WONDERful

Wonderful

A review of Cait Gordon’s A Night at The Rabbit Hole in Alice Unbound: Beyond Wonderland edited by Colleen Anderson (Exile, 2018)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Alice in Wonderland is a story that plays with identity, disrupting the power that normativity has on our society. Cait Gordon has tapped into that power that Wonderland has to resist normativity and creates a GenderQueer Alice who has just come out and taken on their new name and pronouns. It is refreshing to read a story featuring a GenderQueer character that is not about the struggles of occupying their identity. In A Night at The Rabbit Hole, Alice is instantly accepted for their gender and people don’t slip up and refer to them as anything other than “them” after one quick correction.

Gordon uses the Alice in Wonderland text for its power to disrupt power structures that erase identity possibilities and instead writes a story filled with potential and possibility.

A Night at the Rabbit Hole is a tale about a meeting in a dance club where Alice is given a pill that transforms their perspective and gives them an expanded view of the world around them, allowing them to see through human disguises to the creatures beneath. Gordon plays with the question of what could alter someone’s perspective like the “drink me” potion and mushroom that Alice takes in Carroll’s story and ultimately comes up with the connection to club drugs. After Alice took their pill (here called a “tart”), I have to admit that the Jefferson Airplane song White Rabbit was running through my head as Alice’s perspectives were warped, and I think that Gordon intended to plant this trippy tune in the minds of her readers.

Cait Gordon’s characteristic playfulness comes through in this tale of altered reality and questioned norms and she invites readers to chuckle at clever witticisms at the same time as they speculate about possibilities beyond the simple world that they live in. This is a story that empowers at the same time as it entertains

To discover more about Alice Unbound, go to http://www.exileeditions.com/shop/alice-unbound-beyond-wonderland/

To find out more about Cait Gordon, visit her website at https://caitgordon.com

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A War Across the Glass

A War Across The Glass

A review of Patrick Bollivar’s “Operation: Looking Glass” in Alice Unbound: Beyond Wonderland Edited by Colleen Anderson (Exile 2018)

By Derek Newman-Stille

It turns out Wonderland isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Patrick Bollivar’s “Operation: Looking Glass” explores a group of people who are in a battle with Wonderland to get their sister back. The Wonderland that Bollivar envisions is one that is at war with the human world and at war with itself. It is suffused with an aether, an air that transforms people and animals who cross through the looking glass into this strange world.

Bollivar imagines the potential for Wonderland to have a contagious effect but unites this contagious transformation with a specific location – Wonderland. The contagious effect varies, but it changes people’s personalities and ideologies and it changes animals into hybridized figures with human and animal characteristics. This Wonderland has been at war with itself, conflicted both in terms of its inherent contradictions but also literally engaged in battle.

Bollivar creates a steampunkesque diving story, but this particular group of adventurers are diving into another world… though one that they need as much protection from as they would at the bottom of the ocean.

Like many of the authors in Alice Unbound, Bollivar unites aspects of Lewis Carroll’s life with the world that he created when he wrote Wonderland, and this particular tale involves the Liddell children, who served as inspirations for Carroll’s writing. The characters in Bollivar’s tale call Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland a propagandist text, ignoring the real horrors of Wonderland.

This is a highly exciting steampunk story that provides a contrast between the rational world and the world of dangerous whimsy that lay on the other side of a simple sheet of glass.

To find out more about Alice Unbound, visit Exile’s website at http://www.exileeditions.com/shop/alice-unbound-beyond-wonderland/

O, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here!

O, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here!

A review of Kate Story’s This Insubstantial Pageant (ChiZine Publications, 2017)

By Derek Newman-Stille

A fan of both Shakespeare and science fiction, Kate Story remaps the Bard’s play The Tempest onto the stars, exploring the otherworldly potential of the tale by placing it on another planet in a distant future. Frequently, Shakespearian adaptations situate the Bard’s tales in the past or in a slightly altered present, but Story imagines the potential for Shakespeare’s works to take to the stars, exploring the adaptability of his plays and their ability to speak to a fundamental human nature.

The Tempest is a tale set on an island and the stars represent a powerful space for imagining isolation and insularity. This Insubstantial Pageant is able to examine a fundamentally alien environment by setting the tale on a distant planet and therefore captures the sense of alienness that Shakespeare’s island narrative was able to do – exploring a space where there are different customs, different bodies, and experiences that challenge human centrality. Kate Story’s planet is one that is primarily filled with plant life and occupied by a group of sentient plants.

This Insubstantial Pageant reimagines the themes of Shakespeare’s play to explore modern issues that are linked to notions of futurity, shifting family and political alliances to corporate ones, exploring a world of corporate power. Instead of magic as the Pandora’s box that Prospero opens, Prosperina opens the doors of genetic experimentation, altering genomes and biologically changing the inhabitants of this distant planet so that they can interact with humanity. Rather than monsters being created through an otherworldly magic, in This Insubstantial Pageant, monsters are created through contamination by human genetic material, revealing that (unlike in Shakespeare’s story) it is not the Other that we should fear… but, rather, the human. We are the ones that contaminate. She expands on the alien quality of Caliban by transforming him into an actual alien Kaleeban… but his aggression, his ‘savageness’ is not through his lack of Western cultural influences as in Shakespeare’s tale, but rather it is because of his human elements, because he has been made to be more like us.

