Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 62: Afrofuturism

In this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, I explore Afrofuturism and particularly focus my examination on the work of Canadian author Nalo Hopkinson. Even though I am not a black person myself, I felt that it was important to examine Afrofuturism as an important contribution to imagining black futurity and to science fiction in general. In this episode I examine the important interconnection between imagining a new future for black populations in Afrofuturist texts, but also the importance of acknowledging the history of oppression that has shaped the lives of black Canadians.

Afrofuturism provides a space for imaging new possible futures, for questioning the status quo, and for asking critical questions about the continued oppression of black Canadians and African Americans.

My examination of the work of Nalo Hopkinson focuses on her ability to examine complexities and intricacies involved in imagining utopian future possibilities while examining the way that colonialism, slavery, diasporic experiences, and oppression have shaped the lives of people.

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

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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.

 

Signing the Electric

Signing the Electric

A review of Terri Favro’s “Let Slip the Sluicegates of War, Hydro-Girl” in Clockwork Canada: Steampunk Fiction edited by Dominik Parisien (Exile Editions, 2016)

By Derek Newman-Stille

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In “Let Slip the Sluicegates of War, Hydro-Girl”, Terri Favro creates a technologically advanced steampunk Canada in the midst of the war of 1812, using the hydro-electric dam at Niagara Falls as a barrier to American invasion. Favro’s tale follows the life of Laura Secord-inspired character as she navigates the complexities of life on the margins. Setting her narrative on the edge of the Canadian border with the United States, Favro’s tale is edgy for more than its geographical setting. Favro brings attention to populations that are generally pushed to the fringes of our own society. Laura is reinvented as a sex worker whose live has been devoted to providing pleasure to the men who work on the Hydroelectric dam. Laura is chosen for her role as a sex worker because of the geography of her birth, growing up in a racialised neighbourhood with people from groups that are considered disposable.

 

Laura is able to distinguish herself by her use of fingerspelling, which allows her to communicate with the workers on the dam, many of whom have become deaf due to the loud sound experienced at the turbines and when drilling. Because of the huge amount of the population that are employed in working in the dam in Favro’s reimagined Niagara, a large amount of the population is deaf and have developed fingerspelling to communicate with each other. Despite the fact that they do not use formal sign language, this community has adapted fingerspelling into a form of text speak, using abbreviations for common phrases. This idea of a sign language developing from a large deaf population mirrors the origins of ASL (American Sign Language), which partially developed from the large population of deaf people on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, where a sign language developed to allow for the communication between members of the deaf population and was used by the hearing population.

 

Like sign language, the fingerspelling of the workmen is largely ignored by the hearing community and is dismissed by the officer Laura reports to as “a language for girls and idiots” (214). Also similar to the treatment of the deaf population by the hearing population, sign language is only adopted by the hearing community when it is seen as having a use for them. Laura’s fingerspelling is observed by a military officer who sees the potential use of her signing for military applications, using the fingerspelling created by this community as a means for covert message transmission. Favro explores the complexity of language as both a facilitator of communication (and thus something that has the capacity to bring understanding) and as a tool of exploitation (only acknowledged as significance when it has value for the dominant population). Laura’s sign language gives her the ability to escape from the exploitative sex work she was forced to experience (which involved physical abuse and non-consensual sex) and was able to find new possible roles for herself.

 

Favro’s narrative explores the links between bodies, communication, exploitation, and geography, examining the complex networks of identity that shape existence. In addition to her exploration of underrepresented racial and linguistic populations, Favro examines a diversity of sexual identities, exploring lesbian and trans identities in a genre that tends to erase queerness. This is a boundary tale, and one that is able to draw in the complexities that thrive in those borderlands where everything is in flux and where explorations begin.

 

You can discover more about Terri Favro’s work at http://terrifavro.ca/ .

 

To find out more about Clockwork Canada, visit Exile’s website at http://www.exileeditions.com/singleorders2016/clockwork.html

 

And Dominik Parisien’s website at https://dominikparisien.wordpress.com/clockwork-canada-anthology

 

Disability and Immigration

Disability and ImmigrationA review of “Crew 255” by Claire Humphrey in Clockwork Canada: Steampunk Fiction, edited by Dominik Parisien (Exile Editions, 2016).

By Derek Newman-Stille

In “Crew 255”, Claire Humphrey uses steampunk to comment on the interrelationship between immigration, disability, and ethnicity. After an explosion of an airship in Toronto, people are brought into the city from other countries to clear the rubble and begin the rebuilding process. Emiliana is brought in along with immigrating populations from an Azorean village. The villagers are all men and Emiliana feels as though she is an outsider amongst the men not only because of her gendered difference but also because she is the only one among them with a disability. Emiliana has had prosthetic arms called “graspers” for over a decade before coming to Toronto. The graspers are made of brass, and they provide extra strength for lifting, allowing her to be a strong worker, but she needs to deal with the process of being ‘Othered’ by the able-bodied, male crew. 

