LGBT Canadian Authors Talking About Writing Queerly – Tanya Huff

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I want to thank Tanya Huff for once again providing a brilliant and insightful essay. This time Tanya talks about writing queerly, an important question in LGBT writing and speculating about the topic of queerness. Here is her fantastic reflection:


Writing Queerly or Queer Writing by Tanya Huff

Given my age, as far as I know, there was nothing resembling queer culture in Kingston while I was growing up and even if there would have been, I wouldn’t have been one of the queer kids, I’d have been one of the geek kids. Plus, I was already an outlier as far as the other teenagers were concerned: I had no parents, I’d moved around from family to family to family and was currently living with my grandparents — by grade twelve I was living on my own — and in a collegiate and vocational school where the vocational kids outnumbered the collegiate kids about ten to one, I was one of the top ten of the collegiate kids. The school was working class almost exclusively and no one had time for questions of sexuality since most of us had a couple of jobs as well as school work. I had to think for myself as I didn’t have the security to allow social norms to think for me.

It was probably the late seventies/early eighties by the time I acted on my attraction to women as well as men and that came through fandom. 

I’m not even sure what a queer book would be. A book with queer characters? Then all of mine. (except possibly the first two, but I wrote them thirty years ago and haven’t read them for a while and I once forgot I’d used death as a character so you can’t actually take my word for that) A book that deals with queerness as social struggle or culture? Then none of mine. As a personal discovery? Then one of mine. Ish. 

The identity that shapes my writing would be self sufficiency. In all but one case, the sexuality of my characters is secondary to the needs of the story. That one case is, of course, The Fire’s Stone, the only one of my books where the sexuality of the character is an issue — and all of my books have variable sexualities because I have variable sexuality — and which is my coming out book. Well, technically, it’s Aaron’s coming out book. Everyone in the queer community has one — why wouldn’t they? Self discovery is always big. Write it, write it well, and move on. And use the coming out to support the story or the story to support the coming out but don’t leave either dangling all on its own.
If you don’t have to identify as a small furry creature from Alpha Centauri to write about small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri then you don’t have to identify as queer to write queer characters. Imagination plus empathy plus skill. Talent helps but discipline trumps talent in the long run every time. Do your research. Put yourself in the shoes of every one of your characters. And the greatest of these is empathy. And when you’re writing about personal experience, you’re not writing a biography — unless you are — you’re writing about how you connect to the universal — to love, to hate, to truth, to sacrifice, to fear, to joy. How you identify along the broad spectrum of human sexuality is only one of the lenses you look at the universal through.

There’s nothing wrong with a girl gets boy ending as long as that’s not the only ending we ever get. And it’s not, not any more. If you’re reading for the relationship, there are enough romance books out there with alternative relationship endings,if you’re reading for the story there are enough endings where the relationships are just another part of the mosaic; you never have to read another boy gets girl again if you don’t want to. Which, by the way, I always read as girl gets boy. According to studies done in the US and UK some years ago — please don’t make me look up the citation, I have no idea where my notes are — heterosexual women read more than any other social/cultural group — why wouldn’t there be more books out there that make them happy? They’re the ones spending the money.

Media is another matter. We can’t even get the Black Widow and AD Hill having a conversation let alone a cuddle. And the amount of money spent is directly proportional to how conservative the people spending it are going to be. Someday we’ll get a big budget, science fiction, action, tent pole movie where the Captain America equivalent ends up with the Winter Soldier equivalent because non queer people will have learned to see themselves in every relationship, not just the ones with a direct correlation to their own, but today is not that day. Change is constant; work to make sure that the narrow minded don’t control that change.

Remember that creating is about making a “you-shaped door” for your audience. Some people bash big holes in the narrative so anyone can fit through, some people make holes so specific that only a few will fit. If you write one way, own it. If you write the other, own that. Acknowledge that the way you write could limit your audience and realize that if we all wrote the same thing the same way it’d either be a pretty boring or a pretty exclusive world. There is absolutely nothing wrong with choosing to fill a niche and everything wrong with being forced into it while yelling, ““Montresor! For the love of God!!” as the last brick goes up. Kick the wall down.

