A Squirrelly Comedy Duo of Doom

A review of Ryan North and Erica Henderson’s The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol 3 (Marvel, 2016)
By Derek Newman-Stille

In addition to continuing to be incredibly adorable, Ryan North and Erica Henderson’s The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol 3 continues to play with narrative in fascinating ways. The comic continues to use elements of commentary at the bottom of each page, playing with the messages given on the comic page itself. It employs twitter feeds as a method of conveying dialogue and interacting with the wider Marvel comics universe (though most of the tweets are directed at Iron Man). This method allows for a different engagement with ideas of speech beyond just the typical speech bubble. Background narratives about characters are provided by cards that Squirrel Girl keeps with her that outline the stories and abilities of various baddies in the Marvel universe, and of course these cards are created by Deadpool to create a connection between these two characters that defy the conventions of superheroes and add a comical meta-narrative to their stories. North and Henderson add on different tech features of storytelling in this narrative by including things like Wikipedia pages and “While You Were Out” notes that allow for a different engagement with narrative, allowing the character to speak to those who aren’t present on the page and will likely not acknowledge these notes. They are an opportunity for the character to engage in a frustrated soliloquy about her experiences.

I am always incredibly impressed by the way that The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl achieves her victories through negotiation and conversation rather than the traditional superhero method of “punch until villain is incapacitated or accepts your viewpoint”. For this volume, Squirrel Girl first makes a mistake when encountering a villainous character and attacks him, but later questions his intentions and whether she should have attacked him in the first place. She later revisits an old enemy, Doctor Doom. North and Henderson play with the idea of Doom, exaggerating his narcissistic personality by having him rename everything after himself, creating DOOMipedia, DOOMhenge, and even a programming language that consists of variations on the name Doom. Squirrel Girl’s sense of play comes up against Doom’s utter seriousness in a comedic duo trope of the comedian and the straight man that accentuates the humour of the situation. 

To discover more about The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, visit http://marvel.com/comics/characters/1010860/squirrel_girl 

The Climate Around Eco-Fiction

A review of Cli Fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Change Edited by Bruce Meyer (Exile Editions, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Powerful and wealthy people are invested in the idea of constructing climate change as a fiction, projecting the idea that scientists are folk story tellers, inventing tales that don’t stem from observation. Constructing climate change as a fiction allows us to pretend that we don’t need to change anything about our behaviour, to believe that we can allow things to go on as they are without repercussions. Cli Fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Change uses the power of stories to shift the dialogue, to give us possible glimpses into futures that we are creating through our own inaction. Cli Fi like most speculative fiction, is ultimately about the present rather than the future climate issues it presents. This collection reveals the way that we centre human experiences while ignoring the rest of our world, the way that we ignore our problems in order to push them onto the future. As much as being a set of stories, Cli Fi is a call to change, a call to transform ourselves the way our fiction transforms our way of thinking about the world. 

The anthology begins with tales from the perspective of aged protagonists, something that is rare in a society that doesn’t value aged bodies, and yet, the collection prefaces these bodies, positioning them as ones that have witnessed long term changes, long term development. Youth frequently don’t see changes as shockingly because everything is new and because they don’t have years of observation to back their ideas upon. When they see a news report that says that we are experiencing record temperature highs or record temperature lows, they are comforted when the news refers to these temperatures being reached at another time this century. But, they may miss the fact that the last few years have been ones where more records are being established, and where these records are being met or exceeded more often and in closer proximity. Whereas aged people can make observations about the longue duree, making observations over a longer period of time.

I shouldn’t suggest that by having ageing bodies at the outset, that this anthology is all about ageing. In fact, there are a wide variety of ages portrayed to add the perspective of the way that climate changes affect us as we age. Cli Fi provides stories that look at how the environment interweaves with our bodily experiences and existence, the way that we both shape and are shaped by our ecology, altered by and altering our world. These stories remind us that we are participants in creating the world that we want. 

