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/

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Weaving Tales in Word and Image

A Review of Hope Nicholson’s (ed) “Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection” (AH Comics Inc, 2015)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Photo for Moonshot

Cover Photo for Moonshot

The comic book industry has generally had an exploitative relationship with indigenous peoples. Generally indigenous peoples have been portrayed in comics as villains or sidekicks and their character development limited to cultural stereotypes and one-dimensionality. In superhero comics, generally even the superpowers of indigenous superheroes have been expressions of cultural assumptions – communal relationships with animals and trees and special connections with nature. Indigenous people have often been portrayed as extensions of the landscape. Hope Nicholson’s “Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection” tries to open up a space for indigenous stories that come from indigenous peoples. The collection features the work of 30 authors and artists expressing diverse stories that render indigenous voices into image and written word.

Often when asked to contribute to collections that interact with cultural and artistic expressions, indigenous people are encouraged to talk about the past, which problematically structures indigeneity as something of the past rather than a vibrant, current culture. This collection emphasises the vibrancy of indigenous culture, including tales from the past, but also modern adaptations of these tales, new tales of the present, and science fictional tales of the future. These are tales of superheroes, animal spirits, dark figures from the water depths, space travellers, futuristic inhabitants of other worlds, encounters with otherworldly and sometimes extraterrestrial beings, encounters with possession, tales of robbery and recovery, robopocalypses, and environmental travesties.

David Mack plays with the interaction of indigenous identity and Deaf culture in his superhero character Echo, who explores her understanding of herself as a Deaf indigenous woman. David Robertson and Haiwei Hou play with light and colour as they play with the Cree tale of Ochek the Fisher and opening the world to new light. Dayton Edmonds and Micah Farritor use animal and anthropomorphic animal spirit forms to tell the story of the gathering of bright stones to become the stars and Coyote’s accidental scattering of the stars across the canvas of the sky. Sean and Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsely and mention3 tell the story of the Qallupiluk, a figure from Inuit tales who rises out of the cold water. Arigon Starr and David Cutler tell a cross space future version of “The Young Man Who Turned Into a Snake”. Elizabeth LaPensee and Gregory Chomichuk use only visuals to tell the tale of a hunter encountering the Star People. Michael Sheyahshe and George Freeman tell a tale of two brothers with special gifts who seek to solve the disappearance of their mother on an alien world. Tony Romito and Jeremy D. Mohler tell an arctic tale of an inuit hunter who encounters otherworldly beings from under the arctic ice. Ian Ross, Lovern Kindzierski, Adam Gorham, and Peter Dawes explore the impact of anthropology on indigenous cultures and the robbery of indigenous artefacts by anthropologists. Richard Van Camp, Rosa Mantla, and Nicholas Burns explore the interaction between the traditions of The Night the Spirits Return among the Dene and the Celtic-originating tradition of Halloween. Todd Houseman and Ben Shannon tell a tale of the future where pollution has destroyed much of the North American continent and a war between humans and robotic life forms has meant widespread devastation. Jay and Joel Odjick examine a first hunt and the interaction between the human and animal world. Elizabeth LaPensee, Claude St. Aubin, and Andy Stanleigh explore the impact of mining and the attempt to connect to the Memegwesiwag, a people who love copper and can only be seen by the pure of heart. These tales weave together in a fabric of intwined words and images, and also a twining of multiple worlds and worldviews.

The art styles vary in “Moonshot” between mixed media art, ink on paper, pencil crayon on paper, watercolours, fractal-influenced digital art, traditional comic panels and frame-breaking violations of the ‘gutter’ space between panels. They use word bubbles, text-free comics, or large swaths of text, illustrating the potential for expressing the idea of ‘story’ through multiplicity. This is a collection as diverse as the indigenous peoples who contributed to it. No longer relegated to the role of sidekicks or villains, the indigenous characters in these comics are able to tell their own tales, rich in complexity and multi-dimensionality.

(Hu)Man’s Best Friend

A review of Janet K. Nicolson’s “Chance Encounters” in OnSpec Vol 26, No. 3

By Derek Newman-Stille

In “Chance Encounters“, Janet K. Nicolson puts the reader in the position of a cattle dog, exploring the difference in language and sensory perception inherent in that switch in existence. The dog, as “man’s best friend” is both familiar to us and strange, in a complicated relationship with human beings. As human beings, we require our animal companions, especially those we put to work, to learn about our position, our perceptions, and out language, but it is rare to do the opposite: to consider animal consciousness and try to understand animals. 

Chance, a dog who is accustomed to navigating the relationship between human and animal as a dog who works for a human being to care for his cattle, is the only one able to navigate the complex relationship between human beings and alien lifeforms who are conducting cattle mutilations in a small Saskatchewan farm. Chance is able to observe the aliens and seek to understand their position and uncover why they are taking cattle.

Nicolson, rather than focusing on the human perspective in an alien encounter, pushes readers to recognize that when we privilege human experience, we lose the overall experience of understanding our own world and its diversity, let alone opening our minds to the possibility of life beyond it. 