The world has looked through the lens of the hetro-normative culture for a long time. How do queer writers get the world to take a chance on looking through our lenses? Write a good book. Write sympathetic three dimensional characters of all kinds who support the plot. Worry less about isms and more about storytelling. Work to evoke an emotional response. Recognise that if you’re out on the edge of the dominate culture there won’t be too many people out on the edge with you. That’s what the edge is about. Work to keep moving the edge further out. Ad Astra…


Canadian SF Authors, What are you Reading? Corey Redekop

A spectacular readinf list from Corey Redekop perfectly timed for all of those boxing day sales!! Thank you Corey for this brilliant description of your best of books for 2015! It looks like i have a LOT of books to add to my reading list!



Top Baker’s Dozen Books 2015 by Corey Redekop

There are three things I keep in mind when making such lists: 1) I arguably read too many books, and inarguably am not terribly discerning. 2) I fully realize the inherent subjective flexibility of such lists; tomorrow this list could be completely different. 3) There is nothing more dispiriting then cutting books out of a list.

Today, this is the list I ended up with, my favourite reads of 2015 (but not necessarily from 2015).

I’m going to cheat a bit and provide a baker’s dozen of taste treats. I’ll present alphabetically by author and leave the choice of “best” up to you. And yes, I’m cheating even more by adding more than one book per author. Sue me.

Jacqueline Baker – The Broken Hours (2014, HarperCollins Canada)

  
• Baker’s tale of the personal assistant to H.P. Lovecraft evokes the cosmic weirdness of Lovecraft’s work while keeping the story fully rooted in the real. The result is both tremendously spooky and a remarkably moving treatise on the lonely art of writing.

Andrew Battershill – Pillow (2015, Coach House)

  
• I picked up Battershill’s debut novel on a whim, but within ten pages I knew I had discovered something special. Battershill’s crime yarn of a boxer caught up in the wild gangster machinations of a famous French surrealist really shouldn’t work on any level, but succeeds on them all.


Nick Cutter – The Deep (2015, Simon & Schuster), The Acolyte (2015, ChiZine)

   
 • Cutter released two markedly different books in 2015. The Deep’s tale of scientists trapped in a deep-sea laboratory is a claustrophobic nightmare, evoking Michael Crichton’s scientific mumbo-jumbo and Stephen King’s depth of character. The Acolyte is a dystopian detective fiction set in a militaristic theocracy that is equal parts Raymond Chandler and Fahrenheit 451. Both terrified me to the core, for markedly differing reasons.

Sebastian De Castell – Traitor’s Blade (2014, Penguin Random House)

  
• The flat-out most enjoyably fun novel I read this year. De Castell mixes the swashbuckling exploits of The Three Musketeers with dashes of fantastical magic and gritty dialogue, resulting in an adventure novel that never stops moving and leaves you wanting more.

Beth Goobie – The First Principles of Dreaming (2014, Second Story Press)

  
• Being a juror for the 2015 Sunburst Award, I’ll quote my Honourable Mention description here: “An unsettling and unnerving erotic exploration of a young woman’s psyche, Beth Goobie’s mix of sexuality, morality, and religious fundamentalism is a coming-of-age tale unlike any other.”

Kenneth Mark Hoover – Haxan, Quaternity (2014, 2015, ChiZine)

   
 • I’m hardly a western aficionado, but these two books in Hoover’s John Marwood series instantly rank among my favourites of the genre. Grisly, horrific, intensely personal, and plaited with blood-soaked threads of magic realism, these violent yarns of a man’s hopeless search for redemption are simultaneously unpleasant and impossible to put down.

Matthew Johnson – Irregular Verbs and Other Stories (2014, ChiZine)

  
• Johnson’s compendium of zombies, folksingers, detectives, dragons, and Mark Twain may be my favourite of all ChiZine short story collections. If you consider that ChiZine authors include Helen Marshall, David Nickle, Ian Rogers, Gemma Files, Halli Villegas, Douglas Smith, Claude Lalumière, and more, you’ll understand just how good Johnson (and ChiZine) is.