This is not a utopian collection. The stories in these pages invite us to ask some hard questions, and it is hard to read the collection in one sitting, but that time to pause is necessary. It invites us to ponder for long periods between stories, looking deeper into the tales and what they mean for us as people. The authors remind us of our connection to the world around us, pointing out that water makes up most of our bodies, just as it makes up most of our surface world, and water runs through these narratives as much as the ink runs onto paper. It binds us to our environments, a flowing story that speaks of history and change, but also of the danger of contamination and the vulnerability of our world to our pollution. 

This is not just an anthology ABOUT climate change, it is one that invites us into the process of changing our climate. Cli Fi invites us to ask critical questions about the world around us and our relationship to that world, to interrogate the messages we receive from our environment and open critical dialogue about it. Cli Fi is an invitation to do no less than change our world. Although primarily speculative fiction, this collection opens up real world possibilities. 

To explore reviews of individual short stories in this collection, check out:
Rati Mehrotra’s “Children of the Sea”

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/05/02/ageing-into-climate-change/
Sean Virgo’s “My Atlantis”

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/05/04/a-shattered-touchstone/
Kate Story’s “Animate” 

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/05/08/a-magnetic-environment/
Nina Munteanu’s “The Way of Water”

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/05/11/water-is-magic/
Wendy Bone’s “Abdul”

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/05/13/orangutan-voices/
Phil Dwyer’s “Invasion” 

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/05/17/vulnerable/
Holly Schofield’s “Weight of the World”

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/05/19/a-call-for-research/
Lynn Hutchinson Lee’s “Night Divers”

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/05/20/made-of-water-and-stars/
To discover more about Cli Fi, visit Exile Editions’ website at http://www.exileeditions.com

Made of Water and Stars

A review of Lynn Hutchinson Lee’s “Night Divers” in Cli Fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Change (Exile Editions, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Like in Nina Munteanu’s “The Way of Water”, Lynn Hutchinson Lee’s “Night Divers” explores the quasi-religious potential of water. Water in “Night Divers” represents the multiplicity of religion, first situating water as something attached to greed and power by creating groups like the Brothers of the Waters of Life and their PrayGuards, who are willing to kill to maintain their control over water, and secondly through the quasi-folk magic involved in submersion in water. Characters under the tutelage of Grace, a former nun for the Brothers of the Waters of Life begin to jump off of cliffs into the small amount of water remaining in a hidden quarry, and through the process experience magical moments of transcendence as they submerge into the water. In beautiful prose, Lynn Hutchinson Lee reveals the ritual magic of submersion in water. “I felt my hands, my palms, nerves, fingertips, really felt them. Something had been moved around. Everything out there, inside me. My lungs, voice, bones, skin, all made of water and stars”.

“Night Divers” brings attention to the way that scarcity invites control and the way that corporate interests in water can reinforce themselves through social practices, policing access to water to unsure that corporation and politics are intertwined.

To discover more about Cli Fi, visit http://www.exileeditions.com

A Call for Research

A review of Holly Schofield’s “Weight of the World” in Cli Fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Change (Exile Editions, 2017)

By Derek Newman-Stille

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Holly Schofield’s “Weight of the World” explores the role of science in humanity’s engagement with our ecology. Schofield brings attention to the way that capitalism is constantly placed ahead of ecological research, pointing out that we endanger the planet further by devoting government resources to areas that we think will be more profitable and provide short term benefits rather than long term research that could develop solutions to ecological problems.

 

Schofield’s tale centres on a scientist named Gurpreet who keeps getting shuffled from department to department while she tries to create solutions for humanity’s current eco crisis and food security issues. Changes in the gulf stream have meant that Canada has become a frozen wasteland where growing seasons are uncertain and always incredibly short. Gurpreet has to deal with misogyny from her male coworkers as well as corruption in funding models that takes money away from viable food production and funnels it into popular, but under-researched methods of producing food, even though these methods will likely have longer term ecological repercussions.

 

Schofield’s tale is timed at a critical moment when we see a conflict between scientists in the United States and a government that doesn’t want to change its ecological policies. Her tale is a reminder to all of us that we need to invest in long term scientific research and stop having stop-gap methods that cause further ecological danger.