Kate Story disrupts some of the colonial qualities of Shakespeare’s tale by not creating a meeting of civilization and barbarity, but instead noting that humans carry both with them and observing the damage that our colonization can do. It is Prosperina’s genetic altering of the planet she occupies, an act done to reshape a world to fit her needs, that is ultimately her downfall.

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

To discover more about This Insubstantial Pageant, visit ChiZine Publications’ website at https://chizinepub.com/this-insubstantial-pageant/

Bordered by Change

Bordered by Change

A review of Shades Within Us edited by Lucas K Law and Susan Forest (Laksa Media Groups Inc, 2018)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Borders are complex spaces of change and uncertainty where identities are made and also complicated. Lucas Law and Susan Forest’s Shades Within Us: Tales of Migrations and Fractured Borders examines this complex space of border crossing, that ultimate liminality that invites questions about categories. The stories in this collection invite us to interrogate the ways that we divide up our world including, but not limited to geography. These tales ask how borders try to limit us and what it means to transcend those limitations, to question them, and to defy them.

These are tales of displacement, loss, and cultural assimilation, but they are also tales of coming together, of community formation beyond limits, and of speculating the new borders of the future. These tales explore the way that border-crossing can be a painful process, a process of losing person freedoms, having to navigate new ways of defining identity, and interrogating what ideas like “home” and “belonging” mean when we move.

In an era of globalization and yet also an era of increased border control and hegemonic control over who can and cannot come into a country, Shades Within Us is a timely collection that invites us to ask whether we still do (or still should) live in a space of national borders and national definitions of identity. It invites us to use our speculative imagination to think through new ways of understanding selfhood in relation to the borders, boxes, and categories that are placed around us.

As much as Shades Within Us is about the physical crossing of borders, it is more about the psychological borders that we cross, the way that we reconceptualize ourselves and imagine ourselves differently.

To discover more about Shades Within Us, visit http://laksamedia.com/shades-within-us-an-anthology-for-a-cause/

To read reviews of a few of the individual stories in this collection, see these posts:

Tonya Liburd’s Superfreak

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2018/02/10/abuse-and-ideas-of-home/

Kate Heartfield’s Gilber Tong’s Life List

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2018/02/09/eco-refugees/

Rich Larson’s Porque El Girasol se Llama El Girasol

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2018/02/06/border-walls-and-barriers/

Karin Lowachee’s Invasio

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2018/02/03/confusion/

Fitting In

Fitting In

A review of Lisi Harrison’s Monster High (Hachette Book Group, 2011)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Lisi Harrison’s Monster High is a series adapted from the doll brand by Mattel of the same name. Her novel adaptation, aimed at a teen rather than pre-teen audience as the dolls would suggest illustrates the adaptability of narratives around dolls and toys. Although Mattel is an American company, Harrison is Canadian. Harrison’s narrative takes a very different approach and storyline than Mattel’s other Monster High narratives such as the webbisodes and films of the same name. Yet, Harrison still explores some of the issues that are central to the rest of Mattel’s Monster High brand.

Rather than setting her story in a high school just for monsters as the Mattel brand does, Harrison sets her story in a high school predominantly filled with non-monster students. Monsters are a minority in this school and in the town surrounding it and have to pass as human to avoid discovery and discrimination by the much larger non-monster population. Harrison’s narrative follows Frankie Stein, the child of other Frankensteinian creations as she navigates a society with the optimism of someone who was only created 16 days before the novel begins. Frankie believes that humans are far more accepting and open than she discovers they actually are and when she attempts to go out in public without the makeup that makes her look human, she is met with discrimination for her green skin, stitches, and neck bolts.

Harrison provides a second narrator for her story, Melody, a girl whose parents reinforce certain notions of beauty through their role as plastic surgeons. In fact, Melody reluctantly had a nose job after her parents told her (falsely) that it would help her breathe better. Melody is worried that any friends she finds only like her because she now upholds the normative standards of beauty instead of looking different than the norm. She is drawn in to the world of monsters when her boyfriend turns out to be far different than what she expected.

Harrison uses the two characters, Frankie and Melody – the girl who is told to fit in because she is a monster and the girl who is worried that she only fits in because she is ‘normal’ – to explore difference in an environment that is the epitome of enforced normalcy – the high school. High schools are spaces where people are policed for any difference from norms and where most kids just want to fit in, and Harrison’s Monster High exaggerates that enforced fitting in by adding the ultimate outsiders – Monsters.

