Beyond the Pale (Vampire)

A review of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Certain Dark Things (St. Martin’s Press, 2016).

By Derek Newman-Stille

One type of vampire story tend to flood the market – the sexy male vampire who is iridescently pale, wealthy, and feeds on women in an erotic embrace. Silvia Moreno-Garcia has again and again demonstrated her love for horror, but also her desire to shift the tired old narratives, dust off the layers of racism and sexism to find new narratives. Certain Dark Things is a revitalization of the vampire narrative, allowing it to kick off the detritus of the past to tell some new stories. 

Moreno-Garcia sets her story in Mexico City in contrast to the vast number of vampire narratives set in the United States or the United Kingdom. Her vampires are not the pale, white European figures of vampire romances, or, at least not all of them are. Her narrative focuses on Atl, a Tlahuihpochtli, an indigenous vampire of the Mexico region who can trace her lineage back to the Aztecs. Moreno-Garcia’s vampires have multiple different subsets, each with different characteristics and hailing from different geographies, and often the only thing they share in common is their hunger for blood. There are European vampires in her narrative, calling themselves Necros and fitting most of the characteristics of the vampires that generally populate the pages of paranormal romance novels, but these vampires are not sexy, otherworldly beings. They control human beings through their bite, which can turn human beings into slaves, without any will. 

Moreno-Garcia explores displacement narratives in her interactions between the Tlahuihpochtli and the Necros, exploring the way that the European Necros brought diseases with them when they came to Mexico and have been trying to push the Tlahuihpochtli out of their native landscapes. She makes connection between this displacement by Europeans and historical displacements of human indigenous populations by Europeans. The Necros brought pathogens with them that made the blood of many humans intolerable to the Tlahuihpochtli, and with the rise of a new disease Croneng’s disease, the government has decided to create sanitation groups whose goals seem to be as much about harassing the homeless population and institutionalizing people with disabilities as they are about dealing with the spread of a pathogen. 

Health is a huge part of Moreno-Garcia’s narrative. Uniting the vampire with ideas of health is powerful since the vampire is often a figure of excessive health, and yet, in most vampire narratives, vampirism spreads like a pathogen. In Certain Dark Things vampirism is an ethnicity, a genetic group and cannot be passed from one person to another, but that doesn’t eliminate the health narrative Moreno-Garcia explores. She examines the role of institutionalization and its impact on populations in poverty, exploring the way that health and wealth often go hand in hand. The bite of the Necros vampires, although not able to turn someone into a vampire, does take away all of their agency, turning them into a slave through a viral contagion in their saliva that will eventually kill the human host. All vampire species are hard to kill and long-lived, but one of the other vampire species is especially known for its interaction with health – the Revenant. The Revenant subspecies is exceptionally long-lived, and can feed on both blood and the life force of others. These Revenants seem to de-age when they are infused with enough life force, appearing younger, and in creating them, Moreno-Garcia plays with the traditional narrative of the person who gains eternal youth by becoming a vampire. These vampires always look somewhat disabled no matter how young they become, still having a hunched appearance, complicating ideas of the excessive ability of the vampire and the ableism that often comes along with this portrayal of the vampire. Many of the governments in the world of Certain Dark Things perceive of vampires as a plague even though they are a racial group, and this complicated relationship between ideas of health, illness and race bring attention to the way that in our own world there is often an assumption that illnesses come from outside, which affects travel, immigration, and often means that any pathogens that arise are eventually believed to come from other regions. 

Certain Dark Things doesn’t create a romantic story of wealth, but rather explores poverty. Her central human character, Domingo, is a street teen who has made his living collecting and purposing garbage. Domingo relishes his invisibility, the way people work to ignore him and pretend that he isn’t there because it is easier to do so than to admit that there are homeless young people. Yet, in pointing out the invisibility of homeless Youth, Moreno-Garcia brings it to the reader’s attention, reminding us of how hard we work to ignore social inequalities. This is a story of drug cartels, poverty, government and police abuses of power, and the monstrousness of corruption itself, which is a far more dangerous monster than Atl or her vampire cousins. But, she does use the figure of one Necros vampire, Nick, to point out the excesses of privilege that come with wealth and whiteness, having Nick frequently prioritize himself over anyone else, having him eat in excess, and showing the ease with which he exercises his power over women around him, particularly marginalized women. 