 

To find out more about Holly Schofield, visit https://hollyschofield.wordpress.com/

To discover more about Cli Fi and other Exile books, visit http://www.exileeditions.com/

 

Vulnerable

A review of Phil Dwyer’s “Invasion” in Cli Fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Change (Exile Editions, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Phil Dwyer’s “Invasion” explores a Canada who is preparing for American invasion in a world of scarcity where Canada’s natural resources are desired. Dwyer looks at an economy reduced to essential products, just what is needed to survive in a world where having resources means being under threat. 

“Invasion” examines a world where resource scarcity and nationalism are interlinked and borders are patrolled and violated in the name of resource protection and exploitation. Dwyer examines Canada as a space that is rich in resources, but has few military defences, eclipsed by the military-industrial complex to the south. In this world, Canada even shut down their hospitals to ensure that no one would invade because they might see Canada’s medical system as exploitable: “Hospitals were closing all over the world – in Europe and the US people were dying by the hundreds. We had to show solidarity with them. Stand shoulder to shoulder, making the same sacrifice and suffering the same consequences. If we hadn’t can you imagine the backlash?”

Dwyer examines Canadian vulnerability in the event of a world where water is scarce and where people are willing to kill for resources.

To discover more about Cli Fi, visit Exile at http://www.exileeditions.com

Planets Contaminated

A review of Crystal Yates’ “Earthsong” (Overmorrow Media)
By Derek Newman-Stille

“Earthsong” is an incredibly beautiful and chilling fantasy graphic narrative. Crystal Yates plays with light and images of fabric to create a comic that, while dealing with serious issues, also feels like a warm blanket wrapped around the reader. 

Crystal Yates’ “Earthsong” is an interplanetary fantasy where the planets themselves take on life and consciousness. Some of these planetary spirits interact with their creations, their children, but most have been content to sleep. Many of them have slept right through a crisis that has been happening throughout space and on their own surfaces. A contamination has leaked onto the surface of planets that attaches itself to various of the planet’s sentient children and, if unchecked, will destroy the lifeforce of the planet itself.

The planets got together to deal with what was occurring and decided that the best way to solve the issue of contamination is to remove contaminated people from their planet and place them on a new planet and the planet who named herself Earthsong has become a host for all of this misplaced travellers. These planet children end up on Earthsong without their memories, dropped into a complex battle they know nothing about.

Yates explores ideas of quarantine, contamination, the loss of selfhood, and the desire to learn about oneself in “Earthsong”, creating a narrative about planetary contamination that isn’t about pollution but reminds us of the fragility of our place on our planet nonetheless.

To find out more about Earthsong and read some of the online comic, visit http://www.earthsongsaga.com

Orangutan Voices

A review of Wendy Bone’s “Abdul” in Cli Fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Change (Exile Editions, 2017)By Derek Newman-Stille

Wendy Bone’s “Abdul” intertwines two narratives: one of an urban Canadian woman, and one of a Orangutan from Indonesia. Bone complicates ideas of humanity and the constant privileging of human wants over animal needs by providing a voice to a young Orangutan named Abdul. She examines human encroachments onto animal habitats and the power of capitalism to justify the treatment of animals as pests. 

Orangutan lives are sacrificed as the desire for palm oil causes people to push further into Organutan habitats, pushing them out of their homes and frequently killing them or abducting them to sell as pets. Abdul is a constant victim of human capitalism, having his home, his body, and his death monetized. Adbul is taught by his gaolers to participate in an elaborate set of performances to be considered valuable, including acting out his own death when people make shooting motions at him, a disturbing reminder of the way that people with guns engage in real slaughter of Orangutans.

Bone gives voice to the Orangutan, inviting human readers to question if their amenities are worth the devastation of animal lives. She reminds us that animals are not voiceless, but that we devoice them by ignoring their presence on the landscape and not looking at the fact that our creation of spaces of human industry mean homelessness and death for animals. 

To discover more about Cli Fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Change, visit http://www.exileeditions.com