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

Old Enough to be Hurt

A review of Jeff Lemire’s “Old Man Logan: The Last Ronin” (Marvel Comics, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille

With the “Old Man Logan” series, Jeff Lemire has been playing with ideas of ageing, displacement, and the changes in identity that occur with the passage of time. This is a Wolverine who has been displaced from time from an apocalyptic future to a present he isn’t quite ready to face.

In “Old Man Logan: The Last Ronin”, Lemire explores the connection between the passage of time and regrets and Logan has had a long enough life to have a plethora of regrets. Logan finds himself back in Japan, a place he visited when he lived in the future and where he encountered a cult called The Silent Order that sought to claim Japan for its own and had envisioned him as simultaneously a foreign threat and a prophesized figure. Logan encounters The Silent Order again in the present with his memories of killing people in the future and seeks to divorce himself from the person he was in the future. In the present, he is filled with the regrets of his future life and tries to resolve things peacefully with The Silent Order, but the Order has a prophet who has seen what Logan will do in the future and is angry at the loss of his friends. This young, but powerful boy is plagued by the fear of his encounter with Logan in the future and tries to stop Logan before he destroys everything he cares about.

Lemire explores the way that fear, longing, and regret shape us, and the way that these accumulate over a lifetime in a way that transforms instincts into mirrors of the pain and suffering of a lifetime. Logan is a figure defined by pain, pierced as much by his guilt and regret as he is by his claws as they extend to deal with threats he feels to old to cope with. Logan is a man displaced, with nowhere to call home, and yet every place he visits is one he has already been to and already left enemies in. His long life means that he develops all of the conflicts of home, but doesn’t ever get to experience any of its comforts or connections.

To discover more about “Old Man Logan: The Last Ronin”, visit http://marvel.com/comics/series/20617/old_man_logan_2016_-_present

Persistence of Memory

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

By Derek Newman-Stille

vassanji nostalgia

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/

Ageing Into The Future

A review of Lazarus Risen edited by Hayden Trenholm and Michael Rimar (Bundoran, 2016)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Hayden Trenholm and Michael Rimar’s collection of fiction Lazarus Risen constructs itself as a collection of stories about the biological singularity, exploring “dreams of immortality and eternal youth”, yet most of the stories in the collection bring attention to that spectre that always haunts ideas of youth – old age. This is an anthology that is well-timed and extremely important as ageing gets codified in political policies and ideologies that largely examine ageing as a social burden. These stories provide a challenge to easy ascriptions of ageing and interrogate assumptions about ‘old age’. They provide a foundation for a genre of Ageing Futurisms, which is a genre we desperately need as our societal views of old age continue to be narrow. Lazarus Risen explores the complexities of ageing and the potentials that exist within ageing bodies and identities. 

Most of the tales that we encounter, whether through speculative fictional lenses or through realist genres, tend to focus on youth, constructing 20-somethings as the harbingers of “relateable experiences”. Our social favouritism toward youth feeds our social obsession with staying young, holding all of the negative implications for those who don’t fit this social mould of youth. Ageing people tend to be constructed as, at best, inconveniences, and at worst, are erased because they are seen as being non-contributors. We create social ideas that the aged have been erased from our society by virtue of not contributing in the economic ways that we construct as normative, ignoring all of the ways that ageing people contribute to society and add to our social growth.

It is fascinating that so many speculative fiction texts erase ageing people from their narratives (or cast them in stereotypical roles such as the role of the mentor or the burden to the narrator) because age is something that is fundamentally connected to a major theme in speculative fiction – change… and age is powerfully connected to the idea of the future and the passage of time, which SF frequently interacts with.

We pretend in our society that “coming of age” happens only once – in the transition between childhood and adulthood, yet we are ALWAYS coming of age, always moving from one age category to the other and shifting and changing to accommodate those movements. Lazarus Risen provides a space for examining the way that we keep coming of age, that people keep shifting and changing over the course of their lifespan. 

Like any SF collection, Lazarus Risen deals with the social changes that come with technological changes, but the tales in this collection centre the human (or inhuman) experiences that come with these changes, exploring how “what it means to be human” is something that always has to run after our technological imagination, constantly redefining itself. It is the focus on the human experience that makes this collection a powerful one, and it is the focus on age that makes it one that is both timely and necessary. Lazarus Risen makes readers confront their insecurities about the spectre of ageing, makes us examine that biological clock that keeps ticking away, reminding us that change is inevitable and that change comes with constant new wonders, excitements, and, yes, challenges.

To read reviews of some of the short stories in this collection, visit:
https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/03/19/a-plague-of-immortality/
https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/03/16/mecha-care/
https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/03/07/ageing-usefully/
https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/03/02/a-wilde-ride-through-time/
https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/02/27/split-apart-for-new-perspectives/

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