Nathan Larson – The Dewey Decimal System, The Nervous System, The Immune System (2011, 2012, 2015, Akashic Books)

   
   
• Being a librarian, how could I not read a novel called The Dewey Decimal System? Larson’s blisteringly odd series of an obsessive-compulsive bagman caught up in conspiracies galore in a post-terrorism New York is damned fun, Dashiell Hammett filtered through Chuck Palahniuk (when he was good).

Saleema Nawaz – Bone & Bread (2013, Anansi)

  
• Unlike everything else on this list, there’s no overt weirdness present in Nawaz’s gentle narrative, only the lovely, sad story of two sisters growing up Sikh in Montreal. Nawaz captures the minutiae of sisterly relationships like few others I’ve read, admittedly a short list but why damn such a fine novel with faint praise? This is a winner through and through.

Peter Norman – Emberton (2014, Douglas & McIntyre)

  
• Back to weirdness. The adventures of a strangely illiterate man working for the dystopic Emberton Dictionary, Norman’s gothic novel careens back and forth from office satire to tangled mystery-thriller to epic Lovecraftian horror, all the while working as a meta-examination of the intricacies of language. It’s breathtakingly original, and hits all my sweet spots.

Robert Repino – Mort(e) (2015, Soho Press)

  
• After the ant rebellion, evolved members of the animal kingdom take up arms against humanity. Through the war and its aftermath, housecat turned hero Mort(e) searches for his one true friend, a dog named Sheba. I have an inexplicable love of anthropomorphic fiction, and Mort(e) more than earns an honoured place on my shelves next to William Kotzwinkle’s The Bear Went Over the Mountain, Tim Davys’ Amberville, and Clifford Chase’s Winkie.

Emily St. John Mandel – Station Eleven (2014, Penguin Random House)

  
• After all the awards and accolades, there’s nothing I can add about Mandel’s wonderful work. Following a troupe of artists after the fall of mankind, Station Eleven has earned its fame. Damn this is good.

Lavie Tidhar – A Man Lies Dreaming (2014, Hodder & Stoughton)

  
• If you’re not reading Lavie Tidhar, shame on you. Equaling his superb work in Osama and The Violent Century, A Man Lies Dreaming is at once a crazed detective story (starring a certain German dictator) and a devastating Holocaust novel. There’s no reason for any of this to work, and I’d fear to read any lesser author taking on such a challenge. But Tidhar simply kills it.
Now that that’s done, let’s look at what didn’t make my list.

Sadly, I had to disqualify: The Exile Book of New Canadian Noir (2015, Exile) and Licence Expired: The Unauthorized James Bond (2015, ChiZine)

• If it weren’t that I am a contributor to both, I‘d have gladly placed them near the top; both gifted me with some of the best short fictions I’ve read in years.

  
• New Canadian Noir is laden with dazzling stories that demolish preconceived notions of “noir” and expand the concept into fantasy, sci-fi, and horror. All the stories are outstanding, but Keith Cadieux’s “Donner Parties” and Dale L. Sproule’s “Nunavut Thunderfuck” are personal faves.

  
• Licence Expired similarly plays with expectations, resurrecting the literary roots of Ian Fleming’s superspy in utterly surprising ways. Robert J. Wiersema’s “The Gale of the World,” Ian Roger’s “Two Graves” and A.M. Dellamonica’s “Through Your Eyes Only” are my standouts in a crowded field of excellence.

And finally, another baker’s dozen, this one of superior runner-ups, any of which could be dropped into the above list with no loss in quality:

Margaret Atwood, The Heart Goes Last; Adam Christopher, Empire State; Ian Colford, The Crimes of Hector Tomás; Wab Kinew, The Reason You Walk; Thomas King, The Back of the Turtle; Nicole Kornher-Stace, Archivist Wasp; Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Signal to Noise; James Morrow, Galapagos Regained; Carsten Stroud, The Reckoning; Paul Tremblay, A Head Full of Ghosts; Robert J. Wiersema, Black Feathers; Jane Woods, The Walking Tanteek; Ben H. Winters, World of Trouble

Now go read something, will you?

The Watcher on the Shelf

For all that you readers have done this year to support Speculating Canada, I thought I would write a story for your enjoyment as a way to celebrate the passage into a new year. I hope that you enjoy the story. 

