands unchallenged. The bloody Red Ensign—no namby pamby 1960s maple leaf for this fascist super-state—has cruel dominion unto the ends of the earth.

Article

Born On The First of July

(Originally published on my old LiveJournal.)

OK, so I had all this written up and ready to post last week in honor of Canada Day. That’s July 1st, the anniversary of the original Confederation of Canada in 1867. But then I couldn’t get LiveJournal to work by remote, and this never got posted. What the hell, better late than never. Now that I’m back from my home and native land, here is my Canada Day present to y’all. Maybe I’ll backdate it to July 1 once it has rolled off your Friends pages.

It’s been said that Canada has “too much geography and not enough history.” I don’t entirely agree, but I do know that Canada doesn’t have nearly enough alternate history. And it’s a shame. Bookshelves groan with Nazi alternates (alterNazis?) and Civil War alternates; I’ve never seen an alternate Canada. Of course, Canada is kind of an alternate version of the United States already. What if the Thirteen Colonies had not revolted in 1776? Well, four colonies didn’t—skip ahead a couple of centuries and they’re legalizing swinging and queer marriages and smoking the chronic.

“What am I talkin’ about? I’m talkin’ about sex, boy, what the hell you talkin’ about? I’m talkin’ about l’amour! I’m talkin’ that me and Dot are swingers, as in “to swing.” I’m talkin’ about wife swappin’!”
—Glen, Raising Arizona (Sorry. I can’t mention swinging without thinking about that line. “Keep your damn hands off my wife.” Hee.)

What was I talking about again? Anyway, here, in honor of that storied day, on which four colonial administrations only somewhat reluctantly coalesced, sort of, into a moderately well-conceived bureaucratic fiction that much later began to think of itself, at least part of the time, as something resembling a nation, but not really, I give you five journeys north of the border gone astray: five alternate Canadas.

I was going to hit you with all five at once, in imitation of Ken Hite’s Suppressed Transmission—rather slavish imitation, as regular ST readers will soon see. (A search for Canada in Ken’s actual ST columns turns up, all too predictably, one column on the wendigo and another on alternate ice ages. Ice and snow and arctic cannibal monsters. Gee, thanks Ken.) But unlike Le Hite, I do not have an editor or, let’s face it, a real job—so these got a little long. Better I should dole them out one at a time.

(Let’s get the inevitable ice and snow and arctic cannibal monsters out of the way first.)

Undead or Canadian?
There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold,
The arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold.
The Northern Lights have seen strange sights
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

—Robert Service, “The Cremation of Sam McGee”

Inuit shamans said the aurora borealis—the Northern Lights—were lit by the fires of shivering ghosts, frozen souls who could not pass through the hole in the sky to the true heavens above. Those Inuit shamans were on to something.

Maybe it was the final curse Louis Riel uttered from the gallows. Maybe Skookum Jim struck not gold but ghost rock in the Klondike. Maybe a passing comet blocked that hole in the top of the sky, or ionized the ether of the aurora. Whatever it was, on the night of July 1st, 1897, the Northern Lights were Right. And when the revenant of Sam McGee stepped forth from his funeral pyre on the marge of Lake Lebarge, he was not alone. Frozen zombies, howling specters, spirit bears—the unquiet dead walk again in the land of the midnight sun.

OK, this isn’t a fully-developed alternate history; it’s just an excuse to do cowboy zombies north of 60. Robert Service meets George Romero. General Wolfe and Montcalm reassemble their zombie armies on the Plains of Abraham, and with grave courtesy agree to go for best two out of three. The Black Donnellys claw their way out of the earth and wreak terrible vengeance on the good people of Lucan. And Louis Riel, the hangman’s noose still around his rotted neck, rallies the spirits of fallen Métis and Indian braves in glorious rebellion against both the crown and the grave. Maybe the great British sorceror Lord Baden-Powell rides out to face him.

Depending on who you rooted for in Grade 8 Canadian history, this could be a tale of grisly horror, with the stalwart men of the Northwest Mounted Police besieged by wendigos at Fort Whoop-Up. Or it could be high Inuit weirdness, where flesh-eating mice swarm through the snowdrifts like piranha, and Nunuvik walrus-demons play ball with human skulls. Or it could be a rip-roaring “the Métis strike back” revenge fantasy. In real history, eight of Riel’s Indian confederates were hung for their part in his 1885 rebellion: Wandering Spirit, Iron Body, Little Bear, Walking the Sky, Crooked Leg, Miserable Man, Bad Arrow, and Man Without Blood. If those names don’t get you thinking about avenging undead Indian super teams, then you and I must be very different people…

Next: Alternate #2, “Pictures of Our Parents’ Prime Ministers”