A Call for Research

A review of Holly Schofield’s “Weight of the World” in Cli Fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Change (Exile Editions, 2017)

By Derek Newman-Stille

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Holly Schofield’s “Weight of the World” explores the role of science in humanity’s engagement with our ecology. Schofield brings attention to the way that capitalism is constantly placed ahead of ecological research, pointing out that we endanger the planet further by devoting government resources to areas that we think will be more profitable and provide short term benefits rather than long term research that could develop solutions to ecological problems.

 

Schofield’s tale centres on a scientist named Gurpreet who keeps getting shuffled from department to department while she tries to create solutions for humanity’s current eco crisis and food security issues. Changes in the gulf stream have meant that Canada has become a frozen wasteland where growing seasons are uncertain and always incredibly short. Gurpreet has to deal with misogyny from her male coworkers as well as corruption in funding models that takes money away from viable food production and funnels it into popular, but under-researched methods of producing food, even though these methods will likely have longer term ecological repercussions.

 

Schofield’s tale is timed at a critical moment when we see a conflict between scientists in the United States and a government that doesn’t want to change its ecological policies. Her tale is a reminder to all of us that we need to invest in long term scientific research and stop having stop-gap methods that cause further ecological danger.

 

To find out more about Holly Schofield, visit https://hollyschofield.wordpress.com/

To discover more about Cli Fi and other Exile books, visit http://www.exileeditions.com/

 

Water is Magic

A review of Nina Munteanu’s “The Way of Water” in Cli Fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Fiction (Exile Editions, 2017)

By Derek Newman-Stille

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In “The Way of Water”, Nina Munteanu pens her love letter to water, exulting it as a liquid that has semi-magical properties. Munteanu recognizes the chimerical quality of water, its unique ability to shift and change, to purify and taint, and the incredible way that it makes up most of our body mass and therefore shapes us as well.

A limnologist (lake ecosystem biologist) by trade, Munteanu recognizes the incredible way that water shapes life and brings attention to the fact that water connects us to each other just as water connects with other water, forming bonds. She evokes in the reader a sense of reverence for water and an awareness that the same water that flows through our bodies have flowed through the bodies of our ancestors, cycling through life since the first life forms coalesced.

In recognizing the preciousness of water, she also recognizes its precarity and the danger that capitalist systems pose when they lay claim to water and seek to own it. “The Way of Water” evokes a sense of awareness about issues of access to water and about the dangers of imbalances in that access.

You can discover more about Nina Munteanu’s work at http://www.ninamunteanu.ca/

To find out more about Cli Fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Fiction, visit Exile’s website at http://www.exileeditions.com/

Persistence of Memory

A Review of M.G. Vassanji’s Nostalgia (Anchor Canada, 2016)

By Derek Newman-Stille

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Memory is powerful and it can be fleeting, but M.G. Vassanji’s Nostalgia is a tale of memory’s ability to persist. Vassanji writes a near future fiction story in which immortality has been achieved, but in this future, everyone who undergoes rejuvination (the age reversal process) simultaneously has the memories of their past life erased for the new life as a younger person. But, memories are hard to erase and occasionally these memories resurface. These memories are pathologized in this world and are considered a medical disease colloquially called “nostalgia”. Vassanji creates a world that fears its past, that tries for an eternal present.

 

Vassanji invites us into the political questions raised by technology. He invites us to explore what would happen in a world that had a “cure” for ageing. Rejuvenation creates a series of social divides: between the aged and the young, the rich and the poor, and between medical ideas and religious. The young feel as though they are not able to make their place in the world because of the proliferance of older people being returned to youth. They engage in protests with slogans like “Let them go! The Earth for the Young! Let the Fogeys Die!”, viewing the aged as getting in the way of young people. Only the most wealthy can afford rejuvenation and those who undergo it keep generating further wealth, creating a greater wealth disparity bet the rich and the poor. The poor are often also the disenfranchised young, who are unable to get jobs in a world where all of the best positions are already occupied. They perceive of the older generation as needing to make way for the new generations. Yet the young are not the only ones to feel detached from their lives. Many of the ‘rejuvies’ feel a sense of disconnect in their lives, a sense of detachment and not fitting in.

