Radical Acts of Beauty

A review of Daniel Heath Justice’s “The Boys Who Became The Hummingbirds” in Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection Volume 2” (Edited by Hope Nicholson, Alternative History Comics, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Daniel Heath Justice’s “The Boys Who Became The Hummingbirds” is a comic about resilience and transformation, highlighting the desire of a two-spirit boy to change the world around him through acts of beauty. Despite homophobia, environmental degradation, and all forms of hate against each other, Strange Boy seeks to heal others by bringing beauty into the world. Like many people who seek to bring healing and beauty into the world, especially if they are marginalized, Strange Boy experiences violence. He discovers that a lot of the violence from the people around him is an externalized form of self loathing, their hatred of themselves projected outward toward anything beautiful, anything that represents a reminder of joy that they can’t imagine themselves having.

“The Boys Who Became The Hummingbirds” is an act of beauty in a harsh and close-minded world, it is Daniel Heath Justice’s act of transformative magic, sharing a story of transformation with a world that needs beauty. It is a tale that reminds us that no matter how much violence the world inflicts on us, we can speak back by bringing beauty into the world. Our acts of art can be transformative, remaking the world and opening up others to express their beauty. 

Beautifully illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre, “The Boys Who Became The Hummingbirds” is filled with images of movement and light. It is a comic that can show the interiors of bodies and make even our bleeding, organic insides things that can be filled with a certain magnificence and wonder. Alvitre is able to capture the etherial quality of hummingbirds, their darting magnificence.

The intwined arts of Daniel Heath Justice and Weshoyot Alvitre add to the message of the story, emphasising the focus of the story on collaborative arts and the ability of one form of art, one story, to resonate in another.

To discover more about Daniel Heath Justice, visit http://imagineotherwise.ca

To discover more about Weshoyot Alvitre, visit https://www.facebook.com/Weshoyot/

To find out more about Moonshot Vol 2, visit https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1350078939/moonshot-the-indigenous-comics-collection-volume-2

Skating on the Thin Ice of Sports Masculinity

A review of Claire Humphrey’s “Number One Draft Pick” in The Sum of Us: Tales of the Bonded and Bound (Laksa Media Group, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Speculative Fiction stories about hockey are relatively rare in English Canada, although Amy Ransom has illustrated that they are a popular motif in Quebecois SF. That makes Claire Humphrey’s “Number One Draft Pick” a rare treat, particularly since it deals with the complexities of hockey culture and its complex relationship to gender and disability. 

Humphrey’s story explores hockey culture from the outside, examining it from the perspective of a care-giver who is providing support to a hockey player with a disability. Reshma is the trainer for a service dog named Zuzu, whose specialization is sensing the onset of seizures. In this near-future fiction story, Zuzu’s abilities are augmented by a collar that assists her in monitoring the health of her human. 

Sports masculinity tends to be hostile to the idea of disability, viewing athletes with disabilities as less capable, and often as somewhat feminized, particularly when the require the use of care-givers. Sports masculinity is about hyper ability. Although a team sport, hockey, like many sports, relies on the idea that athleticism is a product of individualism, an independence that pretends that the star athlete has accomplished everything on their own. The idea of needing care and support can disrupt this illusion. Humphrey explores this in her story by examining the complex secrecy around hockey star Ty’s disability. The hockey association wants to keep Ty’s disability a secret, projecting him as a star that doesn’t need support, and even his team engages in the complex veil of secrecy, pretending that they don’t know about Ty’s seizures even when they have witnessed them. Secrecy is part of the cohesiveness of the team and the maintenance of the team’s sense of sports masculinity, willfully ignoring anything that doesn’t match their ideas of ability.

“Number One Draft Pick” simultaneously places women in nurturing and supporting roles and men in active sports roles while also pointing out that this dichotomy is totally artificial and that the gendered reactions around sports are social constructs, created by the team and their supports to model the idea of the independent athletic hero. Humphrey uses science fiction and disability to complicate sports masculinity, pointing out the complexities in the construction of athleticism and its relationship to the body. 

