A Plague of Immortality

A review of Matt Moore’s “Innocence Prolonged, and Overcome” in Lazarus Risen (Bundoran, 2016)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Contagion narratives have been increasingly popular in our fiction, exploring the human fear of the microorganism, a tiny predator that can consume us without being seen. However, what happens when a virus gives us what we think we want? We are also a society who fears ageing, so what if a virus can end ageing? 

In Matt Moore’s “Innocence Prolonged, and Overcome”, a contagion named the Grail Virus has spread,, killing the vast majority of people that come into contact with it, but granting immortality to a select few people. Because the virus is deadly to most people, this select group of immortals, frozen at the age of infection, have been cut off from the rest of society, quarantined in a small town. 

Moore explores the image that is often projected onto small towns – a timeless space where nothing changes – by introducing a town that is literally frozen in time, unageing… and yet this town is not one that is quant or traditional – this is a town that has systemic violence and a space where people fight against the isolation and agelessness that is often viewed by urban people as the idealized space of the small town. 

Moore’s tale examines the discomfort that comes with agelessness, and the reminder that small towns are places of memory where people can carry on feuds for generations… and in this town, where no one ages, no one needs to rely on stories about slights of family members – these townsfolk remember every slight that has happened to them because they have lived through it all. 

Moore uses the subject of immortality to explore ideas of change and to examine whether people are actually capable of change, interrogating that idea that an “old dog can’t learn new tricks” by giving them an eternity to try to learn new tricks. Moore invites the question of whether people are stuck unchanging because society casts them in that role, always assuming that they are the same person who everyone remembers them being. He asks whether it is possible for people to change if no one will let them and everyone refuses to remember them any other way.

To discover more about Matt Moore’s work, visit https://mattmoorewrites.com/

To find out more about Lazarus Risen, visit Bundoran Press at http://www.bundoranpress.com/product/1/Lazarus-Risen 

Mecha-care

A review of Fiona Moore’s “Seal” in Lazarus Risen (Bundoran Press, 2016)
By Derek Newman-Stille


Over the past few years, there has been a rising interest in robotic assistance for Long Term Care homes for aged populations. One of the technologies that has been developed is a robotic seal (called Paro) that emulates life and serves as a companion for aged people. Fiona Moore explores this trend through her science fictional story “Seal”, which examines the interactions between an ageing programmer, her daughter, and a robotic companion seal. Viv has consistently disparaged technologies developed for ageing populations and believed that the only valuable scientific pursuits were in space travel, but she now lives in a Long Term Care home and is experiencing that technology directly.

Moore points out issues with Long Term Care homes, bringing attention to the imbalance in resources and the allocation of resources to wealthier people in the home. She highlights the costs associated with care and the resultant inaccessibility of resources for people who are not wealthy. But, most importantly, she examines ideas of surveillance and the lack of privacy in the LTC home as Viv is constantly monitored and all of her habits and behaviours noted by the nursing staff.

Moore highlights issues of family involvement in the LTC home by bringing attention to elder abuse and the potential for family members to take resources away from those in the home.

“Seal” is a collision of technology and the imagination of what constitutes long term care, questioning practices that are taken for granted as normal aspects of care. 
To discover more about Lazarus Risen, visit the Bundoran Press website at http://www.bundoranpress.com/product/1/Lazarus-Risen

Small Town Ontario Bodies

A review of Jeff Lemire’s Essex County (Top Shelf Productions, 2009)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Jeff Lemire’s Essex County provides a fascinating look into small town Ontario life. Rather than just fixating on the lives of the young in this coming-of-age narrative, Lemire explores the multiple times in our lives that we come-of-age and expresses the idea that we are constantly coming of age as we change and our social and bodily circumstances change. 
Lemire explores ideas of escape and settlement in small town Ontario life illustrating the way that home is something that constantly shifts and changes and is something that is made up as much of relationships to others and to traditions as it is about a physical space. Lemire complicates notions of home, portraying his characters as constantly trying to fit in but also feeling a sense of longing when they leave. 
Lemire’s exploration is about the people in Essex County, but it is also about their bodies since many of the characters become disabled at different points in the narrative, shifting their understandings of their own bodies and their bodily identities. As bodies change and shift, relationships are also altered and changed, pointing out the ways that our bodies are complicit in our understanding of our world. 
The graphic novel format of Essex County brings attention to the ways that bodies occupy spaces and the absence that they leave in the spaces they cease to occupy. 
To discover more about Essex County visit Top Shelf Productions at http://www.topshelfcomix.com/catalog/essex-county/640

