Necrosexual

A review of Gemma Files’ “Kissing Carrion” in Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction (Exile Editions, 2013)

Cover Photo of Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction

Cover Photo of Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction


By Derek Newman-Stille

Gemma Files’ “Kissing Carrion” contains the kind of gross sexuality that will mean that you will never quite enjoy sex the same way again. She sexualises the grotesque and grotesques the sexual in a journey into the taboo and forbidden. There is something about hearing about sex with a dead body and the glistening mixture of lube and puss that haunts one’s nightmares for a long time after reading this short story. Files brings the reader into the taboo world of necrophiliac fetishists and to questions about life, death, and the sexual.

Pat wants to make a form of disturbing dark art, and in her desire to go to the extremes and to entertain bored ultra-fetishists, she creates carrionettes, bodies animated by wires and levers like some disturbing dead, rotting Pinocchios. When Pat meets Ray, a porn star who wants to be penetrated by death, believing that this is the ultimate interplay with universal powers, she unintentionally enters into a macabre love triangle – puppeteer, fetishist, and corpse. As the puppeteer, she is the one having sex with Ray, using her levers and pulleys to push the dead body’s penis into him… but things are less easy than they seem when the body’s soul, forced to watch his body used as a sex toy, an appendage on display, finally takes a leap into his desiccating flesh and decides to penetrate Ray in another way… with teeth.

Files not only brings up the disturbing image of necrophilia, but makes the body a victim of rape, a powerless spirit that has to watch his body being forced into sexual acts. Files reverses the assumptions about rape by having the victim of the rape instead of being the penetrated body becoming the penetrator, though not of his own volition or desire. Files unsettles her readers, pushing them out of their comfort zone and pulling them along on the wild fetishistic ride along with the disembodied spirit of a carrionette.

You can explore more of Gemma Files’ work at http://musicatmidnight-gfiles.blogspot.ca/
Find out more about Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction at http://www.exileeditions.com/singleorders2013/deadnorth.html

Advertisements

Zombie Survival Training 101

A review of Ada Hoffmann’s “And  All The Fathomless Crowds” Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction (Exile Editions, 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Photo of Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction

Cover Photo of Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction

Coming of age in a world where everything has come to life is a difficult experience. Thank goodness the universities offer survival training!

In Ada Hoffmann’s “And All The Fathomless Crowds”, the world is divided into “the Minded” and “Non-Minds”. The Non-Minds are animated forces that should be dead, entities with agency but without thought, consciousness, or any real intentionality. In this world, the desire to kill without considering the intentions of the entity one encounters is considered “Romero Disorder”, a dangerous condition where a human begins killing the other without remorse like a person in a George Romero zombie film.

Through her exploration of “Romero Disorder”, and pathologisation of the slaughter of zombies, Hoffmann explores the issues with zombie films and the fetishisation of slaughter. She brings critical attention to the notion of zombie films as excuses for human beings to fantasise about murdering human beings without penalty or guilt, something that the black and white morality of the zombie film (and more so zombie video game) lends itself easily toward. Hoffmann compares this “Romero Disorder” with mindlessness, suggesting that the humans who indulge in slaughter become like the zombies they pretend to battle against.

In the Department of Survival, Queen’s University, students are taught to wait to use deadly force until they are threatened, until the Non-Minds endanger them. For their culminating examinations, students are sent out into a world that is potentially violent and hostile toward them and they pass the exams by 1) surviving, and 2) making certain not to use excessive force or violence toward anything around them that could be a Non-Mind.

Contrasting with the modern trend toward viral zombies, Hoffmann instead has her zombie future animated by magic, magic that can bring a semblance of life to anything that is not traditionally animated or alive. She brings life to fountains, coats, and, of course, dead humans.

Hoffmann makes the experience of going through tests more prevalent to the reader by writing in second person, inviting her reader to envision what they would do in a world that was suddenly animated by magic and pushing her reader dangerously close to “Romero Disorder” in their own fear over a world where everything carries the potential for threat. In our urban deserts, homo-sapiens-centric and often seemingly devoid of life we become complacent with the idea that the only things that threaten us are each other, but Hoffmann pushes the urban environment into animation, making it threatening and strange and chasing the reader out of his or her complacency and into the challenging space where perceived threats can spark violence.

