Why should we put aside our childish things? They were our first teachers 

A review of Playground of Lost Toys edited by Ursula Pflug and Colleen Anderson (Exile, 2015)
By Derek Newman-Stille

  

Playground of Lost Toys leads us up those creaking attic stairs to a toy trunk of abandoned memories, lost experiences, and secrets shared in a language we only knew how to speak when we were children. It is an anthology about re-visitings, reimaginings, and explorations into those forgotten worlds that we created so easily when we were young. 

The authors in this collection play with our senses, but, most significantly, with our sense of nostalgia, reminding us of the things we set aside to call ourselves adults and that these objects, these playthings, still have power. Play is the best way to learn and the toys that we have abandoned were some of our first teachers, mentors on the secret pathways to imagination.

Playground of Lost Toys uses these early muses, our toys, to inspire new stories, examine new ideas, and question ideas of memory, play, and identity.

To discover more about Playground of Lost Toys, visit Exile’s website at http://exileeditions.com/singleorders2015/plt.html

What Makes Fairy Tales So Brilliant?

What Makes Fairy Tales So Brilliant?

By Derek Newman-Stille

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Fairy tales always exist in multiplicity, in versions. There is never one TRUE version, but rather a fluid polyphonic group with multiple voices sharing different takes on the same tale. Fairy tales possess the magic of changeability. Born in oral narratives, they have the power to shift and change with each telling, adapting to new tellers and new audiences. They resist the idea that there can be only one truth and illustrate that there are always multiple truths, each with different messages that speak to different people.

 

Fairy tales are delightfully slippery and whenever people seek to pin them down, they adapt, change, and modify themselves to speak to a new generation and a new group of people.

 

We create our fairy tales to tell us about ourselves, to learn from our own imaginative words and explore our boundaries. Fairy tales let us walk out into the darkening woods of our own subconscious and see more of ourselves, the selves that we tell into existence when we sit around a camp fire.

 

In our fairy tales, we encounter strange beings – beasts and otherworldly entities and animals that act far too much like we do – but these encounters are always with ourselves, always about us colliding with murky mirror images of ourselves, and those mirror selves always have something to share, something to teach to us.

 

Our fairy tales shift from generation to generation to capture our new ideas, interests, perspectives, and our anxieties. But what fairy tales do we need for this age? What should we be telling ourselves to learn and change?

 

Now when we venture into the woods, it is not the wolves that Red Riding Hood should fear, but they should fear us because of the damage we have done to our animal neighbours. Tales of commoners who become princesses have reinforced the oppression of women and made sure that we don’t critique wealth because so many people believe they can go from commoner to royalty, so how do we change that tale? We have told tales of desiring youth and fearing old age, so how do we switch it so that we can desire our own aging? How do we tell tales of enchanted apples when they are sprayed with chemicals and waxed?

 

We are storied animals, composed by the stories we hear, the stories we tell, and, most importantly, the stories we tell ourselves to get us through each day.

Disabling the Future

Disabling the Future
A review of Accessing the Future (Ed. Kathryn Allan and Djibril Al-Ayad, Future Fire, 2015)

By Derek Newman-Stille

  

I have to admit that I was hesitant to review Accessing the Future because I wrote the afterward for it and I felt as though it would seem self-serving to review it, but as a disability scholar and a speculative fiction fan who is disabled, I felt that this book needed to be reviewed… well, that and IT IS A REALLY FANTASTIC BOOK. There is nothing so pleasing as finding a collection where every story is appealing. When I read the collection, I kept waiting with worry for the one story that would disappoint me… but it never arrived. I was incredibly pleased that every story in the collection spoke to me, entertained me, and interrogated the notion of disability in a powerful way. 
As a disability scholar, I always fear that people will write “inspiration porn”. For those of you who are not in disability scholarship, we use the term “inspiration porn” to refer to media that use disabled people to make able-bodied people feel better, often by talking about how inspirational we disabled people are. This is, of course, infantalising and insulting to disabled people. I was incredibly pleased when none of the stories in Accessing the Future was “inspiration porn”. I should have known that the brilliant Kathryn Allan and Djibril Al-Ayad would make sure that the collection was free of this trope of disability, but it has gotten to the point where when I see disability in any title, I respond with some hesitation, always worried that I am about to be inundated with problematic tropes about disability. Not only does Accessing the Future represent stories that avoid this trope, the collection features stories that actively resist tropes and present disabled characters as complex and complete… as actual people instead of symbols of something that author is trying to represent. And isn’t it about time we are treated as real people instead of someone’s dream about what we should be or what they imagine us to be?
The link between disability and futurity featured right in the title of the collection may not seem as incredibly significant as it is until one thinks about the way disability is generally represented in science fiction – generally absent from it or only represented temporarily until the disability can be “cured” in a marvel of medical science. It is incredibly empowering to read a collection of stories in which disability is presented as HAVING a future, in which we aren’t erased, but are instead fully present in our future and still able to exist in the future of our world. 
Accessing the Future does what I believe the best speculative fiction can do – it imagines new possibilities and new ways of exploring our world. Accessing the Future plays with the notion of disability itself and what it means to be disabled and interact with the world through the lens of disability. It opens questions rather than trying to give readers answers and it empowers the reader to think about what disability means and what disability may be like in the future. Allan and Al-Ayad invite us to question what we think we know and, in that process of asking questions about disability, to discover that disability is a slippery, uncertain, changeable idea and that disability, like any identity, is written onto our world. The writers whose stories are featured in Accessing the Future give readers the gift of question, critique, and speculation. These stories are inquiries that are sent out into the world to find new insights and new imaginative possibilities for how we live with disability and how we imagine ourselves into the future.
To find out more about Accessing the Future, visit http://press.futurefire.net/p/accessing-future.html