Certain Dark Things disrupts the Eurocentrism of vampire tales, providing an under-represented tale that needed to be told. 

To discover more about Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s work, visit her website at http://www.silviamoreno-garcia.com/blog/ 

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Insectile Intimacies

A review of Edward Willett’s “The Mother’s Keeper” in The Sum of Us by Susan Forest and Lucas Law (Laksa Media Group, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Edward Willett takes a different perspective than many of the authors in the collection “The Sum of Us”, a collection about caregiving, and, instead LITERALLY dehumanizes caregiving. Instead of focusing on caregiving among humans, Willett focuses on the idea of insectile care, specifically that of a sentient alien race that has insectile characteristics. 

Care is an important part of most colony insects that have a queen. In these colonies, various insects specialize in certain duties to ensure that the queen is able to continue reproducing and providing new members for the hive. These roles can be varied from protecting the hive from intruders, bringing food, removing waste, carrying larvae, cooling eggs, and maintaining the queen’s needs. 

Willett’s “The Mother’s Keeper” centres around the growth of a young member of a hive society named Praella, whose caring role changes as she ages, but centres around the care she needs to provide for the Mother (who takes on an insect queen role). The Mother of this hive has a body that extends throughout all parts of the colony, and is needed for all aspects of life in the colony. The only problem is that Praella is witnessing the end of the Mother’s long life, something that her hive is unprepared to deal with. The Mother is gradually rotting throughout the city and the hive begins to dissipate, but Praella maintains her adherence to the Mother, staying with her through all of her changes even though she does not speak to Praella. 

Although “The Mother’s Keeper” focusses on an insectile relationship, an adherence and total dependency on the hive queen and her total dependence on her children, Willett explores very human relationships, examining the way that our relationship to caregiving changes as we age, and the complexities involved in caring and, particularly, in being a sole caregiver. His narrative involves more than a civic duty to offer care, but, rather, a biological impulse, a fundamental NEED to offer care, which allows the reader to interrogate ideologies of caregiving in our society and contemplate what care could mean. 

To discover more about Edward Willett, visit http://edwardwillett.com/
To discover more about The Sum of Us, visit http://laksamedia.com/the-sum-of-us-an-anthology-for-a-cause-2/

Exposing the Caregiver within the Human Suit

A review of Sandra Kasturi’s “The Beautiful Gears of Dying” in The Sum of Us (Laksa Media group, 2017, edited by Lucas Law and Susan Forest).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Using second person, Sandra Kasturi positions the reader as a caregiver AI caring for an ageing woman in her story “The Beautiful Gears of Dying”. Kasturi explores the relationship between human beings and artificial intelligence (AI), which is significant since robotic assistants are currently being developed around the world with the idea that they may be able to help out in elder care. 

Rather than following what most authors exploring the relationship between human ageing and robots are doing, Kasturi examines ideas of intimacy and beauty between these two figures. Kastrui examines an ageing woman who is angry at the need to have a caregiver and hostile toward that caregiver, something that is normally not covered in tales about caregiving. She tells her caregiver that it can’t understand fundamental aspects of human experience and can only emulate ideas of beauty. 

Kasturi explores ideas of intimacy in caregiving, pointing out the relationship between trust, vulnerability and care when the unnamed elderly woman says to her robotic caregiver “You know my body better than any lover, better than any doctor, maybe better than my future embalmer”. There is something uncomfortably intimate about that statement, revealing to the reader that they will encounter this intimacy if they need a caregiver and will likely have to be exposed to someone who they don’t know. 

In order to reverse some of that vulnerable intimacy, the woman asks her caregiver to take off its artificial skin, to expose its mechanical realness under the human suit it is wearing. Yet, Kasturi illustrates that there is a comfort in that shared intimacy, a safety in seeing one’s caregiver revealed under all of the artificiality, even if all that is underneath the caregiver persona is wires and gears. 

