Putting the Punk Back in Steampunk

Putting the Punk Back in Steampunk
A review of Clockwork Canada: Steampunk Fiction Edited by Dominik Parisien (Exile Editions, 2016)
By Derek Newman-Stille

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Steampunk has often struck me as a genre that has tended toward overly rosey views of the Edwardian and Victorian Eras. The steampunk tales I have read have often uncritically represented colonialism as adventure, portrayed technology divorced from the horrible conditions of the factories, ignored massive wealth disparity and troubling social conditions. It is a genre that is ripe with neo-futurist possibilities to invite critical engagements with ideas of historicity and presentness, but often forgets the “punk” aspect of itself, the part that invites critical questions and instead pulls down the goggles of nostalgia.

Clockwork Canada: Steampunk Fiction does that critical questioning, inviting a history filled with possibility. The stories in this collection invite critical questions about the way that we view history and the relationship we have to the past. While inspiring an interest in local histories and tales, it also reminds the reader of all of those stories that get stuck in the cogs of the machines of nation-building and invites us to oil the machines and seek out new stories and new ways of viewing the past.

The regionalism of Clockwork Canada, its setting within a national boundary, invites readers to question canonical tales of history and our founding origin myths by asking who benefits from the history that we tell ourselves and what erasures have been part of the construction of this thing we call “Canada”. These tales question the stories we tell ourselves by providing alternative stories, stories that highlight people and groups that are under-represented in our national myths.

Rather than representing the historical tales that we see in Heritage Minutes or CBC specials, the stories in Clockwork Canada highlight the oppression of indigenous peoples in Canada, border conflicts, representations of disabled people, labour conflicts, the exploitation of Chinese labourers on the railroad, Canada’s head-taxes and borders closed to immigration … all of the narratives we erase in constructing ourselves as a Just Nation. These are tales that speak back to erasures and the editing of Canadian history to include only canonical narratives that focus on Canada as a place of tolerance, acceptance, and openness.

Clockwork Canada reminds readers that the idea of “nation” is itself a story that we tell ourselves to hold us together and that that story, that history, can be divisive, damaging, and harmful. The multiplicity of stories in Clockwork Canada invite readers to think of our nation as a storied space, filled with a multiplicity of voices. These steampunk stories punk canonical narratives and invite readers to question the history they encounter. This isn’t nostalgia fiction, these stories are all about gearing up for a critical take on history.

To read reviews of individual stories in Clockwork Canada, explore the links below:

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2016/05/06/putting-monsters-on-the-map/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2016/04/28/signing-the-electric/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2016/04/26/disability-and-immigration/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2016/04/24/working-in-the-industrial-revolution/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2016/04/21/steampunk-multiculturalism/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2016/04/20/of-maps-andmonsters/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2016/05/04/a-seance-evoking-future-horrors/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2016/05/02/frozen-wooden-with-steampunk-horror/

To find out more about Clockwork Canada, visit https://dominikparisien.wordpress.com/clockwork-canada-anthology/
OR http://www.exileeditions.com/singleorders2016/clockwork.html

To discover more about Dominik Parisien, visit his website at: https://dominikparisien.wordpress.com

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 63: A Discussion of Queer Narratives with Cait P. Jones

In this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, I am joined in the studio by Cait P. Jones and the two of us discuss queer narratives, intersectionality, and the power of narratives to open up new possibilities.

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.

Home is Where the Chicken Legs Are

Home is Where the Chicken Legs Are
A review of Marika McCoola and Emily Carroll’s Baba Yaga’s Assistant (Candlewick Press, 2015)

