Quote – Every Shell is a Life Journal

“Every shell is a life journal, made out if the very substance of its creator, and left as a record of what it thought, even if we can’t understand exactly what it thought. Sometimes interpretation is a trap. Sometimes we need to simply observe.”

– Nalo Hopkinson, Message in a Bottle

Sands of Time and Landscapes of Memory

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Cover image of Nigh Book One, Courtesy of the author

A Review of Marie Bilodeau’s Nigh Book Two (S&G Publishing, 2014)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Memory, made of time and place and story, shapes Marie Bilodeau’s Nigh Book 2, a tale about the return of the faeries and the collision of human and faerie cultures. Like the first book of Nigh, this book explores the power of the slippery landscape, changing and shifting with the will of the faeries, but the fluidity of the landscape evokes a need in her characters to hold on to their identities, to hold more tightly to family, memory and what makes their lives meaningful and resist the changes that they are plunged into.

Humanity has been displaced by the intrusion of faerie into our world, but so have the faeries who have ventures from their kingdom of centuries into the human world that had cast them out and changed over time. Nigh Book 2 mixes ideas of place and belonging with a sense of uncertainty.

The faerie world runs on a different time than our own, and this mix of two times and two landscapes allows Bilodeau to explore the relationship between memory and times, places, connections, and the stories that shape our identities. The intrusion of faeries into the human world is accompanied by their intrusion into human minds and bodies – their exertion of control over humanity through their melodic voices and powerful gaze – but the allure of faeries pulling humanity in also offers an escape from memory, from guilts of the past. This second book of Nigh offers the chance for readers to look at how memory is connected to our needs, fears, anxieties, desires, and that it too is changeable like the fairy world. Bilodeau disrupts the idea that memory can be preserved and that by holding on to our memories we can resist change because encounters with faeries are always encounters with instability and fluidity.

To discover more about Marie Bilodeau and the books of Nigh, visit http://mariebilodeau.blogspot.ca/p/nigh.html

To listen to an interview I conducted with Marie Bilodeau about Nigh, visit http://speculatingcanada.ca/2015/03/28/speculating-canada-on-trent-radio-episode-31-an-interview-with-marie-bilodeau-about-nigh/

To read my review of Nigh Book One, visit http://speculatingcanada.ca/2015/03/08/not-tinkerbell-welcome-to-the-fairypocalypse/

Cover Images of The Books of Nigh, courtesy of Marie Bilodeau

Cover Images of The Books of Nigh, courtesy of Marie Bilodeau

Bronze Age Magic

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Bronze Age MagicA review of Caitlin Sweet’s The Door in the Mountain (ChiZine Publications, 2014)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Caitlin Sweet’s The Door in the Mountain is a mytho-archaeological story of wonder, blending the mythology of the Ancient Greek world with archaeological settings from the even earlier society of Minoan Crete and populating this world with deep, complex characters. Sweet follows authors like Mary Renault who in works like The King Must Die and Bull From The Sea play with the meeting of myth and archaeology and use this blend to evoke characters whose lives are similarly stretched between the fantastic (through the elements of magic) and the realistic (through their engagement with the very real issues of family, the struggle for a place of belonging, and misinterpretation, which fuels so many conflicts). 

My masters’ research was in Aegean Bronze Age archaeology, examining the civilizations Caitlin Sweet explores in her novel, and I was moved by the way she brought these artifacts that I had spent so many years examining to life, mingling them with complex characters who brought a sense of mythic nearness to this ancient world. Sweet was able to animate these artifacts, let them shape the characters she populated her novel with, and express the sort of magic these artifacts inspire in our minds by giving them associations with magical powers. Using fantasy, Sweet was able to get at different truths than archaeology would be able to find, an imaginative truth that these artificers can inspire. 

Archaeology is speculative, imagining the lives of people long dead from the refuse they left behind and the places they eventually abandoned, and perhaps it is this speculative quality that led Sweet to imagine a speculative fictional world around these artifacts, to put them into a framework of magic and fantasy and allow them to evoke wonder. 