To discover more about Clare Humphrey’s work, visit http://www.clairehumphrey.ca

To find out more about The Sum of Us, visit the Laksa Media Group website at http://laksamedia.com/the-sum-of-us-an-anthology-for-a-cause-2/

Insectile Intimacies

A review of Edward Willett’s “The Mother’s Keeper” in The Sum of Us by Susan Forest and Lucas Law (Laksa Media Group, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Edward Willett takes a different perspective than many of the authors in the collection “The Sum of Us”, a collection about caregiving, and, instead LITERALLY dehumanizes caregiving. Instead of focusing on caregiving among humans, Willett focuses on the idea of insectile care, specifically that of a sentient alien race that has insectile characteristics. 

Care is an important part of most colony insects that have a queen. In these colonies, various insects specialize in certain duties to ensure that the queen is able to continue reproducing and providing new members for the hive. These roles can be varied from protecting the hive from intruders, bringing food, removing waste, carrying larvae, cooling eggs, and maintaining the queen’s needs. 

Willett’s “The Mother’s Keeper” centres around the growth of a young member of a hive society named Praella, whose caring role changes as she ages, but centres around the care she needs to provide for the Mother (who takes on an insect queen role). The Mother of this hive has a body that extends throughout all parts of the colony, and is needed for all aspects of life in the colony. The only problem is that Praella is witnessing the end of the Mother’s long life, something that her hive is unprepared to deal with. The Mother is gradually rotting throughout the city and the hive begins to dissipate, but Praella maintains her adherence to the Mother, staying with her through all of her changes even though she does not speak to Praella. 

Although “The Mother’s Keeper” focusses on an insectile relationship, an adherence and total dependency on the hive queen and her total dependence on her children, Willett explores very human relationships, examining the way that our relationship to caregiving changes as we age, and the complexities involved in caring and, particularly, in being a sole caregiver. His narrative involves more than a civic duty to offer care, but, rather, a biological impulse, a fundamental NEED to offer care, which allows the reader to interrogate ideologies of caregiving in our society and contemplate what care could mean. 

To discover more about Edward Willett, visit http://edwardwillett.com/
To discover more about The Sum of Us, visit http://laksamedia.com/the-sum-of-us-an-anthology-for-a-cause-2/

Exposing the Caregiver within the Human Suit

A review of Sandra Kasturi’s “The Beautiful Gears of Dying” in The Sum of Us (Laksa Media group, 2017, edited by Lucas Law and Susan Forest).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Using second person, Sandra Kasturi positions the reader as a caregiver AI caring for an ageing woman in her story “The Beautiful Gears of Dying”. Kasturi explores the relationship between human beings and artificial intelligence (AI), which is significant since robotic assistants are currently being developed around the world with the idea that they may be able to help out in elder care. 

Rather than following what most authors exploring the relationship between human ageing and robots are doing, Kasturi examines ideas of intimacy and beauty between these two figures. Kastrui examines an ageing woman who is angry at the need to have a caregiver and hostile toward that caregiver, something that is normally not covered in tales about caregiving. She tells her caregiver that it can’t understand fundamental aspects of human experience and can only emulate ideas of beauty. 

Kasturi explores ideas of intimacy in caregiving, pointing out the relationship between trust, vulnerability and care when the unnamed elderly woman says to her robotic caregiver “You know my body better than any lover, better than any doctor, maybe better than my future embalmer”. There is something uncomfortably intimate about that statement, revealing to the reader that they will encounter this intimacy if they need a caregiver and will likely have to be exposed to someone who they don’t know. 

In order to reverse some of that vulnerable intimacy, the woman asks her caregiver to take off its artificial skin, to expose its mechanical realness under the human suit it is wearing. Yet, Kasturi illustrates that there is a comfort in that shared intimacy, a safety in seeing one’s caregiver revealed under all of the artificiality, even if all that is underneath the caregiver persona is wires and gears. 

To find out more about Sandra Kasturi, visit http://www.sandrakasturi.com

To discover more about The Sum of Us, visit http://laksamedia.com/the-sum-of-us-an-anthology-for-a-cause-2/

Performing Pontypool?