The Watcher On The ShelfBy Derek Newman-Stille

Staring, staring, always staring.

They made sure of it when they dipped me into the cauldron, pinned my eyes wide open with merry thorns of holly. I was meant to be a silent watcher, a judge, a surveillor. They created all of the Watcher Elves the same way. I say “they”, but i suppose i mean “we”… or more specifically “he”, since none of us really have any agency of our own. We are toys, motivated by the whims of he who pulls my strings.

He makes each of us wear red, the same colour as he, and stained through the same process. We are beaten into our smaller elvish size by his cane, reduced with each strike of the cane as our blood is struck from our bodies, and it stains his suit deep crimson. No one seems to think about this “right jolly old elf” as a redcap because they are too focused on the beneficence of his gifts, but those of us who experience his beatings know that the red he wears is the paint of victimization. 

Most seem to have forgotten the term “redcap”, so invested are they in the Disneyfied fairies of modernity. They have forgotten that the magical encounters with the fey have often been marked with tragedy. The term redcap comes from the crimson colour of their hats, dyed in the blood of humans who have strayed into their homes. They need to kill regularly to sustain their own lives, feeding their caps with new blood or their hats will dry out and so to will their vitality. I suppose i can stop saying “they” because he made each of us his kind. 

When he beat the blood out of us, we became like him, needing it to stain our own caps and coats to keep us “Watcher Elves” alive. Everyone needs blood – needs the vital fluid running through them to keep their bodies moving. We need it more than most because our bodies miss it, deprived of it for so long. We can only move at night, when the moon’s own fluidity surges through our bodies, and only for a few moments before we are frozen again at rest, motionless surveillors frozen in watchful silence, unblinking eyes wide for anything that can justify that blissful moment where we can sustain ourselves and stain our caps anew.

Unlike his mythical brothers, mostly extinct now due to human interventions of iron, this redcap is beloved, invited into human homes and fed on cookies and milk that are but dust and ash in a mouth that is sustained by crimson sap. He is so beloved that we, this new breed of redcaps, are equally invited into their homes (so like the homes we once had), stared at with glee and excitement.

And how does he achieve it? How do we all achieve it?

Admittedly, part of it is human greed – an ironic twist of fate because we punish greed at the same time as we rely on it to gain entrance into homes with the promise of gifts on a midwinter night…

But greed is not all we rely on. Greed only does so much to permit people to allow themselves to be perpetually watched. There is something that they don’t want to admit…. They like to be watched.

They feel comfort in the touch of a watchful gaze. They feel that our eyes keep order, sustain normalcy, and prevent acts of rebellion. 

And they justify the idea of punishment too. They convince themselves that punnishment will only come for the wicked… and who genuinely thinks that they are capable of wickedness? Who isn’t able to justify any actions they take as “for the better good”? Who doesn’t convince themselves that they only hurt the guilty, that their acts of harm to others are because “those people are lazy”, “it’s really their own fault”, “they had it coming to them”, “they would have done the same to me”…?

They invite us into their houses to watch their children, to become the omnipresent threat of the deprivation of presents on a midwinter morning… but we are only partially watching the children. Most of their acts of wickedness are wrought from a lack of understanding, and we generally think of them as excused from the crimes they commit because of their lack of experience… such a short number of years to learn the world around them. The people we pay the most attention to are the adults, the ones who justify bringing us into their homes as a threat to their children, using punishment to achieve control. They are the most interesting.

Children focus on the little sparkle in our eyes, seeing magic. They don’t know enough to see hunger there. Adults rarely look into our eyes, viewing them as vehicles only for a child’s imagination and therefore beneath their notice. They would be able to see the hunger in that persistent glance if they looked deep and long enough, but they justify ignoring that hungry gaze because they are too busy to look deeper. They don’t want to waste their time on frivolous things. 

The frivolous things are so often sustaining.

If any person stared at their home and their children with the intensity of our redcap eyes, they would feel threatened. They would feel a compulsion to protect what is theirs. But we are immobile things, lifeless. They have forgotten how to fear lifeless things. They have forgotten that predators freeze before they pounce on their prey, making themselves seem like just part of the scenery, part of the landscape.