Like many people with disabilities, Emiliana is faced with the challenge of staring, being constantly looked at for her physical difference. Staring is more than a passive act of looking, but is, instead, an act of treating someone as an outsider and treating their body as something that can be viewed and treated as a specimen. The act of staring tries to render the disabled body as something that is passively looked at. At times, Emiliana finds herself gazing at others who use prostheses, but when they react as though they are being stared at, she shows her own prostheses to convey the idea that she is looking at them to create a sense of community rather than staring at them. 

Unlike some narratives of steampunk prostheses, “Crew 255” is not about the prosthetic creating a superhuman. Rather, Claire Humphrey illustrates the extra time and effort Emiliana has to go through to maintain her prosthetic arms – having to regularly clean the rubble out of them, polish them, prevent them from freezing by using mittens, and keeping the joints nimble. Despite their fictional nature, her graspers convey some of the complexity of prosthetic use.

By exploring the role of Emiliana as a worker who is female and disabled, Humphrey brings attention to the current issues facing people with disabilities seeking to immigrate to Canada. Many people with disabilities have historically – and continue to be – considered to be undesirable immigrants to Canada. Tied up in this un-preferential treatment of people with disabilities are assumptions that the disabled are unable to contribute meaningfully to the Canadian economy. Governmental bodies assume that the disabled represent a potential economic drain rather than economic assets and a large part of this assumption is related to the belief that people with disabilities can’t work at the same levels as the able-bodied and therefore can’t contribute to the economy of the country. “Crew 255” resists this portrayal by instead presenting a person with disabilities working hard and organizing the labour of her colleagues. Emiliana is portrayed as a person who not only contributes to her new country, but also works in the jobs that other Canadians consider undesirable. In doing so, Humphrey points out that when people immigrate to Canada (especially when they are people with disabilities), they are often underemployed and only given jobs that are un-preferred. Emiliana and the rest of Crew 255 are working to rebuild Canada and reconstruct it, re-shaping a decimated Toronto to create a space where they can live alongside other Canadians. 

To discover more about the work of Claire Humphrey, visit her website at http://www.clairehumphrey.ca
To find out more about Clockwork Canada, visit Exile’s website at http://www.exileeditions.com/singleorders2016/clockwork.html

And Dominik Parisien’s website at https://dominikparisien.wordpress.com/clockwork-canada-anthology

Working in the Industrial Revolution

Working in the Industrial RevolutionA review of Brent Nichols’ “The Harpoonist” in Clockwork Canada: Steampunk Fiction edited by Dominik Parisien (Exile Editions, 2016)

By Derek Newman-Stille


Despite the disabling effects of the Industrial Revolution and the number of limbs lost in the desire to mechanise, most steampunk doesn’t examine the relationship of disability to the technological gadgetry that is employed in the genre. Brent Nichols’ “The Harpoonist” looks at the intersection between disability, the drive to mechanise, and labour movements. 

Alice O’Reilly has been working to change the way that labour is conceptualised in Gastown. As a woman who has been dismissed from numerous jobs due to her desire to unionise, she is aware of the impact that factories have on worker bodies, observing the repeated way that the Industrial Revolution has consumed worker bodies in the capitalist desire to produce and make as much wealth as possible. O’Reilly and other workers gathered funds together to try to create a factory that would be without bosses, totally geared toward ensuring an equal distribution of wealth in addition to safe working conditions. 

When she meets Henry McClane, she assumes that he is another person who has been disabled by unsafe working conditions and a lack of protection for workers. She assumes that his hand was damaged in a workplace accident and that he was dismissed after he was no longer able to operate the machinery, and he allows her to believe this in order to keep his past a secret. 

Brent Nichols creates a group of people who have gathered together in support of a common, community good in defence of powerful, mob-run groups that seek to maintain the wealth of the community in the hands of a few people and employ gangs to take down any competition for their own wealth. O’Reilly’s factory workers are one group of defenders of the common good, seeking to build safe working conditions and illustrate that a factory for the mutual benefit of the workers can work out. The other group of community defenders are a superhero group that employs technology to accommodate their disabilities and also to fight crime. Rather than allowing themselves to be hurt and controlled by the machinery around them, both groups seek to harness technology for their own purposes, using machinery either as a means to better support workers or as an accommodation for disability that has the added benefit of augmenting the human body. Nichols brings attention to the duality of technology – it’s ability to either work toward control and support the groups in power, or its ability to imagine new ways for oppressed people to create conditions of mutual support. 