To find out more about Sandra Kasturi, visit http://www.sandrakasturi.com

To discover more about The Sum of Us, visit http://laksamedia.com/the-sum-of-us-an-anthology-for-a-cause-2/

The Climate Around Eco-Fiction

A review of Cli Fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Change Edited by Bruce Meyer (Exile Editions, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Powerful and wealthy people are invested in the idea of constructing climate change as a fiction, projecting the idea that scientists are folk story tellers, inventing tales that don’t stem from observation. Constructing climate change as a fiction allows us to pretend that we don’t need to change anything about our behaviour, to believe that we can allow things to go on as they are without repercussions. Cli Fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Change uses the power of stories to shift the dialogue, to give us possible glimpses into futures that we are creating through our own inaction. Cli Fi like most speculative fiction, is ultimately about the present rather than the future climate issues it presents. This collection reveals the way that we centre human experiences while ignoring the rest of our world, the way that we ignore our problems in order to push them onto the future. As much as being a set of stories, Cli Fi is a call to change, a call to transform ourselves the way our fiction transforms our way of thinking about the world. 

The anthology begins with tales from the perspective of aged protagonists, something that is rare in a society that doesn’t value aged bodies, and yet, the collection prefaces these bodies, positioning them as ones that have witnessed long term changes, long term development. Youth frequently don’t see changes as shockingly because everything is new and because they don’t have years of observation to back their ideas upon. When they see a news report that says that we are experiencing record temperature highs or record temperature lows, they are comforted when the news refers to these temperatures being reached at another time this century. But, they may miss the fact that the last few years have been ones where more records are being established, and where these records are being met or exceeded more often and in closer proximity. Whereas aged people can make observations about the longue duree, making observations over a longer period of time.

I shouldn’t suggest that by having ageing bodies at the outset, that this anthology is all about ageing. In fact, there are a wide variety of ages portrayed to add the perspective of the way that climate changes affect us as we age. Cli Fi provides stories that look at how the environment interweaves with our bodily experiences and existence, the way that we both shape and are shaped by our ecology, altered by and altering our world. These stories remind us that we are participants in creating the world that we want. 

This is not a utopian collection. The stories in these pages invite us to ask some hard questions, and it is hard to read the collection in one sitting, but that time to pause is necessary. It invites us to ponder for long periods between stories, looking deeper into the tales and what they mean for us as people. The authors remind us of our connection to the world around us, pointing out that water makes up most of our bodies, just as it makes up most of our surface world, and water runs through these narratives as much as the ink runs onto paper. It binds us to our environments, a flowing story that speaks of history and change, but also of the danger of contamination and the vulnerability of our world to our pollution. 

This is not just an anthology ABOUT climate change, it is one that invites us into the process of changing our climate. Cli Fi invites us to ask critical questions about the world around us and our relationship to that world, to interrogate the messages we receive from our environment and open critical dialogue about it. Cli Fi is an invitation to do no less than change our world. Although primarily speculative fiction, this collection opens up real world possibilities. 

To explore reviews of individual short stories in this collection, check out:
Rati Mehrotra’s “Children of the Sea”

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/05/02/ageing-into-climate-change/
Sean Virgo’s “My Atlantis”

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/05/04/a-shattered-touchstone/
Kate Story’s “Animate” 

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/05/08/a-magnetic-environment/
Nina Munteanu’s “The Way of Water”

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/05/11/water-is-magic/
Wendy Bone’s “Abdul”

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/05/13/orangutan-voices/
Phil Dwyer’s “Invasion” 

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/05/17/vulnerable/
Holly Schofield’s “Weight of the World”

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/05/19/a-call-for-research/
Lynn Hutchinson Lee’s “Night Divers”

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/05/20/made-of-water-and-stars/
To discover more about Cli Fi, visit Exile Editions’ website at http://www.exileeditions.com

A Shattered Touchstone

A review of Sean Virgo’s “My Atlantis” in Cli Fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Change (Exile, 2017).By Derek Newman-Stille

Sean Virgo’s “My Atlantis” is a tale about the return to a changed land. Like Rati Mehrotra’s tale in Cli Fi, this tale features an older person, but unlike Mehrotra’s tale, where the protagonist is stationary in a changing land, this aged character is returning to a place that has become his touchstone over the years, associated with memory, and able to remind him who he is. The problem is that his touchstone has changed, deteriorated by the impact of environmental destruction. Although wildlife is returning to this landscape as human beings move into the cities, that wildlife is struggling to stay healthy and survive in the damaged environment that remains. 

