No Longer Worn Down.

No Longer Worn Down
A review of Amal El-Mohtar’s”Seasons of Glass and Iron” in The Starlit Wood (ed. Navah Wolfe and Dominik Parisien, Saga, 2016).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Amal El-Mohtar interweaves two tales of disempowered women, one forced to perpetually walk to save an abusive husband, and one forced to remain perpetually still to avoid being placed under the power of men. Both are trapped -one in movement and one in stillness. In most fairy tales, both are situated as women in distress and need.

“Seasons of Glass and Iron” is a tale exploring the way that men attempt to control women through stories, rhetoric, and actions and the way that women can liberate themselves through collective action, and by creating their own narratives. El-Mohtar brings two disempowered fairy tale heroines together in her “Seasons of Glass and Iron” to illustrate that women are not passive objects to be moved around a man’s chess board, but rather are figures who can shift and change each other, providing support and encouragement to discard the disempowering texts surrounding them. 

Tabitha, doomed to perpetually walk in iron shoes, and Amira, doomed to a life of frozen near-death at the top of a mountain have to learn to loosen each other’s bounds, unlatching iron shoes and discarding glass mountains in order to find themselves and change the stories that have been written around them to bind them. It is a release from the spell of patriarchy – one that is presented, all too often, as unbreakable. 

“Seasons of Glass and Iron” is a tale of change and self-liberation where women come to recognize their own magic. Frequently women in fairy tales do magical things, but are not considered magical in comparison to other characters. El-Mohtar centralizes women’s magic. 

To discover more about Amal El-Mohtar, visit her website at

To find out more about The Starlit Wood, visit

Stigma is Sticky

Stigma is StickyA review of Nalo Hopkinson’s The Chaos (Margaret McElderry Books, 2012)

By Derek Newman-Stille

As she frequently does, Nalo Hopkinson uses her novel The Chaos to disrupt hegemonic ideas of normalcy, questioning what is ‘normal’ and using the supernatural and magical to point out the way that the norms we create are equally strange. The Chaos takes elements of fantasy, magical realism, and Lovecraftian weird fiction and blends them with a surreal sense of a world where anything can happen. 

When a volcano suddenly appears out of Lake Ontario, the world becomes populated with creatures of myth and magic that disrupt the categories we use to impose a sense of order on our world – the rolling calf, tar babies, fish who swim upstream through lava, Horseless Head Men, and an archaeopteryx that may also be a phoenix. Story and place intermix in a way that illustrates the way that we already impose stories on our landscape to limit it. Hopkinson illustrates that we are always in a world of stories and that we create our own stories to understand ourselves and others. 

The Chaos presents a world where the thoughts and stories we tell ourselves enter into our world, shaping us physically like they do mentally and socially. When people in Hopkinson’s world are able to see the mythic, it changes their relationships to each other, and their relationship to themselves. The Chaos is as much about identity as it is about magic. The altered space of the Toronto landscape disrupts a sense of ‘home’, allowing characters to question their notions of belonging and how they fit into their world and communities.

The name of Hopkinson’s protagonist, Sojourner, literally ‘a stranger in a strange land’ highlights the sense of powerful estrangement that shapes her tale. She is a teen who has experienced stigma all of her life, being bullied and slut-shamed as a younger teen, and being perceived as constantly other than she is – seen as too white to fit in with black peers and too black to fit in with white peers. She has created her group of outsiders that have created their own brand of belonging. Yet, her body is under change as a sticky, black tar like substance begins spreading across her skin, changing her and her relationship to her body. She is becoming different and uncertain to herself, and yet her uncertainty about herself may serve to give her further self knowledge about the stories she uses to narrate her own life.

Hopkinson illustrates the way that change is resisted by those in hegemonic power as mobs of people begin targeting people with disabilities, those who are non-white, and those who identify as queer, seeing them as part of the “chaotic changes” happening in their world. In particular, she examines the role of police causing more damage in their attempts to control the change they see happening around them. Hopkinson points out the way that ableism, homophobia, and racism show themselves more blatantly when “normalcy” is disrupted. When bodies and minds are disrupted.

In The Chaos, the boundaries of categories that seek to separate things are broken down and the world’s complexities cease to be able to be ignored as individual perceptions because they have become physical. Hopkinson’s surrealist word painting of the world, despite its strangeness, only serves to underscore the strangeness of normalcy. Reading this tale allows us all to become Sojourners as we return to our own strange world, questioning it.
To discover more about The Chaos, visit 

To find out more about the work of Nalo Hopkinson, visit

Growing Some Backbone

Growing Some BackboneA review of Marie Bilodeau’s “Hellmaw: Eye of Glass.” (The Ed Greenwood Group Inc., 2016)

By Derek Newman-Stille

There’s nothing quite so monstrous as finding a detached human head and spine in a back alley. Only something truly monstrous could do that kind of harm to a human being… but what if the detached head and spine ARE the monster and the victim at the same time? What if it has wriggled out of another world into a complicated interaction between humans and daemons?

Marie Bilodeau’s “Hellmaw: Eye of Glass” is a mixture of mystery, urban fantasy, and a taste of horror. Evoking dismemberment, Bilodeau complicates ideas of body horror by creating a sympathetic dismembered body in a complicated relationship with the world of “whole” bodies around her and the relationships they represent to each other and to her understanding of the world. However, Jaeda doesn’t think of herself as an incomplete body. She recognizes that there is a wholeness in bodies even when they don’t conform to a society’s expectations of “normalcy” and “wholeness”. 

Jaeda is the centre of a series of mysteries – those of the conspiracy theorists who have created an online chat forum about unusual circumstances, the police detective who is trying to discover what happened to the head and spine that went missing from the morgue… but most of all, she is a mystery to herself. Awakened without existing memories of her home world or her life before becoming a head and spine, Jaeda is uncertain about herself and how she relates to the people and cultures around her, but she is driven by a fundamental curiosity and this curiosity, that sense of wonder about everything around her, allows her to develop friendships across species because every experience is new to her.

“Hellmaw: Eye of Glass” is a clash of species and diverse bodies that leaves everyone uncertain and fundamentally changed. This is not a body horror story, this is a story of bodily wonder and mystery.

To discover more about the work of Marie Bilodeau, visit her website at

To find out more about the Hellmaw series, visit or

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 70: An Interview of Derek Kunsken

On this episode of Speculating Canada, I interview Science Fiction and Space Opera author Derek Kunsken. Today we discuss fandom, fan conventions, the power of short fiction, science, and the power of space opera. We discuss the use of biological sciences in particular in science fiction writing to explore the figure of the alien and the power to imagine other ecosystems. Derek mentions that he grew up in a small town, constantly imagining what could be out there in the universe to imagine, speculating how life would exist on other planets. His science fiction stories start with questions that he views as challenges that he can imagine solutions to by creating new worlds and new life forms. He observes that he is motivated by a sense of wonder. 

Tune in to hear about the strange new lifeforms he imagines by thinking about the questions of cellular development. 

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.