Aqueous: a new apocalyptic underwater debut novel

By Kelly Putter | 

Who writes a dystopian science-fiction story unmindful that its prose would be better matched on a bookshelf with Dune or Dr. Who as opposed to The Great Gatsby?

Jade Shyback, a 50-year-old Oakville author, that’s who. The single mother of three adult daughters readily admits to being very green about the world of book publishing. After completing her long-dreamed-of debut novel, she pitched publishers, describing her story as Young Adult. Fortunately, a publishing-savvy friend set her straight.

“She said, ‘You wrote a dystopian tale without knowing it,’” recalls Shyback. “As I was writing this, I had no idea it was science fiction. I thought I was writing a coming-of-age, post-apocalyptic climate novel. I’ve since learned it’s called cli-fi. That’s the new sci-fi.”

Released in May by Red Hen Press, Aqueous is a coming-of-age story about a young woman’s struggle set against the near collapse of the earth. A deeply feminist tale that pits protagonist Marisol against the trials and tribulations presented to her in an apocalyptic underwater world. Aiming for placement on the all-male diving team, Marisol uncovers misogyny and deception in a tale that can only be described as ultimately hopeful.

Shyback wove her science fiction tale by working problems backwards. For example, to portray a realistic world beneath the sea, she had to describe and learn about submersible glass, the kind that doesn’t implode underwater. “I have a great imagination and once the story was opening up to me, I had to troubleshoot certain situations,” explains the former financial regulator. “But it’s all about a girl losing her mother and being separated and taken to a new place to survive.”

Shyback’s naiveté about publishing extended to her friend’s benevolence. She told Shyback she could send her manuscript to an editor-friend. “I thought it was a prank,” recalls Shyback. “I sent off the manuscript and she said she read it and loved it. She took mine immediately and I thought it couldn’t be real. This is not how I saw this going.”

The California-based Red Hen Press publishes 20 to 24 books a year, though it receives over 500 manuscripts annually. Shyback is planning two more novels, which will complete the Aqueous series. She has sold the foreign-language rights to Russia and there’s talk about an adaptation for TV or film, though Shyback is mum on details.

An Alberta native, Shyback received an English literature degree from the University of Calgary but would go on to a career in financial services, landing a role as a financial regulator in the United Arab Emirates. While there she lectured on anti-money laundering and the counter-financing of terrorism before becoming the Deputy Head of Compliance at The Dubai Gold & Commodities Exchange.  Despite the thrill of raising her three daughters in the Middle East, Shyback decided to return to Canada to focus on being a mom.

Fitting that it was her daughters who would encourage Shyback to put pen to paper. A well-deserved and close-quartered driving tour of California’s Pacific Coast Highway got the family brainstorming subject matter ideas for Shyback’s first book, which everyone agreed would be the perfect project for the mother whose daughters were growing and needing her less and less. The confluence of timing mixed with her lifelong love of words finally became clear. “There are moments in everyone’s life where magic and strokes of luck and things fall into place,” she says. “There have been many indicators and little things that tell me I’m supposed to be here right now. I have a lot of books that need to come out; stories related to the Aqueous series and other things.”

Her great big imagination was fed organically. Growing up in a farming community south of Red Deer, life did not offer many modern-day distractions. Cable television and private residential phone lines were big-city conveniences not afforded in her small hometown. That meant she spent her youth reading, mainly classics. She fancied herself as an author and would sometimes think, ‘I could write that’ after finishing a good book. Since that time, her ‘I-could-write-that’ mantra has reared its head many times. She credits her high school teacher Nat Sapach with imparting her with a can-do attitude. “He is a legend to me,” she says. “He told me I was an excellent writer and saying that solidified it for me.”

Shyback dedicated Aqueous to him but attempts to let him know about her book proved difficult. Finally, an old friend offered to drop off a copy of the book at his home in Alberta. Shyback cherishes the response she received from him. “I hope you understand why the news of your success helps to warm these aging bones and heart,” the retired English teacher told her in an email.

“The supreme irony is that I have always believed that competent teachers do not teach students very much at all. They make students aware of what they have known all along but did not know that they knew it. The magic occurs when the student becomes aware that he/she is beginning a journey of self-discovery. I am so grateful that I can be a very small part of the magic.”

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