You can explore more of Ada Hoffmann’s work at http://ada-hoffmann.livejournal.com/ or http://ada-hoffmann.com/
Find out more about Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction at http://www.exileeditions.com/singleorders2013/deadnorth.html

The Pedagogical Power of Play – Teaching Canadian SF (okay, and other literature courses too)

The Pedagogical Power of Play
by Derek Newman-Stille

Play is an important way to help students (of any age) learn. When you evoke student emotions, they remember things more effectively since memory acquisition is linked to emotional responses. By using an element of play in your teaching, your students are also more willing to take bigger risks, and do things that seem too stressful in a classroom that takes itself too seriously. When playing, students become more active learners. They know that the rules are somewhat suspended, so they are willing to take greater risks, think further outside the box. Once you are able to get students to think outside the box, they are able to think more critically about what they are doing. Not only will they remember the ideas you are covering, but they will also be more willing to question things, engage deeper with ideas, and be more inspired.

A lot of instructors use questions about the text (memory exercises) as a way to help students learn. They will create activities geared at helping students remember facts, but students remember facts best through using them, and being emotionally attached to them.

The most important thing to do is to let the texts themselves lend different ideas for inspiring students. Applying ideas from outside to various texts ends up feeling unnatural to the students. Look for entertaining ideas that stem from the text itself. For example, when I was teaching Stephen King’s Misery to my students, character Paul Sheldon discusses a game that he used to play with his friends where they would tell a story and then vote about whether it was believable or not. I adapted this for an activity for the classroom, having the students share in telling the story of Annie Wilkes (the villain of the story) in pieces and then vote after each segment whether the tale was believable for the Annie Wilkes that King created. By playing at giving Annie a background, students were able to explore narrative potentials and they were able to look deeper and more critically at the character King had created.

A Few Activities:

 1. Fan Fiction

Have students search for those narrative gaps in the text, those areas that the author didn’t explore and are rich for exploration. Fan fiction allows students to get deeper into the narrative and do an analysis beyond the surface reading. When students write fan fiction, they need to understand the text deeply in order to write a story that feels authentic to them. They tend to mine the text for incredible amounts of detail to support their ideas… which is great preparation for later essays and examinations.  When students write fan fiction, they look for narrative gaps, which means they look at the text critically, searching for what is missing, for problems in the text.

Make sure to provide students with a few examples of fan fiction (it is best if it comes from texts outside of the course so that they don’t feel like they are too limited)
(Thank you to Kelly McQuire for inspiring this)

2. Title Mash-Ups

Have students chose the titles of two different books from the course and then mash their titles together. Provide them with a few examples (of titles outside of the course). Then ask students to do an “elevator pitch” about what that novel will look like. Let them know that an elevator pitch is the pitch for a new novel that you would give in the few minutes that you have between floors when you are in an elevator with a publisher – make sure that they limit it to about 5 minutes.

This activity will help students to start making connections between the texts and thinking about them comparatively. This allows them to work out some ideas about the conversations between the texts and the overall themes of the course. Once they begin looking at things through a comparative lens, it makes it easier for them to do comparisons between texts later in essays and exams.

Here are a few examples of title mash-ups:

The Twilight Games
(Mash up of The Hunger Games and Twilight)

Vampires from each of the districts of Panem have to enter into an (eternal) life or death match with other vampires. Each of them has to protect a human companion from vampiric attack by their other opponents and battle their own hunger for human blood in order to keep their human alive in a world where everyone else and even the land itself is out to get them.

And some Canadian SF examples:

Blood Expendable
(Mash up of Tanya Huff’s Blood Price and James Alan Gardner’s Expendable)

After developing Retinitis Pigmentosa, Vicki Nelson, detective for the Technocracy loses her position and is made a member of the Explorer Corps, or, as they call themselves, Expendable Crew Members and sent on all of the dangerous missions that other, able-bodied crew members aren’t sent on because the Admiralty knows that people with disabilities aren’t mourned as much as able-bodied crew members. When the Admiralty sends her on a mission to a planet that is known to be a place of certain death, a planet where it is rumored that people frequently die of blood loss, she finds out that her only ally on this planet is a vampire. She learns that she can heal her body if she choses to become a vampire, or she can embrace her Retinitis Pigmentosa and try to change a society that rejects its disabled members and views them as expendable.

Bitten by a Turn of Light
(Mash up of Kelley Armstrong’s Bitten and Julie Czerneda’s A Turn of Light)

The small valley of Don is an odd pioneer settlement on the outskirts of Toronto where there are elements of magic like house toads, wells that fill up with sweet-tasting water whenever it is desired, fields that suddenly lay down during harvest, and where the woods are populated with strange beings. After being bitten by her friend, a mysterious, invisible entity named Wisp, Elena Nalynn discovers that something has changed in her body. She discovers that she is cursed, stuck between the human world, and the world of her friend. While trying to control her new hungers, her ability to turn invisible, and the impulse to fly, she has to confront whether she wants to try to make a normal, human life for herself in Toronto or venture into the Verge to join Wisp and live with the dragon pack.