To discover more about OnSpec, visit http://www.onspec.ca

Resistant Strain 

A review of Kelly Robson’s “The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill” in Clarkesworld Magazine (February, 2015). Accessible online at http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/robson_02_15/

By Derek Newman-Stille

Jessica’s life had been haunted by the faces of missing and murdered women that dotted the walls of the gas station where she worked, evoking the idea that when one lived on the Highway of Tears, one’s life as a woman was shaped by persistent loss. Jessica learned early on that the system wasn’t made to help, protect, or support her. She had already found that she couldn’t count on the police, medical, or education system for any form of protection, safety, or health. She has learned that her life was shaped by the controls of others and that the only way to be independent was to reject those controls. But, Jessica’s life becomes marked by the omni-presence of health and the threat of death. Her rape and murder are only the first of her body’s violations and infiltrations as her body is resurrected by alien bacteria who claim to want to help her but have invaded her body and modified it. 

Kelly Robson’s “The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill” explores the societal violence done against aboriginal women and its multiple manifestations – whether through the prevalence of missing and murdered aboriginal women or the denial of basic services like quality health, protection, and education to women. Robson explores the idea that the violence against women extends beyond sexual assault and murder to the various institutions that divorce women from their own bodies, that deny them access to health, understanding of their bodies, and means of protecting themselves. Robson’s bacterial aliens are only another manifestation of the types of bodily infiltrations and controls that women’s bodies are subjected to. 

“The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill” is a chilling tale about the relationship between violence, the body, and the idea that one often falls into trust by necessity because there aren’t other options… but this trust generally comes with an openness to vulnerability as well.

To discover more about Kelly Robson, visit her website at http://kellyrobson.com 

To read this story, visit Clarkesworld at http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/robson_02_15/

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 33: An Interview with Ursula Pflug

I was finally able to do an on-air interview with the brilliant Peterborough author Ursula Pflug. Ursula and I talk about teaching writing in anticipation of co-teaching a course through Trent’s Continuing Education, the power of creativity, the risk of exposing your inner self when you write, the educational power of writing speculative fiction, the relationship between travel writing, the alien, and speculative opportunities, the dream-like quality of writing spec fic, and the power of seeing the potential for stories in the people we encounter. Ursula recognizes that we are made up of stories and that their stories are never complete, but always being added to.

You can listen to this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio at the link below

Explore Trent Radio at www.trentradio.ca

Explore Trent Radio at http://www.trentradio.ca

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.

The Abduction of Women’s Voices

A review of Nancy Johnston’s “The Rendez-Vous: The True Story of Jeanetta (Netty) Wilcox” in Bending the Landscape: Science Fiction (The Overlook Press, 1999)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Nancy Johnston’s “The Rendez-Vous: The True Story of Jeanetta (Netty) Wilcox” is a wonderful feminist discourse on the tendency of men to overwrite the narrative and words of women. This is a story about erasure and the abduction of the female voice and the uncertainty of historical or narrative “truth”, particularly highlighting the way that narrative “truths” are often constructed in a gendered landscape.

Coached as a story that is nominally about abduction, Nancy Johnston’s science fiction short story points to the fiction of science and its constructed nature. The story is written as a report about the UFO abduction of Jeanetta (Netty) Wilcox. This report structure to the abduction narrative highlights the way that women’s words are mediated through others. The narrative is constructed as a “truthful” account, requiring the reader to read the obvious markers of assumption in the reporting of events in order to find Jeanetta’s actual narrative and her alternative vision of the occurrences that took place.

Jeanetta’s story is shaped through the perspective of her now ex husband Willard as he attempts to discern why she disappears every night and seems to be lethargic about all of the domestic duties that he thinks she should be conducting happily as his wife. He assumes initially that her concerns may be due to menopause, illustrating his own sexist reading of her body. Later, when he can’t find a method of making her less lethargic and disengaged, he seeks medical support and the doctors, supporting the notion that women should be happy to be relegated by patriarchal control to the domestic sphere, assume that they must be missing a medical problem with her and prescribe mild sedatives… which similarly do not stop her feelings of disengagement.

Never questioning the assumptions of patriarchy, Willard then latches on to the story of a UFO enthusiast that there have been alien visits to the area and tells his wife that she must be regularly getting abducted by aliens and forgetting her own experiences. The male voice here overrides her own and he and other males (doctors, journalists) seek to tell her what she “actually” experiences even over top of her own very direct denial of this. Her own observations are erased by people telling her that she has thrown up blocks to her own subconscious.

Although nominally an alien abduction narrative, “The Rendez-Vous” Johnston’s story is about the tendency of men exercising patriarchal power to override the voices of women and the likelihood that by ignoring women’s experiences and voices, they are going to miss the obvious and construct fallacies that reinforce their own power structures.

Speculative SEXtember

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 14: An Interview with Suzanne Church

In this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, Waterloo author Suzanne Church swings by the studio as part of her book tour for her new collection Elements: A Collection of Speculative Fiction (Edge, 2014). Suzanne Church’s work stretches across genre boundaries between Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy. She has published in several of the Tesseracts anthologies, in collections like When the Hero Comes Home 2, Urban Green Man, and Dance Macabre. She has also published in speculative magazines like Clarksworld, OnSpec, and Doorways Magazine. Suzanne is an Aurora Award winning author and her short story “Living Bargains” is currently up for this year’s Aurora Award.

Suzanne Church and I talk about fiction’s role in bringing attention to domestic violence, pushing genre boundaries, the stretches of human relationships, ideas of displacement and home, and the power of short fiction as a medium. Prepare to hear about aliens, fuzzy green monsters, sentient coffee cups, androids, ghosts… and so many other otherworldly beings that tell us more about what it is to be human. Take a listen and I hope you enjoy our chat.

Explore Trent Radio at www.trentradio.ca

Explore Trent Radio at http://www.trentradio.ca

 

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.