Recommended Reading by Professionals…with Matthew Johnson

In this series, I ask various publishing professionals (including authors, bloggers, editors, agents etc.) to recommend 2-3 authors or books they feel haven’t received the recognition they deserve.

Today’s recommendations are by Matthew Johnson, whose short stories have appeared in places like Asimov’s Science Fiction, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and Strange Horizons. Many of those appear in his new collection Irregular Verbs and Other Stories from ChiZine Publications. He lives in Ottawa, Ontario and is the Director of Education for MediaSmarts, a non-profit media education organization, for whom he writes articles and lessons, designs computer games, does media interviews, presents at conferences and roundtables in Canada and internationally and occasionally does pirate voices in both French and English.


Because my most recent book is a collection of short stories, I decided to spotlight three collections, two from writers who deserve to be more widely read and one from a novelist whose many fans may not know him as a short-story writer.

  • It may not be quite accurate to call Maureen McHugh an unappreciated writer – she’s published six books and won the Hugo, Locus and Tiptree awards – but since she’s one of our best living short story writers, I’d say that she’s not appreciated enough. Out of her two collections I like After the Apocalypse a little bit more, mostly because she’s gotten so good at blending SF tropes and themes with literary technique. Aside from the ideas of the stories and the ways she experiments with form, so many of her sentences are just perfect, communicating as much about the characters and stories in the way that they’re written as they do by what their actual content. She’s not only a writer’s writer but an SF writer’s SF writer, imagining fully-created futures with tiny details – buses with floppy bags of natural gas on top and instant cellphones that you boil in water like dried ramen – that make them both utterly unique and utterly real.
  • Robert Charles Wilson is far from unknown or unappreciated, but I suspect that relatively few of his readers know about his collection The Perseids and Other Stories. Although the stories in it are interlocking – people and places recur, though sometimes in ways that are hard to reconcile between their different appearances – they’re also very different from one another in tone and genre. Some are meditative, some tense, some terrifying, and they range from classic big-picture, sense-of-wonder SF to body horror – and sometimes both at once. It’s also unusual in that it’s both a very Canadian and a very urban book: as he writes in his afterword, “one of my ambitions was to write stories that reflected the urban Canadian experience, as opposed to extended meditations on ice, tundra, ‘the North,’ and so on.” As someone who has struggled to identify with the many prairie epics and survival tales assigned to me in Canadian lit classes, the sight of a book – an SF book! — with the CN Tower front-and-centre on the cover was a huge relief.
  • The late John M. Ford is another author who’s often called a “writer’s writer,” though you must be doing something right when those writers include people like Jo Walton and Neil Gaiman, the latter of whom wrote the introduction to Ford’s first collection, From the End of the Twentieth Century. This book includes what I think is Ford’s best story, “Walkaway Clause” – which manages to use some of the moldiest and most cobweb-ridden space opera cliches to tell a story that is utterly, shatteringly heartbreaking – along with a range of other stories, poems, songs and essays. As wonderful as the stories are, though, it’s the essays that I find myself turning to most often, because he’s able in just a few pages to articulate exactly what’s wrong with fantasy and SF when they’re bad and what’s right when they’re good, in language that is just as beautiful and poetic as everything else in the book. Most of all, Ford shows the importance of giving the reader room to participate in the story. As he puts it: “Every book is three books, after all: the one the writer intended, the one the reader expected, and the one that casts its shadow when the first two meet by moonlight. By my count that makes nine books I’ve pointed you towards; I hope you enjoy them.

Stay tuned for the next post where we get reading recommendations from AM Dellamonica!

2 thoughts on “Recommended Reading by Professionals…with Matthew Johnson”

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