As much as The Door in the Mountain is a tale of wonders, it is also a tale of human experience, focussing at its root on family conflicts. This is a tale of the toxicity of envy in a family, of rejection and the desire for belonging, of power and the loss of control. It is, at its roots, a tale of those everyday conflicts that shape the lives of people and turn them into who they will become. The power of transformation in this novel is not just one of characters who can turn into Bulls or birds (although, of course, they do) of even of characters growing into their magical powers as they discover how they are god-marked, but is also about the way that simple actions, misunderstandings, interpretations, and ideas can change a character, shaping them from childhood to adulthood and determining who they will be and what will continue to motivate, hurt, inspire, and influence them.  

To discover more about The Door in the Mountain, visit ChiZine Publications’ website at http://chizinepub.com/books/door-in-the-mountain

To find out more about Caitlin Sweet, visit her website at http://www.caitlinsweet.com/

Psychiatric Vampirism

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A review of Max Turner’s Night Runner (Harper Trophy Canada, 2008)
By Derek Newman-Stille

I am excited to be able to talk about a book that deals with Peterborough, the town that I have come to call home. Max Turner’s Night Runner takes place in the Nicholls’ Ward in Peterborough, the city’s former psychiatric facility. The Nicholls’ Ward closed in 2010 due to issues of cost for repairs and updating of equipment and spaces and it was moved over into the main Peterborough Regional Health Centre building. Throughout the building’s history, it was at various times used as offices for the hospital, archives, a nursing residence, a meeting space, and a library. It was only in its final years that the building was switched to primarily a psychiatric facility. 

Max Turner’s Night Runner takes a novel approach to the teen vampire story by setting the vampire initially in a psychiatric facility. Zach Thomson grew up in the Nicholls Ward after his parents died when he was young. Night Runner takes place when Zach is 15 years old. His experience of youth hasn’t been the same as that of other kids – which is not surprising because children rarely grow up in psychiatric facilities. But his experience is different from that of other children for a variety of health related reasons outside of his mental health. He has an allergy to sunlight, he has a limited diet and is allergic to most foods, and he has bouts of anger and silences that can last for days. Zach has been recognized by his nurses as being in need of specilized medical care. Growing up in a psychiatric ward, Zach has never considered himself normal and he isn’t even certain what ‘normal’ for a teen should be. 

Max Turner creates a novel that questions ideas of normalcy and appropriateness by disrupting ideas of what can be considered normal. He challenges the behaviour of society in ostracizing certain people because of their difference. By situating Zach in a psychiatric institution, Turner questions ideas of family and the type of people that can make up family, extending the idea of belonging to a wider group of very different individuals. 

Night Runner, like many Young Adult tales, is a story about self discovery and the idea of developing a purpose. Zach believes that his life so far has been one of uncertainty and a lack of purpose because he has been in a psychiatric facility all of his life uncertain about what is “wrong” with him and waiting for a cure for his various allergies. 

Turner explores vampirisim as a blood-based pathogen, an infection, but one that radically changes the body, and one that can be spread through the bite. It is also an infection that generally comes with an end date – as every vampire eventually experiences Endpoint Psychosis, a psychiatric illness as they reach the end of their lives and therefore radically change. It is appropriate that a story that deals with the idea of Endpoint Psychosis begins in a psychiatric institution where the same issues of determining “capacity”, self control, and selfhood are diagnostic features both for the psychiatric nurses and for the vampire council who kills vampires they see as being dangerously out of control due to Endpoint Psychosis. In both areas it is up to others in positions of power to determine mental health and ability.

Night Runner, like vampirism itself, is about radical change, coping with different social and emotional pressures and the process of discovery. 

To discover more about the work of Max Turner, visit his website at http://maxturner.ca

To discover more about Night Runner, visit  http://us.macmillan.com/nightrunner/maxturner

 

The Oddity of Children

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A review of Nalo Hopkinson’s “Message in a Bottle” in Falling in Love with Hominids (Tachyon, 2015)By Derek Newman-Stille

Nalo Hopkinson’s “Message in a Bottle” explores the strange nature of children and the complicated reaction people have to children who don’t fit the norm. The narrator, Greg, explores the social pressure to have children and his own perception of children as “like another species”. Like many people who decide not to have children, he is told that his life has no value without children and that he is incomplete without passing on his “legacy”. 