Harrison explores ideas of internalized isms by having Frankie constantly hide her heritage and bodily difference and instead to conform and try to blend in to her society. They force her to wear conservative clothing that allows her to blend into the background, to become unnoticed and become essentially invisible (though not as invisible as the school’s literal invisible boy Billy).

Despite her attempts to conform, the school and surrounding town of Salem still has an intense fear of outsiders and even has school drills for “what to do in case there is a monster sighting” with its own special alarm system.

Harrison’s Monster High is a tale of conformity, challenging expectations, and finding one’s place with friends who support diversity

To find out more about Lisi Harrison, visit https://lisiharrison.com

To discover more about Monster High, go to https://www.hachettebookgroup.com/titles/lisi-harrison/monster-high/9780316176217/

Story Gestation

Story Gestation

A review of “Where Roots and Rivers Run as Veins” in Those Who Make Us: Canadian Creature, Myth, and Monster Stories edited by Kelsi Morris and Kaitlin Tremblay (Exile, 2016).

By Derek Newman-Stille

It is an incredible experience to view a story at its gestation, to be able to watch as the seeds of inspiration take root in an author’s mind. I had that opportunity when my friend Dominik Parisien visited me in Peterborough and our meanderings through the city’s woods and drumlines inspired Dominik with a story about the landscape and the relationship between people and their environment.

I watched as Peterborough’s greenery inspired new ideas, led Dominik though some of the city’s history and saw resonance with ideas that were rooted in his own understanding of the world and in the stories that he needed to tell. Peterborough became fascinating through the eyes of another author, awakened from the banality that I had projected onto my home, the casual boredom that allowed me to ignore the wondrous potential of the landscape.

It is fascinating how new perspectives can arise by seeing something mundane through the eyes of another, by seeing a landscape be awakened with new stories since the old ones had become so much background noise for me.

Dominik Parisien wrote the epistolary story “Where Roots and Rivers Run as Veins” after our meanderings around Peterborough, and as much as it is a conversation between two women during the time of Catharine Parr Traill, this tale is also about Parisien’s own conversation with a landscape that was new to him, a reminder that we always speak with our landscapes and they always speak back. “Where Roots and Rivers Run as Veins” is a tale of people becoming part of the landscape, of an infection of leaves and bark and twigs where people become tress, growing roots into a landscape already rooted with history. It is a whispering of landscape to settlers and the need of a place not to be erased.

“Where Roots and Rivers Run as Veins” is a story of awakening and transformation, a tale of the power of words to open up new understandings and new ways of communing with the landscape. It is a tale of renewal and of a landscape that won’t surrender itself to human greed or ownership.

It is also a meta story that is as much about Parisien’s own conversation with the landscape of Peterborough – a sense of wonder arisen from a landscape that still needs to speak – as it is an epistolary conversation between two women who are new arrivals to the area.

To find out more about Those Who Make Us, visit http://www.exileeditions.com/shop/those-who-make-us-the-exile-book-of-anthology-series-number-thirteen/.

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

Abuse and Ideas of Home

Abuse and Ideas of Home

A review of Tonya Liburd’s “Superfreak” in Shades Within Us: Tales of Migrations and Fractured Borders Edited by Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law (Laksa Media Group, 2018).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Tonya Liburd’s “Superfreak” is an intensely powerful and intensely painful tale that examines ideas of safety, security, and home. I should start my review by adding a trigger warning that “Superfreak” contains discussions of sexual assault and abuse as does this review.

In a world where people develop Gifts as they age, Danielle is a character who hasn’t developed a gift. She is told that this makes her part of a vulnerable population and she is also teased by other youth about her lack of Gifts. Despite this, when Danielle is called “Superfreak” by other young people, she decides to take on the name, to use the language that was meant to disempower her to instead give her strength. The name allows her to fight back against some of the horrors that she has seen in her life.

Danielle moved from the Caribbean to Canada to escape an uncle who was sexually assaulting her, only to be sexually assaulted by the uncle she was living with in Canada as well. She is able to escape and get to a youth shelter where she is able to start developing a sense of community.

Shades Within Us is a collection of tales about migration and border crossing, and while Liburd does deal with a literal crossing of a border into Canada, her story is more about the philosophical and emotional ideas of “Home”. Liburd explores the unsettled feeling of people in situations of abuse, the total inability to find a sense of safety and security in the notion of “Home” that non-abused people feel. Danielle is a character who is seeking some sort of sense of being free of threat, and Liburd uses the character to explore the idea that a notion of “Home” always takes time for abused people. It is not something that can be secured by a certain place – by four walls. It is something that is constantly being negotiated, something that is constantly sought after and constantly disrupted by past trauma. Liburd examines the complexities of home that non-abused people ignore and highlights the conflicted nature of homes.

“Superfreak” is a story that cuts to the quick, but it also reveals a great deal about the sort of lasting pain that comes from abuse and trauma.

To discover more about Shades Within Us, visit http://laksamedia.com/shades-within-us-an-anthology-for-a-cause/

To find out more about Tonya Liburd, visit https://thespiderlilly.wordpress.com