To find out more about Jeff Lemire, visit his website at http://jefflemire.blogspot.ca/ 

Ageing “Usefully”

A Review of Teri Babcock’s “Prometheus on the Operating Table” in Lazarus Risen (Bundoran Press, 2016)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Frequently, the discourse around ageing is that elderly people are no longer useful in our society. Teri Babcock’s “Prometheus on the Operating Table” complicates these ideas of “usefulness” around ageing by creating an aged character who is the most useful person on the planet, indeed the story opens with “Old as I am, Im useful still, so they keep me alive”. After a viral outbreak damages the livers of Earth’s inhabitants, a 120 year old man discovers that he is the only person with immunity and his liver is repeatedly cut into smaller pieces to be disributed amongst the remaining population. 
The discourse of usefulness shapes his care and he receives extra care because of his perceived importance, pointing out that frequently care is constructed as something that should only be available to the few people who society deems are useful. Yet, his care is also related to constant monitoring and control. He lives out his extended life in a coffin-like pod with a zipper attached to his body for easy access to his liver. Quality of life isn’t a concern for his care-givers and instead they focus on providing him with bodily necessities which reflect their own necessities for the use of his body.
While in “care”, his body is treated as a useable commodity, controlled and without options, and simultaneously treated as a resource to be exploited both for his liver and also for his other bodily fluids since his sperm is also taken and used to impregnate people without his consent. 
Yet, Babcock brings attention to the way that care of aged people need to take into account psychological and social needs, portraying a decline in health coming from depression.
Babcock brings critical attention to the treatment of aged bodies and perceptions about identity and critical needs by portraying a future in which an aged body is constructed as extremely useful, resisting the social portrayal of ageing as a decline in use.
To discover more about Lazarus Risen, visit the Bundoran Press website at http://www.bundoranpress.com/product/1/Lazarus-Risen

A Wilde Ride Through Time

A Review of Sean McMullen’s “The Life and Soul of the Party” in Lazarus Risen (Bundoran Press, 2016)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Sean McMullen’s steampunk tale “The Life and Soul of the Party” imagines a world where the dead can be brought back to life through the use of atomata, letting their spirits inhabit the bodies of machines. McMullen plays with that classic philosophical question – who deserves immortality. 
“The Life and Soul of the Party” focusses on two spirits brought back from the grave – Oscar Wilde and the Lady Avondale, two people whose lives were shaped by social censoring and gossip. These are two people whose lives have been challenged and changed by their peers ultimately are given the experience of separation from the human experience of death. 

McMullen explores why Wilde and Avondale would be chosen for immortality, examining questions of science and what it means to be human while also reflecting on the potential losses to humanity that occur with extreme age in a non-human body. 

To discover more about Lazarus Risen, visit Bundoran Press’ website at http://www.bundoranpress.com/product/1/Lazarus-Risen

Split Apart for New Perspectives

A review of Brent Nichols’ “Inquisitor” in Lazarus Risen (Bundoran Press, 2016)

By Derek Newman-Stille

lazarus-risen

In “Inquisitor”, Brent Nichols creates a future in which people can send copies of themselves to new planets, allowing one copy to begin life on a new planet while the original lives out their life on the first. Each copy lives their life out at a different rate, allowing each to have different perspectives and each to gain wisdom from their experiences.

 

An Inquisitor for a fascist empire called The Regime that used political and religious control on the population, has spent his life chasing after a rebel leader, chasing him from planet to planet with a focused obsession. Yet, in his travels, he has discovered that the Regime he is fighting for had been overthrown a decade ago while he was still pursuing his quarry.

 

The Inquisitor has to rely on the wisdom of his other selves, who have lived out longer parts of their lives on other planets and discovered more about the horrors undertaken by the Regime and more about the live of his quarry in order to gain experience of the world to see it in a new light and question his single-minded obsession.

 

Brent Nichols gives readers a critique of moral absolutism and obsession and an awareness that perspective is shaped by our own time period and the things that we believe are truths may not survive the passage of time.

To discover more about Lazarus Risen, visit Bundoran Press’ website at http://www.bundoranpress.com/product/1/Lazarus-Risen

 

To find out more about Brent Nichols, visit his website at http://www.steampunch.com/about.html

 

Psychiatric Survivor Superhero

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

By Derek Newman-Stille

lemire-moon-knight

 

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/