Author Kade Davies, left, with artist Yawar Raja in front of a graffiti on Bloor and Bathurst. To the pair, this wall best represents what Toronto means to them. Last week marks the fifth year anniversary of science fiction project The Solid Intangibles.

Centennial alumni explore mental health frontiers in new novel

Novelist Kade Davies has found a place never explored before. And it’s not in this world.

“An outcrop of rock juts over the horizon, creeping ever upwards into the muddy skies. Just past that, the rest of the planet drops into a steep decline,” the novel’s hero says.

The Solid Intangibles, the novel, describes the story of eight human beings placed under extreme circumstances on a new, isolated planet, seven years away from Earth. The narration shifts from each character to another in every chapter, examining their state of mind and perspectives.

“I am caught in the grasp of this depressed haze,” Davies’ hero continues. “Some invisible force on this strange new voyage ushers me forward. I cannot remember what came before, not where I was, or who I am supposed to be.”

An illustration of the key scenes in the comic series by artist Yawar Raja.
An illustration of the key scenes in the comic series by artist Yawar Raja. (Courtesy of Yawar Raja (Zuri Studios))

Davies, 27, self-published The Solid Intangibles last week as the first in a science-fiction novel series. He’s a recent graduate of the corporate communications and public relations program at Centennial College in East York. His collaborator, artist Yawar Raja, 26, is also a Centennial grad, from its animation program. Their partnership began five years ago.

The resulting novel, Davies believes, in a larger context, addresses mental health issues in the real world. Davies believes mental health disorders don’t always come with a diagnosis.

“In fiction when that happens, it seems they just generalize, or don’t do enough research,” Davies said. “What I write is … the stuff that people are dealing with and coping (with) on their own, without so much looking for an answer or realizing they even have a disorder.”

A lot of Davies’ own life made its way into the plot of The Solid Intangibles. When his fiancée, Rachelle Crane, fell ill, he found that writing the novel helped distract him.

“No matter what emotions I was feeling at the time, it made me want to write it into the character or the scene,” Davies said. “I wanted to finish the book and that became the driving force. The story has to be told.”

Two of the eight main characters in The Solid Intangibles, Jovah Zuri, left, and Yonah Dietrich.
Two of the eight main characters in The Solid Intangibles, Jovah Zuri, left, and Yonah Dietrich. (Courtesy of Yawar Raja (Zuri Studios))

Chris Szego manages Canada’s oldest science fiction and fantasy bookstore, Bakka Phoenix Books. She believes science fiction novels provide authors and readers the ability to carry out a conversation on sensitive subject matters.

“One of the great things about science fiction and fantasy is we can examine what is going on – here and now – at a safe distance,” Szego said.

Davies said being a business partner with your friend has its challenges.

The two paid for a booth at Toronto Comic-Con in April 2012, but preparing for the event was overwhelming. Davies was handling the business side of things while Raja was responsible for illustrating the entire booth – by hand. Both struggled to complete their tasks.

“We didn’t sleep for days,” Davies said. “Going into Comic-Con was probably the most stressful thing in my whole life.”

“When you’re an artist, you’re a perfectionist,” Raja said. “But it’s impossible to hand-draw the same panel over and over again perfectly. Prepping for Comic-Con was so strenuous on my hand, it just got to a point where I just wanted to finish it and be happy with it.”

To add onto the stress, they ran also into problems with printing and layouts. The day came and they had no comics to sell – all they could sell was the story idea.

“We didn’t have the comics, but we got such positive feedback based on the idea,” Davies said. “Everybody there was blown away – it was surreal.”