And so we become part of the landscape of their home, hidden in plain sight. They even give us the perfect predatory view of their home, perching us up high so we can survey everything beneath us. Silently waiting.

It is amazing how easily we learned to be predators, we Watcher Elves. I would like to pretend that it was part of the process of being turned into a redcap, part of the abduction by the jolly man in red, the beating until his sack of toys and corrupt people turned red, the pinning of our eyes with holly, and the dip into the icy cold cauldron of the Northern Pole… I would like to believe it.

No matter how strong I imagine myself and my fellow humans to have been innocent, to be anything other than predators, I have to admit that these traits were easy to uncover and that the beatings just give us cause, justification to want the things that we are convinced were taken from us – blood. Hunger can justify a lot of actions that we pretend we aren’t capable of, and the feeling of loss, the desire for what once was, can sharpen that justification.

Without blood, so many things become hollow. I watch the children dance around in front of the fireplace, looking gleefully up at me, perched near their stockings, calling me – ironically – Holly, a name that they rhyme with “jolly” in a persistent sing-song of joy that I only hear as mockery, feeling the pain of that herb in my eyelids, holding them perpetually open in staring horror. I feel only emptiness and pain, hollowed out partially by the ceremony that inducted me into this madcap menagerie of joy and pain, but more painfully hollowed out by my remove from the holiday cheer, my watchful distance, forced to re-live again and again the moments so similar to those that led up to my incarceration in this hollowed out body, my imprisonment on the shelf. 

I wonder sometimes if my children look up at me and see their daddy or if they forgive me for the horrors i subjected them to before i was taken away one Christmas Eve and stuffed in a sack, made more spacious for the gifts he left for my children. Parents buy all of the toys, but he leaves deeper gifts, gifts of learning and understanding that children unwrap through their own imaginations. 

I stare and stare and stare at the hollow thing that hatched from wrapping paper, tape, and imagination and has taken my likeness, the perfect dad that they always wanted, that they dreamed about as I struck them. 

I stare and stare and stare at what I could have been and I wait for someone else to be naughty, to bring them into my huge family of Watcher Elves. I wait and watch.

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 52: Nancy Kilpatrick and Caro Soles talk about nEvermore

Edgar Allan Poe has inspired people with his darkly delightful prose and poetry, drawing the reader into a world of the macabre and mysterious. On this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, I talk to two authors who were inspired to edit a collection of works that are inspired by Poe.

Nancy Kilpatrick and Caro Soles talk about the collection “nEvermore” and about Poe’s work in general. They discuss the power of this collection for creating a certain aesthetic feeling, the tensions between maintaining Poe’s voice while also allowing for new authors to insert their voices into the text.

I interviewed Kilpatrick and Soles at Fan Expo Canada, so I appologize for the background noise and the issues it created regarding sound quality.

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

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.

You can discover more about nEvermore on Edge’s website at http://edgewebsite.com/books/nevermore/nevermore-catalog.html

Canadian SF Authors, What Are You Reading? Dominik Parisien

Continuing my questions about what books our Canadian SF authors are reading, we come to the readings of Dominik Parisien. Dominik has shared an insightful list of powerful narratives. Here are his top 10 reads of the year:

Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace

  

Leena Krohn: Collected Works by Leena Krohn

   

Sisters of the Revolution Edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer

  
 

All the Birds, Singing by  Evie Wylde

  


Bone Swans by C.S.E. Cooney

  

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

  

 

All my Friends Are Superheroes
by Andrew Koffman
  


Saga volumes 4 and 5
Written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples
   

   


Kraken: The Curious, Exciting, and Slightly Disturbing Science of Squid
 By Wendy Williams

  
 

Year’s Best Weird Fiction Vol. 2 Edited by Kathe Koja & Michael Kelly

  

Thank you Dominik Parisien for this fantastic list of books!

Canadian SF Authors, What Are You Reading? Gemma Files

Gemma Files shares her favourite reads of 2015 with us here at Speculating Canada along with her brilliant insights about the books she has read:

2015 Reading List By Gemma Files

I read a lot, pretty much constantly, and the sad part is that I all too often forget what I’ve read unless I write it down or write about it, even though it all goes into the garburator that is my creative process. So these things are actually very useful for me—I’m forced to think about what I liked and why, what stuck around longest, what I’m still thinking about, etcetera.