The protagonist works in mental health and frequently works with people who are experiencing memory loss, and that notion of memory is a significant one in this narrative as it shifts through different periods of time while memories arise one after the next inspired by glimpses of familiar scenes altered by time and the human desire to change our environment. 

Age is a significant factor in this tale as the protagonist is able to draw on a lifetime of memories of a place to reflect on its changes and highlight the way that the world has shifted. North American society is relatively short sighted about our impact on the environment, so it is significant that Virgo chooses a long duree approach to the environment, observing it over the course of a lifetime to see the impact of change. 

To discover more about Cli Fi, visit Exile’s website at http://www.exileeditions.com

Ageing into Climate Change

A review of Rati Mehrotra’s “Children of the Sea” in Cli Fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Change (Exile, 2017)

By Derek Newman-Stille

In “Children of the Sea”, Rati Mehrotra links the changes that come with ageing to the changes that come from environmental damage. In Mehrotra’s tale, age becomes a subject of stability in a changing world and an older woman lives through massive climate change while constantly revisiting memories of a time before global environmental catastrophe. 

Auntie Benita is the stable figure as her world changes, watching it shift from her African home. The tides encroach on her home like the memory of all of the destruction and damage that has come from other places through the impact of colonialism and industry. Even the “solutions” to the ecological issues disempower her, located elsewhere and often exploitatively taking advantage of her. Benita watches as an ark ship leaves her planet to seek out another one, trying to bring humanity to another planet and colonize and terraform it since human impact on our own planet has terraformed it into something no longer inhabitable. She has observed failed attempts at reversing global warming as the water from melting icebergs gradually encroached on her home, and finally even saw the bodies of her family members altered and changed to adapt to aquatic life that would become a reality on our world. 

Landscape and memory intersect in this tale, entwined through Benita’s experience, but also through loss as Benita’s memories retreat from her and the tides gobble up the land. Yet, Benita is also able to be a gage for change, observing how her world shifted throughout the years of her life and serving as a witness for readers to remind us to notice how our landscapes change and make alterations to our lifestyle to prevent the kind of crises she experiences.

To discover more about Rati Mehrotra, visit her website at https://ratiwrites.com
To discover more about Cli Fi, visit Exile’s website at http://exileeditions.com

Old, But Not Obsolete

A review of Jeff Lemire’s Old Man Logan Vol 1: Berserker (Marvel, 2017).
By Derek Newman-Stille

So many narratives of ageing feature memory and reflection, an exploration of a life lived rather than a life in the process of being experienced. Like many representations of ageing, Lemire’s aged Logan finds himself in a world that isn’t the way it should be… but instead of this narrative being another story of an old man who has lost touch with the passage of the world, this is a tale of a man from the future visiting his past, a world that isn’t as it should be because it will all be destroyed. Logan experiences a dissociation from his world not because it has moved on without him, but because he moved on without it.

Logan has to relive his past, see friends and family that have died in his future and find his way in a world that no longer suits him. Logan has escaped from a post-apocalyptic future world, but one that has left its stain on him, changed him fundamentally and coloured the way he engages with this world from his own past.

Wolverine (Logan) has been defined by his ability to resist age, to resist health issues, and to resist ageing, but this Logan is one who feels the aches in his adamantium bones, who doesn’t heal as quickly, and who has now experienced ageing. This Wolverine’s life has been shaped by regrets and he now finds himself inexplicably in the past and able to do something about those regrets. His healing factor may be slowed down, but this is a Wolverine who needs to do a lot of healing.

To find out more about Old Man Logan Vol 1: Berserker, visit http://marvel.com/comics/series/20617/old_man_logan_2016_-_present