A review of Tony Burgess’ Pontypool radio drama script (Playwrights Canada Press, 2015).
By Derek Newman-Stille

I should start out by noting that the 2009 film Pontypool by Tony Burgess and Bruce McDonald is one of my favourite films, so I was extremely excited to hear from a colleague, Cat Ashton, that Tony Burgess had written a radio drama version of the story. Admittedly, I didn’t enjoy Tony Burgess’ novel Pontypool Changes Everything upon which both the film and the radio drama were based, but I was impressed by the radio drama and its potential for performance. I have directed and performed radio dramas in the past, and therefore took a look at the script both for its literary quality and its performability. 

The characters in this radio drama were rich and complex, with intentions that could be sketched out through their dialogue, but they also allowed a lot of room for actors to bring out the complexities of these characters and add their own voices and perspectives.

The setting for the play allows a lot of potential for it to be performed. Since all of it takes place in a radio station, and most of it occurs in the sound booth, a lot of the complexities of space and setting changes are unnecessary. 

I should mention that my first day on the air occurred after watching the 2009 Pontypool and it heightened my experience of being in a sound studio, watching the various dials change, my voice oscillating on the screen, and adjusting dials to the performance of sound. I couldn’t help but think of myself as inside of the film. Performing Pontypool on air could increase this potential, letting the radio drama performers feel the setting of the station influence their delivery of their lines. 

Pontypool is a radio drama about the power of language to turn people into zombies. It is an outbreak story, situated in the small Ontario town of Pontypool where certain words in the English language have become contaminated, and where these words are spreading, transforming people into zombies who seek out voices and infect the host. It is a play that is about the power of words and the power of the radio for spreading words like viruses The play makes the reader hyper aware of the way that they are speaking and understanding language, allowing the reader to feel the potential of being infected by the words they are seeing on the page (or, if it is performed, the words they are hearing). There is a sense of danger about reading the script, a feeling that one’s mind, one’s language is potentially dangerous.

It is a play that evokes the concern that even our inquisitive nature is a danger to us because the star of the play, shock jock radio host Grant Mazzy perceives it to be important to investigate and share information about the virus even after he realizes that speaking in any way would allow the virus to spread. He has to balance his need to deliver news… with the fact that the delivery system (him) is contaminated. 

This is an infectious play, one that needles its way into your brain and invites you to keep contemplating it, keep questioning it, even as you realize that the content of the play is telling you that investigating and contemplating can be infectious.

To dicover more about the Pontypool radio drama, visit http://www.playwrightscanada.com/pontypool.html .

Canada Day Complexities and Questioning the 150

By Derek Newman-Stille

Art by “Chippewar”

Like many marginalized Canadians, Canada Day can evoke some complicated feelings. We are often very aware of the oppressions that have been carried out in the name of “Canada”: residential schools for aboriginal people, asylums that perpetuated the torture of people with disabilities, the Pink scare, bathhouse raids, and other attacks on queer Canadians, the razing of Africville and so many other acts of violence that seek to position white, straight, able-bodied, Anglophone Canadians as the only “true” Canadians. 

Canada 150 has been constructed as a celebration of Canadian history, and yet, in the nation’s attempt to construct itself as a country of justice and benevolence, it has erased large parts of its past, trying to make itself seem as though it is a country of constant justice, rather than a country that needs to acknowledge that it has carried our horrible abuses of people in the past and continues to do so. Even the title “Canada 150” carries a problematic assumption, erasing the thousands of years of aboriginal presence on this landscape in trying to make it seem as though Canada was born from nothing 150 years ago. Canada’s acts 150 years ago were a theft of land, an oppression of people who have lived on this landscape and who have continued to be robbed of land and have been oppressed for the length of those 150 years. 

Canada has supported arts for its 150, but only if those arts celebrate the message that it is trying to evoke, and the arts council positions artists within its “cultural mosaic”, but only if one fits into the mosaic in the right way, only if one performs identity the way that the arts council wants to see. 