As it turns out, the books I’m (re-)reading at the moment are all non-fiction. Two are old, and for research—Harold Schechter’s gleefully trashy Fatal: The Poisonous Life of a Female Serial Killer and Jean Plaidy’s A Triptych of Poisoners, a book I’ve owned since I was thirteen—and two are new, for fun, about one of my all-time favourite subjects (The Canadian Horror Film: Terror of the Soul, edited by Gina Freitag and Andre Loiselle) and one of my all-time favourite movies (Canadian Cinema’s spotlight on John Paisz’s Crime Wave, a film so fascinatingly obscure you can’t even find it on DVD, as unpacked by Jonathan Ball).  

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In terms of novels I read this year, meanwhile, I’ll start with something I came to very late but enjoyed the unholy hell out of nonetheless. That’d be Clifford Jackman’s The Winter Family, a hell-bent Western that revolves around Civil War veteran turned “Dandy Killer” Augustus Winter, who evolves from an uneducated, abused child turned soldier first into a complicatedly deadly mechanism fit for little but killing, then a creature of almost unspeakable ravenous purity—the barely humanized avatar of whatever cosmic self-destructive force drives people throughout history to hurt each other for no good reason and feed on the pain that hurt creates. The prose is gorgeous and horrifying and blackly, bleakly funny throughout, Cormac McCarthy by way of Quentin Tarantino; I bought it and devoured in a single day, then spent the weekend re-reading it over and over. There’s a reason it was nominated for a  Governor General’s Award, is all I’m saying.

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One of my backbone pleasures is the fact that powerhouse Irish author John Connolly somehow manages to come out with a Charlie Parker novel almost every other year, and thankfully, 2015 was no exception to the rule. This time, in A Song of Shadows, Parker—a Maine PI with truly horrifying bad luck/homme fatale constantly surrounded by similarly fatal people, who may also be (according to Enochian apocrypha) the vile body currently inhabited by the one fallen angel to ever regret his choice to rise against God—is recovering from his last wrestling match with evil, which left him partly crippled and almost dead. Nevertheless, he still can’t manage to stay out of trouble, or at least out of proximity with other people’s troubles. As ever, this is a fast, engrossing read, every word chosen for both maximum impact and deep-set creepiness. (This year also brought me Night Music: Nocturnes II, Connolly’s second collection of short horror stories, which is equally enjoyable.)

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As always, various friends of mine came out with amazing stuff, some through my own publisher: three ChiZine Publications titles I’d like to highlight here are Lauren B. Davis’s Against a Darkening Sky, which plays like a dark, low-rent mirror of Nicola Griffith’s Hild; Rio Youers’s frankly excoriating Point Hollow and Kenneth Mark Hoover’s Quarternity, the bloodily existential prequel to his Weird West tour de force Haxan. From other sources, Signal to Noise—Silvia Garcia-Moreno’s rightly acclaimed first novel—follows three 1980s Mexican teenagers who come of age while experimenting with a very peculiar sort of witchcraft, channeling their loves and hates through music’s totemic medium, while Amanda Downum’s rich, strange and startlingly poetic Dreams of Shreds and Tatters replants Robert Chamber’s King in Yellow mythos to the raincoast artistic scene of Vancouver, where creativity pushed to its limits opens doors to a terrifyingly inspirational parallel universe, releasing a plague of ecstatic madness that’s at first spread only oneirically, yet gradually grows to infect and threaten the entire waking world.

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And then there’s Paul Tremblay, who—like Helen Marshall—is rapidly becoming yet another person whose brilliant brains I yearn to eat. With A Head Full of Ghosts, Tremblay manages to create a true Shirley Jackson-esque thriller for the 21st century, a multimedia commentary on the surreal truthiness of “reality” entertainment filtered through horror culture and tropes to create a story that can be potentially read from almost any direction. I don’t want to go too deep into it for fear of spoiling your fun, but the nested testimonial structure builds a psychological puzzle-box that’ll have you questioning every character’s motivation by the book’s climax; it’s a sweet trip through unreliable narrator city, and Tremblay makes for one hell of a tour guide.