 

Memory in Nostalgia is shaped by medical discourse, constructed as a danger to people’s current identities, which are authored by medical doctors who give people a new background for their new lives after rejuvenation, lives changed from the ones they are seeking to forget. The lives of the rejuvies are authored, constructed, and artificial, a veneer over a personality that has been suppressed to create the new rejuvenated self. These past lives are a threat in this medical discourse, dangerously causing a collision of personalities in the rejuvenated person. They call it “Leaked Memory Syndrome” (LMS). Yet, religious systems also engage with ideas of past lives, and religious groups have perspectives on what happens after death. They protest the damage being done spiritually through the proliferation of rejuvenated people.

 

Vassanji brings critical attention to these clashes between groups by putting us into the perspective of a doctor who deals with constructing identities for people undergoing rejuvenation, with a specialty in treating case of LMS or nostalgia, Dr. Frank Sina. Sina’s beliefs are deeply embedded in him, making him a firm believer in the mastry afforded by science, an almost zealous believer in the power of the medicine to cure the world’s ills. But even Sina’s beliefs can be challenged and they shift when he meets a man, Presley Smith, whose LMD memories seem to resonate with him and lead to his obsession with this man’s past.

 

This is a world divided not just by rejuvenation, but also by other political systems, where the wealthy parts of the world are walled off from the poorer parts of the world. This is a world where the memory constructing ability of rejuvination provides the perfect systems of assimilation for those from other countries, rewriting people’s pasts – their politics, their ideologies, and their belief systems to turn them into ‘perfect citizens’. Vissanji writes a narrative of totalitarian power and the power of memory in a political system for preventing erasure.

 

To discover more about Nostalgia, visit http://penguinrandomhouse.ca/books/183221/nostalgia#9780385667173

To discover more about the works of M.G. Vassanji, visit http://www.mgvassanji.com/

Geek Girl Magic

A Review of Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang’s In Real Life (First Second, 2014)

By Derek Newman-Stille

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Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang’s In Real Life explores the complexity of geek girl life. Focusing on Anda, a high school student who finally finds her place in the MMORPG game Coursegold Online, Doctorow and Wang examine the flexibility of identities in an MMORPG-enabled world. Anda is a young woman who is able to explore her identity and knowledge of herself and her world through her online identity, creating an online persona that she sees as full of potential to go where her physical form can not. Over time, Anda starts to modify her own looks to reflect her online avatar more, exploring the critical question of what is “real” and whether there can be a “real” any more.

 

In Real Life explores aspects of MMORPGS like the uncritical racism involved in gamers assuming that anyone who is a non-English speaker is a ‘gold farmer’ (those who level up characters and then sell them to gamers for real money) and therefore not a “real” gamer. Anda has to confront her own racism about those believed to be gold farmers and has to deal with online bullying as a result. Anda discovers the power of the online world for developing community, but she also discovers the potential of online communities for developing factions and fracturing groups of people.

 

In Real Life is a graphic novel that questions ideas of reality and points out that we create our realities out of the texts we have been given – whether these are online fora or whether they are social assumptions that have been provided to us as texts for interpreting our world. Doctorow and Wang illustrate that reality is a fluid concept and one that is constantly being reshaped and changed as new understandings and ways of interpreting the world become available. They point out the reality-questioning potential of online gaming.