As writers, researchers, and fans of speculative fiction, we have an opportunity to ask big questions (the speculative part means being inquisitive). We can ask these questions of our past through historical fiction, inviting questions about what could have happened in Canadian history if things had gone differently and invite readers to learn about Canadian history beyond the canonical history we are often taught in our schools (the sanitized version that constructs this nation as heroic). We can invite questions about where we are going from here, ask questions of our future, and interrogate possibilities and alternatives that we are told are impossible or improbable. With our creative energy we can invite those impossibilities to the table and see how they play out. We can write dystopian fiction that invites critical questions about how things can go wrong if we continue on our current path. We can write utopian fiction that imagines a radically new nation of justice and inclusion. We can write horror that showcases the horrors that constantly take place behind closed doors in our nation, imagine fantasies where Canada can be transformed through a different relationship to our environment, superhero fiction that doesn’t end up just being nationalistic tripe, and science fiction that imagines different ways of understanding the sciences that we use to justify our actions. 

Speculative Fiction, like all fiction, is an act of imagination, and, as such, it is about the potentials that we can dream up. It is a genre of our imagination, our thoughts, our perspectives, our aspirations, our anxieties, our fears, our dreams and our nightmares. It is a genre of ideas, and we need to remember that ideas are powerful, transformative, and, yes, dangerous. A nation is a boundary – one that is placed on geographies and people and that uses techniques to try to bind those disparate people and geographies together. But we aren’t defined by our boundaries. Canada’s boundaries have separated people, sought to erase aboriginal territories and nations, and the process of drawing that boundary was as much about exclusions as it was about inclusions. It is up to us to redraw boundaries, or, better yet, to imagine beyond boundaries and conceive of new types of definitions and new ways of understanding ourselves and the places we access. We need to remember our history, and that means all parts of it, including (or possibly especially) the ugly parts of it. We need to question the way that borders have been drawn around what is appropriate Canadian history and what is not. We need to invite questions of our government when it tells us that it has given people enough and as it why, ask it to give access to fresh water to aboriginal people, ask it to make spaces actually accessible for disabled people, ask it to stop pathologising queer people and trying to portray only one type of queer person (normally the most normative behaving) and actually open things up for areas of radical expression and radical inclusion. 

We can imagine new possibilities in our arts and our critiques and we have a responsibility to imagine better.
To find out more about the art by Chippewar above, visit http://www.chippewar.com/product/free-150-years-of-colonization 

Caregiving at War

A review of A.M. Dellamonica’s “Bottleneck” in The Sum of Us edited by Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law (Laksa Media Group, 2017).By Derek Newman-Stille

Caregiving is about trust. It is about placing your trust in another person. A.M. Dellamonica’s “Bottleneck”, part of the collection The Sum of Us (a collection about caregivers), opens up unexpected possibilities for giving care. Rather than focusing on ideas of care in hospitals, nursing homes, and other institutions like many of the stories do, Dellamonica’s tale focuses on caregiving for children and the complexities of child care in war. 

“Bottleneck” explores ideas of soldiers as care givers, examining an Earth at war and it is a war fuelled by alien intervention (its own sort of misplaced paternalism). The protagonist, Ruthless, is a solider who has been asked bring a general’s children to him across hostile territory. The general placed the responsibility for the care of his children in this soldier’s hands. Even though she is considered a ruthless soldier (which influenced her name), she also has experience with care, having looked after her younger brother when they were growing up. She knows the burden of care that is placed on older siblings and she brings her knowledge and experience into her care for these two young people. 

But, Ruthless comes across a man who claims that he has important information for the soldiers and she has to trust him to be around the children even though he has signs of being an enemy combatant. When she is forced to leave one of the children in his care, she ends up extending the trust inherent in a care position to a person who she wouldn’t trust in any other scenario. 

Dellamonica brings attention to the complexities of care during a war, the dangers and unlikely alliances that come from the protection of children. 

To find more about A.M. Dellamonica, visit http://alyxdellamonica.com 

To find out more about The Sum of Us, visit http://laksamedia.com/the-sum-of-us-an-anthology-for-a-cause-2