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2015 also brought the end of a few series I’ve been following for years, and none of them disapointed. At the top of the list has to be Carsten Stroud’s The Reckoning, “the thrilling conclusion to the Niceille Trilogy”…but seriously, if you haven’t checked these books out yet, then do, stat. I once described them to a friend as a happy collision between Peter Straub and Elmore Leonard, and that continues to hold true; the characters are tough, eccentric and utterly human, the mythology rich, odd and essentially American in a way that mines all the darkest veins of racism and violence inherent in that country’s willfully forgotten history (along with our own, sadly).

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On a completely different note, meanwhile, Cherry Bomb brings Caitlin R. Kiernan (writing as Kathleen Tierney)’s hilariously foul-mouthed deconstruction of the received paranormal romance paradigm to a suitably slammin’ conclusion. Her protagonist, Quinn, started out as a monster-slayer but became something considerably more after being bitten by both a vampire and a werewolf; she’s then reduced to making her quote-quote “living” settling disputes in Massachusetts’ supernatural underworld, where she spends most of her time drinking, screwing a laundry-list of bad news dames and tearing her enemies apart limb from limb. My verdict: while all the installments are worth your while, this one reaches epic depths of punk Lovecraftiana, so check it out.

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I also spent some time catching up on Ben Aaronovitch’s wonderful Rivers of London series, best described as a mash-up of Neil Gaiman and J.K. Rowling, whose multiracial protagonist treats magic like a science while dealing with various locus genii on behalf of the London Metropolitan Police Service. Simultaneously, I acquired and read the last three Marla Mason books, by Tim Pratt—Grim Tides, Bride of Death and Lady of Misrule—in which our favourite brute force-o-mancer deals with the literally world-rocking consequences of her total own inability to lose gracefully, which have already cost her most of her friends and control of “her” city, the tiny industrial hamlet of Felport, California. Both series are consistently addictive, rewarding, surprising and amusing, just like I like ’em.

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My brain is beginning to grind to a halt, so here are some more picks, from those who want ’em: Clockworks and Alpha & Omega, graphic novel collections from IDW, finally bring Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s epic, heartwarmingly horrifying Locke & Key series to its climax. They deliver on every possible basis.

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A Daughter of No Nation by Alyx Delalmonica, second in her Stormwrack series, which provides portal fantasy with a difference. In this installment, Sophie Hansa gets to know her literally swashbuckling, potentially psychopathic birth-Dad, and surprises those around her by applying basic CSI/scientific principles to criminal investigations conducted in a world where magic is just another recognized part of the ecosystem.

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Lagoon, by Nnedi Okorafor, is a fascinatingly raucous and inventive first contact story set in Lagos, Nigeria. While juggling a cast that includes shapeshifting aliens, marine biologists, hardcore Baptists and globally popular rap artists, Okorafor does things you don’t expect in almost every chapter, including telling one from the POV of a spider and another from the POV of a road.

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The Devil’s Ark, by Stephen Bywater, hits all my old-school horror buttons—it’s set immediately after World War I, and follows the excavation of an archaeological site which may contain either a shrine to or the tomb of Lilith, Adam’s legendary first wife, supposedly worshiped in ancient Mesopotamia as a blood-sucking night-goddess. Similarly transportative is Jonathan Aycliffe’s The Sound of Ghosts, a genteelly pitch-black ghost story set during World War II that quickly grows M.R. Jamesian resonances.

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The Glittering World, by Robert Levy, is a startlingly dark first novel whose protagonist returns to New Brunswick to investigate the childhood he can’t remember, thus submerging himself and his friends in a sinister mystery involving some of the least Disney-friendly fairies ever. In Christopher Buehlman’s The Lesser Dead, meanwhile, Buehlman—another of my current favourite writers—applies his trope-deconstructionist’s eye to the problem of vampires, conjuring a vicious generational power-struggle set against the funky/gritty backdrop of 1970s New York. And in The Damned, by Andrew Pyper, a man haunted by the malign ghost of his dead twin sister finds out first-hand that hell apparently looks a lot like downtown Detroit.