 

To discover more about In Real Life, visit http://www.firstsecondbooks.com/

Psychiatric Survivor Superhero

A review of Jeff Lemire’s Moon Knight Vol 1: Lunatic (Marvel, 2016)

By Derek Newman-Stille

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Writing about mental illness tends to be challenging and most authors tend to reify disempowering tropes of mental illness, projecting people with psychiatric disabilities as villainous, problematic, dangerous, and incompetent. Jeff Lemire’s 2016 rewrite of Moon Knight challenges some of the assumptions about mental illness. Although still unclear about which psychiatric disability Moon Knight has, Lemire explores the idea of Moon Knight as a character with mental illnesses (which was first established by Alan Zelenetz and Chris Warner’s mini-series about the character). Whereas Zelenetz and Warner described him as schizophrenic because of his multiple identities (which is actually more characteristic of dissociative identity disorder), Lemire avoids specifically mentioning what the superhero’s mental illness is and complicates the idea that he is mentally ill.

 

First set in a psychiatric institution, Lemire’s Moon Knight encounters a fractured reality where the psychiatric institution may actually be a prison construct by Egyptian gods. Moon Knight experiences a multiplicity of possible realities and Lemire resists telling the audience whether his realities are actual visions of real worlds or whether they are manifestations of his own delusions.

 

This trope of “is it a manifestation of mental illness or is this person seeing the reality that is hidden” has been played with in numerous science fiction media (including the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “Normal Again” and the Star Trek the Next Generation episode “Frame of Mind”), asking the reader to question the nature of reality. This trope in Sci Fi normally portrays the asylum as a space for the mental breakdown of the character, encompassing the idea that asylums are places of escape from reality.

 

Lemire questions and criticizes the construction of the asylum as an institution, illustrating the horrors of life in an asylum and portraying the asylum as a form of prison. Lemire’s characters want to escape from the asylum, to find new possibilities in the world outside, but Moon Knight is constantly questioning and critiquing his reality and the world around him, inviting critical questions about the nature of the mind and the nature of psychiatric institutions. Lemire doesn’t provide answers about which of Moon Knight’s realities is authentic, but instead invites the reader to look at the world through multiple lenses, with multiple different possible realities. Moon Knight even shapes his own mask from a straight jacket that is draped over his face with a moon drawn onto it, and when he wears this mask, he experiences a second vision of the world, which he believes to be true.

 

Lemire’s exploration of multiplicity in the world is augmented by Greg Smallwood’s art, which frequently plays with multiple different visions of the world overlapping. Smallwood brings attention to the character’s vision by constantly focusing on the expression in his eyes, devoting several panels to the expressions that Moon Knight projects through his eyes. This is a comic that is focused on vision and multiple ways of seeing the world, transforming the world into a shifting, changeable plane.

 

To discover more about Jeff Lemire, visit http://jefflemire.blogspot.ca/

 

 

 

Detective Drama with Bite

A review of Melissa Yi’s Wolf Ice (Olo Books, 2015).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Every crime scene is unique and every investigation of a crime scene has its challenges, but those challenges are magnified when the victim is a werewolf and she disappears under suspicious circumstances around other werewolves. When Elena dies, everyone is uncertain how to proceed. Human police can’t be involved, and all of the werewolves present have to rely on their various skills – medical, tracking, and hunting instincts to explore the multiple levels of secrets and suspicions surrounding this death. The werewolves are motivated by their caring for the victim and by their need to find safe territory to create an environment where they can be themselves. Yet the murder complicates their sense of belonging, their ideas about themselves, and their relat8onship to the human world. 

Yi complicates the relationship between the werewolves by exploring the power of physical urges and unwanted attractions that both complicate the lives of those investigating the murder because of their awkward sexual tensions toward each other and add multiplicities to the motivations for the murder as well, because all too often, murders are related to sexual tensions.

Melissa Yi’s Wolf Ice puts a new spin on the current fascination with CSI shows by inviting us into a hair-raising adventure.

You can discover more about Melissa Yi (Melissa Yuan-Innes) on her website at http://www.melissayauninnes.com 

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 71: An Interview of Regina Hansen

On this episode of Speculating Canada, I interview the brilliant Regina Hansen to talk about the interrelationship between academia and speculative writing, on the ideas of haunting, and on notions of place and identity. 

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.