By Derek Newman-Stille


Masha’s tale begins with stories from her grandmother about the witch Baba Yaga. Her grandmother was once kidnapped by Baba Yaga and had to outwit the witch in order to gain her freedom. Masha, delighted by these tales sees her grandmother’s life as one of adventure and wonders why she would have ever left Baba Yaga.
Masha’s father has recently been re-married and she discovers that although he never seemed to have time for her outside of work, he has time for his new wife and daughter. She feels out of place in her own home and when she runs away, she discovers a new home, but one that is unsettling and unsettled both by its strangeness and its propensity for walking around on chicken legs. Baba Yaga tests Masha to see if she is clever enough to get into her house before she is willing to take the girl on as an assistant. 
In order to cope in the fairy tale setting of Baba Yaga’s world, Masha must call upon all of her folklore and fairy tale knowledge to outsmart beasts, magic, and impossible tasks. Her life is one that has become enmeshed in the reality of fairy tales, shaped by their premises that have a logic all their own. 
Emily Carroll’s artwork weaves the mythical with the modern, blending the strange with the modern. She uses comic frames and backgrounds that meld and mesh the magic of a grimoire with the magic of needlepoint (an appropriate mixing because Masha tells us that her own grandmother acquired a needle and thread from Baba Yaga’s hut in her youth). For Masha’s remembering of fairy tales, Carroll switches to strong, simple colours with silhouette-like qualities to paint the tales with a sense of otherness and a sense of reverie. 

As much as this is a tale of wandering, it is also a tale of locating oneself, of finding oneself through tales and adventures. McCoola and Carroll’s Baba Yaga’s Assistant is a tale that reveals the power that fairy tales have to make us look at ourselves and our lives anew. It is a tale of self-discovery and a reminder that fairy tales can unlock doors of self discovery as easily as Masha opens the doorway to Baba Yaga’s hut. 
To discover more about Baba Yaga’s Assistant, visit Candlewick Press at http://www.candlewick.com/essentials.asp?browse=Title&mode=book&isbn=076366961X&bkview=p&pix=y 

Languages Across Generations

Languages Across GenerationsA review of Hiromi Goto’s Chorus of Mushrooms (NeWest Press, 1994)

By Derek Newman-Stille


Chorus of Mushrooms is a beautifully written, poetic book that revels in the wonder and majesty of language while being fundamentally about silences. Hiromi Goto examines the multiplicity of silencings that occur in our world – the racialised, ageist, sexist structures that are created in our society to de-voice certain people. Goto examines the way that language shapes and creates us and the way that it can also be used to contain and control us. 
Chorus of Mushrooms is about an elderly woman who keeps talking while no one listens. She tries to assert her voice into a household that has forgotten how to speak Japanese, trying to teach while being fundamentally ignored. In order to conform, her daughter and son in law began speaking English in the home as much as possible, eventually losing those linguistic roots that tied the family together. When they also have a daughter, she wants to connect to her linguistic heritage but ends up discovering that while she didn’t officially learn Japanese, she and her grandmother speak an unspoken, inter-generational language that allows both to feel connected in a family environment that seems to isolate them. 
Goto expresses the importance of language as a vehicle for story-telling as well as a vehicle for announcing one’s presence. Despite the attempts to ignore the voices of the aged and the culturally marginalised, Obachan, the elderly woman, speaks back, announcing herself to the silence imposed around her. She reminds others of her presence even when they choose not to listen. She creates a world from words.
To discover more about Hiromi Goto, visit her website at http://www.hiromigoto.com 

SUPERficial Government Superhero Programmes

SUPERficial Government Superhero Programmes
A review of Mary Pletsch and Dylan Blacquiere’s “The Island Way” in Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe. Edited by Mark Shainblum and Claude Lalumierer (Edge, 2016).

By Derek Newman-Stille

In “The Island Way”, Mary Pletsch and Dylan Blacquiere use the superhero format to explore island culture and the interactions between PEI and mainland Canada. The Federal Government creates a new group of superheroes that are meant to embody Canadianness, having representatives from each of Canada’s provinces as a way of illustrating diversity. Quickly, the government discovers that only showcasing geographical diversity is a problem and realises that they need to include aboriginal superheroes and people from other under-represented groups.This superhero group, as many governmental diversity initiatives tend to be, ends up being largely superFICIAL, only portraying diversity without having substance. The superheroes selected for each region tend to embody regional stereotypes, embodying ideas about a province that the rest of Canada tends to project onto them. 

