OK, so there’s this ethnomusicologist, right, and he’s out hunting for an 80-year-old Feist in the Okanagan. It’s the year 2055, and all celebrities have been outlawed in Canada after the gossip blogs have led to a worldwide social meltdown. Everything is different now – no one has a name, the world is flooded and Neil Young is 109 years old.

“This Is Not the End My Friend”, the first story from the upcoming (and totally awesome) science fiction collection Darwin’s Bastards, has a surreal and unusual concept, for sure, but a particularly unusual one for its author, Adam Lewis Schroeder.

See, Schroeder’s made a career so far writing about Southeast Asia in the first half of the 20th century. His two novels have been set as many years in the past as his Bastards piece is set in the future.

And in case the name “Schroeder” and the above picture weren’t clear, he’s not an Asian. He did live in East Vancouver, however, so I guess he is Asian by proxy. Having lived there for 14 years, and after extensive travels in the East, he became inspired by the Asian roots in the area – a fascination that has found a comfortable spot in most of his writing.

His new book, In the Fabled East, is set in Indochina and split between two timelines: a French mother in 1909, ravaged by tuberculosis, sets off to the jungles of Laos to find the fabled spring of eternal life, to return healthy to care for her son; and a young French bureaucrat 25 years later, sent to Vietnam and given the task, by the woman’s son, of tracking down his mother, who had been missing for over two decades.

The book started as an image Schroeder had of a European woman in “hoop skirt and quite out of place in a muddy, up-country Southeast Asian village.” It was then “cobbled together” over a three-year period in Penticton, B.C. – where he lives with his wife and children – and involved every writer’s dream: a research trip to Laos and Vietnam funded by the Canadian Council of the Arts.

In the Fabled East is a sublime and often hilarious travel adventure. The National Post listed it as a novel to watch out for this spring, describing it as having “hints of Conrad.”

“Obviously, I don’t mind that – who would?” he says with a laugh, though he says it has more to do with plot (adventures on a river through jungle, in Heart of Darkness and Fabled East) than with theme or style.

And if the comparison boosts his ego any, he certainly doesn’t let on. Schroeder talks about his writing as if he had just baked a cake, as if to say Here it is, try some if you like.

But anyway, back to Darwin’s Bastards. The story collection, which includes new stories by Douglas Coupland, Yann Martel and William Gibson, features a slew of up-and-coming Canadian authors. To be recognized as one of the latter is a noble achievement. It’s a project Schroeder is very gratified to be a part of.

It’s also a sign of a versatile writer, one who can jump from two radically different worlds with a voice that is still distinctly his own.

“It was invigorating to jump back and forth between drafts whenever I got bogged down in one or the other – the character voices and locale are so markedly different,” he says. “I've also had a half-written ghost story collection simmering by itself for several years now. Sometimes I hear it whimpering.”

Get back to it then, dude! Engage those ghosts. We look forward to it.

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