To discover more about the work of Brent Nichols, visit his website at http://steampunch.com/index.html

To find out more about Clockwork Canada, visit Exile’s website at http://www.exileeditions.com/singleorders2016/clockwork.html

And Dominik Parisien’s website at https://dominikparisien.wordpress.com/clockwork-canada-anthology

Hawkeye’s Deafness

Hawkeye’s Deafness
A review of Jeff Lemire and Ramon Perez’ “Hawkeye #5: All New Hawkeye” (Marvel Comics, 2015).

By Derek Newman-Stille

  
As a disability scholar and a fan of Jeff Lemire’s work, I was extremely excited to discover that Lemire had taken on the writing of the Hawkeye comics. Hawkeye has been recently reinvented as a deaf character (I use the small “d” deaf here because Hawkeye doesn’t engage with many aspects of Deaf culture). Rather than using sign language, this Hawkeye uses a powerful hearing aid created by Tony Stark (Iron Man) that allows him to hear. Fortunately, at various points in the comic, Lemire has Hawkeye lose the use of his hearing aid to illustrate his deafness. Hawkeye’s deafness is rendered in Ramon Parez’ illustrations by showing empty speech bubbles, having the reader take the role of Hawkeye in trying to discern what is being said. This is an effective way of conveying Hawkeye’s deafness since the static form of comics doesn’t allow for the movement of lips. Further, the choice not to make Hawkeye capable of reading lips in the midst of battle is an effective one since lip reading is largely not effective when bodies are static let alone during the movement of battle. 

Lemire covers the early life of Hawkeye, illustrating when the character becomes deaf through the abuse of his father. This narrative links Hawkeye’s deafness to his early life and represents the intersection of two bodily identity narratives – the abused person and the deaf person. Lemire resists the temptation of making Deafness into a symbolic medium that many able-bodied authors fall into. Instead, Lemire presents deafness as a bodily experience and one that is only part of the multiplicity of experiences and identities Hawkeye experiences.

Lemire avoids the narrative of the “supercrip”, where a character with a disability is given superpowers to compensate for his or her disability (like Daredevil). Instead, Hawkeye has gained his skills through practise and doesn’t have any additional superpowers. The focus on vision for Hawkeye is significant since deafness normally means a focus on vision as the medium of communication and interaction. Indeed, the deaf community has been referred to as the “people of the eye”. The link between vision and Hawkeye’s name, indicating both accuracy, but also a precision of vision makes a firm link between his deafness and his focus on developing his visual skills. 

In addition to exploring Hawkeye’s deafness, Lemire explores the character’s role as a mentor and the complicated relationship between mentor and mentee, bringing attention to the role of aging that is generally elided in superhero narratives. Hawkeye is shown preparing the next generation of heroes for the future of the role. 
Lemire’s reference to Hawkeye’s history as a circus performer brings attention to the way that Deaf and disabled people have been involved in the circus industry, finding a place of belonging amongst other people who have been socially discriminated against. This role in the circus plays with the notion of the circus community and the disabled person as both being figures who are stared at in a society that constructs difference as pathological. Lemire examines the way that this intersection shaped Hawkeye’s experiences, propelling him to develop his skills in circus performance (particularly his role as a bowman) that eventually will lead to his role as a superhero. 

Lemire’s Hawkeye is represented as fundamentally shaped by his history of experiences, illustrated to be a composite of his past and his present understanding of his role as a superhero. 

To discover more about Jeff Lemire’s work, visit his website at http://jefflemire.wix.com/jefflemire.

Steampunk Multiculturalism

Steampunk MulticulturalismA review of Holly Schofield’s “The East Wing in Carall Street” in Clockwork Canada; Steampunk Fiction Edited by Dominik Parisien (Exile Editions, 2016).

  

Canada’s late 1800s were an era of exploitation of Chinese-Canadian workers. With head-taxes on immigrants from China and the exploitation of Chinese labourers for widescale production, Canadian interactions with their Chinese-originating populations in the 1800s was fraught with oppression. In particular, during the period of technological nationalism, when Canada sought to use technological innovations like the railway to bring Canadians together over a vast geography, Chinese labourers were exploited for construction and a large number of Chinese-Canadians died in the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway. In Canada’s attempt to bring people together, the country reified who it thought could belong and be called “Canadian” by constructing certain populations (such as the Chinese-Canadian population) as disposable and therefore as non-Canadian. 

