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/