Power Dynamics

Power Dynamics

A review of James Alan Gardner’s All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault (Tor, 2017)

By Derek Newman-Stille

In All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault, James Alan Gardner creates a world of heroes and monsters to explore ideas of identity. In this world, the wealthy have bought the magical ability to become Darklings through a pact with otherworldly entities. They have become vampires, demons, ghosts, werewolves, and other things that haunt the magical imaginations. But, this world also touches on the heroic realm and therefore there are Sparks – beings that are created (at least to some degree) through “science” (or some semblance of it). Many of these Sparks become heroes, acquiring powers… but also acquiring the need for secret identities and costumes.

Superheroes are the perfect space to explore the fluidity of identity, especially since the idea of the costume and the secret identity are so intrinsic to the superhero mythos. In Gardner’s world, characters who gain powers need to take on a superhero identity and keep their ‘normal’ identity a secret as part of the complicated rules of the world. And when they use an superheroic name and wear a costume, they BECOME different, adopting new personality traits and radiating an aura of respectability. Yet, there are characters who are already accustomed to switches in identity like Kim Lam, who, in her search to find herself, has used multiple different names and personality characteristics. In fact, Kim refers to her previous identities as being dead like her identity as Kimmi, the goth girl who had a fascination with Darklings, her childhood name of Kimberly, or the name her father chose for her: Kimberlite (after the igneous rock). Kim is a genderqueer person (using she/her pronouns), existing in a nonbinary space, and Gardner is influenced in this idea of the death of identities by the Trans population and the use of the term “deadname”, referring to a previous identity that no longer reflects the person using it. Kim has had fluidity in her own identity, exploring different aspects of herself until she became Kim. Gardner makes a connection in his novel between gender fluidity and the superhero narrative, exploring the spaces of multiplicity of identity and the generative potential of this multiplicity. Identity and secret identity are interwoven in a way that allows for character complexity.

Transitions become an important factor in All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault not just because of Kim’s transition to a genderqueer identity, but also because this world is made up of transitions – the change from wealthy to Darkling (which is marked by a ritual) and the transformation into a Spark (which is marked by an origin story). Transformation is part of a living story in Gardner’s world, something invested with power. In fact, even the powers of the Sparks need to be narrated and characters need to create a story to explain their powers in order to increase the likelihood that the universe will grant them those powers. In this way, the author plays with the idea of stories within stories and the importance of tales for creating new possibilities.

In addition to exploring identity and fluidity, Gardner offers a critique of the logic of wealthy people, literally turning the rich into vampires. In fact, the wealthy still suggest that there is a “trickle down economy”, but instead of just buying businesses and claiming that hiring people will allow their wealth to trickle down, the Darklings use “trickle down” to refer to the money that they give to others when they take their blood. There is a literal feeding off of the labour and bodies of the poor by the wealthy in this world. Gardner uses literal consumption (of blood) to comment on capitalist consumption of resources. He borrows from right wing pundits who try to justify hoarding of wealth by the 1% when creating speeches by the wealthy who use rhetoric like “”We manage sources of prosperity to maximize their return” and “We bought our powers legitimately through a mutually beneficial, clearly defined argument”, and “I didn’t just fluke my way into undeserved privilege. I paid”.

Gardner uses speculative fiction in order to bring up critical questions, inviting readers to interrogate the status quo and think about the way that power and exclusion work in our society, while also illustrating to the reader that change is possible.

In addition to being a fun superhero versus monsters narrative, All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault is a social text, exploring possibilities through storytelling.

To find out more about James Alan Gardner, visit https://jamesalangardner.wordpress.com

To discover more about All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault, visit https://us.macmillan.com/books/9780765392657

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Queerly Ever After

Queerly Ever After

A review of Ricky Lima’s Happily Ever Aftr (Lime Press, 2018).

By Derek Newman-Stille

She grew up in a kingdom filled with toxic masculinity… perhaps that’s why she thought she could make a princess love her by kidnapping her.

Happily Ever Aftr explores the traditional fairy tale motif of a princess locked in a tower… but adds a twist. The princess is imprisoned by another princess. Princess Gretchen grew up in Castle Grimhold as part of a family line of kings who have kidnapped princesses to be their brides. So, what else was there for her to do but carry on the family tradition and kidnap a princess to be her bride. Once Gretchen reveals that her intention is to marry Princess Emily, her family takes issue not with the kidnapping, but with Gretchen’s desire to have a bride instead of a groom. Gretchen begins to learn ideas of consent from Emily and explores her own identity and its relationship to her role as the princess of Grimhold.

Ricky Lima uses the image of cell phone dating apps and texting to shape his tale of princesses in love (or captured by love), exploring ideas of princes who believe that they are entitled to women’s bodies and perceive princesses as objects and damsels in distress. With this use of dating apps as text, Lima makes a parallel between antiquated notions of masculinity and femininity and how these are played out on dating apps. Happily Ever Aftr uses a magical, fantasy setting to point out realities of how men objectify women on dating apps and the toxicity of “bro culture”.

Although Princess Emily keeps asking for suitors to rescue her, she is more than able to save herself through her own quick wit and tough attitude, but first goes through numerous suitors who are beheaded trying to rescue her. It is only when she encounters a prince who needs her to rescue him that she is able to finally express her own power.

Happily Ever Aftr calls into question the many “happily ever after”s offered by many traditional fairy tales that portray a passive princess being rescued by a prince and marrying in perpetual heterosexuality. Instead, the comic plays with assumptions about gender, assumptions about power, and assumptions about sexuality.

To discover more about Happily Ever Aftr, visit https://www.limepressonline.com/product/happily-ever-aftr