It Doesn’t Have to be ‘The Way it is’

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One of the phrases that frustrates me most is “it is what it is”. As a speculative fiction scholar and fan, when I hear these words, I hear the closing down of opportunities and the reifying of the status quo. “It is what it is” tells me that people are frustrated with the existing state of things, but are unwilling or feel unable to make changes. SF is the literature of change, a literature of new potentials and possibilities. That is not to say that it reguarly challenges the way things are because most SF doesn’t imagine new possibilities but only further entrenches existing ideas and the current structures of power, BUT it has the POTENTIAL to imagine changes, to think of new ways of understanding the world and new possibilities that challenge the world as it is. 

Today I listened to a talk by Alyx Dellamonica about environmentalism and SF in which she reminded listeners that one of the most dangerous things we can do is say “there’s nothing we can do”. She pointed out that people will often close down possibilities for imagining new ways of being in the world because we convince ourselves that substantive change is impossible and then we close down our own faculties for thinking of new ideas and new solutions to existing structures. 

I think this illustrates some of the issues I have long had about phrases like “it is what it is”. These phrases serve to support the way things currently are, serve to further entrench them. We tell ourselves that it is impossible to imagine new ideas and to think of fresh ways of understanding the world and so we support the status quo, we don’t challenge the existing authority structures that are unwelcome, unhealthy, and unsafe for so many people. 

I have the same reaction to “what can you do?”, which, despite starting with “what”, a question, has never been about asking a question, but rather providing a nihilistic rhetoric, a closing down of questioning and imagining new possibilities. I would ask us to take that question seriously, to reimagine it as an actual question. When asked “what can you do?” that we operate in the realm of the imaginative, the realm of potentials and we work on thinking about new ways of existing with and within our world. SF has this potential, but that doesn’t mean that this is exclusively the perview of SF authors. As a public, we too can SPECULATE. We can interrogate existing systems and ask what they exist for, whether new and better ideas can rise out of them, how we can substantively change, what posibilities exist, and what we can imagine our way out of and, perahps more importantly, what we can imagine ourselves into.

I am not saying that we should all walk around with utopic visions in our minds, particularly since, for many of us from disempowered groups, we so often have our utopic visions shattered, but that we keep pushing at the fringes of our society to advocate for positive changes. There is still a place for the apocalyptic in our imagination since it often allows us to articulate the way we see our worlds shaped for something other than us, a world that is fundamentally hostile to us (particularly if we are from disenfranchised groups), but it is important to remember that every apocalypse is about change, about a world in flux, and THAT has imaginative potential. Apocalypses are about recognizing that the world is no longer able to support an existing way of being and they call on us to imagine a new possibility, a new method of understanding a changing and changeable world. 
SF can be a way of critiquing the world as well as a way of imagining a new world, new possibilities, and a change to look at our own world from askance to see the things that we ignore, push aside, choose not to contemplate so that we can exist in a world of “it is what it is”. How do we use SF to imagine a world that ISN’T “what it is”? 

Quote – Tragedy as Columns of Type

“Inevitable? In hindsight tragedy always appears so. Somehow the concept of unavoidable destiny offers comfort to uniformed readers, those to whom tragedy is nothing more than oderly columns of black type.”

-J.R. Campbell “To One Table” in Professor Challenger: New Worlds. Lost Places (Edge, 2015).