Gradually over time, Greg begins to decide that having children is a good idea, illustrating the pressure to have children and how it overrides personal decisions. He begins to see children as not quite so foreign and strange, but there is one child that continues to seem odd and displaced to him, his friend’s adopted child Kamla, a girl who has a recent syndrome called Delayed Growth Syndrome. Children who have this syndrome develop large heads, but their bodies are relatively slow to develop. The oddity about Kamla, however, is not the size of her head (at least for Greg, though others call her Baby Bobber), but rather the odd insights Kamla shows into the future and her oddly adult manner of speech. 

Hopkinson’s “Message in a Bottle” disrupts traditional ideas about aging  (and childhood) and explores the discomfort that adults feel when children act or talk like adults. 

To discover more about Falling in Love with Hominids, visit Tachyon’s website at https://tachyonpublications.com/product/falling-love-hominids/

Growing Up Monstrous

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A review of Nalo Hopkinson’s “The Easthound” in Falling in Love With Hominids (Tachyon Publications, 2015)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Nalo Hopkinson’s “The Easthound” takes the reader onto the streets with a group of street children who have been displaced from their homes. There is a long history of street kids creating their own myths and legends about survival as a means to be able to deal with life on the streets, which, in the case of most of these kids, was safer than life in their original homes with abusive parents. But in “The Easthound” the monsters of those street tales is true. There is something lurking in the dark and it is something that often threatens children on the streets – adults and adulthood.

Hopkinson explores the spectre that haunts most kids on the streets – the violence of their parents and other adults in their lives. But, instead of these adults being regular abusers, they become actual monsters, transformed at the age of adulthood into werewolf-like beasts that prey on anyone who remains human. The street kids in “The Easthound” have gathered together in small groups to keep themselves safe from the spread of the monstrous virus that sets in at puberty and they try to resist adulthood, starving themselves to prevent their bodies from maturing. Many of the children were already abused by adults who were turned into beasts by the spreading virus, some losing limbs. 

Although Hopkinson deals with the spectre of violence as an actual viral spread of monstrosity, she points to the overall issue of violence against youths and the fact that many young people have to take to the streets to escape the violence of adults in their lives and then live in fear on the streets as well. 

Hopkinson’s “The Easthound” mirrors the classic Star Trek episode “Miri” (Season 1, Episode 8) where a virus has spread on an Earth-like planet that turns people monstrously violent when they hit puberty. But, she takes thing further. Whereas the writers of “Miri” try to resolve these issues with a cure (followed by sending educators to the planet), “The Easthound” expresses the idea that there generally aren’t simple solutions to the violence that street children experience and adults are generally part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Hopkinson explores the complexity of street life and the complex ways that “growing up” has a different set of meanings for kids on the street. 

To discover more about the work of Nalo Hopkinson, visit her website at http://nalohopkinson.com

To find out more about Falling in Love with Hominids and other books by Tachyon Press, visit their website at https://tachyonpublications.com/product/falling-love-hominids/

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 45: A Discussion of the Work of Nalo Hopkinson

In this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, I explore the work of Caribbean Canadian author Nalo Hopkinson. I explore themes of dual vision, cultural interactions, aging, connections with family, independence, boundary-crossings, and language. I explore Hopkinson’s works Brown Girl in the Ring, Sister Mine, and her short fiction collection Falling in Love with Hominids.

You can listen to this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio at the link below.

Explore Trent Radio at www.trentradio.ca

Explore Trent Radio at http://www.trentradio.ca

This audio file was originally broadcast on Trent Radio, and I would like to thank Trent Radio for their continued support. I would also like to thank Dwayne Collins for his consistent tech support and help with the intricacies of creating audio files.

Make sure to allow a few minutes for the file to buffer since it may take a moment before it begins to play.

To find out more about the work of Nalo Hopkinson, visit http://nalohopkinson.com/