Price Edward Island is treated as many islands who neighbour mainlands are. PEI has all of the decisions about their superhero made by the mainland governments and projected onto the island. The government ignores any viable Islanders and instead decides to relocate a superhero to live part time on PEI in order to fulfill the requirement of regional diversity. They choose a candidate, that, not surprisingly, has a look of Anne of Green Gables about her and therefore continue to create marketable superheroes rather than effective ones. 

Pletsch and Blacquiere play with ideas of tokenistic inclusion, control from a mainland government, and the idea that many Prince Edward Islanders have that one is either a true Islander who has lived in the are their whole life (and come from Island stock) or that they are a “come from away” who will never really belong or fit in. The government in their world uses a transplanted superhero while ignoring the work of the protagonist of the story, Maggie, a woman who has to survive by working in a restaurant and spends her time saving the Island by piloting a ghost ship that keeps islanders safe. By being under-represented and out of the spotlight, Maggie has to examine her relationship to ideas of glory and the representation of government ideals versus the notion of supporting a local community and keeping her neighbours safe. 

To discover more about Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe, visit Edge’s website at http://edgewebsite.com/books/tess19/t19-catalog

Multiverse History

A review of Patrick T. Goddard’s “Diary of a Teenage Grizzly” in Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe” Edited by Mark Shainblum and Claude Lalumiere (Edge, 2016).

By Derek Newman-Stille


In “Diary of a Teenage Grizzly”, Patrick T. Goddard brings together multiple different comic book and fan narratives. He addresses a letter to the editors of Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe in which he tells them that he uncovered a diary from his time as a teen superhero in the 1980s. He plays with the notion of the multiverse to write himself into a superhero story, creating an alternative history for himself in which his teenage years were a battle between his life as a teen and his life as a superhero. Goddard plays with the fan fiction narrative of the Mary Sue, in which the author inserts her/himself as a character into the story, but uses the comic book narrative and the format of a diary to play with the idea that this was an alternative history for himself.

Despite being a superhero story, Goddard’s tale reveals some of the realities of teenage life including the complicated mix of feelings that get experienced in the high school setting. Goddard’s character/ self experiences clashes between different social groups, the pressure to fit in and conform, conflicts with personal needs versus the desires of parents, and the uncertainty that defines the teen experience. Writing his teenage self as a bear shape shifter whose emotions trigger him to change from human into grizzly bear reveal the way we portray teens as unstable, subject to emotion, and generally a danger when they become emotional, ascribing animalistic characteristics to them.

Goddard invites us to imagine the life of the superhero child and the pressures that it places on their life in addition to the regular challenges of high school life. He explores the complications of hiding identity, celebrity culture around superheroism, and the challenge of defining one’s moral structure in a world that is divided into hero/villain. 

To find out more about Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe, visit Edge’s website at http://edgewebsite.com/books/tess19/t19-catalog.html

 

Putting Monsters on the Map

A review of Kate Story’s “Equus” in Clockwork Canada: Steampunk Fiction, edited by Dominik Parisien (Exile Editions, 2016)By Derek Newman-Stille


Fairy tale collides with steampunk in Kate Story’s “Equus”, where the past and ideas of futurity collide to create an uncertain present. Story narrates the experiences of Sir Sanford Fleming, an inventor known for proposing standard time zones and for his work on surveying and mapping. He is a historical figure who already brings to the narrative a sense of time and landscape, embodying these symbolic media through his own inventions. For Story, he became the perfect character to adapt to her tale, which is fundamentally one about the way that time plays out on a landscape and the way that maps and standardized time zones seek to standardise and explain a world that resists understanding. 

Story explores the power of the relationship between maps and margins and the idea that the more we try to chart and explore things – the more we attempt to rationalize them – the more the irrational reminds us of its existence. While Sanford Fleming is employing a new machine to survey Canada and establish barriers and territories, he is repeatedly haunted by his own past, the life he led before he came to Canada, and spirits of the world that defy the simple cartography applied to our world. History and ideas of progress come into conflict as characters begin to realise that the spreading of railways and communication technology are binding the land, forever changing it by adding elements of the human to natural landscapes. Fleming is forced to face the question of whether there is a price for progress and whether all change can be defined as progress. 

To discover more about the work of Kate Story, visit her website at http://www.katestory.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