3. Monster Mash-Up

In the wake of Mash-Ups like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, Mash-Ups have become really popular with readers. A mash-up is a work of fiction that combines a pre-existing literary work with another genre – essentially an injection of a monstrous bite into an existing literary work. In a work like this, students are encouraged to use somewhere between 60-85% of the original text and adapt other parts of it to suggest monstrous figures like zombies, vampires, or werewolves.

This can be a great activity for teaching a course that combines traditional Can Lit with Canadian genre fiction, for example, inviting students to mash up Anne of Green Gables with the monstrous. But, it can also be used to mash up other works of genre fiction, combining aspects of the monstrous with other narratives – for example, taking Canadian SF stories and injecting in a bit of monstrous characteristics.

You can ask students to do a full novel Mash Up, a single chapter, or even just do an elevator pitch about what the Mash Up would look like. If you decide to do an elevator pitch, ask student to think about how monsters would be integrated into the novel’s world, what challenges the narrative would face, which characters would be (or become) monstrous, and what elements of the story would shift with the monstrous introduction.

To begin, introduce students to a wide variety of Canadian monster short stories and/or novels.

Some Examples of Great  Canadian Zombie Short Stories or Anthologies:
Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction Edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
“The Ethical Treatment of Meat” (in Objects of Worship) by Claude Lalumiere
“A Visit to the Optometrist” (in Objects of Worship) by Claude Lalumiere

Some Examples of Great Canadian Zombie Novels:
Husk  by Corey Redekop
Zombie Versus Fairy Featuring Albinos by James Marshall

Some Examples of Great Canadian Vampire Short Stories or Anthologies:
Evolve: Vampire Stories of the New Undead Edited by Nancy Kilpatrick
Evolve 2: Vampire Stories of the Future Undead Edited by Nancy Kilpatrick
“Stories With Happy Endings” (in This Strange Way of Dying) by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
“Cemetery Man” (in This Strange Way of Dying) by Silvia Moreno-Garcia.

Some Examples of Great Canadian Vampire Novels:
Blood Books (series) by Tanya Huff
Blood and Chrysanthemums by Nancy Baker
A Terrible Beauty by Nancy Baker
The Night Inside by Nancy Baker
The Embrace of Life and Death by Liz Strange
The Night Wanderer: A Native Gothic Novel  by Drew Hayden Taylor
Enter, Night by Michael Rowe

Some Examples of Great Canadian Werewolf Short Stories or Anthologies:
“Out of the Light” (in Chimerascope) by Douglas Smith
“Spirit Dance” (in Impossibilia) by Douglas Smith

Some Examples of Great Canadian Werewolf Novels:
The Wolf at the End of the World by Douglas Smith
Bitten by Kelley Armstrong
Naked Brunch by Sparkle Hayter

Think about how much fun your students could have writing Anne of Green Pustules!

4. Write a review on GoodReads or another review site

Introduce students to a review website so that they can get a sense of what book reviews look like. Then, ask them to write their own review of one of the books on the course or one of their own books for a later essay. By asking students to check out GoodReads or other review sites, it introduces them to the notion of literary media sites and allows them to begin participating in literature communities. This will allow them to engage with a wider community of literature fans and prepare them for writing their own critiques of the books they are reading. By having them post their reviews on GoodReads or a similar site, students will feel engaged and will also feel the social pressure to write good reviews for others who might be interested in the book. It also allows them to feel more responsible for writing a good review since they will be responsible to a whole group of other readers.

I like to introduce GoodReads to students as “It’s like Facebook for people who love books”.

By having students review Canadian SF material, you are also contributing to Canadian authors by making sure that there are more reviews available for a genre that is traditionally under-reviewed.
(Thank you to Adam Brittain for inspiring this)

5. Now You Go There

Have students think about what it would be like to suddenly be in the world of the novel they are reading. What would their experience be? How would they survive in this world? What challenges would they face?

This activity will help students to deeply explore the role of setting in the novel – the social, political, and environmental context of the novel. This is especially effective for fantasy, science fiction, and some types of horror since students will have to examine the world-building of the author and try to fit themselves into that world. By asking the student to enter metaphorically into a new world, you are helping them to become (quite literally) personally involved and students often remember things better when they somehow relate back to themselves.

I find an effective accompanying text for this (in addition to whatever novel you are teaching) is Gary W. Renshaw’s “Vacation” in OnSpec #92 Vol. 25, No. 1 since it explores a sci fi author who ends up crash landing on an alien world (as well as the accompanying issues and frustrations that come from living on that world). You can find a review at https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/09/25/sci-fi-author-in-space/

6. Correspondence

Have your students write a series of emails or letters between various characters at various key points in the narrative. This will help the students to explore character psychology and interaction. They can interrogate the intentions of the characters as well as the way they want to represent themselves to other characters, and how they manage their identity portrayal.