It is therefore extremely exciting to see a steampunk narrative that explores the experience of Chinese Canadians. In Holly Schofield’s “East Wind in Carrall Street”, the complicated link between Chinese-Canadian interactions with non-Chinese Canadians and the notion of technology are explored. Schofield explores a friendship between Wong Shin, the son of a man who runs a grocery store, and Margie, an aspiring astronomer who lives in a Vancouver prostitution house with her family. Shin and Margie’s families both disapprove of their friendship, each considering the other to be from an abhorrent family. Each family expresses disgust for the other even on the basis of the foods that they eat. Yet, Shin and Margie are able to get rid of some of their familial discrimination to forge a friendship that both find useful and supportive, educating each other and providing emotional support for each other. 

Shin’s father begins to delve into self hatred because of the trick he is pulling on the Chinese-Canadian community of Victoria because he has claimed that he has created a fully automated clockwork lion to dance blessings in front of a store that is about to open. But, he is unable to create a fully automated clockwork lion, therefore having to ask Wong to get inside of the automation and run it through a series of levers. Shin bears the full brunt of his father’s self-loathing. However, through his friendship with Margie, Shin is able to look for opportunities for collaboration and unity that offer possibilities that cultural separation doesn’t. 

Schofield explores the complicated history of Chinese-Canadian and non-Chinese Canadian interactions in “East Wind in Carrall Street”, acknowledging both the Canadian history of racism and simultaneously suggesting the power that cultural collaboration holds.

To discover more about the work of Holly Schofield, visit her site at https://hollyschofield.wordpress.com

To find out more about Clockwork Canada, visit Exile’s website at http://www.exileeditions.com/singleorders2016/clockwork.html

And Dominik Parisien’s website at https://dominikparisien.wordpress.com/clockwork-canada-anthology

Of Maps andMonsters

Of Maps and Monsters
A review of Charlotte Ashley’s “La Clochemar” in Clockwork Canada: Steampunk Fiction, edited by Dominik Parisien (Exile Editions, 2016).

By Derek Newman-Stille

  

In “La Clochemar”, Charlotte Ashley brings readers a tale of a North America filled with giant beings called the Mandimanidoo, a name that plays with the Anishinabee word for spirits “manitou”, which are alternatively spelled “manidoo”. These beings are attracted to gunpowder and pose a threat to human beings. Suzette’s role is as a runner, meant to attract the Mandimanidoo and lead them on a chase while other hunters attack the giant beings. After being attacked by a Mandimanidoo, Suzette meets Dibaabishk, an Anishinabee man who builds lifeclocks, devices capable of creating maps that illustrate where various lifeforms are located and to distinguish between these different lifeforms. 
Dibaabishk wants to create portable lifeclocks to allow people to navigate around the Mandimanidoo and keep safe from attacks, but the council of his people has forbidden this because they are worried that giving lifeclocks to the French settlers in the area will give those settlers the capacity to map North America and settle across the landscape while no longer needing indigenous populations to assist them. 

Charlotte Ashley’s “La Clochemar” brings attention to the connection between maps and colonialism, providing a method for charting the landscape and beginning the process of European settlement. Through this steampunk narrative, Ashley brings attention to the way that European settlers exploited indigenous peoples for their knowledge, taking from this knowledge and then adapting it to conquer the North American landscape. 

By adding the Mandimanidoo to her imagined landscape, Ashley brings attention to the fact that early European settlers used the ideology of the monstrous to Other indigenous peoples, dehumanizing them to justify colonial control and genocidal actions. The technologies created by the Anishinabee population in Charlotte Ashely’s narrative are portrayed as being in danger of European adaptation and use for racist ideological practices.

Unlike many authors of steampunk, who tend to erase indigenous presence in the landscapes they imagine, Ashley creates an indigenous steampunk world that explores the collision of colonial populations and the original inhabitants of what is now called Canada, and brings attention to the exploitative patterns that colonialism set in Canada, patterns that continue to undergird the treatment of indigenous peoples. 

Charlotte Ashley’s tale is one of maps and claims to space, and the monsters that show up in these maps are intricately connected to the landscape, arising from features in the landscape and intrinsically connected to the idea of place. This is a tale of maps and monsters where the monsters are not the large animal-hybrid figures called the Mandimanidoo, but rather are the European settlers, the threat from without that seeks to reshape the maps for their own purposes.

To discover mor about Charlotte Ashley, visit her website at http://once-and-future.com

To find out more about Clockwork Canada, visit Exile’s website at http://www.exileeditions.com/singleorders2016/clockwork.html

And Dominik Parisien’s website at https://dominikparisien.wordpress.com/clockwork-canada-anthology/