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Finally, even if you haven’t read her brilliantly weird epistolary thriller The Three (which you really should’ve, so fix that), I’ll put in an equally high recommendation for Sarah Lotz’s Day Four, a side-quel to the same story that’s more than qualified to stand on its own, though it does plug some of the original’s lacunae. It’s like Lost as written by J.G. Ballard, a haunting vision of a potential future terrible enough to infect the present and taint the past; great stuff, if that’s the kind of stuff you like. Which I obviously do.;)

 

Thank you Gemma Files for the brilliant discussion of some fantastic books.

Golden Age Superheroes in Modernity

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Golden Age Superheroes in ModernityA Review of Epic Canadiana Volume 1 by Cloudscape Comics, edited by Bevan Thomas.

By Derek Newman-Stille
Epic Canadiana volume 1 delightfully connects the golden age of Canadian comics (the origin of the Canadian superhero comic) with modernity, creating a link through Canadian comic book history. Epic Canadiana re-introduces readers to an aged Johnny Canuck, modelled after Leo Bachle’s WWII era Canadian golden age comic hero, creating a parallel between these two ages of comics by imagining that the character was part of Canadian history and art of an early age of superheroes who withdrew from the superhero business. Possibly drawing inspiration from Darwyn Cooke’s DC New Frontier comic which envisioned a McCarthyist witch hunt on superheroes, Epic Canadiana imagines a period if time when the population became suspicious of superheroes and turned away from them. Superheroes in Canada are now called upon to return to the business and begin fighting against villainy in the nation. 
Epic Canadiana is told as though it is a persuasive argument to Johnny Canuck to encourage him to return to superheroism and is structured as a series of mini comics (each with different authors and writers) that each showcase a certain hero’s tale. These tales are historically diverse, with comics set at various periods in Canadian history, and serve to create his link between Canadian comic book history and the present by featuring characters scattered across that time frame. Several of the characters also pay homage to golden age comic characters. The character Ikniqpalagaq, for example, is a modern-day re-envisioning of the Golden Age comic character Nelvana of the Northern Lights, maintaining her connection to the Northern Landscape, her Inuit heritage and her role as a demi-goddess. Yet this homage also allows for adaptation and Ikniqpalagaq more closely connects with Inuit cultural imagery than Nelvana (who was often assumed by onlookers to be white). Ikniqpalagaq provides the character with an Inuit name, a costume inspired by inuit regalia, and Inuit facial tattoos, more closely identifying her with her cultural location. Similarly, the golden age comic character The Penguin (not to be confused with the DC comics villain of the same name) is re-envisioned as The Loon, a character who still has the bird-like mask of The Penguin, but instead identifies with the loon, a bird that has a Canadian connection (where penguins do not). The Loon also becomes a mantle that people at various points in history assume, taking on the character’s identity to battle crime and this use of the figure of The Loon at different points in history similarly expresses the idea that Epic Canadiana is creating a thread of the superhero myth through Canadian history, reminding readers that the concept of the Canadian superhero is not a new one and underscoring the importance of being aware that the Canadian superhero has been part of the Canadian imagination since WWII. 
At the same time that there is a connection to these historical figures, there is also an acknowledgement that these early imaginings were products of their time and were texts that erased a diversity of Canadian experiences (particularly those of Canadians from groups who were not in positions of privilege). Some of the stories in the collection try to provide some further cultural diversity to their character by, for example, re-imagining Canadian historical figures like Canada Jack as a closeted gay man and the inspiration for a new LGBTQ superhero Jacque de Canada, who takes on an activist role as well as superheroism by battling against the forces of homophobia. 
The use of different authors and artists for each of the superhero tales in the collection lends it an eclectic feel, letting the reader feel as though they are experiencing each superhero’s narrative with a distinct voice and expression. 
Epic Canadiana represents an elaborate historical and expressive tapestry of Canadian comic imagination, winding a thread of history through diverse imaginings of what a Canadian superhero could be. The heroes in these pages are born of magic, mutation, a call to action… but more importantly, they are born of a Canadian imagining of what it means to be heroic and speculation about what a Canadian superhero would consider worthy of battle.
To discover more about Cloudscape Comics and Epic Canadiana Volume 1, visit their website at http://www.cloudscapecomics.com/comics/ .