7. Comic Book It!!

Have your students think about how they would adapt the novel they are reading into a comic book. I would suggest limiting their comic books to a 5 comic book run to cover the material from the original novel. Have them think about what they would need to include, what they would have to remove (while still making certain that they text conveys all of the relevant parts of the novel), ask them to think about their audience and in which ways they may have a different audience.

Ask students to do character layouts for each of the characters, considering the personalities, motivations, desires, flaws, strengths, and quirks of each of the characters. Following this, ask them to write out titles for each of the 5 comics and write a short description of each comic, considering the action of the scene, what to highlight, the fundamentals of the dialogue, and which parts of the novel they will cover.  Then, ask them to think about the essential dialogue of the text and choose some key quotes that would appear in word bubbles to capture the action of the scenes.

You can introduce students to an adaptation of a Canadian novel into a comic by having them first read Kelley Armstrong’s Bitten and then have them explore the comic book adaptation of the novel by Angilram at http://angilram.deviantart.com/gallery/6373443 .

8. Interview the Author

Have students develop questions for the author of the book that they have just read. This will allow them to delve into the narrative gaps, the missing or unexplored parts of the book.  In order to help them to prepare, you can introduce them to some interviews that you have found particularly interesting (hopefully, perhaps, like those on Speculating Canada). Consider using interviews that do deeper interrogations rather than ones that just ask the author “how did you sell your first book?”

9. Dating Profiles

This works particularly well for novels that have a romantic component. Ask students to choose three characters from the novel and write a dating profile for each of them. Have them consider the personalities of the characters as they are laid out in the novel and think about what they would write in a dating profile.

Here are some key areas that you can direct them toward:

-Headline:
-Name/ Pseudonym:
-Gender:
-I am Looking For: Marriage/ Dating/ Relationship/ Casual/ Friendship
-Looking for a Person Who is:
-Likes in a Partner:
-Dislikes in a Partner (Deal-Breakers):
-About me:
-Physical Description:
-Interests:
-Hobbies:

You can also have students write a dating questionnaire from the perspective of their characters with questions like:
-Describe any frequent types of barriers or patterns you encounter in your search for relationships:
-Please describe any circumstances or conditions in your life that you are concerned about regarding your relationship search and/or ultimate relationship success:
-What is your greatest achievement?
-What is your greatest disappointment?
-What is your best attribute?
-What is your worst attribute?
-If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
-What is your greatest passion?

As a really fun way to finish this activity, you can ask students to engage in a speed dating activity, having them play the part of the character trying to date one of the others. I find it really entertaining to have them speed date random other characters from the novel (other than the one the author intended to be their ideal partner).

You can, of course, use these activities for any literature course (not just for Canadian Speculative Fiction), but I hope they will inspire you to consider proposing a Canadian genre fiction course at your university or high school, or at least to include a few Canadian genre fiction texts on your syllabus.

These activities lend themselves particularly to literature courses, and the activities in the course assist students to develop confidence in creative writing, so can be quite effective for a creative writing course.

Remember, the more skills your students develop, the better your marking experience will be!! Well-written, interesting papers are much MUCH easier to mark.  So, when you inspire your students to develop their skills, you also save yourself time, energy, and headaches. Plus, playing when you teach also means that you will look forward to your own classes instead of dreading the boredom that comes from repetitive, replicative teaching.

“Perhaps the vulnerability of surface dwelling explains their constant, frenetic activity and their tendency to expend tremendous amounts of energy transforming the matter of their world into perversely unnatural objects.”

-Gary Eikenberry – Anthropology 101 (in Tesseracts)

Quote – Surface Dwelling and Energy into Transforming World into Unnatural Objects

A Face of Shifting Leaves

A review of Urban Green Man Edited by Adria Laycraft and Janice Blaine (Edge, 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Art Courtesy of Edge Publications

Cover Art Courtesy of Edge Publications

Have you ever looked into the woods and seen a face looking back at you made up of branches and leaves? These are the moments that can’t be caught on film but can be evoked through tales, through our own folklore.

Turning the pages of the Urban Green Man collection is like opening a window from a stagnant urban environment into a verdant treescape filled with life, reflection, and the potential for change. These are transformative tales, tales of growth that evoke fertile thoughts and development in the reader as she or he touches these pages that used to be trees themselves. These pages are trees with stories written upon them, inked with potential. Each page sings its papery roots.

Like growing things, like the forest itself, characters in these tales change and reach toward illumination, shifting with new potential. The stories in this collection explore the lighter and darker shades of green, bringing the reader both into the dark places of the forest where fear and danger evoke speculation and to the treetops where flights of fancy free him or her from their bounds. The authors explore the complexity of human interactions with the natural world and the interconnectedness of humanity and our green spaces.

Urban Green Man writes a mythic modernity, a set of tales to help us explore the world around us and our own impact on that world. It is a reminder of the hollowness of human nature without… well, nature. The Green Man’s face is so reminiscent of our own and yet so different, evoking our connection to the world and our simultaneous estrangement from it. His face is uncovered through the leaves of these pages.

To read reviews of some of the short stories in this collection, see:

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/10/19/clear-cut-future/

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/11/03/rabbi-sherlock-holmes-and-the-case-of-the-excessive-greenery/

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/11/06/tweets-in-the-woods-that-arent-from-birds/

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/11/11/post-apocalyptic-green/

To find out more about the Urban Green Man collection, visit their website at http://www.urbangreenman.com/

Post-Apocalyptic Green

A review of Alyxandra Harvey’s “Green Jack” in Urban Green Man (Edge, 2013)

Cover Art Courtesy of Edge Publications

Cover Art Courtesy of Edge Publications

By Derek Newman-Stille

Alyxandra Harvey reveals our uncertainty about the future of vegetation and food in her post-apocalyptic story “Green Jack”. After crops begin to fail on a regular basis and the weather becomes unstable, a city tries to survive by perpetuating the same behaviours that endangered its vegetative life in the first place. Government and industrial regulations control the vegetative world, constraining and controlling plant life to human will, harnessing it exclusively for human purposes.

Instead of allowing biodiversity to flourish, the city begins to kidnap Green Jacks, figures who are linked to the vegetative health of the world and who bring growth and fertility in their wake. Instead of allowing for the freedom of plant growth, these Green Jacks are abducted by the city, controlled and regulated, their power drained to fuel an industrial complex focused on human interests. Walls are erected around the city to tightly control the population and provide the image of security while all securities and choices are removed from the populace.

Harvey explores the atrocities that can be committed on a population’s behalf when they are starving and examines the coercive power of hunger. People willingly give up their freedoms for the perceived protection from hunger provided by a society that tightly regulates food.

When the protagonist steals a Green Jack’s mask in an attempt to gather enough food for herself (since the mask fuels growth of food) she becomes a target for the military and this mask brings with it either the potential to free her from the tight regulations of the city and allow for free growth or to become the subject of incarceration and control.

Alyxandra Harvey explores urban uses of population control and the danger that hunger poses for policing people’s actions. Much as the tight regulations of the city control vegetation and bring it under government will, so too the people are regulated, denied freedom of growth and become stagnated under imposed control.

To find out more about Alyxandra Harvey, you can visit her website at http://alyxandraharvey.com/ .

To read more stories from Urban Green Man, visit their website at http://www.urbangreenman.com/ .

Hunger

A review of Tyler Keevil’s “The Herd” in Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction (Exile Editions, 2013).

Cover Photo of Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction

Cover Photo of Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction

By Derek Newman-Stille

Tyler Keevil’s “The Herd” reverses the hunter/hunted dynamic in zombie fiction. Zombies, often characterised by their herd mentality in fiction are treated like a herd of prey and hunted by a man who has acquired a taste for human flesh.  Keevil mixes the mythology of the Wendigo with that of the zombie, creating a monster who craves human flesh and even inhuman flesh.

Cast from his tribe when starvation forces him to eat human flesh, the hunter finds a place of belonging in the north, characterised by its long periods of hunger and the cold, unmarked landscape that creates a place of moral ambiguity for him. The spread of zombiism makes this northern landscape an ideal place for inhuman acts of violence.

Many zombie tales feature the zombie as fodder for human aggression – a human body that can be killed without any moral consequence and Keevil plays with this genre trope and presents the human (or perceived human) hunter as a monster, a predator with an insatiable hunger much like that of his prey. This equivocation of human (wendigo) and zombie brings the reader into a place of instability between the category of the monster and the human (a category that is often presented in the zombie genre as something that is firm and only passes one way – from human to zombie through infection).

By making the zombie the object of hunger, the food that fuels the desire for consumption instead of the consuming figure, Keevil situates hunger as a human characteristic.

You can explore more about Tyler Keevil’s work at http://www.tylerkeevil.com/

To check out Dead North, visit http://www.amazon.ca/Dead-North-Canadian-Fiction-Anthology/dp/1550963554